On a wintry night in Stuttgart,1956, handsome Ghassan Ayoub meets the woman whom he believes will surely be the love of his life. Alexandra Cochrane is a young Scottish woman who finds the gentlemanly advances of the exotic Ghassan hard to resist. Soon they are immersed in the excitement and difficulties of young love, passion, and rebellion. While Alexandra’s cold and controlling father threatens to destroy the very fabric of their newly woven love, the couple finds an ally in the amiable and staunch matron of Alexandra’s school residence. Only time will tell if their love for each other will overcome the odds they face, or if bigotry, distance, and fear of the unknown will overpower them.
One cold evening in the winter of 1955 in Stuttgart, Germany, Ghassan Ayoub was taking a walk after finishing his last mid-term exam at the University. He had left Syria a year earlier to continue his education in Engineering and Germany had seemed like the appropriate place to finish such a degree. The weather conditions that evening made him question that decision. The snow swirled in the frosty wind as he made his way toward the bright lights of the Gaststätte (restaurant) and opened the large wooden door. Once inside, he was immediately greeted by the scent of wood smoke from the large hearth and was blanketed in warmth.
A cozy arrangement of tables nestled amongst the dark wood frame of the restaurant. Ghassan found a small table next to the window and arranged his chair so as to be able to observe the room unnoticed. Most of the other guests were middle-aged to elderly Germans, so far as he could tell. They spoke quietly or focused on eating their hearty food. The large table in the centre of the room provided Ghassan with the most entertainment. It was surrounded with a boisterous group of young women. They chattered excitedly and laughed merrily. He had become transfixed on the way a particularly attractive woman was tossing her long, blond hair about when he suddenly noticed another woman seated beside the blond whom he found far more interesting.
There was something to be said for poise. As the other women became increasingly loud, a petite, fair skinned woman sat quietly watching and smiling. She was clearly enjoying the entertainment but seemed shy and reserved – too much so to become involved in the conversation. Her large, blue eyes glistened with intelligence and her diminutive features gave her a look of a porcelain doll. Her auburn hair glistened red as the light from the fireplace threw an amber glow around her. Ghassan observed that she was well dressed but not ostentatious. When she did speak, her voice was quiet – he couldn’t hear it from his table. Ghassan found, as the evening wore on, that he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
There comes an uncomfortable moment when the watcher realizes that he has been caught. The blond, assuming that she was the object of Ghassan’s glances, made a shrill announcement to the fact. He, embarrassed, made quick study of the contents of his plate and kept his head down as peals of laughter filled the room from the women’s table. After several minutes of frivolity, the conversation returned to its normal pitch and Ghassan resumed breathing. He didn’t want to be caught by the blond, but he had to fight with the impulse to look again at the beauty beside her.
Finally, Ghassan’s impulse overtook him and he looked over at the women’s table. This time he was met by the gaze of sparkling blue eyes softly outlined by long, dark lashes. The faintest of smiles curved the delicate lines of her ruby lips. It wasn’t a smirk, or a warning that she would give him away, but rather a warm salutation. Ghassan’s heart raced. He had to do something, find some way to communicate with her. Walking over the table was completely out of the question. Or was it? Sure, he had been the laughing stock, but what else could they do. Laugh more? Perhaps, but he was willing to take the insult in order not to lose this woman to the vastness of the world outside the door of the restaurant.
Ghassan quickly wrote his phone number on a piece of paper he had in his briefcase and rose from his table. He was sure that this action was inappropriate but he could think of nothing else. He gathered all his courage and took a few steps toward the table. The women suddenly became very quiet. The blond smiled broadly and flipped her hair again but Ghassan barely noticed. He was looking at the fair one. She was posed so elegantly in her chair and looked up at him still holding her warm smile.
“Hello. I am Ghassan.” He said in a heavily accented English.
“Hello, Ghassan, I’m Alexandra.” Her voice lilted with a Scottish burr.
“Alexandra.” Ghassan allowed the name to caress his tongue like a wine taster with his wine. “It is a pleasure.”
With that, he produced the paper with his number and placed it in her delicate hands. As he turned to leave, a collective gasp arose from the women’s table. Ghassan smiled to himself and walked out into the winter’s night.
