“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”-Maya Angelou
In my favorite book, The Alchemist, there is a poor shepherd named Santiago. He travels from Spain to the Egyptian Pyramids to chase his dreams of finding a buried treasure. Along the way he’s taught many valuable life lessons from the people he’s come in contact with during his travels. After a long and arduous journey across the desert on his way to Egypt, he reaches an oasis where he meets Fatima.
“She had a vessel on her shoulder, and her head was covered by a veil, but her face was uncovered. The boy approached her to ask about the alchemist. At that moment, it seemed to him that time stood still, and the Soul of the World surged within him. When he looked into her dark eyes, and saw that her lips were poised between a laugh and silence, he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke—the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. Something that exerted the same force whenever two pairs of eyes met, as had theirs here at the well. She smiled, and that was certainly an omen—the omen he had been awaiting, without knowing he was, for all his life. The omen he had sought to find with his sheep and in his books, in the crystals and in the silence of the desert.
It was the pure Language of the World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time. What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life, and that, with no need for words, she recognized the same thing. He was more certain of it than of anything in the world. He had been told by his parents and grandparents that he must fall in love and really know a person before committing. But maybe people who felt that way had never learned the universal language. Because, when you know that language, it’s easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it’s in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other, and their eyes meet, the past and the future becomes unimportant. There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world. Without such love, one’s dreams would have no meaning.”
Hayma is my Fatima, my twin soul, the one that has given my dream the meaning it’s been missing.
The one that I’ve sold my sheep for, followed my omens for, and crossed the desert for without knowing it. In the story, Santiago keeps traveling towards Egypt and Fatima willingly stays behind at the Oasis saying, “If I am really part of your dream, then you’ll come back one day.”
However, right now, in the middle of this bustling Melbourne café is when I want to split from Santiago’s story and create my own. So as Hayma wraps her big silver rings around the handle of her oversized coffee mug and sips her cappuccino, I put my plan in motion. I’ve thought about what to say all day, and its now or never. Her shuttle leaves for the airport in just a few minutes.
After she sets her mug down, I reach across the table and grab both of her hands, “I know you’re leaving for Thailand in a few minutes and I know we’ve only known each other for three days, but none of that matters to me.”
“I know you’re only 24 and that I’m 35. I know you’re a Muslim and that I’m not. I know that you live in Europe and that I don’t. I know you’re tiny and that I’m tall, but none of that matters to me.”
“I know that things aren’t perfect for you at home and I know how important your family is to you and how much that weighs on you. I know you have student loans to pay off and you’re not sure what you’re going to do for money. I know that you don’t want to go back home and get a traditional job like everyone else. I know that you might not even want to get a job at all. I know you’re a little unsure of where your spirituality stands at the moment, but I’m sure about one thing. I’m sure about you.”
Then I look deep into her endless eyes and say, “I’m sure about ‘us’.”
The coffee shop is hectic, people are buzzing about on their lunch hour and I can hear the clanking of dishware and the hiss of the espresso machine off in the distance. But we’re suddenly sucked back to that deserted island on that deserted planet. Every time I’m with her that’s where we go and each time gets better than the last.
After I take a sip of my latte I say, “My walls haven’t had to come crumbling down with you, they’ve never been up to begin with.”
For the life of me I can’t imagine my life without her in it. It’s hard to remember what on earth I was even doing with myself before I met her.
As I keep talking, it dawns on me that I’m not exactly sure how to ask her to be my girlfriend. This isn’t fifth grade after all. I can’t just come out and say, do you want to be my girlfriend? Plus, I take the word girlfriend pretty seriously. I’ve only ever had three in my life. So, I find myself fumbling for the right words, “I think we can do this, will you, like you know…”
After a long pause I can’t come up with any other way to say it so I blurt out, “Will you be in a relationship with me? I don’t know what else to call it, but will you be my girlfriend?”
Hayma’s never had a boyfriend in her life so I’m not exactly sure how she’ll react. As I was talking her eyes kept getting wider and wider, inviting me in, but I just don’t know what she’ll say.
I see the corners of her lips turn up and then an excited smile spreads across them, “Yes! Okay, lets do it!”
