Cafes in Jordan are different. Everything about this country is different, but I’m not homesick. I have been here for 20 years and I’m still not homesick. When I first came to Jordan, I was a 20-year-old student learning Arabic. My original plan was to come to this country for a few months, learn Arabic, and then go back home to London. But, my plans changed. Something about her made me stay.
It was 20 years ago today that I first walked into this café. I was meeting friends for sheesha, because smoking sheesha was one of many habits that I had picked up fast in Jordan. I also learned to play cards for hours, eat mansaf with my hands, make Arabic coffee, and most importantly I learned how to love in the same way that the Arab poets do. My friends even tell me that I act like one of the locals. My fair skin and blue eyes are the only factors that distinguish me from the locals in this country.
When I first saw her, I noticed that she had the biggest eyes I had ever seen. Her eyes were bigger and darker than any eyes I had seen back home in London. She was sitting with a group of girls drinking tea. Till this day, I could still smell the whiff of sage from her tea cup, or maybe I am just imagining that I could.
Every time her lips moved, I found myself yearning to understand her. There was something about the way the Arabic language shaped her lips that drew me to her. That evening, I realized for the first time that the Hijab can make a girl look beautiful. Her friend called out to her, and it was then that I learned that her name was Laila. Later I discovered that Laila means night. And, Laila, 20 years ago, became the focus of my night. Every puff of smoke I released came with the fear of missing a vital part of her conversation.
Every word I said, that evening came with the fear of losing sight of her. Every time her head turned, I secretly hoped that she would notice me. Every time she looked around her, I hoped she would catch sight of me. The sounds, smells, conversations, and music in the cafe, slowly but surely disappeared from around me. Like layers of onion skins, my surroundings peeled themselves away until I felt like she was the only one in the room.
As she left the café that night, I followed her. We spoke, and my life had neve been the same ever since. Everything my faith, and my entire existence changed. Because then and on that night I knew that she would become my Laila and the only Laila that mattered to me. The years went by only to prove me right. Laila became my nights, my days, my wife and my life.
Today, I am a 40-year-old widower, a Muslim, a father to two sons. a teacher, and a father in law. It has been two and a half years since Laila left us, and yet I still come here on this day every year to re-live where it all began.
This is a work of fiction based on creative challenges I am doing with my new writing partner. How it works is that we both write something every day and we critique each other’s work. Today the challenge was to write a story in the first person. The