I wrote many letters to Layla. I wrote poems, I wrote confessions, I wrote apologies and random thoughts but they all ended up burning in an ashtray. I never had the courage to send any of them. I thought of calling her but that required a great amount of strength that I did not have. How would she react if I contacted her? I often wondered. Would she be happy that I did? Would she be mad? Would she even care to give me the time of day? What would I say? What would she say? I figured I would probably never know.
When I arrived at Jeddah’s airport, my family was waiting for me. I had missed them so much since I had not seen them in a long time except for Badr whom I had seen just a couple of months ago. One of the worst things about working in Canada is never getting to see my family enough. I usually saved up my vacations for the summer and they would come and spend their holiday with me there. I had not come back to Jeddah ever since I left and I could not believe how much I had missed this city.
My mother was in tears when she saw me walking without a crutch for the first time and rolling my suitcase behind me. I hugged everyone and shook hands with Firas, Noor’s husband, who was also present. During the three years I was away, there was no reason for me whatsoever to visit Jeddah. Even my sister’s wedding took place in Beirut. True, some friends of mine in addition to two cousins got married and I was invited to their weddings but I did not have the willpower to travel and attend any.
Albeit my mother’s objections and her insistence that I get some rest, I was determined on going to Makkah. I convinced them that it was something I had to do now that God has blessed me with the ability to walk without pain. It was 3 after midnight when I, alongside my mother and Badr, headed to Makkah. We prayed Al-Fajr there then we did the Tawaf. I got tired and my knee was exhausted after it, therefore I had to rent one of the electrical wheelchairs to complete Sa’y. This was the first Umrah of any I had performed before that I wished it were longer.
I thanked Allah for all the good things He had granted me in this life. I thanked Him for all the things that I was blessed with, those that I knew and thought about and those that I did not. I prayed that He grants happiness for each of my loved ones. I prayed for my father, my mother, my sister, my brother, my cousins and my friends naming each of them. I prayed that He spares us Hell and grants us entry into Heaven with His generosity. I begged for His mercy. I asked that He erases all of my sins and magnifies all of my good deeds. I prayed that He eases the ache in my heart and gives me peace.
I prayed that He forgives me for all the mistakes I have done in my life, especially those that I made early in my relationship with Layla. They always weighed on my chest and at times when I was alone at night in Canada, I wondered if they were one of the reasons Layla and I were not blessed with happiness and ended up in the misfortunate way we did. I prayed that Layla was healthy and leading a good life. I sincerely hoped she was happy. I wished her Heaven, too
“God, if Layla and I are meant to be, if she is going to be good for me in life and the afterlife, then please inspire me with the words to soften her heart towards me. Please remind her of the joyful times we once shared. Please guide me to the actions that will bring her closer to me. Please help us get back together and bless us with happiness. You are the only one who can make this happen and you are capable of everything. Ya Allah, you know the amount of pure love I carry for this woman deep within me. Please grant me this wish.
God, if Layla and I are not meant to be, then I will not question your wisdom. I only ask that you rip the love I have for her out of this soul for otherwise I would not be able to live. Please help me forget her so I can finally move on. Please heal me and plant peace in my heart. O’ great one, bless me with the gift of being with her or forgetting her. Ya Allah, hear me as I pray. I’m but a humble servant for you begging for what it’s easy for you to give.” I prayed with all of my being.
After we were done, I felt relaxed even though I was tired. I felt some kind of peace within me. I had a big smile on my face the entire drive back to Jeddah. When I got to my room and lied on my bed. I slept like a baby, which is something I had not done in a long time.
During the next couple of weeks, I called all of my old friends who remained in Jeddah and tried to contact those who did not. I visited my uncles, aunts and all the close members of my family. I spent time with them and enjoyed myself. I wanted to make amends for all the mistakes of my past. I wanted to let them know that I am different now. I truly cared for these people and I had to let them know that I did. Everyone was glad to see me walking unaided and it gave me a warm feeling in my heart. The only one that I was not brave enough to call or visit was Layla.
