Juanito, the 18-year-old bell ringer, still half-asleep, yawned and climbed his way up on the concrete stairs leading to the bell tower. For some reason, he woke up earlier than usual. He held an old dust cloth, a silver bucket filled with half water, and a bottle of oil he used for cleaning. He wiped the dust off the bells with a damp cloth. He swept up the little pieces of dry leaves, and little twig branches scattered around by birds on the rickety and antiquated wooden floors. The gooey black and white-colored bird droppings around the concrete balusters proved the place had already been conquered and claimed as their territory. Juanito didn’t have a choice but to clean them regularly, much to his dismay. Tired, but not yet finished with his work, he turned his head to the direction of the big wooden window, while the early sunlight caused his eyes to glint.
On the wide space of the courtyard below, Marcela Frisco, an elder female cleaner hummed an unfamiliar song while she swept the cobblestoned path that led to the front door of the church. That area was filled with scattered dry leaves and dust caused by a strong whirlwind the night before. Marcela saw the black silhouette image of Juanito. He waved his hands up in the air, as if he was an airport ground traffic controller. She pointed her fingers to the rectory where Reverend Father Domino lived, and indicated that any minute, he was about to go out of his quarters. Then, she gathered some flowers for the altar and walked away. Juanito picked up the pail filled with murky water, and cleaned up his mess. A very light stench caused by high humidity even in the early morning had made his nose itched and his body sweat. He sat on a long wooden chair to relax. There was a feeling of excitement in his eyes. It's time.He thought.
“Good Morning, Frias! Wake uuupppp!” Juanito shouted at the top of the bell tower. Juanito pulled the bell ropes and rung the bells several times to call the townspeople for the Sunday mass service. Ding! Ding! Ding! Today, Juanito was in high spirits. He whistled, danced, and sang while he cleaned. He even talked to the birds, “see you, tomorrow guys,” on the way down the stairs, like they have been friends for a very long time.
On his way down, he bumped into Marcela. She recognized the way his eyes lit up when he whispered something to her.
“Really?” Marcela blurted out. Shock at the revelation, about his newfound inspiration the day before. With a big smile and wide eyes, she asked, “Tell me, who was this special lady? What's her name?"
“You knew her very well. She used to hear mass on Sundays,” replied Juanito.
Marcela rolled her eyes, “Juanito, many people go to Mass on Sundays. How will I know which one?”
“Well…” He stopped. "For now, it's a secret."
. “You’re still young Juanito. How do you think you can give her a good life? Better finish your studies first before thinking of such nonsense.”
“But I earned money from working here at the Parroquia.”
“Do you think its enough to raise a family?”
“It was only an admiration, a way to express my feelings. Or get to know her better, maybe go on a date with her, if she would allow it. I didn’t say I would marry her now. But if she does, the parish church would come alive once again."
“During our time, courtship was a serious business, Juanito. You can’t ask a girl out just for the fun of it. A courtship, more often than not, always leads to marriage. And that's the truth.”
"How come, women can marry early, while men cannot? That's unfair!" He blurted out.
"Well, men must be good providers, first of all. Women are expected to be good homemakers. Unless your parents are empresarios or born with a silver spoon, you don't have a choice but to work hard." Marcela added.
"Ah, why is life too complicated? He asked.
"Well, it is what it is," Marcela replied.
Thirty minutes later, the mass started. Juanito assisted Father Domino at the altar, yet his eyes were fixed on the direction of the third-row aisle, where I was seated. He spotted me as soon as I entered the church and his eyes followed me to my seat. His heart raced. His breathing and anxiety increased.
"All sit-down,” Father Domino announced, for the start of the readings.
Juanito, mind out of nowhere, remained standing in front. He spent the whole time daydreaming about me. Father Domino stood up and whispered to him, “Juanito, please sit down. The reading is about to start."
Half-way through the mass, Father Domino noticed several times, Juanito's mind had drifted off to a fantasyland. He wasn't able to follow the mass sequence and made a fool of himself.
Older women who witnessed the unfortunate scenes raised their eyebrows, and whispered with one another, while several young female teenagers giggled in their seats. Juanito felt embarrassed for a moment. His lips formed a wide smile and scratched his head, but he seemed oblivious of the people around him. Nothing mattered to him, but the flushed and spectacled librarian. He glanced at me like he had seen a ghost – a beautiful brunette ghost, of course. He can’t get me out of his mind and sight. As the mass went on, Juanito’s remained disoriented by my sheer presence. Father Domino, head tilted to the side, made a frown. After the mass has ended, Father Domino requested for a private conversation with Juanito inside the rectory. He sat there on a chair, head bow down with shame about the incident. He mashed his hands against his cheeks. He tried to come up with alibis, but he shook his head and dismissed the thought.
"Father, I was not feeling well this morning. I'm sorry." he lied. It was better than bear the shameful disclosure of his secret.
"Okay, I think you should go home now and take a rest."