Later that day, Hashim and Emilio got out of the jeep that had brought them from theairport in Cotabato to the hillside village and walked towards a medium-sized wooden house. They were met at the door with bowls of water to wash the dust off their faces and hands and invited in. Four lean and strong young men met them in a large room that was the front of the house.
“You have come again to recruit us,” said the handsome leader of the group with a hint of a sneer.
Hashim sighed inwardly and replied, “I come to persuade you to join with other brothers in a common struggle. We will never succeed if we do not work together.”
“You think you will lead us, bakla?”
“That was rude,” declared Emilio in a quiet but firm tone. Hashim merely waved the remark off though his eyes smoldered.
“I see some reaction from our great unifier.”
“Why do you wish to pick a fight?” demanded Hashim in a voice oscillating between rage and tact. “Nothing is gained for our cause.”
“Why are you so noble, bakla? Is it because you have something to prove?”
“What would you prove fighting us four to two?” asked Emilio, confident that Hashim and he were more than a match for the local group.
“Oh, there are more than four of us,” announced their host. Through the open windows and door, they could see a large group gathering. “But there is no honor if twenty of us kick you like dogs. I want to see if the great Hashim can be the Saladin of our people. How about it?”
“You want to fight me?” asked the incredulous Hashim.
“I have heard that the great Tok Mat taught you and that he taught you well. I wonder if what he taught you was not taken away from you with your—”
“Enough!” yelled Hashim. “I did not come to fight you. But it seems you cannot get that out of your head, so let’s fight.”
“One on one and everybody else stay out of this,” ordered his host imperiously. “No matter what happens!”
“This is insane,” muttered Emilio as he moved to a wall near the door. The rest of the local band grouped against the opposite wall by the windows around which those outside had gathered to watch.
“Come,” shouted the host as he sprang into the middle of the room. Hashim strode on and the two men adopted their chosen silat stances. They stepped around each other like praying mantises. Their knees were well bent and directed to their sides, their arms and elbows moved slowly as their feet circled each other.
In the first flurry of strikes and kicks Hashim appeared to act purely defensively until he found an opening to kick at his opponent’s crotch. He stepped away from the man who had taunted him, now doubled in pain.
“A lucky strike, bakla,” he finally spat after several minutes of stunned silence and heightened tension among his followers. “Do you think you can do it again?”
The two men approached each other and almost immediately were locked in furious blows and kicks. Hashim easily blocked his opponent’s initial strikes but did not stay on the defensive this time. The praying mantises now fought furiously, engaging in swift and repeated strikes, kicks and throws. Hashim hit out at the knees and elbows of his opponent. In retaliation, his opponent spun several times, aiming to throw him off balance, and succeeded in grappling with Hashim for a moment and landing a sharp elbow into his solar plexus.
Hashim appeared to fall to his back but continued rolling to his feet. As the fight resumed, his opponent called out,
The crowd stirred as someone found their leader’s kris and Emilio quickly rummaged through Hashim’s bag but found only a wooden stick had been packed as Hashim knew they would be searched by airport security. The wooden stick, however, had been especially hardened and its tip had killed before. Hashim looked at Emilio and shrugged. He believed his fate had been written and he accepted it.
The fight resumed with more deliberate maneuvers. The combatants seemed to rehearse their respective repertory of classic martial positions and motions. This slow dance sped up until only experts themselves could follow the antagonists or divine their respective intentions. Hashim blocked several strikes and thrusts before whirling his sharpened stick, disarming his opponent and thrusting the hardened sharp end up into the man’s stomach into his heart.
Everyone inside the house froze as cries came from several men outside.