Currently viewing the category: "Travel Writing"

“First best is falling in love.  Second best is being in love.  Least best is falling out of love.  But any of it is better than never having been in love.”-Maya Angelou

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.

My relationship with Hayma lasted for four more days once she slipped out of that Melbourne café.  Then everything fell apart.

It was a rainy Friday morning and I had just strategically folded my underwear and wedged them into the top right corner of my trusty duffel bag.  I was just about to put the final touches on my normal packing routine and head to the bus station when a long text from Thailand came through.

Our texts up until that point had been relatively playful and short. I’d call her my lil cous cous because it’s the only thing I could think of that’s also Moroccan and we’d fill each other in on how our day was going whenever we both had Wi-Fi.  When she told me about the scorpion she ate on Koh San Road the day after she got there I told her I’d never kiss her again.  I was kidding of course.

Regardless of what we were talking about we’d always end each string of texts with the same smiling emoji, the one with the little red hearts for eyes.  So when I saw how long her text was, my heart sank before ever reading it.  I knew what was coming.

I knew she had given into her fears and decided not to follow her heart.

She delicately listed out all the reasons why we can’t be together.  She said that after a lot of thinking on her long bus ride from Bangkok to Chang Mai that she hadn’t been thinking things through and that she just went with the flow in Melbourne because it felt so good at the time.  And that things just went way too fast and that it usually takes her years to develop such deep relationships with anyone, even her closest friends.

She also said that she has no clue what she really wants and that it’s not fair to me to try and build something together when she really needs to be figuring her own self out first.  That she’s so confused that even the crossroads have crossroads.  She also sited the distance and how impossible that would be.  And then finally she got to the one thing that I knew would eventually be our unraveling.

She said that I’m not a Muslim and just how complex of an issue that is for her.

She ended the text by saying how much she likes me and that it’s just all too overwhelming at the present moment, but that she wants to keep in touch.

Melbourne, Australia.

Even though things were magical and beyond perfect when she was here in Melbourne with me, I’d be lying if I didn’t half expect this kind of text from her one day. Back in that café a few days ago when I brought up the idea of coming to Amsterdam to see her one day, she looked hesitant, “I am not sure how comfortable I would be introducing you to the people I know, they might not be open to the idea of us hanging out together.”

Once she said that she wasn’t sure about introducing me to the people in her life, I knew it was over.  I knew that if she couldn’t even picture that, that the idea of us had no real chance.

There’s a certain freedom found when traveling, especially backpacking the way she is, but I knew that when she got a quiet moment alone to sit and think about us, that she’d inevitably picture her normal life back in Amsterdam, and that no matter how many angles she looked at that life from, that I just wouldn’t fit.  I was always going to be the square peg.

To be fair to her, this is exactly what I do; this is so typical of me.  Now I can unequivocally say that I’ve never met anyone like Hayma, but I’m known for falling in love fast, throwing all my logs onto the fire without thinking.

In fact, I’ll tell you what happened the last time I was in this very city five years ago.  Something so identical that it’s eerie.

I was in the midst of my three-month leave of absence from my old corporate job and I was feeling a similar blissful balance back then.  I had flown from Bali to Melbourne on a whim one day and I was out bar hopping with some friends I’d just met.  When my eyes locked with this stunning woman named Tina it was then that I first realized that the world actually had the capacity to stop.  Her mysterious dark features were a mix of Spanish, South African and Australian and she was without question the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.

Tina was perfect in so many ways, she was a flight attendant that loved to travel and as we got to know one another over the course of the night, everything just clicked.  We both fell for one another and she promised to take a few weeks off of work to travel the rest of the way around the world with me.  She even insisted on locking pinkies and swearing that we would do the Great White Shark cage dive together when we got to South Africa.  We put a bow on the whole evening with a knee-buckling kiss underneath a dimly lit street lamp; the whole thing was a scene out of a black and white Carry Grant movie.  I watched her every move as she walked away and faded into the Melbourne night, and at the time I had no idea that that kiss would not only be our first, but also our last.

Melbourne, Australia.

I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep that night and I emailed her the second I got back to my hotel, then again, and again.  By around 5PM the next day, the feeling started setting in that I was never going to hear from her again, which is exactly what happened.