As the wintery dawn approached, Alexandra Cochrane sat on the edge of the bed in her tiny dormitory room at the Hanauer residence. The home of Frau Hanauer provided rooms for five girls studying at the University. Alexandra’s father, a professor back in Scotland, thought it a good, safe place for his daughter who was in Germany to further her studies. In her hand Alexandra held the tiny piece of paper given to her by the charming stranger, Ghassan. She turned the paper over and over while looking through the frosty panes of her bedroom window. The winter had been particularly long and bitter, but the events of the previous evening brought promise of a welcoming distraction.
The sight of Ghassan was fresh in Alexandra’s mind, and more so, the sound of his voice. As a Linguistics major, she had been completely mystified by his accent. She had a good ear for identifying European accents – Spanish, French, German – but this was an inflection she had never heard. It was rich and thick with unfamiliar guttural sounds and yet flowed softly and lyrically off of the speakers tongue. His name, Ghassan – she spoke it aloud and tried to imitate the way he had pronounced it. Her imitation failed miserably. Her Scottish burr interfered with the sound that she thought perhaps should have come from her throat. She decided to let the memory of his voice fill her head instead of the currently unpleasant sound of her own.
Alexandra’s eyes glazed over as she allowed a vision of him to wash over her. As he had approached her table at the restaurant, his eyes glistened in the firelight. They were intense and intelligent and of the deepest brown with flecks of gold and amber near the pupil. They flashed but showed no signs of nervousness but rather of determination. Above, thick, dark, nicely shaped brows defined the almond shape of his eyes and a stray lock of his wavy, ebony hair teased his forehead. But despite this stray, his overall appearance was tidy and assured. He was clean shaven and his skin glowed like soft caramel; his smooth neck rising from a well-pressed shirt under a handsome overcoat.
The flight of a bird past her window awoke Alexandra from her daydream. Her hand tightened upon the paper in her hand. Her impulse was to call him right away, but she knew that an early morning call may not be received well. She thought it best that she get on with her day. As Alexandra rose to dress herself she resolved to call Ghassan later that day, after dinner. That thought brought the feeling of butterflies let loose in her stomach. She placed the phone number gently on her dressing table and turned away from it.
Attraction is an entity unto itself. It hits you like a wave, washes over you and then silently creeps back to grow inside you. It starts small in the pit of your stomach but then reaches its long tendrils into your mind. The more you try to release yourself from it, the more pleasurable visions invade your thoughts. Finally, like a host for a symbiote you succumb to its whims and daydreams. You suddenly need to feed this attraction with more from whence it came. Like an addict, you find whatever means you can to secure any little morsel that will satisfy the hunger of your silent conqueror.
Alexandra could not sit still through classes. Her mind was racing. What would she say to Ghassan? What if there was awkwardness on the phone? She wondered what kind of person he was. What if he wasn’t who she thought he was? What if he wanted to do something inappropriate when they met? Then she began wondering if it was appropriate for her to call him at all. Would she appear anxious or, worse yet, easy? All day these thoughts and questions came and went. She answered her own questions over and over with answers that satisfied her desire to see him. But still the fear of the unknown plagued her.
Dinner time proved to be a nauseating event for Alexandra. As she moved the food around on her plate, unable to eat, she eyed the phone visible in the sitting room. After barely eating a bite she returned to her room and again sat on the edge of her bed. Across the room, she looked at the small but significant paper as it sat on the dressing table. Alexandra stared at if for quite some time before finally grabbing it off of the table and placing it carefully in the back of her journal. Another day she thought to herself and sighed.
As spring swept through Germany leaving fields of yellow wildflowers in its wake, the streets of Stuttgart were alive with people enjoying the warm sunshine. Ghassan was no exception in joining in this spring celebration. Although the winter had been milder than he had expected, it had still been damp and cold and, for him, quite uncomfortable. As he lifted his face to greet the sun he couldn’t help but smile. But the smile quickly faded as his thoughts turned to Alexandra, as they often had over the passing weeks. She had never called.
The days after Ghassan had first set eyes on Alexandra at the restaurant he had been filled with anticipation. But as time passed without hearing from her, the anticipation slowly turned to disappointment. Weeks later he had lost hope of ever seeing her again. He figured that he only had himself to blame. He deemed his actions at the restaurant brash and impulsive. He wished he could turn back the clock to that night. He wished he could have treated her with the gentleness and courtesy that he thought she deserved.
