(Short Story) Love in the Cornhusks by: Aida Rivera Ford
(Reaction) No More Illusions by: Antonio Conejos
Love in the cornhusks deals with the illusions of love which are ultimately shattered (quite abruptly as it turns out) by the sordid mess which love so often leaves behind. Aida Rivera Ford's story illustrates this by depicting a young woman with so much promise brought low by love. Moreover, this fall from grace is emphasized by the marked physical difference in Tinang before and after her marriage.
Tinang was once in the service of a rich family but she was no run of the mill househelp, as made quite clear by the story. Her employers valued her services and treated her more as a peer than an employee. As such she easily banters with the son of her employer,
Aba, you are so tall now, Tito. The wife of the household even asks,
When are you coming again before Tinang leaves.
Tinang herself aspires to being more than a simple laborer around the house; in a sense she is affirmed and takes pride in her employer's opinion of her.
She thought herself above them for she was always neat and clean in her hometown, before she went away to work, she had gone to school and had reached sixth grade. Her skin, too, was not as dark as those of the girls who worked in the fields weeding around the clumps of abaca. Her lower lip jutted out disdainfully when the farm hands spoke to her with many flattering words. Note too her potential is signified using material adjectives,
neat and clean... her skin, too, was not as dark as those of the girls who worked in the fields
After her marriage though, she can no longer be described as neat and clean. Indeed, Senora remarks,
Even Tinang looks like a Bagobo now. Gone are the little luxuries, such as a pretty dress, for now her best dress is one
she [Senora] had giver Tinang a long time ago. Her beleaguered appearance masks her intelligence, to her chagrin. Thus she is
crushed that he [the drugstore shopkeeper] should think her illiterate.
The greatest indignity waits for her though at home
Inggo, her husband, waiting for her, his body stinking of tuba and sweat, squatting on the floor, clad only in his foul undergarments.
The stark contrast between Tinang's life before and after marriage illustrates how far she has fallen from the life of promise she envisioned for herself. It becomes clear that the root of this fall lies in her liaison with Amado.
Amado shares with Tinang the promise of potential. He is hardworking and skilled, as Senora reminisces,
You remember what a good driver he was. The tractors were always kept in working condition. Moreover, Amado too can be neat and clean, a signifier of potential he has in common with Tinang,
on Saturdays when he came up to the house for his week's salary, his hair was slicked down and he would be dressed as well as Mr. Jacinto, the schoolteacher.
The furtive glances between Tinang and Amado eventually culminate in a tryst which, alert readers will already have noted, results in Tinang's child. One can readily infer that Inggo is not the father of Tinang's (first) baby. One the baby is dark, like Amado. Two, Tinang disdained, Inggo,
She laughed when a Bagobo with two hectares of land asked her to marry him. The only reason she would marry Inggo, again one can infer, is because she was an unmarried woman with child. And third, this child is most likely the product of Tinang's tryst with Amando, when he pulled her
to the screen of trees beyond. Finally, the story gives us a hint early on as to the paternity of the baby; when Senora mentions Amado's name the baby begins to cry.
For most of the story Tinang's love is buried under filth and dirt, the tawdry reality of having to take care of an infant while scrounging a living through unmechanized agriculture. Her love though shines brilliantly upon her receipt of a letter from Amado,
A flush spread over her face and crept into her body...Tinang was intoxicated. She pressed herself against the kamansi tree. In this brief moment we see Titang as she was before, hopeful, full of promise, alight with the notions of a young girl with dreams for herself.
Suddenly, all too quickly, she snaps back to reality when her baby is threatened. Ultimately the airy dreams of love give way to the weight of reality.
Tinang started violently and remembered her child. What Tinang has in the here and now is love for her baby and resigned devotion to her fate. She has no time, and no life, left for Amado. Thus,
Among the cornhusks, the letter fell unnoticed.
Love in the Cornhusks benefits from close reading and is a good example of implied but not stated events and feelings. That said, the story didn't do much for me. I feel that the major plot point (Amado leaving, which starts the cascade of events which leaves Tinang in her sorry state) is contrived. Why didn't Amado just tell Tinang he would be going away for awhile and to wait for him?
Many students in school are asked to look at this story through a feminist view point and many readers make much of the snake. That's not very interesting though, at least for me. The story does fine with close reading and formalist analysis. No need to get fancy with god and biblical allusions and feminists, oh my.