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There was a time that things were not going well for me. It was after the war began and got ugly. Then I found a job working with refugees — my people, I thought back then, the ones that I know. You might say the war gave me this job. Anyhow, that was when I met this young man, Adnan, twenty something, very well-read and smart. We were getting along well, mostly discussing philosophy, culture, books, and movies. He was like a younger brother to me. Adnan’s asylum case was still pending. I can vividly remember our conversation that evening. I was passionately talking about the existence of invisible cultural borders that make a huge difference when it comes to where exactly someone’s life is unfolding, even in the world of the imagination with supposedly no political and geographical borders. Basically I was talking about home. However, to him, it was like I was persuading him to withdraw his asylum case and go back. I can never forget his eyes and the tone of his voice when, after a long heavy silence, he asked me: “Why are you saying that?” and he continued with something like: “I got fed up with that home you are portraying. I am not going back. But I don’t think I am making it difficult for you here. Why are you here? If you are true to yourself, it is easy. Go back to where you belong! Go back to the other side of the invisible border!”
What Adnan said that night really hit me. Not in a bad way. I was not offended. He was right in a way. When you are not home, things are different. Home is where you don’t need to constantly look for a reason why you are where you are. Anywhere else, no matter where, there is always someone, if not yourself, questioning you. Only I wasn’t expecting that from Adnan.
When I was a little boy, most weekends we used to go from Latakia to our small village of Hamboushieh to see my Grandpa. It was an old building in a beautiful garden. Now I am going back to build a small guesthouse in that garden. I am going to call it Rima Guesthouse. I have been thinking about it for a while and I am positive it is doable. Might take a year or so but I have already built it a hundred times in my head; each room, each wall, each window. Hey, you should come and visit. One day you will come and say, “I am the man on the train.” Bring everybody along with you. You are married, right? Bring them all, your wife and children, your parents. You’ll all be my guests. How about that? Just come and say, “I read your letter and here we are.”
Who knows? You might meet Rima too. Not the guesthouse. I mean Rima herself. Come on, it is a long story! Yes, a long and typical story. Rima was Alaa’s sister. My friend Alaa is not among us anymore. I think I have loved Rima since always. I had never told her though. I couldn’t and I don’t know why. After I got the news about Alaa, I tried to contact him to make sure it is not true but I couldn’t. Then I reached out to Rima. We talked and cried. We talked again and again afterwards. And since I told her that I am coming back she sounds different. I’d like to think she is waiting for me. You may say now the war is giving me love this time. I don’t know. I don’t think so. Nothing good comes out of war.
I know I am going to miss it here a lot. For years the spring flowers here took me away to grandpa’s garden. I am sure the beautiful blooms of the village will take me back to the labyrinth of a life I am saying goodbye to now. For a long time I have been complaining about the dark days here and now I am taking away with me the sun shining on the green leaves as well as the stories I have lived. Let me tell you, the funniest is the story of my professor. He was an exceptionally funny guy, I mean seriously funny. I will never forget him. It was snowing that day and all the students were waiting for him in the classroom. He was late. I should say he was always late, but this time he was over-the-top late. We were about to leave when he entered the room. He was… Oh, but here we are at the station. I guess I don’t have time for the story right now, but I guarantee it is terribly funny. Then what about coming to our little garden for the whole story over a cup of tea?
I should hurry.