Ding! Ding! Ding! I heard the bells tolled from a distance. I listened to the chime until it reverberated into a fading softness. I rose to my knees, yawned and stretched my legs still wrapped in cotton bed sheets. The heat made me feel uneasy, so I removed it. I glanced at the bedside table and checked the time. It was 6:05 a.m. Oh! It's Easter Sunday. I thought. I had enough time to prepare for the christening of Ana Nieves’ 6-month-old daughter, Daniela. I swung my feet on the wooden floor and walked towards the dresser. I untied my ponytail and made several downward brushing strokes on my brown-colored, luscious locks. Little sweats formed at the back of my neck and trickled down my spine. I made a fanning motion to ease the discomfort. It was time for a quick bath.
Few minutes had passed. I checked the last details of my cropped sleeve midi light blue lace dress before I headed to the church. The little brouhaha about me during my birthday celebration suddenly came back to mind. Jo March, was my decision not to marry yet, influenced by you? Hmm. I was in deep thought about it the whole day.
As I walked up the pavement leading to the Parroquia de San Agustin, the sun was high over the whole village of Frias. It cast a bright, light yellow-orange shade on the brown-clotted century-old church bells. The Romanesque bell tower church – a prominent landmark – stood proud and mighty along Calle de San Victores. Streaks of fine sunlight passed through the branches of a lone sycamore tree in front of it. Visible from the clock tower of the Frias town hall’s building, the parochial church was a quiet edifice perched on a massive rugged hill. It was a 400 meters away walk to the majestic Castle of the Duke of Frias, which overlooked the whole village – the descending houses built on a cliff. El castillo y parroquia (the castle and the parish church), were remnants of the past, and people considered these the heart of this small medieval city. In Frias, everybody knew each other. Local people roamed the streets, laughed, sang, and danced to their heart’s content. Old friends and neighbors met at every corner of the town plaza. The Fuente de Agua in front of the municipio - symbolized the circle of life where every personal story was shared. Every struggle sympathized. Every victory lauded.
Here at San Agustin, the first-morning mass was the busiest, and teemed with devoted elderly churchgoers who arrived early. Raised by strict, disciplinarian parents who used to say, El tiempo es oro (Time is gold), going to church was no laughing matter. It’s as significant as life itself. The parientes had been gone for so long, yet, their words reverberated with the movement of the dusty winds, stuck on the old wooden walls and ceilings of their ancestral houses, and haunted their family in their lifetime.
Remember! The clothes and shoes must be modest and clean. The hair well-combed. The nails must be cut. Manners inside the church must be decent and respectable. To secure the front row seat or the whole family, we must be at the church entrance at exactly 6:30 a.m. En punto!Vamos!
Over the years, nothing has changed in Frias.
The christening of Ana’s daughter, Daniela was a welcome respite. Ana, belonged to the Nieves clan, a prominent family. They were descendants of wealthy empresarios (businessmen) in Spain. She got herself pregnant while on the second year of the course Medicina, at an exclusive school for girls in Burgos. She now managed one of her father’s businesses, Farmacia Nieves. Our personalities clashed most of the time, yet, we both found each other interesting. Ana used to say, "we were sisters born from different mothers." Ana, privileged and carefree, was an epitome of a modern woman living on a higher level of society, while I was more of a traditional. But there’s more to us than beneath the eyes. If there was one thing we both commonly shared: it was a good sense of humor.
My mind drifted far away from the present moment as I stared at the gift for Daniela – a red box with pink ribbons. I wonder what it's like to have a baby of my own? I guess, I can be a worm, but never a tadpole. I laughed at my own sense of silliness. So, I quickly dismissed the thought.
Bored beyond oblivion, my eyes roamed around. One particular guy at the front row caught my fancy. To be honest, I never saw such magnetism in Frias, not even Ana's doctor-husband, Diego Soliman who was seated between "the guy" and Don Nieves. Blind without my pair of spectacles, I reached for my brown purse and wore it to see him better. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. My heart beat faster. I couldn’t believe what I just saw.
“Dios Mio! It’s Leo Marco!”
He looked so different now than the last time we met at the bridge, although nothing seemed changed. Was it the hair? The style of his clothes? The smile? Oh, no! Not the smile! I just can't. Por Dios por santo!
The ceremony had ended. The whole time it happened, we were both civil to each other. He never looked, nor talked to me. The guilt feeling about the "water fountain incident" surged inside me. I never expected Ana’s plan to pair me up with Leo - as Daniela’s godparents - pushed through. I survived it, though, but I called it the “Scheme of the Year.”
"You are such a smart bear, Ana! How did you pull that off?" I teased.
"Hey, it's a no brainer, yah! But you looked good together. Don't you think?" Ana answered and grinned from ear to ear.
"It's fine, I enjoyed the act too."
"Worthy of an award,comadre!"
I caught a glimpse of Leo as he walked in ahead of us. Daniela’s other three pairs of godparents were all prominent people from Frias and nearby towns. Two were politicians, one was a doctor, the others were businessmen. Leo and I were the only oddballs. Perhaps, that's the only reason we were paired up.