作者：PARE Joagni 【First Love】 It started six years ago. It ended five years ago. Yes, painfully, predictably, but unavoidably. Blinded by our whirlwind romance, we had been too naïve to believe that the prevailing differences between our two families would never handicap our love. Every time I ruminate on that day when we had no other alternative but to separate, I could feel how great a pain it had been. Yet on the ashes of that painful experience, I managed to build a solid memorial that will make you remain stenciled on my mental sheet as an eternal inspiring epigraph. It was fate that drew us together. It was also fate that made us split up. We were in the same high school then. I was in the last year of my senior high school studies, only two grades ahead of you. I was a quiet and shy boy; yet surprisingly enough, I was spotted as a good public speaker and came to be the main commentator of all the school’s big sport events. It all started with my literature teacher asking me to do an example of oral presentation for your class. As fate would have it, that presentation brought me face to face with the one who would later have a crush on me, and to whose charm I couldn’t oppose any resistance. The novel and the topic I chose for the circumstance was one of my favorites, dealing with a blossomed romance between two young students. I still believe that the content of the novel did contribute somehow to triggering what followed shortly afterwards. The presentation ended, and I saw you hurrying from your seat, visibly eager to talk to me about something apparently very important. Yet judged from your hesitant movements I came to realize that you were as shy as I was: you probably wanted to see me in private, far away from the indiscreet eyes of your classmates. You deemed it wiser to catch up with me behind the cathedral located some two kilometers away from the school. While I was there leaning my elbows against my bicycle and trying to open the bottle of fresh water that I bought to quench my thirst, you sprang before me, like a policewoman, almost breathless. Before I knew you were holding a pen in your hand, your voice sent shivers down my stomach: “Excuse me, I am Angela… I… I think you forgot your…eh… eh… I mean your pen in our classroom after the… the presentation… This pen is yours, isn’t it?” Upon hearing your name, I thought about an angel talking to me. My eyes traveled furtively over your whole body and I distinctly discovered that none of the ingredients of beauty was missing in your looks: tall, shapely, black-haired, tender-eyed and possessing a melodious voice, you were the undisputable epitome of beauty and elegance. Yes, you were the type of girl to whose immense charm no normal man is immune. And so, for the first time in my life, I was captivated by the sheer magnetism of a woman’s physical attributes. “No”, I replied after a long pause. “Really! …Oh, sorry then”, you resumed with a big smile on your face. As if you were suddenly attacked by a high blood pressure of words, you stood there right in front of me, loquaciously showering me with enormous compliments: “Anyway, you did a terrific job today. Yes, I mean it! This presentation was a tremendous success. You are such a talented speaker. You really master the content of the novel. And I love the easiness and confidence with which you were speaking”. In this conversation which looked more like a coach congratulating his trainees on their tremendous performance, my sole participation constituted of big smiles, uncontrolled nods and indescribable gestures. Your flattering words fed and expanded my ego in a way I had never experienced before. I strived to sound humble, but unsuccessfully. With your compliments boosting my ego, I ended up dilating like a king cobra ready to spew the poison out of its system. That night, I spent more than an hour in bed ruminating on the entire scene that took place behind the cathedral. Then I fell in a very sound and peaceful sleep. Living with your brother who was my philosophy teacher, you would always peek at our exam papers and, in anticipation, bring me the good news: “Congratulations, Jack! I saw your last exam paper! You got an “A” again”. I spent months wondering what exactly brought you into following me until the cathedral the first day. Did you really come to give me that pen? Did you come with the main purpose to congratulate me, or were we coincidentally going in the same direction? The answer to those questions became luminously clear three months later after we decided – upon your feverish insistence – to meet in the rose garden: “You may find it crazy, Jack! But I knew you left no pen in our classroom that day. That pen I showed you was my own pen. I did it on purpose. In fact you impressed me a lot with your presentation, and I was just looking for an occasion to talk to you in private. “So the pen was just a good pretext?” I murmured quietly to myself. There I was, flattered, speechless, completely baffled, and wondering whether those compliments of yours were honest and sincere. Nonetheless I accepted them with a quiet murmur of thanks. Without any significant pause, you resume your talk while taking out of your bag an envelope you handed to me: “Look! I have chosen this special day – February 14th – to write this special letter for you, the special one”. Conveniently enough, there was no one else left in the garden except the two of us. Only you and I were still standing in the midst of those beautiful roses moving gracefully according the direction of the soft