Ghassan set out on a slow stroll through his neighbourhood toward the marketplace. He enjoyed the market. It reminded him of the suqs at home; fresh meats and produce, flowers and trinkets. On this day, it was particularly busy; people bustling about with packages, street performers, and children playing amongst the stalls and crowds filled the area with a joyous cacophony. Ghassan rested at an outdoor café to watch, as he so enjoyed doing, while sipped on European coffee. He could feel his spirits lifting.
One of the stalls was overflowing with flowers. The white hair of a small elderly woman, presumably the merchant, could barely be seen behind the rows of bright colours. Ghassan smiled to himself as he imagined this tiny woman harvesting and hauling all of those flowers to the centre of town. She would make a modest amount by evening at which time she would again pack everything up – hopefully minus the flowers – and head home. She would repeat this week after week. How many years had she been doing this? Was there anyone to help her? Was she a kindly, old woman or hard and bitter? He decided at that moment that he needed to buy some flowers.
As Ghassan walked toward the stall, several other customers also crowded over the dazzling merchandise touching their delicate petals and inhaling their sweet aroma. To his surprise, the elderly merchant rounded the stall with agility to match his own. Her deeply wrinkled face broke into the warmest smile and her bright eyes twinkled. She politely greeted her customers and gently guided them in their choices. Shortly thereafter their purchases reflected her salesmanship.
Ghassan approached the flowers in order to get her attention. He allowed their collective scent to fill his airways. Their delightful perfume was intoxicating. He wished at that moment he had someone with whom he could share their beauty, someone he could give them to.
“Guten tag. Can I help you sir?” she cooed from beside him. “Something for the pretty lady?”
Ghassan could not help but look surprised. Had his facial expressions reflected his thoughts of Alexandra to the extent an old woman, a stranger, could recognize? He had intended to buy flowers but only as a way to further his study of this woman whom he now believed far wiser than he could have imagined.
“Yes, yes of course. What do you suggest?” Ghassan attempted to speak as smoothly as he could muster.
“Red, dear, accented with a touch of purple. And, of course, blue to highlight her eyes.” The woman replied easily.
Ghassan was flabbergasted. “How? How did you know?”
The woman smiled tenderly and looked beyond him. Suddenly a hand rested gently on Ghassan’s lower arm and he heard the softest of Scottish lilts.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call, Ghassan.”
Beside him and looking up at him with eyes that glistened like the sea was Alexandra.
As the noon sun shone brightly on the market chasing shadows from their hiding places, Alexandra stood as though she was frozen. She was directly opposite a café when she noticed Ghassan suddenly rise from his table. As he made his way toward the flower stand beside which she was standing panic rose in her like a torrent. She quickly moved to behind the stand and was startled by the movement of the elderly merchant who had, until that moment, remained unnoticed by Alexandra. The old woman smiled sweetly at the startled girl before moving around to the front to aid her other customers, who now included Ghassan. Alexandra peeked between the brilliant bouquets – Ghassan was less than two metres from her. If she moved even an inch, he would be sure to see her.
Alexandra’s mind was racing. What would she say to him? What if he was angry that she didn’t call? What if he refused to speak to her? All of a sudden she was aware of his voice as he began an exchange with the merchant. Its deep, silky tones coupled with the mysterious accent enchanted her once again. His courteous manner with the elderly woman – he was so kind and respectful – alleviated some Alexandra’s fears. She took a deep breath and emerged from behind the flowers. Ghassan had his back to her as he spoke to the merchant which enabled her to move to his side unnoticed. Slowly, she placed a shaking hand on his arm to get his attention.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call, Ghassan.” Alexandra wasn’t sure that the words had actually left her mouth. Ghassan turned with a look of bewilderment but when he recognized her, a gentle smile crossed his face. He looked up to the skies, as if to heaven, briefly before looking at her again. In the sunshine his eyes glowed like pools of smoky quartz and, at that moment, Alexandra felt as though she could drown in them.
“You’re here now.” He said kindly and placed his hand upon hers. “You must have known these flowers were for you.”
Ghassan reached for the flowers being held by the merchant and presented them to Alexandra. It was a lively bouquet with a glorious scent. Alexandra blushed as Ghassan placed them in her arms. She wasn’t sure she deserved such a lovely gift.
“Thank you, Ghassan.” She said shyly.
“You are very welcome. Shall we walk together?”
Alexandra had been on her way to the library earlier but now the thought of studying – being hunched over a carrel with her books – seemed like the last thing she should be doing today. In fact, if Ghassan had suggested they leave town and he whisked her off to some distant land, Alexandra would not have resisted.
“A walk would be nice.” She replied quietly.
