Along the way, she bumped into her neighbors – all boys, very rambunctious and loud. They were being herded – somewhat – by their older brother Clive. Clive was almost done with school, older than Zoila by over eight years. He asked to see her card, and hesitantly, she showed him. It was worth it to hear his admiring whistle. Patting her on the head and telling her that she did great, he took off chasing after his little brothers. Zoila’s smile grew wider, more sure than ever that her family would probably celebrate her accomplishment.
They did. That evening, there was a special cake baked by her gray-haired mother. Her (much) older brothers and sisters took turns oohing and aahing over her work. Gratified, Zoila made it her mission to do just as well for as long as she was in school. She did. Anything she put her mind to, she accomplished.
As Zoila grew older, she blossomed into a beautiful young lady. With hair down past the backs of her knees, and an affinity for flouncy dresses, she had no idea the effect she had on the young boys around her neighborhood. Known as the village beauty, she was expected to be married off quickly, perhaps to one of the more prosperous farmers, or even a college boy.
But that never happened.
Unbeknownst to nearly everyone but her family, Clive made the first move. The older neighbor boy who had always had a kind word for her, always held her hand to cross the street, the boy who watched her grow like he raised most of his little brothers, he was the one who always held a special place in her heart. Every morning, if he didn’t pass by their house to drop off a bunch of flowers, some fresh picked fruit, or even just a handwritten poem filled with doodles, Clive often sent one of his many, no-less rambunctious brothers to do so. For nearly a year, while Zoila was finishing school, and Clive finished high school, their love story blossomed.
Then the great move came. Clive’s father had been gone for most of Zoila’s life, only having come back once a year from wherever he was in the US. Now that he had his papers in order, he sent for his family. His patient wife packed their house while Clive finished school. He and Zoila were heartbroken, but there was nothing to do. Clive felt his future could be brighter if he followed his family to the US. He only had to convince the love of his life, the young woman whom he had loved for all his life, to wait. Zoila waited.
School was fun – Zoila continued to high school. Her brothers and sisters insisted on her continued education, and with her determination to do well, their money was well invested. Now, when the bus let her out at the center of town, she walked alone by choice, stopping at the general store. Sometimes there was a packet of letters for her, sometimes, there was nothing.
The letters were sent weekly, but it seemed that the postal service had its own ideas about how to deliver them. Instead of a letter arriving each week, months would go by, followed by a bundle of letters that had to be sorted by date, and read in order.
“It’s strange here…I miss you…I love you…school is hard…work is hard…I can’t wait till you can join me…Please don’t give up…wait for me…”
“There are so many things that I can’t wait to show you…the food is so different…it’s so cold…the snow is pretty…not as pretty as you…wait for me…”
“My parents are both working…the kids are in school and are now behaving…I’m working in the evenings…I’m saving my money for us…wait for me…”
He was young, eager, a farmer set to inherit his father’s nearly two hundred acres of farmland, hundreds of heads of cattle, dozens of horses, pigs and more. With all his offerings, he bravely walked up the hill, turning halfway to climb the six stone steps that led to the entryway of Zoila’s parents’ house. Her mother Catalina answered the door, and she called in her husband Felipe to greet him in the formality of the olden times. They smiled sadly, but did not hesitate to summon Zoila from her bedroom.
They both walked through her mother’s beautifully tended gardens, stopping every so often to pull away a dead branch or dried flower. The air of bravado the young man had had left him, his shoulders slumped slightly, but he remained, talking quietly, not even attempting to convince her otherwise. He left, turning once to smile and wave goodbye, as Zoila walked back inside her home.
“I know I’m selfish for making you wait for me. I know that there are people who will tell you things that will make you doubt me. Don’t ever doubt my love for you. I have loved you for years, before you even knew…I have waited a long time…I only ask that you be patient. Please wait for me…I love you…
I sent you a picture of me and Dario in the snow…that’s a snowman…when you can come over, we can build a snow family…”
Most of her friends were getting married. She had been invited to at least four so far, with invitations still forthcoming. Twice she had been bridesmaid, and of course, madrina de lasso for her best friend’s wedding. Anita had married the farmer. He turned out to be kind, wonderful and hardworking, and smitten by Anita. His hurt feelings were soothed and cared for by Anita, and in time, they were all great friends.