wind! The rest of the people suddenly disappeared without our noticing it. Then suddenly, you stopped speaking and looked at me in a way that sent shivers down my spine. Oh yes! Incredibly, I leaped like a savage out of the jungle of my feelings only to find that I had nothing to say but to greet you with a moment of total silence. I had no clue to the meaning of your words and I didn’t have enough clairvoyance to find it. I felt like crossing the border into a different universe. Was I to be blamed? I was a complete novice in love. Inexperience had for long prevented me from deciphering your body language. Shyness prevented me from fathoming all those love parables you frequently mentioned in your talks every time we met. Romance had always been locked away in my inner chambers. In fact I never thought I would fall in love and never expected any girl to spot me as her ideal partner. Not that I was a misogynist. Not that I was unfriendly or asocial. It had to do with my shyness. I also had to do with my adolescence, which had been wholesome and essentially academic. I was more bookish and less worldly. I was in love with books; I was living in books. I always found satisfaction in identifying myself with those heroic lovers that peopled the fiction novels I read. But I would never go so far as to elevate my feelings to the all-royal emotional status of romance in real life. Most of my friends even came to write me off as someone who is bound to be single forever. But to me, all those words sounded like much ado about almost nothing, for they practically made no difference how comfortable I felt with myself. You gave me the envelope. And without waiting for my answer, I felt you calmly coming closer to me, angelically. You started bombarding me with the same congratulatory words you showered me with behind the cathedral. Suddenly, I felt your soft rounded arms around my neck. Your scent unfolded my senses. My heart started to beat wildly. Your lips were hesitatingly searching for my shivering mouth. We stood up in the midst of those beautiful flowers, hearts and bodies humming, and breathing each other in; one would have thought two Arabs mutually bathing in their moist warm breath during an important conversation. Thinking about what would happen next made me break out in a sweat. At the crossroads of the choice between maintaining such a tempting standing position and evading your fleshy lips, I couldn’t put up any resistance any longer: suddenly, the captivating smile on your smooth oval face suddenly charmed me into initiating the first kiss in my life; a kiss that left me breathless with excitement for a minute, but one that left me craving for more! Yes! It was a simple, sudden and light kiss. Yet that simple contact with your luscious tasty lips was so teasing that it led to a depth of feeling I never thought I had before. It was a significant feeling of closeness and inner comfort. It was the expression of a friendship that takes root in the soul. It was the feeling of a young boy and a young girl matriculating for the first time into the “school” of love. While standing there savoring the bunch of delectable kisses that followed the first one, I realized that the rhythmic beat of your heart was to inject a new meaning in the veins of my life. Yes! Drinking out of the cup of your love would make my life take a new drift. And it did take a new drift indeed. Shortly after that unforgettable time we spent together in the rose garden, your face pervaded my whole universe. In fact you became my universe. Every now and then you would pop into my mind or show up in my dreams. Like the air, your face was everywhere! I would sniff at the atmosphere, but all I could smell there was your distinctive scent that made me shiver in reminiscence. I would open my notebooks only to find that instead of my beautiful calligraphic handwriting, it was your fingerprint that struck my eyes. I would always be seated at the front of the class; but instead of the powerful and manly voice of the teacher resounding in every corner of the classroom, what echoed in my ears was the soft and gentle voice of a girl who affectionately and passionately kissed me two weeks ago. The ring of the bell even came to be replaced in my mind by the click of your bracelets; and despite the hundreds of schoolmates playing joyfully around me during the break time, any psychologist could see – at a glance – that I was suffering from a feeling of loneliness, a feeling of loneliness only your physical presence could dissipate. Your face was everywhere! I couldn’t concentrate! This lack of concentration impacted a lot on my school performance. Instead of the good grades I used to have, Cs and Ds came to occupy the lion’s share of my semester record. I cried. And for days, I hid from you, trying to avoid any face-to-face contact with you. You were my whole universe. What if I had got a ‘C’ in Philosophy? You would surely have known it and that would have been tantamount to the whole world being aware of it. It would have been a cosmic shame of dire consequences for me: I wasn’t sure I would be courageous enough to continue going to a school that reverberated nothing but shame to me. Recovering from that tumultuous period of our relationship had not been an easy task for me. But I was always hopeful. I was mindful that Good Friday always comes before Easter. I knew that after the turbulent episode of that romance, something good would happen. Then only a few months later, I came to experience the great chemical value of your