Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chapter 7b: Love (cont)

It turns out that she's from the same village as my grandmother, and is actually related to my grandmother's cousin. She has been in Syria for a lot longer than most of us, for more than four years. Her family left at the beginning of the war because her dad had worked with Saddam's security police and he had a hunch that things were going to get worse before they got better. So as soon as the border with Syria opened, he packed up his wife and three kids and brought them across to a place where they would be safe, a place that would never be home. Hanan is 18 years old now, and so her teenage years were mostly spent in Syria. She doesn't remember Iraq very well. When she said this, I thought of Nour and Rashad, both young children when we came. Will they feel the same way?

She and I chatted for at least half an hour. Once we'd shared our stories of how we came to Syria, and discovered all of our common friends and distant relatives, we talked a bit about other things. It was so easy to talk to her. She asked me questions and seemed interested in me. Not just because we're both Maslawi - I suspect that many Maslawis come to the Sisters to ask for help - but she actually seemed interested in me.

I think I was waiting to meet with one of the sisters, but I eventually started to feel guilty for spending so much time chatting with this stranger of a girl. So I got up to leave.

"You never told me why you're here," she said, still sitting at her desk. She didn't seem surprised or to feel guilty at all. She just pointed out that I was leaving without doing what I'd come to do.

I was already smitten, but her matter-of-fact way of doing her job won me over for good. The way she said it meant I didn't get nervous or self-conscious like I usually do around girls I like. This time, I had plenty of time to feel my heart beating later, but at that moment I sat down again and started telling her about our current crisis.

She listened, taking notes and nodding. I still didn't know what her job was at the Catholic Sisters' Office. Actually, I wasn't even entirely sure I was in the right place. Maybe she was a dentist's receptionist secretly laughing at me, a silly refugee boy asking for help to pay the rent when all she did was schedule appointments for teeth cleanings and fillings.

But she led the conversation. After I finished my story, she asked me a series of questions, some of them quite personal and embarrassing. Then she asked me for my phone number. I gave it to her.

And just like that, she was standing up. She walked to the door and stood there expectantly. So I stood up, too. She offered me her hand and shook my hand firmly. She said they would be calling and that it was a pleasure to meet me.

That night, for the first time since I arrived, it wasn't worrying about the family that kept me awake til sometime in the early hours of the morning. It was her smile, her direct communication, her kindness. Her eyes and her teeth haunted my grogginess. I relived every word of our conversation two or three times, getting irritated with myself for all the silly things I'd said, then feeling embarrassed that after I'd told her of our plight she knew so many personal details about me. It was a very pleasant way to spend my insomnia.

I started looking for excuses to visit the Sisters' centre and when I found out that she participated in the Chaldean Church youth activities, I decided to join that group. She didn't seem surprised by my obvious interest, but she did seem flattered. Eventually she invited me to meet her family and I brought her to meet my family. Every moment I spent with her I enjoyed her company even more, and was always amazed at how relaxed I felt when she was nearby.

We started talking about marriage. We're both so very young and everything was so uncertain for our families, but we started to brainstorm whether it might work. I began to hope that I might be able to share my burden with someone. With Hanan around, I felt completely confident that things would work out. She had a way of putting everything into order. But it wasn't just that. I really liked seeing her face, hearing her voice. I didn't want to have to contemplate not having her around all the time.

At nights I would lay awake thinking of her, and imagining what it would be like if she, not Rashad, lay on the mattress beside me. This would keep my mind occupied for hours, and it was a beautiful way to spend my hours of sleeplessness.

Other nights, my worries would once again take over, and while Hanan would occasionally float through my thoughts like a breath of fresh air, it was the poverty and uncertainty that kept sleep at bay.

No comments:

Post a Comment