Ghassan indicated that she should lead and he would follow. They walked in silence from the busy marketplace and entered the neighbourhoods. To Alexandra it was like walking in a dream. The sun bounced off of every surface of the street illuminating the grey stone houses that had seemed pale and dreary in winter. She watched as women swept their front entrances and washed their windows. She spotted a man delicately unearthing some tender shoots in his garden from under the withered growth of the previous year. All the while she was completely aware of Ghassan’s presence. His shoes tapped the sidewalk rhythmically just behind her and the subtle, spicy scent of his aftershave hung around her like a blanket of masculinity. She found herself inhaling deeply.
“I wonder, Ghassan, if we are meant to bear the winter so days like today seem like heaven on earth?” Alexandra said dreamily.
“Today is a beautiful day for so many reasons.” He replied.
Alexandra turned to look at him and found his eyes looking intensely upon her. Her heart skipped a beat. She had never been in love before but she could certainly imagine that she was not far from being completely consumed by it. And yet, the illogical nature of it all – he being a complete stranger she knew nothing about – kept pecking at the comfortable lining that this strongest of emotions had woven around her heart. She felt so wonderful with Ghassan and yet so completely terrified.
“Where are you from Ghassan?” Alexandra surprised herself at the question that blurted from her mouth. “I mean…if you don’t mind me asking.”
“Why would I mind, Alexandra?” Ghassan asked simply. “I’m from Damascus.”
“Damascus.” Alexandra repeated. “I’m not familiar with that part of the world, I’m sorry to say.”
“Then let me show you my world.” He said softly and without waiting for her response hailed a nearby taxi. Before Alexandra could enter the taxi, Ghassan had quietly instructed the driver. Her head was spinning with excitement. Where could he be taking her? What did he want to show her? What in Stuttgart could explain his world to her? She slid into the backseat beside Ghassan. He smiled brightly at her like a child with a thrilling secret. As the taxi headed off Alexandra silently reminded herself to breathe.
As the taxi wound through the streets of Stuttgart to the north and west, Ghassan could barely sit still. He couldn’t believe how quickly the day seemed to be improving and it was only yet early afternoon. He could feel the excitement that rippled off of the beauty beside him and it almost made him mad with anticipation. He suddenly wanted to show her everything; to share all the things he found beautiful and interesting. He wanted to take her lovely, milk white hand and hold it gently in his as he guided her through his world. He needed her to be a part of it all. But he knew he had to restrain himself. He didn’t want to overwhelm or frighten her. He would just simply bring her to what he had decided was the most beautiful place in Stuttgart. There, his work was nearly done for him. He wouldn’t need to push her to see what he saw; he could just stand back and watch her every reaction.
The streets seemed to go on forever. Both Ghassan and Alexandra looked out of their windows longing to see something extraordinary. Ghassan’s heart raced as suddenly, in the distance, from out of the cement, the beautiful greenery of Rosenstein Park rose like an oasis. Where they were going was just beyond.
“It’s not far now, Alexandra.” Ghassan assured both himself and girl beside him who was now appearing slightly nervous. Although she smiled happily in response, Ghassan could see that her hands were trembling as they lay neatly on her lap.
“Have you ever seen a magnolia in bloom?” Ghassan hoped a distraction would settle her.
“I think so, but I’m not sure. I don’t remember flowers types very well.” She responded quickly and he could see the colour rise in her cheeks.
“You would remember if you had.” He smiled encouragingly and, as she gave him a flirtatious sideways glance coupled with a delicate smile, he knew his distraction worked. “A Magnolia grove would surely be the entrance way to heaven. Between the blue sky and the green earth there are only blossoms of the palest pink and pure white you can imagine. Their fragrance is the perfume of the gods, sweet citrus and spice. As the petals begin to fall from the trees they almost appear as though they will hang in the air forever; swaying softly to and fro like large, feathery snowflakes. They land in the grasses to create a downy carpet beneath your feet and you can imagine that, as you walk upon them, you may be swept away to the heavens.” Ghassan nodded. “Yes. You would remember.”
“I believe that I would, too.” Alexandra said musingly.
Ghassan caught her gaze in his. Her eyes were wide and bright. They shone like translucent turquoise; the colour of the waves in the sea as the sun penetrates them the moment before they crash against the shores. Spellbound, he could think of nothing more beautiful. Even the magnolia blossom paled in comparison. He fixed his eyes upon her as if in a daze. He followed her slender nose to her soft, pink lips. They looked as though they had been touched by the brush of an angel, perfectly formed, welcoming. He moved his eyes adoringly from her lips to her eyes and back again.