companionship in neutralizing the acid of all my weaknesses. Your love changed from being a storm to my life into being its most significant stimulant. With that affection God has set blooming in your heart, you encouraged me a lot and revived my quest for excellence in everything: you made me realize the hidden skills that I possessed. You revealed to me all those potentials that I had for long overlooked or kept in hibernation. In short, you convinced me that I was a tabernacle of possible dreams. And I strongly believed your words. I got enough courage and energy to fight and get excellent grades in every subject, especially in Philosophy. With that impetuous passion in my heart, I determined to develop a thirst for excellence, which later became my second nature. As a result, your love opened up my world to the joys of being back on the track of academic highfliers. Looking back into the happy annals of my life I couldn’t find anyone comparable with you. We couldn’t see each other very often because I needed more concentration to prepare for my university entrance examination. However, the short moments we spent together were full of joy, rich in sweetness, and reassuring in tender handholding. At times, we would be sitting in the rose garden, devouring classic novels or reading beautiful poems to one another. At other times we would sit nonchalantly in the shade of those giant trees of the municipal park; and the nightingales perched over our heads would tickle our ears with the caressing warmth of their melodious songs. We also loved to go to the beach in the evening, tenderly holding each other’s hand in an almost portrait scene that couldn’t have been staged better. And we would sit there, cleanse our lungs with that fresh air coming directly from the sea, and rinse our eyes with the blue and gold sunset. Those were the times when we were all smiles. Those were the unforgettable innocent days of epiphany. Little did we know what the future held in store for us. Nonetheless, we embarked on that young romance manifested in our common sense of humor, comfortable silences, mutual support, and shared interests. Like bumble bees vying for the same honey, we were both enthusiastically and optimistically striving for the blossoming of that young romance of ours, until the day when your father came angrily, and unceremoniously, stormed in your face: “You ain’t gonna bring any disgrace in my family. I told you already…You are a Muslim, but he is not… I cannot imagine the future of my daughter with someone who is not Muslim”. The last sentence echoed on my mind as the last ring of a bell meant to drag us off each other. It came to mark the end of the happy moments we were supposed to savor together. Yes! Ironically, you and I were forced to separate and stop enjoying our happy and colorful companionship in the name of what is supposed to make unity take precedence over division: religion. As if the crushing blow that we received from your father’s incandescent words was not destructive enough, the same fate that brought us together in the beginning also turned out to conspire against us by keeping us more and more distant from each other: the heyday of our romance coincided with the year I had to start my university studies. I had to move to another city very far away from the small town where you still had to stay for two more years of high school studies. Upon hearing the news, you poured your heart out in a long romantic love note, which you gave to me. That note became my constant and comforting companion after I left for university. I would often read it twice a day. The year you were coming to join me at university, I got a scholarship and had to go abroad to further my studies in another continent. Fortunate or unfortunate, I couldn’t tell! But deep down in my heart, I still strongly believe and regard this scholarship as the astonishing result of your being a stimulant to my life; a life whose difficult moments were made bearable by your unforgettable tenderness, your warmth and the heartwarming smiles your face always radiated even in times of unhappiness. September 29th, 200… was the D-day of my departure to my host country. You accompanied me to the airport on the sly, lest your father noticed you. After you showered me for the last time with loving kisses and fruitful blessings, my flight took off. I gave one final look out the window, only to find that the plane had kept low to the ground for long. I wondered why. Was the plane undergoing the effect of the magnificent tug of attraction between you and me? Was it suffering from the gravitational force between you on the ground and me on the plane? Superstitious or not, I thought that was the only explanation to the situation. Bitter tears welled up in my eyes when the idea that you and I were forced to separate crossed my mind. We were severing our relationship with no prospect for resuming it. Your dad might have wrecked all our common beautiful dream ship on the sharp rocks of religion. He might have smashed our colorful dreams into a million tiny fragments; yet deep down in my convalescent heart, I know that my present life is still replete with the joyous days we spent together. The remembrance of the beauty of your heart, your exemplary attitude, and the seeds of optimism you sowed in me will dissipate my sorrows and thereby become my consolation in that remote host country. You remain woven into the tapestry of my life, and I would be remiss if I overlooked the meaningful role you played in my life. PS: I still love you!!