I met them as they rode by me in the forest. She was sitting on the back of the bicycle, and I said ” سلام – salām,” in greeting as they rode by they both smiled and stopped, and joined me for part of the walk in the forest.
We got talking as we walked. I told them of my love for the desert, how I’d lived there for a decade or more altogether. They were from Syria, now living in Finland.
The woman was the talker, the man the smiler. She was well-read, and discussed literature with the passion of one who seldom has the chance to, and had similar political views to us all, in that we want politicians to stop taking us for a ride.
“If it were not for the war, my husband and I would not be here,´´ she said. Her husband, Abbas, smiled.
“But its not like you think,´´ she continued. “Abbas was my student, in university, he is of the Shi’a faith. I am Sunni. Our friends in Syria are enemies of each other. By tradition we marry within our faith, and by tradition a university lecturer does not marry her student, either!´´ she laughed, almost a coy giggle.
Abbas was gentle, and quiet, and let his wife Rania do the talking: “Abbas was about to marry. In Syria it happens quickly. His family had met her family, his mother had given her blessing, and he was due to meet his wife to be once before marrying.´´
“Yes,´´ said Abbas, “I nearly married the wrong woman,´´ he smiled.
“When the bombs came they were just leaving my classroom,´´ Ranya said. “Abbas took care of me, and sheltered me. The fighting errupted in the streets around where I live. It became very dangerous for me.´´
We continued walking through the peaceful forest I walk in every morning, Abbas pushing his bicycle, the birds chirping and the breeze comforting.
“Yes,´´ said Abbas.
“He was clever,´´ said Ranya, “`he put himself in a poition where he was forced to marry me, my house was destroyed and he took me to his room and allowed me to stay there. Of course by then if he had not married me there would have been serious problems. But we had to leave Syria, that was obvious.´´
“If it had not been for the war you would not be together.´´
“That is the tragic truth, yes,´´ she said.
I watched them cycle away, promising to meet them again sometime, and took their photograph as they left. They were just another couple with a story to tell that I had met in the forest, but a story that touched me.
Smiles, love and laughter
© John Belchamber 2014