Ghassan would have happily studied Alexandra’s face for sometime but he was interrupted by the abrupt halt of the taxi. His heart leapt into his throat or so it felt. They were there. Beside them, rose a most magnificent embossed, terracotta, tiled wall, not like anything else in Stuttgart. Once they had exited the taxi, Ghassan watched as Alexandra was immediately drawn to the wall. He smiled satisfactorily as she ran a finger over a simple interlace pattern. He now knew, without question, that she would appreciate what he was about to show her.
A light wind lifted and tousled Alexandra’s hair as she stood overlooking what was possibly the most beautiful view she had ever seen. An enormous garden, the Moorish Gardens of Wilhelma Park, stretched out in front of her; its interconnected pathways luring its followers to wondrous delights. Exotic pavilions with onion domes, glass houses with intricate iron work, glorious ponds, a covered walk, and fantastic candelabras mixed with manicured grasses and shrubs, overflowing flower pots, palms, and flowering trees. Awestruck, Alexandra shivered as the skin on the back of her neck tingled. She felt as though she had stepped into another world.
Beside her, Ghassan stood silently as if he understood her amazement. As she admired his stoic features, she wondered what he was thinking, or more so, what he was planning. He seemed so full of surprises that she was sure more were in store for the afternoon.
“This is paradise.” She said quietly.
“Not quite. Paradise is just over there.” Ghassan replied knowingly and pointed northward.
Alexandra wasn’t sure to what he was pointing but she eagerly followed as he lead her away from their vantage point. They walked along the wide, well groomed paths toward a glorious grove of flowering trees. Before they reached it, Ghassan placed his hand on Alexandra’s shoulder gently encouraging her to stop.
“Close your eyes and tell me what fragrance you smell.” he instructed.
As she closed her eyes, she wasn’t able to detect anything at first. But then a delicate breeze brought forth a scent unlike anything she had ever smelled before. It was sweet and fruity yet tangy and ambrosial. Alexandra felt lightheaded with delight as it filled her airways. She leaned slightly into Ghassan resting her cheek against his upper arm. He responded in kind by wrapping his hand around hers.
“Keep your eyes closed. I will lead you.”
“Where are you taking me?” Alexandra asked the question as a reflex more than anything. At that moment she had no cares.
“You’ll soon see.”
As they walked together, the world outside the surrounding terracotta walls seemed to disappear. Alexandra felt as if they were the only two in their private, secret garden. She could hear the birds chirping happily, the wind rustling the tree tops, and the sound of their shoes against the pebble walkway. The comforting warmth of the sun on her face and the thrill of her hand in his was intoxicating.
“Look, Alexandra.” Ghassan whispered in her ear as they stood still again.
Alexandra opened her eyes to the scene that Ghassan had painted so vividly in the taxi. Yet no description could ever completely capture what was before her. The most glorious Magnolia grove glowed in the bright sunshine. Some branches bowed majestically along the pathway, while others reached skyward; their blossoms hanging like delicate pink lanterns in the blue sky. Fallen petals were scattered loosely upon the green lawn and pebble path forming an intricate texture that could only be created by nature. Alexandra watched as a petal fell as if it originated in heaven, swaying this way and that through blue sky, past the other blossoms, past the elegant limbs, down and down, beside Ghassan, and coming to rest at his foot.
She looked up into his face and smiled. If, indeed, this heavenly place was akin to his world, her every desire now was to be part of it.
“Next week I have to return home, as I’m sure you do. I want this moment to last forever.”
As Alexandra looked deep into his eyes, she knew that Ghassan had understood her. He lifted her chin and kissed her tenderly.
July 1, 1955
My Dearest Alexandra,
As I sit here at my desk, the sunlight that is now streaming through my window and warming and brightening every surface reminds me of you. Most things remind me of you in one way or another. Every glorious aspect of Damascus in the summertime has a hint of Alexandra. The fresh light of early dawn as it transforms everything in its path, lifting the heavy blanket of night to reveal the splendor of the city. The melodious chatter and laughter of children beneath my window as they fill the streets and alleyways with their play. The eternal turtledove as it lulls us from our afternoon slumber with its soft cooing. The mouthwatering aroma of Damascene cooking as it wafts from every window. The colors of the setting sun as they streak across the evening skies and mingle with the darkness. And the sweet scent of Jasmine as it hangs magnificently in the night air.