My heart leaps out of my chest and I promise to Skype, text and call every day, but as I’m saying all that it still doesn’t seem like enough. I want more. I need more. So I decide to go all in, and I take all my chips and push them into the middle of the table. Her flight is leaving for Bangkok soon and if I don’t ask now I know I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.
I take the thing that is nearest and dearest to my heart, the one thing that means the most to me. I take the thing that I’ve been fighting for, risking my life for and chasing relentlessly for the past two years and I offer it to her, “Will you come with me?”
I’ve never been so serious in all my life when I ask, “Will you live my dream with me and travel the rest of the way around the world with me?”
I’m a loner, a lone wolf, and I wouldn’t ask just anyone to come and travel with me. In fact, I cringe when some of my very best friends bring up the idea of meeting me somewhere for just a few days and so this offer is the holiest of offers that I can make. It’s marriage-like for me. And while yes I must admit that I can imagine how impossible my offer must sound to her or to anyone, it seems totally reasonable to me. It just feels right. I want her with me. I need her with me.
But here’s the thing, not just anyone can drop everything to travel around the world with a guy they just met less than 72 hours ago. I get that.
I can tell by the look in her eyes that she’s not sure about such a big step so soon and all the logistics it involves. I mean, in just two weeks I’ll board a cargo ship for a month just to get across the Pacific Ocean, which isn’t exactly everyone’s idea of fun. So I say, “I know all the big life questions you’re asking right now, I can feel them just under the surface of your skin. And I know your answers are coming.”
Then I try to sell her, not in a used car salesman kind of way, but in a way that knows where the truth resides. I’ve been barreling down the road for nearly two years that’s riddled with the same kind of questions and answers she’s asking. So I say with full confidence, “The answers are out here, not back there.” I point in the direction of Amsterdam before I keep going, “You can’t get extraordinary answers doing ordinary things, you can’t just vacation outside your comfort zone, you have to move all your things out there and live out there.”
Hayma lets out a long sigh that tells me she agrees with me and then says, “I would love to, I really would, you have no IDEA how much I would love to do all that with you.”
I can feel a but coming.
“But, I just can’t right now.”
“I have to go to Thailand today and then fly back home in a few weeks. Everything is already booked and paid for and that’s all the money I have. Plus I have so many things I need to work out at home; my family, my finances, my religion, my employment and my future are all in question. There is so much for me to figure out that I don’t even know where to begin.”
I feel myself splitting in two in hopes that she’ll take half of me with her. As she takes the last sip of her cappuccino the mood shifts because we both know that our last grain of sand has just slipped through the hourglass. The fairytale is over, and it’s time to get Cinderella home.
My thoughts turn to the Chinese Bamboo Tree. It’s a tough nut, and it requires nurturing; fertile soil, sunshine and water. In its first year, the farmer sees no visible signs of growth, or the second or the third. And even through the fourth year, still nothing. It isn’t until the fifth year that the farmer’s patience is rewarded and the Chinese Bamboo Tree finally breaks the surface of the soil. Then, miraculously, it grows 80 feet in just the next six weeks!
The age-old question about the Chinese Bamboo Tree is; Did the tree grow 80 feet in six weeks or did it grow 80 feet in five years?
When I look back at the last five years of my life, it feels like Hayma’s been there all along, just under the surface, absorbing all the water and sunshine and patiently waiting to sprout 80 feet. When we finally met in Melbourne that’s exactly what happened. So I tend to side with the group that says that the Chinese Bamboo Tree grows 80 feet in five years. Just because I didn’t know her for the full five years doesn’t mean that our relationship wasn’t hard at work this whole time.
Hayma promises to text the second she lands in Thailand and I promise to hold my phone in my hand until the second that text comes through.
Maybe we can try to build a life together that somehow balances all of our Montague-Capulet differences and is divided between her life in Europe, the rest of my travels around the world and my eventual return to life in America.
It’s a plan so crazy that maybe it might just work.
Just before Hayma slips out the door she leans into me and puts an Australian twist on Fatima’s final line to Santiago, “If I am really part of your dream, then you’ll come back to me one day like a boomerang.”
And then just like that, she’s gone.