“This is love: to fly towards a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.  First to let go of life.  Finally, to take a step without feet.”-Rumi

Disclaimer: The chapters are meant to be read in order for better understanding, but with that said, each chapter can also be read on its own.

I think my hands were created specifically for this purpose.

I gently brush Hayma’s long dark hair back and out of her eyes.  Then I run my fingers through every inch of it, all the while hoping to never reach the end. Each time I do I start over and think of something Kahlil Gibran wrote, “How often have you sailed in my dreams.  And now you have come in my awakening, which is my deeper dream.”

Everything is perfect.

I can’t take my eyes off Hayma even though Melbourne’s flickering like candlelight just outside the window of my hotel room.  It’s midnight and we’re 8 floors up and smack dab in the middle of the CBD (Central Business District). Across the street is the Old Melbourne Gaol Museum which is said to be haunted.  Directly behind it is the city’s most impressive row of skyscrapers all lined up and ready for work tomorrow.

I look over at Hayma and say; “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world with anyone else.”

We just walked back from our first date.  We had dinner and then played a few games of pool at an Irish pub.  I don’t think either of us wanted the night to end, so as cheesy as it sounds, I invited her up to my room to listen to music since we like the same kind, but I would have just as easily agreed to watch paint dry if that’s what she wanted to do instead.

The longest ten minutes of my life came at her expense earlier tonight.  She texted me just before we were about to meet in the lobby saying that the iron had burnt a hole in her dress and that she needed to find something else to wear.  I was so excited to see her that that extra ten minutes felt like the 8 months it took me to get from Cape Town to Cairo.

Even though I felt like I knew her already, I wanted to really get to know her.  So at dinner we crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s on the basics.  There is so much I like about her. I like how different she is than me.

She’s Moroccan and mysterious.  She’s so, what’s the word, sultry.  There’s a fire smoldering just behind her eyes and I have a feeling that no matter how well I get to know her, she’ll always remain a bit of a mystery, but that only draws me in deeper.

She wears these huge silver rings on her fingers that she got in Marrakesh a few years ago; I’ve never seen anything like them.  Every time she moves she dazzles me.  She’s nothing like anyone I’ve ever met.

She lives with her mother, two younger sisters and two brothers in the Netherlands.  She speaks three languages and she just finished her master’s degree in business.  She’s only twenty-four years old, but she’s an old soul so our difference in age doesn’t ever cross my mind.

Melbourne, Australia.

She’s at a crossroads in her life, questioning everything, a quarter life crisis if you will, and she’s in the midst of a 3-month backpacking trip with her friend Jolene in search of some answers.  They started in New Zealand, then flew to Australia and drove along its eastern coastline, often sleeping in the car they rented and next they’re off to Thailand together.

I like that she’s traveling and roughing it by sleeping in cars.  I like that she’s questioning everything – she reminds me so much of myself in that sense.  She has this magic in her and I don’t think she quite knows it just yet, but I swear I can see it.  When I said she glows I literally meant it. It’s almost like she has this pulsating light around her.  She could do anything she wanted in this world, I’m absolutely sure of it.  At dinner I just kept blurting out, “you’re special” to which she would reply, “everyone’s special.”

I love the arch in her lips.  It’s intoxicating.  I’d do anything to kiss them.  They’re big and luscious and at dinner I couldn’t help but wonder just how soft they really are.

I sit up and rearrange the pillows on my bed so I can make up an excuse to scoot a little closer to her.  As I do, I think about leaning in for a kiss.  I’d trade all my travels for just one.  Hayma rests her head on my chest and then bats her bottomless eyes at me.  I can’t help but melt for the umpteenth time.  We get so close that I can feel her exhale on my neck and just as I build up the courage to lean in she whispers, “This is kind of embarrassing, but I have to tell you something.”

I immediately promise her that she can tell me anything.