The day we went to Wilhelma constantly runs through my mind like a motion picture. I see your face, your beautiful face, as you looked up at me in the flower market. I remember your eyes wide with awe when you first looked at your surroundings in the park. I think perhaps you belonged there, the loveliest of all the lovely flowers blossoming within. I feel your hand in mine as I led you. It seemed as if it were made just the right size to fit there. I think of our kiss; the softness of your lips filling me with a passion I had never experienced before. And I will never forget our embrace as we parted that day; the warmth of you against me. Those moments will be forever etched in my memory.
I had wished that we were able to see one another a last time before returning to our respective homelands. I wanted to hold your hand again and to feel you in my arms. I regret that I could not tell you how much I’d miss you to your face. Rather, I will have to be satisfied with the sweet echo of your Scottish lilt as I remember it from our phone conversation before your departure. Your passionate words left me reeling both with joy and longing. Now that we are only half way through the summer, that longing has become overwhelming. If only I had a magical chariot that would bring you swiftly here now. But I do not so I must believe that you will write as we agreed.
With this letter I send you my affections and hope that it finds you well and happy. In my mind I am already waiting for you in Stuttgart.
All my devotion,
July 25, 1955
Thank you for the most wonderful and romantic letter I have ever received. I will cherish it always. The day I received it, I jumped with delight when I saw that it was postmarked from Syria. As I sat to read it, the tears streamed down my face from pure joy. Your words are so beautifully poetic. I couldn’t put it down for the rest of the day. I held it for a while in my hand and carried it in my pocket everywhere I went. That night (and every night since), I slept with it beneath my pillow. I think I dreamed of you until the morning when I awoke. As I write this letter, yours is placed just above. It truly brings me happiness and lifts me above the dreariness of this wretched place.
I find myself yearning terribly for Stuttgart. The memory of our day at Wilhelma is also clear in my mind. It was like a dream – a sun-filled dream. Here in Aberdeen, it seems, its always wet and cold. Even when the sun shines, I still feel a chill. I often go to the seaside and stare longingly at the horizon as the cold wind, whipping off the icy waters, conspires to blow me asunder. The knowledge that across those waters lies the land that brought us together, a place to which we’ll return to soon, is the blanket that warms me. Never before have I so desperately wanted to return to school!
As much as I would like to shout your name from the top of every mountain, I have only told my closest girlfriend about you. When I first returned home, I asked my father what he knew about Syria. He practically dismissed me on the spot. With a wave of the hand, he muttered something about Russia and left the room. When I pressed him further, his words frightened me into silence. I am so eager to share my happiness with anyone who will listen, but now I am truly afraid of my father’s response. My mother would be sure to tell my father, so I have avoided confiding in her as well. In my nightly prayers, I have asked God for guidance, but he seems unresponsive. Oh, Ghassan, the secret is gnawing away at my heart!
Please write again and tell me more about your wonderful homeland. I’m sure to you it all seems quite ordinary, but to me, reading your descriptions is like reading passages from an adventure book; a novel where the hero travels to exotic lands full of bizarre and fascinating treasures. I wish, too, with everything that I am, that I could be there with you. But, I keep reminding myself that September is only a little over a month away, and then we’ll be together in Stuttgart once again.
Until then, I wish you well, my dear, sweet, Ghassan.
Sincerely, with love,
The last breath of summer hung hot and heavy over Damascus when Ghassan received the letter from Alexandra. He had visited the postal outlet many times in anticipation of its arrival, and until this day, had always departed with a keen disappointment. When the letter was placed in his hand, there was no doubt in Ghassan’s mind from whom it had come. The tiny mauve envelope was addressed in Arabic lettering with an obviously unpracticed hand. As he released the letter from the envelope a lovely, feminine scent accompanied it. Before he read it, Ghassan marveled at the tidy and intricate lettering that formed the words in which he was so looking forward to immersing himself.
In the solace of his father’s courtyard, a place where Ghassan always found privacy and some peace from the busy streets, he began pouring over the precious document. He had not wished to read the letter hurriedly but rather to reflect upon each description, emotion, and memory he was sure he would find within. He had wanted to savour everything she would tell him. Ghassan greatly enjoyed letters and had realized that they can impart so many things about their writers – thoughts, feelings, ideas; more than you might come to understand through a verbal conversation. Of course, that all depended on the skill of the writer and whether or not they purposely withheld information from their reader. But then, as much can be learned from what isn’t written as is written. For the most part, however, writers tended to be more free with their thoughts and he hoped the same would be so for Alexandra.
