Draft opening of chapter one of my novel, Olongapo.
Black and White
On the other side of the brown river the gray town trembles in a dull watercolor of shimmering heat waves. He’s crossed this bridge dozens of times and though the view never changes, it feels like he’s seeing it for the first time. Smog, dirt, and dust mix in a loose conglomeration that coats everything in a fabric of oppression. Squat cement buildings, some painted in subdued tones of gray and brown, others painted in garish hues of pink and blue, many not painted at all, are situated the way a two-year old might place blocks. Aerial antennas and telephone poles, electric cables and neon signs clutter the gray sky like a mass of dead trees. Jeepneys, trikes, and cars jostle each other for space. Gray pedestrians perform a stop motion ballet as they cross from one side of the street to the other. Despite splashes of color here and there, the scene blends until it resembles a black and white photograph. Even the low, steady hum of twenty-five thousand voices chattering away like a buzz saw feels gray.
The name of the town, Olongapo, rolls off the tongue like a lopsided boulder in an avalanche. The fetid smell of the unnamed river, Shit River the Sailors call it, breaches his nose with an odor that clings like saran wrap. His nostrils pinch together of themselves and he wrinkles his nose, but the odor remains. The broiling sun beats down on his bare head through hair that seems to thin more rapidly each day. He doesn’t want to go into the gray town, but something primeval, some deep buried need urges him on. He grips the hot, steel handrail like a lifeline and forces himself to cross the bridge, disappearing into the gray of the other side. He emerges into the consuming gray that separates him from the person of a few moments before.
The dread that burdened him at the bridge lifts and his heart beats with a rising excitement as he nears the bar. His skin crawls at the sight of the building, an ugly wart rising from the pale brown of the ground beneath. It juts into the street as though it sits in Times Square. The deck of the bar on the second story opens like a great toothless maw. Barmaids lean from the railing calling passing Sailors to “buy me drink. I love you long time.” He ducks to the side as a boy in civilian clothes vomits beer, burger, and fries into the street.