Unexpected Love

Aisha and Khawar Ashraf

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 humour; 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.

Our interracial love has reached across cultures, social boundaries, taboos and 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…

Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. That is amazing. In some ways our experience has been like yours – we often tell each other that we saved each other, too. I like that expression about “trying to stay numb” – that is exactly what I was doing, and he says he was, too. And we have a similar cross-cultural experience too. This is really touching, and I hope you both had a wonderful Valentine’s Day – and more importantly, many more to come!

    1. Thanks Emma, it always amazes me how isolated I can feel – then when I speak of my experiences, it turns out there are others going through the same and somehow, we all end up feeling a little less lonely 🙂

      1. That’s so funny because I just made a cup of Constant Comment! Loved your post on “Make Me a Muslim.” We lived in Khartoum, Sudan and it was a wonderful, humbling education in so many ways.

        1. Thanks! I think a lot of women who choose to veil give little thought to how it feels for those who have no choice. Often it’s an act that is supposed to convey one thing but screams something else – glad you’re enjoying the posts!

  2. I am such a sucker for a good love story and yours made me smile, made me impatient and made me jealous. All of those are because I have yet to find that one, right person and, as someone over five decades old, my chances are getting fewer and farther between.

    I, too, have a few diagnoses. My current shrink isn’t into diagnoses as long as she gets paid. I suspect she simply puts down “depression” and that covers it. In reality, while I do get depressed more often than most, that’s probably the least of it. I can’t get into the rest in public, but I wanted to say that I thank you and other writers struggling with mental illness for opening your hearts and minds to let people like me know that we are not alone.

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