Jordan Escovedo gunned the car up the road to the town where he'd been born. It was a hot, bright morning in May, though with the air-conditioning turned up to maximum he felt no discomfort. The vehicle was a Ford Telstar on loan from one of his provincial relatives. It was a lousy car, he fretted. Slick but cheap, the metal as vulnerable to the trauma of minor collisions as a tin can. He had driven better. But in the town of his destination, its teardrop lines were sufficient to enhance the macho mestizo image that had always flustered him and, in the latter part of his twenty-fourth year, now needled him incessantly.
His birthplace was called Renata. A haven for decrepit humanity, an outpost without a middle class, it lay lost in the middle of sugar-cane fields. Now that it was summer the heat blasted off a million rows of dull-green cane, off leaves that, glinting in the sun, were like long, sharp knives. The land, when stripped of its harvest, was a vast tract of impermeable rock. A ribbon of dusty highway linked Renata to Monroy in the north and Fortugaleza in the south. They were all alike, these cane towns: church, plaza, school, municipal hall, disintegrating storefronts, faded residences all hugging a short stretch of asphalt, the hovels of the poor dotting the road for a few hundred meters or so before giving way to the fields.
Tinted glass separated Jordan from the scenes on either side of him, and for a moment, sitting in the cool, isolated interior of the car, he almost convinced himself that he was still in the sheltered world he had left behind. He had a degree in legal management from Ateneo de Manila (though this distinction had been achieved after a series of indecisive shifts: in five years he'd been in premed, then into political science, before deciding that the road to a legal career and political prominence would begin in his ultimate selection). He hadn't known at his graduation that what seemed so turbulent was only a prelude to the real crisis. In the year that followed, he worked in a Makati firm amid the button-down yuppies, and it had taken all his strength to suppress the restlessness, the questions. In the end he'd had to leave.
Now he was unemployed, and searching. He still looked like a student, in faded jeans, a blue shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows, sneakers. It [End Page 185] was an outfit of sterile simplicity. Yet it infused him, as he knew it did other young men of his sort, with a certain unattainable elegance. He could spot a fellow preppy anytime. He knew the upstarts, the pseudo-intellectuals as well. Dress up a stick and it remained a stick. Such people were of no consequence.
Shifting his gaze idly to the passing detail, he saw that some of the fields had been reduced to charred stubble. Vaguely human figures, swathed from head to toe to protect them, wandered through the sharp stalks. Jordan steeled himself, averting his eyes from the sun-blackened children who ran screaming after the Telstar. In a classroom, he had once leapt to his feet and spoken passionately about the squatter shacks that he passed while driving to school. He had been so angry then, his helpless rage nearly palpable. But that was before the awful white heat of the silent fields had engulfed him, had become his reality. He had been driving through the sea of cane for only a couple of hours, but already his doubts were threatening to claim him.
Jordan shifted to low gear, in deference to pedestrians and dogs, as he entered the town. Passenger tricycles blundered past, oblivious to the rules of traffic, tempting him to lay on the horn and plow into their midst. He controlled himself, lit a cigarette. Though he could easily have paid his way out of any sticky situation, he wished no unpleasantness. Inexorably drawn to the municipal building, he eased his car into the tiny parking lot. Arms folded, he stood...