Initially, Ghassan was not disappointed. As he began reading, her words washed over him like a soft sea breeze – gently with a whisper of eternity. He found her reflections thrillingly fresh and innocent. He wished so much to be with her as much as she had written that she wanted to be with him. But suddenly the wonderful thoughts and feelings vanished, as quickly as they had arrived, as he read about Alexandra’s father’s reaction to Syria. A deep chill came over him.
“Politics!” he growled to himself and rose to pace the courtyard. “This cannot happen!”
Ghassan had come so far through some of the most turbulent times in the history of Syria. As he was growing up, Syria was dealing with an occupation, struggling for and with independence, immersed in the second world war, suffering general upheaval and several coups d’etat. Nevertheless, Ghassan had made it through high school and on to university, and was finally accepted at a foreign university to finish his studies. And now, that he had found the love of his life, the Cold War was going to separate them? A flood of emotions and uncertainty surged through his body.
Ghassan resolved that he would do everything in his power to make sure that he shielded both Alexandra and their love from the claws of bigotry created by the current political situation the world was facing. He would look her father in the eye so the man would see that he wasn’t dealing with a country but rather a person; a person whom his daughter loved! But perhaps, he thought, he was overreacting. She hadn’t actually told her father about him, she had just asked about Syria. But still, if he had such a negative reaction to the country, surely he wouldn’t be more positive about those who inhabited it. And then a more sobering thought occurred to Ghassan. What if his pursuit of her drove a wedge between Alexandra and her father? He would, then, be responsible for destroying her family; alienating her. Would she hold it against him and he would be left with nothing to hold?
Ghassan’s staggered as his eagerness to return to Stuttgart had been quelled.
It was a clear and bright September day in Stuttgart as Alexandra entered the front doors of Frau Hanauer’s home. The large wooden doors opened with a welcoming creak and the soft carpeting inside the doors cushioned Alexandra’s feet. At once she felt the excitement in the household. Several of the other girls had also returned that day. There was commotion upstairs as they unpacked their belongings and reacquainted themselves with their rooms and with each other. Alexandra stood motionless in the ample entrance and sighed deeply as she looked up at the ceiling.
Frau Hanauer was not long in discovering Alexandra’s presence. She was the kind of person who always seemed to be brimming with happiness. She greeted everyone with a large smile and a bouquet of courteous and encouraging words. She always made anyone feel like the most important person in her life. Today was no exception. Frau Hanauer embraced Alexandra with a warm hug and chatted merrily as she helped Alexandra take her bags to her room. Once there, she paused briefly to look at Alexandra and with a sympathetic smile left Alexandra alone in her room.
Alexandra’s heart fell. She knew what that look had meant. Before leaving Scotland, Alexandra had gathered the nerve to tell her father about Ghassan. The day they stood in the library alone, as the rain beat against the window, she faced her father with every strength she could muster. She spoke of the man who now held her heart; the man without whom she could not imagine her life. She told him about Magnolia blossoms and Damascus in a summer’s evening. She wore her heart on her sleeve hoping her father would see how much she needed him to understand and to support her. Her father was quiet until she finished, and when she was finished he spoke the most horrible six words she had ever heard. I forbid you to see him.
Alexandra’s father’s face appeared as though made of stone. The more she pleaded the harder it became. When she cried, he dismissed her. As she left the library, beside herself with anger and grief, she heard him pick up the phone. In perfect German he addressed Frau Hanauer: “Madame. My daughter will not accept phone calls from any men, save myself, and shall be accompanied by a chaperon should she leave your home. Alexandra is not to see or speak with any men outside of school. She is at the university to study and not to find a husband.” Alexandra wanted to burst in on him and to tell him that he was being ridiculous and cruel. But she knew better. Chances were that the situation would become worse had she done so.
Outside her bedroom window, Alexandra heard the song of a lone lark perched in a nearby tree. The notes seemed to fall flat as they reached her window ledge. She sat, deflated, on her bed and looked across the room to her dressing table whose polished, bare surface offered little comfort. In fact, much of her room appeared rather dismal. How could she make it through the year knowing that Ghassan was nearby but never being able to see or to talk to him? She suddenly felt a strong hatred for her father. She had always done his bidding and never argued. She decided that he had no respect for her and had no trust in her judgment. Why, all the way here in Stuttgart, should she have to respect him?