Her cheeks get rosy red, “Well, the thing is…”

My heart skips a beat as her voice trails off; something about this feels like it’s going to be bad.

I start to brace myself for the worst by going through all the terrible things she might tell me.  Maybe she’s married, or maybe she has a boyfriend back at home, or maybe she just got out of a long relationship and isn’t quite ready to meet someone new just yet, any of which would well and truly shatter my heart.

How could a woman this incredible be single anyway?

While I wait for her to break the news I gaze at the adorable scar that’s just below her left eye.  That and the tiny birthmark on her neck are quickly becoming my favorite two things in the world.

After a deep breath she works up the courage and says, “Okay so here it is, I’ve never…”

“I’ve never kissed anyone before.”

My mind goes blank like someone pulled its plug.

It goes blank for two reasons.  The first is that she’s 24 and never kissed anyone.  What a beautiful thing! In this day and age it’s almost unbelievable and the second is dayyyyyymnnnnn.  Of course this is just my luck because all I want to do in this world is kiss her.  I’d give anything for just one kiss, even if that just means a peck on the cheek.

“I know to most people a kiss is just a kiss, but to me it means so much more and I’ve never found the right man to share something so special with.  I’ve tried to be open and tried to get to know the guys I was interested in, but no one’s ever made me feel like I could share that side of myself.”

Hayma goes on to tell me about her religion and her beliefs.  She’s Muslim and she finds it important to share such deep experiences with someone she truly wants to be intimate with.  Her religion plays a big role in her life and she lets me know that she’s tried to follow the rules as much as she can.  However, in this phase of her life she’s seeing her religion in a new light.  She tells me she respects and appreciates the rules, but that it’s been harder to follow them as closely as she once did.

She adds, “My religion inspires me, but I am also exploring other ways to answer some questions about how I want to live my life.”

The more she shares with me, the faster I fall for her.

Hayma says, “I’ve been traveling with three books in my backpack and I read them every night before bed.  They have really helped open me up to new ideas.”

I tell her that’s funny because that’s exactly what I did when I took my three-month leave of absence to travel around the world five years ago.  I tell her how much the three books I kept at the bottom of my backpack really changed my life and set me on course to do what I’m doing now.

I ask, “What’s one of the books in your backpack?”

She says, “Eckhart Tolle’s, The Power of Now.”

“Oh wow that’s funny, that’s one I had packed with me too.  It really opened my mind and taught me how to live in the moment.  What’s another book you have with you?”

“I also have this book called The Alchemist, have you ever heard of it?”

“Oh my god, me too, I read that on my flight from Thailand to India!  It’s my favorite book of all time!  I feel like I’m living that story!”

Melbourne, Australia.

“And what’s the third, there is no way we could have taken the same three books with us?”

“And the third is a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer, The Power of Intention.”

I’m flabbergasted, literally flabbergasted; “Those are the same three books I took with me in my backpack when I went around the world!  What are the odds of that?”

In 1754 Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity to mean “fortunate happenstance”.  In a letter to a friend he explained an unexpected discovery he had made by reference to a Persian fairy tale, The Princes of Serendip.  The princes, he told his correspondent, were “always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.”

I always roll my eyes when people say the phrase, everything happens for a reason, because most of the time people haphazardly say it just to say it.  It’s convenient and it sounds good and it can be applied to almost any situation.  But I don’t think people really understand the essence of what they’re saying when they say that.  If meeting Hayma has taught me anything it’s the very essence of that statement and I’d even take it one step further. I’d like to add to it, maybe something like this, everything happens for a good reason, even the bad.

Had I crossed Africa one day quicker or slower, I would have missed Hayma completely.  Had I not missed my train in Siberia and not been forced to wait for three days for the next one, I would have missed Hayma completely.  Had the cargo ship I was initially ticketed to take from Singapore to Freemantle not been unexpectedly sold to another company forcing me to find another way, I would have missed Hayma completely.  Had any other hotel agreed to my offer to barter a room for photos and a film in Melbourne, I would have missed Hayma completely.  Had I been eating breakfast just 10 minutes sooner or 15 minutes later yesterday, I would have missed Hayma completely.  Had Harold not sat down in between us and started talking about “footy”, my nerves would have stopped me and I would have missed Hayma completely.

