I tell him he saved my life but he shakes his head and looks away.
I first knew him as a voice on the phone, piercing the fog of my agoraphobic solitude to ask for someone else. He wasn’t like the others – when I said “Sorry, he isn’t here right now” he stopped to chat and, strangely, afterwards I found I didn’t mind. Slowly, I learnt to relax when I heard the low, even tones of his soft Edinburgh brogue come down the line, and a smile crept into my voice when I replied.
Broad-shouldered, dark-eyed, with straight black brows and a strong uncompromising jaw, when we met the day we became housemates I would have found his physical presence intimidating were it not for the telephone banter. All the same, when we ended up in a shared house of young professionals my eyes seemed to seek him out in social situations, lingering when I thought no one was looking. To say I was attracted to him would be to place our friendship in a light neither of us viewed it – curiosity consumed me. I remember studying his eyes in the rearview mirror from the back of a packed car, or watching him talk to someone from the other side of a room.
I’ll never understand what he saw in me. We were an odd match – a raw wound masquerading as a person, trying to stay numb with booze and marijuana, and a good Muslim boy. In contrast to me, fear and self-doubt were strangers to him. He was calm and unselfconscious, with a wicked sense of humor; I was envious. He moved through the world with ease, perfectly comfortable in his skin; I wished I could see things through his eyes. Quietly, he gave me his heart and at first, I didn’t even realize. I don’t remember giving him mine, I guess he had it all along.
He was willing to lose his family to marry me. I felt like we were together against the world – back-to-back, rock-solid. He’d laugh at that; he doesn’t see life in the adversarial terms I do. He still – and always will – surprises me with his views and choices. I’ll never know him, but understanding that means I know more. He doesn’t conform to outside influence, nor does he subscribe to popular belief. And yet, he asks my advice, and listens to what I say.
Together we’ve reached across cultures, social boundaries, taboos and across continents. Sometimes, when we talk, we make the same point in such totally different ways that we think we’re arguing with one another – at other times, we don’t need words at all…