A WHIFF of pollen brought by the February breeze greeted Valerie as she stepped onto the campus grounds. Across the open field, she could see students holding heart-shaped balloons, giddily exchanging intricate bouquets, and couples lounging by the grass to spend the rest of the afternoon.

Valerie let out a sad sigh.

On this day, two years ago, she was happily baking a wonky cake with her grandparents. She could remember her lolo, in his tucked-in shirt, swiping icing on her lola’s cheeks, and the delightful smell of the kitchen, whose walls were filled with black and white photos of her grandparents during their undergraduate years.

Later that day, she watched her lolo and lola dance to an old tune on the radio, leaning their heads against one another as sunlight peered through the Capiz windows. She remembered capturing the moment through her own camera, smiling fondly at the two.

Valerie then shook her head, trudging towards the field to take photos of the Valentine’s Day scene at the campus. Today was no time to reminisce; she had work to do.

Immediately, the young girl took snaps of the students celebrating hearts’ day. Every shot that she captured of a couple holding hands made her wonder how much of that romantic love was real — it all seemed superficial to her.

By the time she had crossed Plaza Mayor, Valerie found herself walking towards the center of the Benavides Garden, which most students fondly call “lovers’ lane.”

Sure enough, a few lovers here and there were cuddling by the benches, others strolling with their hands around each other’s waists. Valerie quickly took snaps but was unsatisfied with her work.

As she turned around, her eyes then focused on a couple that, oddly enough, were sitting by an imperfectly shaped boulder instead of the new wooden benches. Unlike the other couples around them, the two weren’t outrightly affectionate – the young man was sketching on a pad and grinning up at the young girl, the latter tossing back her head and clutching her own sketch pad in laughter.

It was a type of intimacy that made Valerie stare, and stare some more through the viewfinder of her camera. Click!

Valerie looked down to check the photo, only to see it smudged in bright, white light.

The young girl groaned as she fiddled with the device. She must have messed up the white balance.

As she was about to position her camera to take another shot, the couple, seemingly done for the day, began to pack their things.

“Wait!” Valerie called out, jogging towards them.

When the two turned to face her, Valerie almost retreated back.

“Yes?” the young lady asked as the photojournalist blinked thrice. The couple looked uncannily familiar, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

Even their uniforms seemed familiar: beige tops and brown pants that, however, did not seem to fit the uniforms of other present colleges. And yet, judging from the drawing tubes and T-squares that hung from their shoulders, they surely had to be from the College of Architecture.

“I’m Valerie, a photographer from the student publication of the liberal arts college,” the campus journalist introduced herself. “Is it alright to ask if you’re together? I’m trying to take photos of different couples for our Valentine’s Day coverage.”

The assumed young lovers looked at each other in surprise, exchanging a glance that only they could understand.

“Uh, yes,” the young man cleared his throat. “We’ve been in a relationship for two years now,” the young man grinned proudly while the girl shyly waved a hand in greeting.

Valerie couldn’t help but smile in response. There was something about the young man’s tucked-in polo and the young girl’s large waves of hair that made her feel at ease with their presence.

As Valerie asked their permission if she could take a photo of them, the lovely duo happily obliged, fixing themselves for the exposure.

“Hey, will you be giving us a copy? I want to paste our photo on the cover of my notebooks,” the young man asked jokingly, with his lover playfully nudging him by the shoulder.

“No problem. I can send it to your email later,” Valerie chuckled as she adjusted her camera’s lighting.

“You can send photos now?” the wavy-haired girl asked in confusion. “I remember how many hours we’ve waited just to have our first photo developed!”

Valerie couldn’t help but furrow her eyebrows as she listened to the lovers’ exchange. Both of them were reminiscing memories that sounded as if they had been together for a lifetime instead of just two years.

And yet, there was something genuine about these strangers that made Valerie feel warm and fuzzy inside.

“Ready?” she asked politely.

The two moved closer to each other. There were no holding hands, no hooking of arms — just a sweet gesture of both of them leaning their heads against one another.

Valerie’s forehead creased. For a moment, the black and white images that hung in her grandparents’ gallery flashed before her eyes.


As soon as Valerie put her camera down, the two were suddenly nowhere to be found.

She blinked rapidly, trying to remember what had just happened. Everything felt surreal, like a distant memory with only her and the Benavides statue as its witness.

“And the photo!” the photojournalist gasped, immediately checking her camera.

To Valerie’s surprise, the recent photo in her gallery was nothing more but the facade of the Main Building and the empty space in front of the boulder where the couple had posed a few moments ago.

Her face wrinkled in confusion as she positioned her camera at the same angle as earlier, glancing back and forth at the screen and at the location.

She was about to press her shutter once more to check if her camera was damaged when things suddenly dawned on her.

The uniforms, the hairstyles, the familiar, kind faces…

Valerie smiled to herself. This was a type of snapshot that her camera wasn’t able to capture, but her heart surely could.


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