The sweetest kisses are the ones we share in forbidden places. The kiss I stole from you in the back of a dark cab roaming Damascus, while the driver was cursing at checkpoints and wars; the time I pulled you back into the changing room in H&M in Beirut and printed my lips upon yours; the one you gave me as we hid in the depth of tall grass on Vancouver’s Wreck Beach.
For us, most places were forbidden. We met in war-torn Damascus and moved in together in sectarian Beirut before we finally arrived in Canada. For us, foreplay wasn’t sweet touches and soft kisses; it was finding a place where no police officers, angry parents or nosy
neighbours would find us. It was closing the curtains tight and hushing each other’s gasps of pleasure, giving us a false feeling of privacy and security that did not last long.
If I had to pick, the sweetest of all of our kisses was our very first. I cherish that kiss, for it was the first blossom in a garden of forbidden fruits we planted together. It was the spurt that broke through the soil of our mundane lives and taught all the other flowers how to grow.
I can see us as we stood on top of Mount Qasioun on a late spring evening in 2011, gazing silently over Damascus. The labyrinth of streets beneath us was slowly becoming lined with the lights of evening street lamps; the thousand mosques were garnished with green fluorescent lights. The evening stars built up their momentum and started to shine through the blanket of the dark sky; we were engulfed in an immortal scene of dancing light.
‘No matter what happens to this city, this will remain,’ you said, your eyes reflecting the lights of the city, as if a universe was built within their dark. ‘No war can end the beauty of Damascus.’
You pointed out the Umayyad Mosque to our left and guided me through the streets near it until I could pinpoint your family home, a tiny house with grape leaves covering its walls. I vaguely waved my hand in the direction of the dark home that used to be my family’s, singled out like a sore tooth just a few blocks away from yours.
I was shivering; my nose felt like a cube of ice melting on my face, my eyes were teary. You pulled me closer, placed your arm around my shoulder and broke a shy smile. ‘I had a good day,’ I whispered. You hummed in agreement.
There, close to the peak of that mountain, deep in the darkness of its shadows, we kissed. My lips locked upon yours for a mere second; you pulled my upper lip between your teeth and I felt the warmth of your face tingling my icy nose. Suddenly you weren’t a stranger any more. You weren’t an unknown entity I was equally enchanted and terrified by.
You became someone familiar, safe, welcoming and warm.
Wary that soldiers or passersby might find our hiding place, the kiss didn’t last long. With a final stroke to my hair, you pulled your face away from mine. You smiled your crooked, shy smile and you sighed. ‘We should do this again,’ I said. You laughed.
The day that ended with us on top of the mountain started in the depth of Damascus’s old town, when I waited for you nervously in Pages Café. The café, tucked away in the corner of a narrow street next to a historical school building, had a cozy, dark feeling to it, and became a gathering space for liberals, free thinkers and intellectual rebels in Damascus before they were arrested or killed, or became refugees.
On the wall, abstract posters and paintings were hung. Some promised a revolution to come, others imagined a utopian Damascus that would return to its sixties’ glory. The smell of Turkish coffee and freshly baked Syrian delights filled the café with a homey feel. Somehow it masked the smell of sweat produced heavily by the plainclothes secret policemen who were tucked away between the rebels, eavesdropping on our conversations, bringing mud from their boots to the black-and-white tiled floors, waiting to report free thinkers or arrest activists as they left the café.
‘Have I got a story for you,’ I told you, as you sat down at the corner table by the old piano, the sun hitting the school next door, shining upon its walls and its windows, reflecting through the tall, narrow windows of the café.
You smiled, and your beard, black and well-trimmed, shone with your teeth. It was the very first time I met you – I saw you as you walked through the glass door, and I knew it was you. I remembered your photos from the dating website. As you stepped into the shadowy café, the sun drew an angelic light around you.
You looked surprised, almost baffled. I learned later on that you wondered what kind of a fool you were to come on a date with this stranger. You seemed uncomfortable, almost frightened, that I didn’t rely on the traditional hellos and how-are-yous. You’ve always been blurry outside of your comfort zone.
‘Sure, you can tell me a story,’ you replied tactfully, counting the steps you would need to escape through the door.
‘The earliest memory I have,’ I said, ‘I remember, was of me sitting in my grandmother’s lap. She was tickling me and producing these god-awful noises with her mouth. I must have been three, but I remember laughing from the bottom of my heart.’
For a second you had the Are-you-fucking-serious? look on your face. You weren’t sure how to respond to that. You weren’t sure what would come next. You looked at your mobile screen, hoping for a phone call that would save your afternoon from this freak.
‘You see, I tell you this because I’m a storyteller,’ I said. ‘I’m a fabulist, a writer, a hakawati.’
You took a second. You looked me in the eye, and you smiled, and you said, ‘Tell me a story, then.’