By Maria Lombart
“I want to marry you,” he said imploringly as his dark eyes searched mine. In his limited, basic English, he had managed to find the words to express his feelings and intentions. I returned his gaze, uncertain how strongly I felt towards this man who had entered my life just three short months ago. One thing I knew with certainty, though: he felt like home.
I met Sirwan for the first time in the cafeteria. He didn’t know who I was, but I recognized immediately that he was “the cute new guy.” I didn’t think much of it, though, as I grabbed a manaeesh sandwich to go and hurried back to my room. I had a busy week ahead at the university where I worked in Lebanon.
A few days later, he knocked hesitantly on my office door. He was being assigned as my student worker, to take photos of official events and upload them to our social media accounts. I quickly went over the expectations with him but soon realized he was not comprehending everything I was saying. I made a mental note to email him what I’d just said so he could pass it through Google Translate later.
After a couple of weeks, we had a national holiday. Sirwan messaged me that afternoon saying, “I miss you.” Somewhat startled by his boldness, I attributed it to him still learning English and decided he didn’t mean anything of it. What I didn’t know was that he did. And he would start to show me over the next weeks and months.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this guy.
Messaging for work turned into messaging on a personal level. My WhatsApp® and Facebook Messenger® were constantly lighting up with messages as he complimented me on my outfit that day, sent selfies of him eating in the cafeteria or hanging out with friends, and sent countless rose emojis. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this guy. Was he like my other guy friends, who took me out to eat and complimented me without meaning anything by it? Or was he different?
He taught me the alphabet in Farsi and how to play tennis. At our first game, he ran around the court tirelessly picking up stray balls I hit anywhere but down the center, showing me how to hold the racket and hit the ball over the net instead of into it. I thought he was a professional tennis player; later I learned he had never played tennis before in his life.
If I had a few minutes to spare, he would invite me down to his office where he was busily editing photos for the next day’s post. There he carefully showed me how to write cursive letters that changed shape depending on their location in the word. He cut up little bits of paper, put them in the palm of my hand, and told me, “Blow.” When I did, the papers floated away and drifted gracefully down to the table. “Now you know how to pronounce پ (p) in Farsi,” he told me.
We both lived in the dormitory; he on the second floor with the other guys and me on the third floor with the girls and single female staff. He ate in the cafeteria, but I did not; I made my own meals in my room.
One evening he sent me a WhatsApp message. “I have soup for you, where are you?” So started the soup delivery. Once a week, he would take a bowl of soup from the cafeteria, season it so it tasted more like home, and search for me. We never ate the soup together, but he always made sure I had a bowl of hot soup to enjoy.
Even on a day when he wasn’t feeling well, when I had worked a twelve-hour day and had returned to my room exhausted, he messaged me. “I have soup for you, where are you?” I went down to the second floor and took the warm bowl from him, then returned to my room where I sat on my bed and cried. Who was this nice guy who thought of me even when he was sick?
I’d grown up dreaming of the guy I would one day marry. He was dark-haired, taller than me, and had a nice smile. Traveling the world as a third-culture kid, as the years passed, I grew tired of relationships that came and went, sometimes quicker than I could change countries. The dream I’d held on to for so long seemed to be slipping out of my grasp. Then a guy came along who could barely put together a sentence in my native language, and I looked into his eyes and fell in love.
I didn’t say yes then, when he shared his feelings with me and asked me to marry him. I did say yes five months later as he knelt in front of me on the rocky shore of Batroun with the sunset framed in an opening of the ancient Phoenician wall behind us. I didn’t have to think about it, to wonder if I would be happy with someone who had never lived in my world, someone who could claim one citizenship as his own. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to marry him. He was the one I’d been dreaming of all my life.
At last, I would no longer be balancing between the many worlds I’d lived in. I’d found my home in him and this home would never leave.
Maria grew up between cultures and continents, moving from Benin to Burkina Faso to Egypt, the Netherlands, South Korea, and the US. She always envied those who’d lived in one home all their lives, until she realized that home was more than a place. Today she makes her temporary home in Lebanon while dreaming about the next adventure to come.