Any number of things could have changed the course of our meeting and so it is with full confidence that I look over and say, “We were destined to meet.”

She looks back and smiles as she agrees.

She’s so beautiful, I could lay here forever with her.  Every time she looks at me I can’t stop the same line from spilling out of my mouth over and over, “you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, you are so beautiful.”

I’ve never said those words to anyone before and if I have, I haven’t meant them like I do right now.

I tell her how much I respect her beliefs and that I can understand what she’s going through, “you’re at a similar crossroads I was at five years ago, which eventually led to me finding and follow my dream.  It’s scary, but it’s also a beautiful thing.”

“You know what I said earlier about never kissing anyone?”

“Yeah.”  I sigh, “But I’ve tried to put kissing you out of my mind because of just how badly I want to do it.”

Hayma sits up and moves within an inch of my face.  Her energy is unlike anything I’ve felt before.  She’s like a lion. “I want to kiss you.”

Then as a strand of her long dark hair falls in front of her face she asks, “Will you be my first kiss?”

I thought I was passionate about filming, photography, writing, and travel but all that all seems small right now.

So inconsequential. Somewhere throughout the course of the evening Hayma has become my deepest passion. We inhabited one another’s soul in that elevator back in Perth and then again last night on one of Melbourne’s busiest streets corners, but at the same time I don’t want to do anything against her religious beliefs or something she’ll end up regretting tomorrow.

Plus think of the pressure I’m under, to be someone’s first kiss.  What if I screw things up?  What if it’s awkward and doesn’t feel right?  What if our lips don’t fit together like the rest of us does?

But I have to be honest, deep down none of that actually matters.  All that matters is the little cocoon we’ve created around ourselves in the here and now.  The apocalypse could have happened tonight and zombies could be walking the streets of Melbourne for all we know.  It’s like we’re on a deserted island on a deserted planet.

“I only want to do this if it feels right.”

I look deep into her eyes, I feel the power that’s hidden behind them. “It feels right,” she says.

I reach over to Hayma and slowly brush her hair back.  It confirms everything.

My hands then cup her face and as I pull her closer our lips pulsate.  When they touch, the world flickers then dims. We disappear into the haze that two souls go when they’re destined to meet and they finally connect.  That place doesn’t have a name, it’s not somewhere you can point to on a map, and you can’t try to get there.  Yet it’s the best place that I’ve ever traveled to.  It’s just this little sliver of space where time stands still and all is right.  It’s love.

In this space we share more than a kiss.  We share our biggest dreams and deepest fears and when we finally resurface I have no idea how long we’ve spent there.

Hayma lets me know that she’s getting sleepy and that she should probably go back to her room to get some rest because she has a full morning of sightseeing planed with Jolene tomorrow.

I’m tired too, but I don’t want her to go, and even though I couldn’t care less about what time it is, my intuition perks up inside me and wants to know.  One of the great things about what I’m doing is that keeping track of time never really occurs to me, (unless I have a bus to catch), but for some strange reason I desperately want to know the exact time.

If its 1, 2 or 3 in the morning it will make no difference to me, but something deep inside me needs to know the exact time, and so I ask Hayma.

She stretches across my chest so she can see the alarm clock on my nightstand and then she says, “It’s 4:44.”

The hair on the back of my neck stands up.

The number 444 is said to be an “angel number.”  It’s believed that when you see it, it’s a sign that your angels are with you at that exact moment and that they are there to remind you to listen to you heart.

My soul smiles its widest ever smile and I say, “of course it is, that’s the only time it could have possibly been.”

Footnote: For more about what 444 means to me, read chapter 16.

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