I was a college freshman and just moved in at Kalayaan Residence Hall, a dormitory inside the UP Diliman campus.
It was the second semester when I got accepted to the dorm, and while I was still getting over my initial culture shock of university life, I suddenly found myself to another round of adjustments as I try to make new friends in my new home.
I grew up in Manila so I couldn’t understand any of the dialects which most of my dorm mates speak. I really had a hard time following conversations that filled the hallways. All I could do was ask some of them to translate their jokes and anecdotes to Filipino.
But after awhile, I got the hang of it and eventually learned the basics of other Philippine dialects such as Bisaya, Cebuano, Ilokano and Illonggo.
Then February came, and despite the fact that it was also the season for our midterm exams, the House Council managed to organize some activities so we could enjoy the day of hearts.
The dormitory bustled with activities for Valentine’s Day, and the hallways were suddenly filled with “cupids” walking around and delivering card messages to the residents – all thanks to the Love Notes booth at the lobby.
After lunch, I went to that booth and decided to send a few notes to my friends, greeting them “Happy Valentimes Day! :-)” (yes, the incorrect spelling is intentional).
Afterwards, the one in charge of the booth asked if me I had any special person in mind to whom I would like to send something more romantic.
I told him that I had nobody in mind but paid him the fee for a message and jokingly asked him to just send it to the one he thinks is the most beautiful girl in the dormitory.
It was close to dinner time and I was sitting at the lobby reading some of the messages I received from my friends when suddenly a girl I didn’t know came and thanked me for the note I sent her.
I immediately understood and answered with the truth.
“No, don’t thank me. That was really sent by Kuya Alvin. I asked him to send a note to whom he thinks is the most beautiful girl in the dorm and I guess he picked you.”
Her bright smile suddenly faded, and I realized the mistake I just committed.
But before I could repair the situation, her eyes suddenly became curious and asked me, “So do you agree? Did Kuya Alvin made the right choice?”
My young innocent heart skipped a beat. My mind raced and searched for an answer to a question I wasn’t expecting to come.
Don’t get me wrong, she was indeed beautiful – a real Filipina beauty with flawless morena skin, shoulder-length black hair, warm eyes and an unassuming stance.
I finally gave an almost inaudible reply, “Yes, I think you are the most beautiful girl here in the dormitory.”
With that reply, I thought I had redeemed myself and she would smile, thank me again for the note, turn away from me and go back to her friends.
But then she asked, “Are you doing anything tonight? Would you like to go to the UP Fair with me? My friends are all studying for their exams and I’m only free tonight because I have midterms later this week.”
I was slightly caught off guard by such a forward invitation from a girl I barely know, but then I realized that this was probably just a friendly gesture and I should get used to the outgoing and sociable personalities in the university where academic freedom is a lifestyle.
I teased her with a reply, “Like a date?”
To which she answered, “Since it’s Valentine’s, then yes, like a Valentine’s date. I would just like to attend my first UP Fair. I heard so many stories about it from my sister, and how I shouldn’t miss it.”
I agree. The UP Fair is one of the most celebrated events in campus. I was excited myself to see it for the first time. And I was lucky to have my midterms later that week as well, so I was also free that night.
“Okay, it’s a date. See you here at the lobby around 7,” I replied excitedly. I rationalized that my friends are out on dates or studying for their exams too anyway.
We walked towards the Sunken Garden and chatted freely about ourselves. From afar, we could hear a band fine-tuning an electric guitar as we see more students walking along with us, also making their way to the UP Fair.
We finally arrived at the gates, I paid for the entrance tickets and we went inside.
Suddenly, we found ourselves in a place so much different from what we imagined a school fair would be.
No kissing nor marriage booths, no science exhibits nor singing contests, instead there were henna tattoo salons, wall climbing facilities and rifle pistol shooting booths. We were overwhelmed by the festive atmosphere and was at a loss on where to go.
“Look there’s a bazaar!” she exclaimed as she grabbed my hand to lead me to a stall selling some hand-painted shirts.
While she was busy looking at the designs, I helped myself in some of the indigenous items that was being sold at the table. I took the liberty of buying a beaded bracelet.
She noticed my purchase and said, “That’s nice.”
I reached for her left arm and carefully placed the bracelet around it. “This is my Valentine’s gift to you,” I said.
She gave me that same smile I caught a glimpse of earlier that afternoon when I first saw her.
“Thank you. You’re really sweet,” she replied.
My heart was close to melting. Love struck if you must say. It was an am-I-dreaming-or-is-this-really-happening kind of moment.
I was in a giddy state when suddenly, I heard her scream, “Tequila!”
She almost dragged me to the booth and immediately ordered two shots.
“To cupid and all the lovers in the world tonight!” she uttered as we both raised our jiggers into the air.
The rest of the night was a mix of romantic interludes and bursts of juvenile spontaneity. We rode the ferris wheel while eating cotton candy. We binged on street food, and our common favorite, shawarma.
We downed a couple of beers and took a few more tequila shots – all the while singing along with the rock bands playing in the background.
When it was time to head back to the dormitory, I couldn’t help myself but ask her, “So what happens now? What will tomorrow bring us?”
“Tonight was perfect,” she replied. “And I want it to stay that way.”
That was all she said and I understood what she meant.
We walked the rest of the way back to the dorm in silence, holding hands and enjoying the night breeze as the music from the rock concert slowly faded away in the background.
We reached Kalayaan just in time for curfew. She thanked me for bringing her to the UP Fair, smiled and kissed me for the last time.
We remained friends for awhile until she transferred to another school after a few semesters. The last time I saw her was a few years back when I accidentally bumped into her in Makati.
She’s now married with a kid and working in her family’s business. We had coffee that afternoon and spent a couple of hours reminiscing our UP Fair Valentine’s Date.
Before saying goodbye, I asked her what was written in the love note that Kuya Alvin sent her.
I never had the chance to ask her back then and I have always wondered.
She smiled and said, “Happy Valentimes Day! :-)”
You don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy Valentine’s Day with your sweetheart.
There are lots of ways to have a fun and romantic date that’s easy on the budget just like my UP Fair Valentine experience above. All it takes is a little creativity and imagination. Any sincere act of love is always appreciated regardless of the price.
This post is my entry to Noemi’s Love Struck Blog Writing Contest.
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Tags: Life Lessons