The First Love

Florida and Manuel

Being second to the youngest, I have yet to actually go out and meet boys my age. Besides, I like going to school and going home to help my father in his shop. Our family owns a photo studio. All five of us are our father’s models. At 16, love was the farthest thing on my mind.

One Sunday afternoon, with our youngest, Templanza, we walked to the San Agustin Cathedral to hear mass and go to confession. The church was near the house so we strolled in our Sunday’s best and after buying some candles near the church; we proceeded towards the entrance of the church when suddenly a shadow stood right beside ours as we were treading the steps of the cathedral.

“Uhm, excuse me…ah, I am Manuel. May I know your name?”

My sister and I were startled by the intrusion and looked towards the soft timbre of a man’s voice. He was obviously an officer in the Philippine Army. He carried his cap on his left hand and his brown uniform was neatly pressed. We have a lot of Army personnel around since Northern Mindanao was one of the most strategic places to fend off the Japanese in the Philippines. He had his hand stretched out towards me and I can only look at him and his outstretched hand incredulously.

I decided to ignore him and continued walking, grabbing Templanza’s hand and leading her fast towards the church. Templanza kept looking back at him and giggling. I had to pinch her to stop doing those.

“I will come here every Sunday! Same time as today! I will wait until you tell me your name! “Manuel shouted, as I hastily disappeared into the sanctuary of the church.

I, of course, didn’t really think that a sane man would do that just to get a girl’s name. The whole idea kept bugging me the entire week. Templanza continued to tease me mercilessly about it that the following Sunday, she purposely didn’t accompany me so I can go to church alone.

As I was nearing the cathedral, I looked around to see if he was there. He wasn’t.

I was right! He was just joking when he said those words. Why do I feel disappointed that he wasn’t around?

I brushed my thoughts aside and entered the church. As I sadly walked towards the pews, I saw him. He was near the aisle and this time, he had a red rose in his hand.

“I thought that maybe you would give me your name in exchange for this rose?”

Something inside me jumped in joy that he was there, that he was true to his word, that for some odd reason, seeing him smile was making everything inside me turn into mush.

He gave me the rose and as our hands accidentally touched, I knew that whether I liked it or not, he will become part of my life.

“My name is Florida.”

Manuel offered his arm and I shyly took it. As we were walking down the aisle together, I felt my heart beat wildly in fear, in excitement, in the unknown. I looked at the handsome and regal man beside me and he caught me looking at him. He smiled as if he knew what I was thinking and I could not help but smile back.

There’s a saying old, if you meet the man you love in a church, it is meant to be. I don’t really believe in it. Growing up with five sisters taught me enough about love. They have all sorts of stories about their suitors and experiences. They have suitors that visit them at night, some at noontime (these are usually the Chinese), some serenades them and all other romantic stuff you can think about just to get their attention. Yet all they ever did was just that and later on, they would leave my sisters broken-hearted. I don’t even want to know why they still want to go through another cycle of flirting, courting, having a relationship and then breaking up.

Maybe that saying was true, maybe it wasn’t. All I know is that Manuel was the only love of my life. Later on, we married and our lives were filled with love and joy with our ten wonderful children.

* This story was adapted from how my grandparents met.
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