The International Writers Magazine: Excerpt from the memoir “MY IRAQI LOVE STORY”
When Omar and Kim met, their eyes locked and their only thought was the other. It was in Damascus, during introductions at this ‘social hour’ that was set up by their respective organizations, that they met. He was a refugee; she, an American. They each only needed to look at each other and immediately ask, how do I get to the other? I must get to the other.
They patiently sat through the rest of the introductions, dying a little on the inside with each passing moment they were apart. As the formal introductions ended and the actual glorious ‘happy hour’ started, they began the slow dance towards each other, making small talk with others at first, as to not look too forward. Look, turn, step, counter, turn, look. Each step countered, each look parried. Look. Look. Flirt. Flirt. Look. Flirt. Look. Flirt. Arduous minute after arduous minute until, at last, they surrendered to the pull and moved to each other like magnets, like pita to hummus, like…inevitability.
This is how it was described anyway, by those there.
For me, truth be told, it wasn’t that far off – minus the dancing bit. It did indeed feel like magnets. Like flirty, little magnets. Indeed, it even felt like inevitability. Because the moment we met it was over. O-V-E-R. Over. And when finally we stood within breathing distance of each other, our oud music love soundtrack playing in the background, our eyes locked and I wondered if he felt the same immense overwhelming echo beating in his chest. Ba boom. Ba boom. Was this happening? Is this allowed to happen? Am I allowed to feel this for one of the refugees I am supposed to be interviewing? Crap. Too late.
Eternity of silence in our stare. Ba boom. Ba boom. Ba-...
“Omar, I’m Kim.” (I’ve always been the initiator.)
“I know” he says, and smiles, a smile to launch a thousand ships, a thousand war ships more like it. He is from Iraq, after all…
It’s dark out now. We’re on his balcony overlooking the twinkling blue lights of Damascus below. They look like stars.
“Nejoom,” he says. “Nejoom?” I ask. Nejoom. Stars. Perfectly lost in both the blue lights and his brown eyes, I listen to his broken English: He travels back and forth to Baghdad regularly, sends money home when he can, considers himself more Western than Arab, watches American movies every night, has a best friend named Alaa, not Allah/God/Allah but Aha-laa, calls home every time there are bombings in Baghdad to make sure everyone is still alive and thinks I am jamilla.
“Jamilla?” I ask. “Jamilla,” he says. Jamilla. Beautiful. He thinks I’m beautiful. We look at each other and are so close to kissing it hurts, but I decide to delay. I mean, I’m not even sure this is legal. Am I allowed to kiss a refugee on a mission to interview him? What would my sponsor organization say? Would this negate all the interviews I’ve done? Am I being ridiculous? Kiss him, Kim!! Why won’t he kiss me? OMY, this is so difficult! What is the right course of action in this situation? I’m not sure there is one! I’m not sure anyone anywhere in the history of the world has ever been in this situation before. Ever! So I pull back and simply smile. Well played, I think. He pauses and takes a swig of his beer.
I sigh, from relief or disappointment, maybe both. The twinkling lights of Damascus pull my attention, so we both watch the lights flicker in silence. A moment later, the spell temporarily broken, I decide to go back inside to look at his paintings more. I need to escape the romantic magic of this balcony. And perhaps now I can actually see the paintings, since I’m not quite so nervous as I was before. He follows me inside. I wander around a few paintings, still feeling the heat of our almost kiss. I notice a beautiful, smiling woman who appears in several paintings. I ask him casually about her.
“So, who is that woman?” I say, not at all casually, actually sounding more like a stalker than I wanted.
“This girl live in Baghdad and I loved her.” Jealousy overtakes me. Who is this ugly whore and why did he paint her? I hate her and her casual, sexy smiles!
“But I never met her,” he finishes. Okay, jealousy begins to subside. Loved her, but never met her? Wha..? Apparantly, her father would not allow it after the invasion. Something Sunni/Shia. I wonder what he is. Sunni or Shia. For some reason, I don’t ask.
So Omar would wait for this woman to leave her home every day so he could steal a glance of her as she walked across the street. Every day, he would just watch her (who’s the stalker now!), always careful as to never be caught as she would be punished if her father suspected Omar of stealing glances. Really? I mean thirty years ago sure, but today? This happens today? To the man I am head over sandals for? Where am I?
“Please. You want to sit?” Omar offers, gesturing to the sad, little couch. Sure, why not. Sit. Sitting is good. My synapses are firing in overdrive for so many reasons right now. He sits on a nearby chair. Strange. Respectful? Strange.
The woman in the painting on the wall hovers over us, stealing glances, the bitch, as I try to find a comfortable spot on the broken couch. Sit still, Kim. Don’t act like the couch is broken. You’ll make him aware that you’re aware that his couch is broken. He is sitting on the opposite (…less broken?) chair desperately trying to tell me something.
He is struggling. He felt a connection immediately. Meeting was no accident. This was meant to be. But we are different. He thinks I think he is bedouin man, living in cave.
“No, no, Omar,” I laugh in response. “I don’t think you are a Bedouin man!”
“Maybe later when my English is better, I can speak my heart better. It’s just…I…”
“No, you’re doing fine, Omar. Please. Say what you are saying,” I lean forward, but now he’s not looking at me. He’s so nervous, attempting to speak his heart in his non-native tongue.
Finally, the broken words stop. He is done and simply looks at me, wondering. I look at him, knowing. And, then I kiss him, speaking my heart with my native tongue.
I kissed him because I knew he would never kiss me, could never kiss me first, for so many reasons. I kissed him because I think he needed me to kiss him. I kissed him because after these three weeks, I needed to—I needed to feel human, to feel …love. I kissed him not because he was Iraqi and I was American, or maybe because he was Iraqi and I was American. I kissed him. Because I had to do something. Anything.
Mouth to mouth, we breathe together, and at last…he kisses me back and for a moment, a very brief moment, everyone else disappeared. All the other stories vanished. The only story that existed was the one we were writing.
© Kim Schultz March 2013