Florentino Ariza, on the other hand, had not stopped thinking of her for a single moment since Fermina Daza had rejected him out of hand after a long and troubled love affair ﬁfty-one years, nine months, and four days ago. He did not have to keep a running tally, drawing a line for each day on the walls of a cell, because not a day had passed that something did not happen to remind him of her. At the time of their separation he lived with his mother, Tránsito Ariza, in one half of a rented house on the Street of Windows, where she had kept a notions shop ever since she was a young woman, and where she also unraveled shirts and old rags to sell as bandages for the men wounded in the war. He was her only child, born of an occasional alliance with the well-known ship owner Don Pius V Loayza, one of the three brothers who had founded the River Company of the Caribbean and thereby given new impetus to steam navigation along the Magdalena River.
Don Pius V Loayza died when his son was ten years old. Although he always took care of his expenses in secret, he never recognized him as his son before the law, nor did he leave him with his future secure, so that Florentino Ariza used only his mother’s name even though his true parentage was always common knowledge. Florentino Ariza had to leave school after his father’s death, and he went to work as an apprentice in the Postal Agency, where he was in charge of opening sacks, sorting the letters, and notifying the public that mail had arrived by ﬂying the ﬂag of its country of origin over the oﬃce door.
His good sense attracted the attention of the telegraph operator, the German émigré Lotario Thugut, who also played the organ for important ceremonies in the Cathedral and gave music lessons in the home. Lotario Thugut taught him the Morse code and the workings of the telegraph system, and after only a few lessons on the violin Florentino Ariza could play by ear like a professional. When he met Fermina Daza he was the most sought-after young man in his social circle, the one who knew how to dance the latest dances and recite sentimental poetry by heart, and who was always willing to play violin serenades to his friends’ sweethearts. He was very thin, with Indian hair plastered down with scented pomade and eyeglasses for myopia, which added to his forlorn appearance. Aside from his defective vision, he suffered from chronic constipation, which forced him to take enemas throughout his life. He had one black suit, inherited from his dead father, but Tránsito Ariza took such good care of it that every Sunday it looked new. Despite his air of weakness, his reserve, and his somber clothes, the girls in his circle held secret lotteries to determine who would spend time with him, and he gambled on spending time with them until the day he met Fermina Daza and his innocence came to an end.
He had seen her for the ﬁrst time one afternoon when Lotario Thugut told him to deliver a telegram to someone named Lorenzo Daza, with no known place of residence.
He found him in one of the oldest houses on the Park of the Evangels; it was half in ruins, and its interior patio, with weeds in the ﬂowerpots and a stone fountain with no water, resembled an abbey cloister. Florentino Ariza heard no human sound as he followed the barefoot maid under the arches of the passageway, where unopened moving cartons and bricklayer’s tools lay among leftover lime and stacks of cement bags, for the house was undergoing drastic renovation. At the far end of the patio was a temporary oﬃce where a very fat man, whose curly sideburns grew into his mustache, sat behind a desk, taking his siesta. In fact his name was Lorenzo Daza, and he was not very well known in the city because he had arrived less than two years before and was not a man with many friends.