Ever since that life-changing three-month trip around the world, I created this meditation-like routine that I do. During a small part of that routine I picture what I want in my mind’s eye and then feel the feelings in my heart of whatever that thing is that I want.  It’s something Louise (the clairvoyant) taught me that’s loosely based on the law of attraction.  She would always say all the power comes from within.  So when I get to the part of my meditation where I want to create love, I’ve always used Tina as a signpost.  I picture her in my mind’s eye and then tap into the feelings I felt on that dimly lit street corner in Melbourne.

When my eyes locked with Hayma in front of Flinders Street Station seven days ago, ironically, or maybe not so ironically, it was only a few blocks away from where that fateful kiss with Tina happened.

My mind had projected Tina and my heart had felt her so many times over the past five years that I was bound to manifest something similar once I got back here.  The amazing thing about it though was that my connection with Hayma was exponentially greater than the one I had with Tina.

But then again, maybe it’s something else entirely.  Maybe Hayma’s just playing a character that I invented.  Maybe she’s Santiago’s Fatima and not my Fatima.  And that no matter how much I want to turn metal into gold, I’ll never become the Alchemist.  That book is fictional anyway.  It’s entirely possible that she was auditioning for a character I created, one that my mind desperately wanted to box her into, but now that she’s gone off script I find myself standing here wondering why.  But, wow, what a three days it was.  We had such a great time together in Melbourne.  I was dizzy with ecstasy and even if it was a character my mind concocted or a meditation manifested, it was better than anything I’d ever imagined.

We created our own cocoon, but in doing so, I did what I always do.  I forgot to measure the risks or take a real look at the obstacles.  I was overly optimistic and I just assumed that we were on the brink of a love so deep that we’d glide past everything thrown our way.  The truth is, her being Muslim is a serious thing and I never took it into account the way that I should have.

I grew up Christian, have a Hindu tattoo, and spent an equal amount of time in mosques and synagogues over the past few years, but at the moment I don’t consider myself anything.  If anything, I’m a little bit of everything.  When I initially read Hayma’s text this morning the thought of converting to Islam did cross my mind, but what would I even be converting from?

Melbourne, Australia.

If anything, it feels like I have a direct line to God now and that a religion, any religion, would only get in the way of that.

Throughout the course of my journey I’ve grown to trust God, like really trust him.  While I’m heartbroken over the fact that Hayma doesn’t want to be with me, I’m also able to find some sort of peace with it.  Like I said before, everything happens for a good reason, even the bad.  While on the surface this is bad, awful in fact, I don’t know what’s happening below the surface.  I can’t see all the gears turning, levers being pulled and other doors opening behind the scenes.  I’ve learned to put all my faith in the process because I don’t know what kind of breakthrough this will eventually lead to.

Knowing all of this doesn’t make much difference in the moment.  As humans, what we can handle intellectually far outweighs what we can handle emotionally.  I’m still human and heartbreak will always be heartbreak.  Reading her text was far harder than I ever thought it would be.  I desperately wanted to be with her.

By the time the bus gets on the M31 North and steadies itself towards Canberra, the yearning to return to the cocoon we created in Melbourne floods my body.  It’s a swell of emotions that pushes tears right up against the rim of my eyes.  Even if only for a few days, I had it all.  I was creating, taking photos, making films, writing stories, traveling, making money and falling fast in love.  And damn, it was good.

But coming down from the highest of highs isn’t easy.

As I look out the window and the smoke stacks on Melbourne’s west side slowly fade out of view I feel myself begin to fall apart.  No matter how I look at it, I just wasn’t enough for her.

When there’s nothing to look at besides another seemingly endless stretch of barren highway, a tear trickles out of my eye.  I look over at the woman that’s sitting in the row of seats across from me to see if she notices.  She’s wearing a blue and white striped shirt and her head is buried in a book.  I wipe the tear from my cheek and then I turn my head sideways so I can see what she’s reading.  As the cover comes into focus I read the title to myself, Trusting God through Tears.

 

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”-Maya Angelou

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.

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.”

Melbourne, Australia.

“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?”

Melbourne, Australia.

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.

“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.