Love under the Rubble

The tragic epilogue of an impossible love story in a war-torn country. A fiction tale inspired by real life which was originally published in Focus Aleppo on 3 June 2015.  

(Photo: "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso - 1937)

“All I ever wanted was a cup of coffee, a poem and Yasmin.”

div>(Aleppo, Syria) I left the house this morning, determined on going through with my decision, just like that time when I said to her: “We will get married, no matter what.”
I ring the doorbell. I hear the lock twisting, the doorknob turning. The door opens. Suddenly, a high-pitched whistle. A shrike louder than any other. And then, a voice, one that does not belong here: “Barrel!”
Light starts flittering. Faraway voices look for survivors. Am I alive?
“Lara… Yasmin…”
I open my eyes, a camera flickering. What happened?
“Lara… Yasmin…”
I say their names again and again. I cry out with a strangled voice, like a cassette tape eroded by humidity.
I am flat out on my stomach, my face to the floor. I try to lift my head with difficulty – it weighs a ton – and pain strikes every inch of my body like a chisel. Blood flows down my face. Is it from my head? I try to trace the source, but the blood seems to be pouring down from the sky. Blood, mud, dust, maybe tears.
Some pus and a broken memory. My lips block the bloodstream. I open my mouth: a viscous liquid with the taste of a bitter fall.
“Yasmin…” A wounded voice and an unforgettable name. “I must find Yasmin,” I mutter, and then I stretch out my arm. I feel pressure on my fingers. Did I lose any of my body parts? I do not know. I cannot feel any of them. I pull myself together. I cough deeply. Pain strikes like whip lashes all over me. I must find Yasmin. “What’s this?” I stop. It is a torn leg, a knee and a foot. A bare foot and a leg wearing the remains of a pink pyjama.
The memories start coming back…
She bent down a little and grabbed a silver shoe. “It’ll look nice with a black dress, don’t you think?” Then she smiled, and the whole world smiled at me. “How about the golden one?” I suggested. She nodded in approval, took off the silver shoe and tried on the golden one. She stared at herself in the mirror, and I stood there, in my own paradise, staring at her. “What do you think?” she asked. “My gorgeous Cinderella, the fairest of them all,” I told her. She flirted back laughing, coyly. It was that particular laugh that made me feel like I was flying, like I was going to live forever.
“Should I leave the leg and go?” I see my past torn before my eyes. I hold the leg close to my aching chest. I must keep crawling. Light flickers again. I follow the voice, the voice of my destiny that I have been holding on to my entire life. I pull myself forward with all the strength I have. I open my eyes: a hand, the left hand of the body.
I remember the day I bought her the ring. I took her hand, kissed the ring and the finger that wore it. “Do you think dad would approve?” she asked. The question came as a dagger to my heart. My earnest request for love! His father’s voice resonated in my ears. For seven years I had knocked on our neighbour’s door, begging him time and time again to let me marry Yasmin.
– Over my dead body, I will never give Yasmin away to a Muslim.
– But you and my dad have been best friends for 17 years! You’re like brothers! Why now? Why?
The third time I tried, he refused as well.
– You say third time’s the charm, huh?
– But I love Yasmin!
– Fine. I will marry you my daughter if you let my son Kinan marry your sister, Lara. Give it some thought.”
It was like he dropped a bombshell on me, a bucket of ice-cold water. Was he hitting me where it hurts?
I did not sleep at all that night. “And why wouldn’t I let my sister marry Kinan?” I pondered. That was when my rotten old beliefs were triggered. “Was it forbidden (2)?” I wondered. “No, no! I never believed in religion’s little schemes that only brought people further apart.”
I rolled and rolled in bed. “Why wouldn’t Kinan marry my sister? Does he love her like I love his sister?” I was never a conservative man. I never believed in ancient grudges or their rattling swords. In this entire world, all I ever believed in was a cup of coffee, the voice of poetry inside me, and Yasmin. And I believed in love, a love above all law.
“Let Kinan marry Lara, but not so that I can marry Yasmin. I’ll make that clear. Even if he doesn’t give me his daughter, I’ll let Kinan marry my sister.”
My head falls on the hand. It smells like the remains of a life. I quarrel with my own heart. I must take the hand and the leg with me. How could I leave parts of me behind? I am touching bits and pieces of my soul for the very first time. I must keep crawling. I stop. “What’s that?” A head with messy chestnut hair. A pair of wide-open almond eyes with a petrified stare. A screaming mouth. I am face to face with my own self, with seven years of passion and longing, of joy and sadness; seven years of rejections that separated two souls. I am staring at a face I have kissed time and time again, a face that gave me eternal life. With each kiss I planted on it I added a day to my life.
I look up: a limitless dark gate. “Should I come back? And for whom? What about all the parts I am carrying? They were never mine as a whole! We were never whole, no matter how hard I tried.”
Tears start pouring down. I look at the eyes – I never loved anything in the world more than these eyes. They were the ground I stood on, my strength and my weakness. With all the life that is left in me, I plant a kiss on the head that paid for the sins, absurdities and grudges of the whole world. Why was this head asked to pay the price of the ghosts of their past, their delusions and their mistakes? All I ever wanted was a cup of coffee, a poem and Yasmin. Were we such a great burden for this earth? Did our dreams stretch beyond our universe?
The memories flash by once again.
– What do you dream of, Yasmin?
– I dream that your chest will one day become my home. And you?
– To live in your eyes…
What point is there in reaching back to the light now? I pull the head closer to my chest; maybe I could make some of the dream come true. It is the darkness, perhaps, that brings me back to myself. I hear the coughs of an agonising soul. “Lara… Yasmin…” The sound resonates again and again, like a tape stuck in a broken recorder. “Abu Kinan?” I call. “Yes,” he answers, feebly. I crawl toward him until I touch his body. I saw tears coming down his cheeks. “I’m here, Abu Kinan,” I reassure him with a smile.
I place her hand, her leg, and her head between us. We both found her at the wrong time in the wrong place. He holds my hand, places it over hers, and covers both with his. He holds our hands with all the power left in him, and with his last breath, he smiles and says: “I wed you Yasmin.”

Samah al-Maghush is a writer from Aleppo.
In Islamic jurisprudence there is a consensus against marrying Muslim women to non-Muslim men, even if they are monotheists (and therefore recognized as People of the Book, Ahl al-Kitab). On the contrary, Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women, as long as they belong to one of the recognized monotheist faiths.