Two days before my scheduled flight back to Canada, I went to Apple Bee’s with my mother, Badr, Noor and her husband Firas. As we were ushered in, I felt my heart flinch. Something has gripped it from within. The feeling was very familiar and I recognized it instantly. My heartbeats were getting faster and stronger. It had been years since that last happened. I looked around and her eyes met mine. Layla was there.
When you truly fall in love with someone, you give a part of your soul to him or her. This part belongs to that person forever. No matter what you do, you cannot claim it back. This part of you is what you sense whenever that someone you love is close. That part of me is what let me know that Layla was near by.
I just stood there frozen in my place staring at her. She stared back just the same. She was sitting with two of her friends at the table in the far corner. My skin was heating up and my knees were growing weak. I did not know what to do. Out of all the scenarios I had in my head, somehow, I did not expect that I would meet her accidentally. I was not prepared to see her after it has been so long. “Isn’t that Layla sitting over there?” my mother asked me. “Yeah, it’s her,” I said. “Go and speak to her,” my mother said in a soft voice and patted me on the back.
The distance to her table seemed like a thousand miles. I wanted to run them yet I wanted to walk as slowly as possible. Every step closer to her was harder and I was getting anxious. When I finally reached the table, I said, “Hey.” “Hey,” she said. God, “I missed her voice,” I thought to myself.
I took a long look at her. This angelic face of hers must have been made in heaven. She had not changed a bit. If anything, she grew more beautiful. I could not believe my eyes. Was this really Layla? Was she the one who barely a day passed by without me thinking of? Was she the girl in the picture that hanged above my bed for the last couple of years? Was I finally talking to her? I was overwhelmed.
“It’s been a long time. How are you?” I said, my voice trembling a little. “I’m good. I see you’re no longer using a crutch. I’m happy for you,” she said. “Yeah, thanks. I had a surgery in Canada and my knee’s better now. It still has limitations but Alhamdellah for everything. How’s Lama and Yasser? How’s your mom?” I said fidgeting in my place standing. “They’re all fine, too. Do you want to sit down for a minute?” she said when she noticed I was not standing comfortably. I nodded my head and took a seat at the corner closest to Layla. “I’m sorry for my rudeness. Hi,” I said and greeted the two girls sitting at the table, one who I recognized as Rana. They said Hi back and then silence took over.
I turned to Layla and when our eyes finally met, the noise started to fade away. All the sounds disappeared and none remained except for the sound of our breaths. The entire universe was shrinking into this small spot that contained us. No one else existed. Nothing else mattered. The walls of ice between us were melting slowly by the warmth in our eyes. The years of distance were crumbling down by the strong beating of our hearts. The tenderness of which she used to look at me a long time ago was returning in her gaze. Her lower lip was quivering a little. My hands were trembling underneath the table. I was lost in this moment in which time seemed to stand still. All the defenses around my heart were breaking. It longed to escape from its safe shelter. It longed to feel alive once again.
“You look beautiful, breathtaking in every meaning of the word,” I said, sincerely. “Thank you, you look good, too,” she said shyly and we had another moment of silence. I had so much to say that I did not know where to start. All the words that I have memorized a thousand times before, I could not remember them. All the million ways I have imagined this encounter have vanished. Emotions were running wild inside of me and thoughts were colliding in my head. I closed my eyes for a second and took a deep breath. “There’s just so much that I want to say,” I said and my voice trailed off.
“Layla…” I said, not knowing how to proceed. She put her hand on mine and gave me an assuring look. “I know,” she said with a kind smile that captured my heart. I knew then and there that I was still in love with her. I knew that she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I knew that I wanted her to be my wife until death do us part. I knew that I wanted her to be the mother of my children. I knew that she was and always will be everything to me. We have lost enough time away from each other already. I took her hand in between both of mine and squeezed it gently before raising it to my lips and kissing it softly. My heart was dancing in joy when she did not resist what I had just done. She had a bigger smile on her face and she was beaming with delight. For a few minutes, neither one of us said anything. This time, our eyes were telling each other all about our mistakes, our apologies, and our love with a language of their own. Silence can be more eloquent than words sometimes. “Do you think we can start over?” I asked. Her tears fell.
August 5, 2007