From the highway where I stepped down from the bus, I chose to trudge along the winding unpaved road towards my destination—our abandoned parcels of land near the hilltop of Carmen. Confined within the iron bars of my prison cell and the high walls of the jail's premises, I got mesmerized by the vast and unrestrained view of the world under the sun.
I didn’t have to hurry; there was no one waiting to welcome me. So from here on, I would be living alone, hoping that I would be able to move forward one day.
“Boss, to Mt. Carmen?” a voice awakened me from my reverie.
I glanced and saw a motorcycle driver waving his hand at me. He then sprinted towards his rusted motorcycle parked under a mango tree; its wheels filled with lumps of lime and dirt. Knowing that my fare would mean food for his family, who depended on his meager income, I walked towards him.
While the driver was kicking the pedal to crank up the engine, I pulled out my old-as-time leather wallet and took out a hundred-peso bill.
“Boss, please accept this, but I won’t take the ride for now. Maybe, next time,” I smiled and inserted the bill in the front pocket of his shirt.
Most of the people I knew in this place didn’t have the heart to accept higher payments than what they only worked for.
“But boss-“ he attempted to pull out the money and give it back to me, but I shoved his hand back to his chest.
“It’s alright,” I grinned and started walking. I could still feel his gaze boring a hole into my retreating back, perhaps, wondering why I had to exhaust myself from hiking the seven-kilometer distance towards our old hut instead of taking a ride.
I was not a boss of neither high-end nor any small company, but the people here addressed the males as 'boss,' especially the strangers. Of course, I was not a stranger here either, but ten years had already passed since my family and I moved to town.
I got a daytime job in a shoe repair shop, so I brought my parents with me. My father also got a vegetable stall on the market, so our meager income was more than enough to support our simple lifestyle. Through a scholarship program, I had finished college with high honors, taking night classes that started every four in the afternoon.
The sun was still high up in the sky at two in the afternoon; its scorching heat made my skin dripping with sweat. Only when I started climbing the slope that the breeze from the sea below sent a cold and refreshing touch to my skin. Panting a little from the ascent towards the hilltop, I stopped to take in the scenes before me.
The deep blue sea at the far horizon glittered under the silver light of the sun. Rolling from where I stood were the swaying branches of shrubs and trees, perked up by the kaleidoscope of wildflowers popping out from the greeneries. The chirping of the birds, the drumming of the cicadas, the buzzing of some other insects, and the high-pitched squawks of other creatures I couldn’t identify felt like music to my ears that I had not heard for years.
Staring into the distance while listening to the soothing sounds of nature, the sound of the judge’s gavel knocking into a wooden block floated in my ear. That sound had already become my nightmare, having heard it several times for five years.
I then remembered closing my eyes tightly as the judge read his judicial verdict. I was wearing the official prisoner's shirt, and my hands were cuffed behind my back. It had been five years already since this case was held on trial.
“In view of the foregoing, this Court orders for the dismissal of Criminal Case No. XXXX for attempted murder against the accused Charles Mejares and the acquittal of Jaime Cortes in the case of attempted murder based on reasonable doubt, with costs de officio.”
Although I had long ago accepted my fate, my heart still hammered louder than that pounding gavel as the court dismissed me from the attempted murder case. I had resigned to the fact that the system of justice in this country was never fair between the rich and the poor.
“But in Criminal Case No. XXXX for consummated murder, this Court finds the accused Jaime Cortes guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, as principal of consummated murder, and sentences him to suffer an indeterminate penalty of FOURTEEN (14) YEARS, Eight (8) MONTH and ONE (1) day to SEVENTEEN (17) YEARS…”
“For lack of evidence, the case against the accused Charles Mejares for consummated murder is hereby dismissed with proportionate costs de officio, and this Court orders for his immediate release from custody.”
I froze in my seat as the judge closed his final verdict. My mouth hung open as I glued my eyes on his seat, even long after he walked out and disappeared behind his chamber.
“Congratulations, Charles! Heavens indeed have their righteous eyes and ears to those who have clean hearts.”
I turned my head to my lawyer, who was then sitting beside me, patting my back with a wide grin on her face. I smiled back at her, but the corners of my mouth twisted as tears started trickling down my face.
“God must have a purpose for allowing this in your life. We may not understand it now, but one day, we will.”
I nodded at my lawyer’s comforting words. Ever since she handled my case, I looked forward to meeting her. Her unwavering faith in my innocence helped me fight against the temptation of ending my life. What was there to live for, anyway?
I lost Alexa over to Jaime. This murder case ruined my dignity and caused grief that resulted in my parent’s untimely death.
I noticed my lawyer's eyes moving sideward, fixing them towards Jaime Cortes, the son of our town mayor. With all honesty, I never rejoiced at his pronounced ordeal that should have been mine had the truth not prevailed. I’m not the kind to hold deep grudges, even if I am wronged. He was about to reap the fruit of his greed and evil intentions, and the long years ahead were something I should not laugh about. Yet, every time I looked into his face, I was reminded of Alexa and the gaping wound he inflicted in my heart.