“I promise you the wedding of your dreams…I have been dreaming of our wedding for so long, sometimes it feels as if it already happened…I love you…don’t lose hope…please, wait for me…”
“My little brother Joshua has a girlfriend. She has yellow hair, blond they call it here…sometimes I’m jealous of him for having someone close by…but I know that I have the best girl in the world waiting for me…”
She graduated at the top of her class, and in her speech, she spoke of patience, learning to wait, and most of all, trusting in the goodness of people. She also spoke of hard work, and not wasting time while waiting for results.
She had taken on tutoring at home in the evenings and weekends. She enjoyed doing something constructive. Her first year of waiting had been agonizing, but after sulking and being stuck in her room, reading and re-reading his love letters to her, she began doing things to keep her mind occupied.
“You would make an amazing teacher…is that something you want to do? I think you would be perfect…you have so much patience…I know how much patience you have to have to wait for someone who keeps asking you to wait…almost there…I love you so much…”
“Dario has a girlfriend too, a very nice girl. They’re from the village too, but she was born here…Joshua’s blond girlfriend left him…I though he would be heartbroken, but he already has another girl. She has red hair…I love your hair…I’m glad you didn’t cut it…I remember how long and beautiful it was…when we get married, you won’t need a veil…I love you…don’t give up on me…wait for me…”
“My papers are being processed…soon…”
Zoila’s breath caught when she saw the small, thin letter. For the first time in five years, it was the only letter that awaited her. Old Mrs. Flora handed over the letter to her, smiling as she often did, kindness and a little bit of pity for the girl who seemed to be waiting endlessly for a love that never came.
She sat at the table with both her parents, just like his instructions on the envelope had indicated. His familiar, broad, round scrawl was like sweet nothings that filled her heart with gladness. She could hear his familiar whisper, his low voice that hardly ever raised, the words of the man she had loved and waited for…
“Will you marry me?”
Waiting, after saying the inevitable yes, was more agonizing than all those years of hoping. Here she was, five years older, nineteen years old, the bloom of youth hitting its prime. Once destined to become an old maid by all spurned suitors, she was now engaged, and waiting for her husband to be.
He arrived to little fanfare, as was his style. Her father had driven to the city, to the international airport to pick him up in his truck. Her sisters and brothers wanted all to plan a party, something to welcome him back home, but Zoila insisted on being the only one in the kitchen. She worked hard, mixing a simple, delicious cake to serve after dinner. She worked on her best dish, escabeche, and she was at the fire hearth patting out the corn tortillas she would serve with the dish when the truck pulled up. The car door closed gently, and he took a few tentative steps into the house.
Catalina pointed to the back door, which led to the outside kitchen. He walked outside, and for the first time in five years, laid eyes on his fiancée. She had her back to him, her long hair falling down in one thick braid. As if sensing him nearby, she turned to face him.
He seemed older, but his smile took years off him. She could hardly believe that after all the years he had been gone, he was finally home. He reached into his pocket, feeling for the weight of the ring that had been in his possession for nearly two years. They stepped towards each other, strangers and lovers at once. He found the ring, and he fell to both knees before her, grazing them against the small stones on the ground, and not caring. He took both her hands, pressing the metal into them, tears in his eyes, and a question in his face.
The ring fit perfectly, a tiny band whose stones caught the sunlight and sent back shimmering rays of color. Finally, after five long years – years filled with life, yet only half-living, Clive and Zoila had the rest of their years to spend together.
Note: This story was based on a true story. A cousin of mine waited nearly ten years for the love of her life to come back for her. He had to go to the US with his family, and had to figure out a way to get his papers in order before he came back to our village and married her, then whisked her off to live with him. They communicated via love letters, only using the community telephone during emergencies. Now that is love, and dedication, and patience!
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