Ever since self put two and two together and realized that Joel Larraga, who drove for her in Bacolod, was being paid by Ida Jinco, secretary of Genen, the family company, to spy on her, she’s been in a storm of fury.
It’s so bad, she only gets a few hours sleep a night.
If there’s one good thing to come out of all this, it’s that self’s open nature is still intact (though perhaps tempered, now, with new caution). Not once did she ever yell at Joel, not even if he was late. And she was generous, too, giving him more money for lunch and dinner than he probably ever received in his life, and clothes and food for his young daughter. And self is not going to change now.
Self thinks that Joel kept up his surveillance for the better part of two years. Maybe he wasn’t taking bribes through the entire period, but most certainly in the past year.
Can you imagine the family corporation, in which self holds shares equal to each of her siblings, paying someone to spy on one of its own??? What kind of people are these?
Self even knows the exact moment when Joel dangled his last bit of information about her to Ida, in exchange for cash. It was the first week in October, when self told Joel she was coming. She didn’t give him an exact date, some small part of her wanted to keep that back (thank God). Somewhere between the first week of October and her arrival in Bacolod in the second week, he must have gone to Ida again and said something like, Do you want me to keep spying on her? Look, she’s coming very soon.
He must have contacted Ida at least one more time, because he saw self arrive in Bacolod. He even texted her, for goodness’ sake. When the agreed-upon date to start was almost upon them, and when she tried to fix a time for Joel to come fetch her that day, he never picked up his phone. This was confounding because — well, because self paid Joel well (she thought) and she also knew he was poor. But of course, she never figured (until much later) how much extra he was getting paid by Ida.
And anyway, self arrived right in the middle of Masskara, when Bacolod is awash with tourists. Joel could probably make just as much or more driving for a foreign tourist. And at least the foreign tourists go to bars and other “fun” places. But when driving for her, poor Joel was stuck going to such boring places as the Patag Valley (for research for her World War II novel), or to museums like the Balay Negrense. She remembers when he drove her to Hinoba-an, he looked around him at the rather plain cottages of the Happy Valley Resort and muttered, “This is not a nice place. There are much nicer places. Like in Sipalay. Why did you choose this place?”
She marvels at the way Joel was able to get something out of the family corporation, something she’s never managed to do with such ease. Of course she would rather have had the family give the money directly to her, rather than pay Joel, because maybe if she’d had a choice about the places she wanted to visit with that money, just maybe she might have chosen Paris over Bacolod. Maybe.
She overheard Joel once asking Ida if Ida could suggest a way for him to borrow 30,000 pesos (about $722). He claimed it was the money he needed to pay Blazing Star Employment Agency, for his wife’s contract to work in Dubai. Wow, if he had asked self right at that moment, instead of Ida, self might have given it to him outright, without having to make him earn it. Because self believes in helping the poor! And there is such a class imbalance on this island! And the poor man (before he became a driver) used to eke out a hard living as: a tricycle driver (They call them sikab here), a traffic policeman, and a waiter. Hmmm, now self wonders if all the stories he told her were true. Was he ever really a tricycle driver? Was he ever really a waiter? Or were those professions he invented because he saw how moved self was by poverty?
A Manila friend invites self to get out of Bacolod and stay with her. But hang on a second, there is also family in Manila! And to self, now, family = disgust.
Kyi says, “Go back to America, your true home!” No, America is not self’s true home.
The events of the past two weeks are so not about what her family thinks of her. It is what she thinks of herself.
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.