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Florentino's first meeting with Olimpia to Fermina's discovery of her husband's affair
Florentino sees a girl, Olimpia Zuleta chasing after her parasol, which is being blown around in a storm. He gives her a ride home and learns that she has been married for less than a year to a man who works loading merchandise onto his riverboats. Later, he drives by Olimpia's house and calls to her as she is feeding her carrier pigeons, one of which she presents to him as a gesture of gratitude for rescuing her. Florentino sends the pigeon back to Olimpia with an unsigned love note. It is returned to him with the message that she will not return the pigeon again. Regardless, he sends the bird once more, and again it is returned with the same message. Then Florentino realizes that there is a note in the pigeon's foot ring which explains that Olimpia does not accept anonymous letters, and again Florentino sends the pigeon to her, with a signed note and a red rose.
For three months, Olimpia replies that she is "not one of those women." Six months later, when she and Florentino find themselves together on a riverboat that is being painted, Olimpia succumbs to Florentino's advances. On Olimpia's belly, he writes in paint, "This p**** is mine," and when she undresses later that evening in front of her husband, he sees the inscription. Without a word, he slashes her throat with a razor. Shortly thereafter, Florentino's mother* dies. She is buried at the former ranch where so many cholera victims have been buried, not very far from Olimpia's grave. Florentino plants a rosebush first on his mother's grave, then on Olimpia's; the rosebushes spread, and eventually, the cemetery is renamed the Cemetery of Roses.
Florentino encounters the couple who married because of his love letters. After seeing their child, his godson, who has matured, he is stunned by the realization of his own old age. Thirty years have passed since he lost Fermina. Meanwhile, after receiving word of his mother's death, Dr. Urbino returns home with Fermina, who is pregnant with a second child, Ofelia. Harmony is restored to their marriage when, at a gala dinner, Fermina discovers that she likes eggplant. However, now that she is in command of the house, Fermina feels like a domestic slave. Urbino jokes that a man should have two wives: one to love and another who sews. For her birthday, Fermina asks that he take on her normal household duties for the day; he fails miserably. Just when Fermina thinks she has forgotten Florentino, the first signs of old age spark a powerful nostalgia for her youth. Her memories of him are not of love, but of sorrow.
Dr. Urbino and Fermina celebrate the new century by taking the first journey in a hot air balloon. Fermina wants to see her birthplace, but cannot, for it is a land ridden with cholera. After her return, Florentino sees Fermina's reflection in a mirror at an inn. He does not approach her, but buys the mirror from the owner of the establishment. Despite Florentino's attempts to lessen the distance between them, Fermina resists and shows no recollection of their past. He watches her house for a year, but not once does he see her. On one rainy day, his horse slips and falls outside of her house. One of Fermina's servants brings him an umbrella while he waits, mortified, for another carriage to pass by. Florentino also goes to mass to see her, though he does not. She is absent from civic and social ceremonies for the remainder of the year, and there is gossip that, infected by the plague, she has she has left the country. Despite his efforts, Florentino cannot uncover the truth of her whereabouts.
Fermina leaves to live with Hildebranda on a ranch in another village. She and her husband had agreed that she would leave quietly, without scandal. Fermina sails at midnight in secrecy, determined not to return. During her absence, Fermina and Urbino maintain a formal correspondence about their children, but nothing more. Fermina leaves because she discovers, after detecting an unusual scent on her husband's clothes, that he had been having an affair.
Like Florentino, Olimpia Zuleta is a victim of a tragedy. Both Olimpia and Florentino lose their lives for love; Olimpia is murdered by her jealous husband when he discovers that she is having an affair, and Florentino spends every moment of his life pleasing and attaining Fermina. He sacrifices all of his other desires in hopes that she will reciprocate his love. Florentino's love seems a dangerous gamble, for he may never get the chance to actually experience the love affair that he has paid for so dearly.
Florentino realizes, with sudden fear and sadness, that, despite his incessant dedication and sacrifice, he may never even have the chance to be with Fermina, for they are both growing old. This possibility is terrifying for Florentino. Not only has he dedicated his life to the moment when he may finally be with Fermina, but he also relies on this moment of ecstasy, his life's ultimate satisfaction, to give his life meaning. Florentino lives for no one but Fermina. He has sacrificed everything only to win her affection, and upon seeing his godson, who has grown almost into a man, Florentino realizes how quickly time has passed, and will pass, and that he has let years slip through his fingers as he waits for her to love him. Florentino's fear and sadness culminate upon his sudden realization that the years will continue on, with or without him, and possibly without ever knowing Fermina. Never once has it occurred to Florentino that Fermina may die before he has the opportunity to express his love for her, nor has it occurred to him that he may die without confessing his passion or sharing in love with her.
The day Florentino may experience a reciprocated love with Fermina has always seemed a distant time which he must work towards in his present. Like death, this joyous day seems faraway and untouchable. Florentino is aware that death, like love, will arrive, though when it actually does, it shocks and surprises. Throughout life, one accepts and expects death as an inevitable fate, though when it manifests, it can sometimes feel terribly unexpected. Florentino seems to have a similar notion about his love for Fermina. He expects that one day they will be happy together, but by the time he realizes the nearness of his death, he is stunned, upset by the closeness and the imminence of the end of his life. Such failure urges Florentino to question whether or not his life has been worth living.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Love in the Time of Cholera!