The taxi drives Olivia and Gardo to a “squalid” part of the city, even more so than Behala. Still, Behala is a stinking pile of rubbish and shacks—Olivia can’t believe people have to live there. It breaks her heart to see an old man next to a child and to realize that the only future a child has is “to breathe the stink” until they die, like rats. Colva looks like it’s been ripped up by an earthquake: children live in shacks outside the prison to smuggle food in to their incarcerated relatives, who would otherwise starve. As Olivia and Gardo enter the prison, they’re both scared.
Olivia’s description of Colva, the town surrounding the prison, shows that many people in this society live in abject poverty. Olivia also emphasizes the lack of prospects that poor people in this society have, since they are condemned to live and die in poverty and filth. The resolve of the impoverished (in helping their relatives with food) once again indicates that a sense of community is what pulls vulnerable people through difficult circumstances.
After a long wait, a friendly man named Mr. Oliva comes in. He’s immediately charmed by Olivia immediately and he thanks her for volunteering in their poor city. Mr. Oliva suggests that Gardo go in alone because the prison conditions are rough, but Olivia insists on accompanying him. Mr. Oliva explains that there are “fees” for unplanned visits, and Olivia winces as she hands over 10,000 pesos—the day cost her a lot, and she’d planned on spending that at an expensive dinner that night. Olivia becomes increasingly frightened as they’re led deeper into the prison, which became darker, hotter, and full of eerie sounds like clanging metal, heavy boot stomps, shouting, and “dreadful” echoing laughter.
Mr. Oliva’s thinly-veiled demand for a bribe (which he disguises as “fees”) again demonstrates the corruption on which the city runs. Olivia’s worry about not affording her dinner throws the poverty of Behala’s residence into relief, since the 10,000 pesos she worries about is equivalent to several months of income for a trash scavenger. Mulligan implicitly hints that society’s affluent likely turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor since it doesn’t take much at all to save a child from months of poverty, yet there are still many poor children in the city.