As tears welled in her eyes, she suddenly caught a glimpse of a small note tucked into her writing pad on her desk. At first she dismissed it, but finally curiosity became too much for her to resist. She grabbed the note and her heart pounded as she recognized Ghassan’s hand writing. Welcome back to Stuttgart, sweet Alexandra. Please, can we meet? Sept. 15th at Konigstraße and Kronenstraße, 2 pm? I will await you. Your Ghassan.
That was only a day away.
On September 15th the thickest, darkest rain clouds imaginable loomed over Stuttgart. The rain fell in thick, heavy, and unrelenting droplets; indiscriminately soaking everything in its deluge. Only several individuals braved the fierce rain on the usually busy Konigstraße, scurrying across the wet pavement and bent under their black umbrellas. In the grayness, the tall, stone buildings took on the appearance of enormous megaliths; their blackened windows like empty eye-sockets punctuating their facades. Even the trees and flowers were a shade of gray as if the skies had sucked up every color left on earth and replaced it with a monochrome gray.
Ghassan stood precisely at the corner of Konigstraße and Kronenstraße at 2 o’clock and leaned against the tall black street lamp. He had arrived early for fear of missing Alexandra should she not have waited for him if he had been late. He cocked his umbrella to shield himself as well as he could against the rain, but even for his best efforts, his leather shoes and the bottom half of his pants were soon soaked. He watched the street alertly – he had planned to whisk her quickly into the closest café to protect her from the rain.
Ghassan’s heart pounded at the thought of seeing his fair Alexandra again. He envisioned her shining eyes as they looked into his and her petal pink lips as they curved into a gentle smile. He remembered the softness of her delicate, ivory hands and the gentle feminine fragrance that arose from her hair as she leaned against him. His ears rang with her lovely Scottish lilt like the music from the lute of some Pictish faery. While he held to these thoughts he felt sheltered from the bleakness of the day.
As time moved on past 2 o’clock, Ghassan watched each and every face as they approached. Rarely did a passer-by notice him; the misery of being wet and cold set into their expressions. Each small, female figure, as it drew near, brought a small flutter to the base of his stomach and then a pang of disappointment as it became clear that the form was not that of Alexandra’s. By half past two, Ghassan was starting to feel the cold. His pants dripped and the dampness had made its way in, around, and through his entire body. As time ticked onward, Ghassan started to feel the misery he had seen in so many other faces on Konigstraße.
It had not occurred to Ghassan that Alexandra would not show deliberately. He had been concerned that she may not have received his message, but Frau Hanauer had assured him that she had placed it on Alexandra’s desk where she would be sure to find it. What could be keeping her? Was she due to return later than was expected? Was she ill? Was she lost? The questions circulated in his mind. For a moment he though he should search for her but he couldn’t pull himself away from the corner. What if she appeared and he was no longer there? But it was nearly 3 o’clock. He decided that he would start walking toward Frau Hanauer’s. At least if Alexandra were on her way, they would cross paths. If not, he could find out from Frau Hanauer what had kept her.
Past the pedestrian area of Konigstraße, cars splashed along the streets in an almost rhythmic fashion, their lights illuminating the torrents of rain. Ghassan trudged onward as the water squelched in his shoes and his umbrella struggled against the wind. He no longer took in his surroundings but rather tried to avoid other people and objects while he ducked behind his umbrella. As he reached the steps of Frau Hanauer’s he stopped and looked up at the brightly lit windows. He was admiring how welcoming it appeared when he noticed a figure sitting in one of the upper windows. The form was so familiar and Ghassan felt a jab of pain in his heart as he realized it was Alexandra. She seemed to be looking into the distance, across the roof-lines and not down to the street. He stood immobilized, staring up at the window as the rain pelted his face.
As the rain beat against her windowpane, Alexandra felt as though her heart was being ripped from her chest. The ticking of the small clock on her side table pounded like thunder in her ears. September 15th, 1955 had become the worst day of her life. By 2:30 the tears streamed endlessly down her face as she sat in her window. She had desperately hoped to see Ghassan’s figure in the street so that she could signal him. So that she could find some way to let him know that she had wanted to see him. But no one had appeared on such a miserable day and Alexandra stared through her tears into the rain and across the rooftops into a gray mist.
Frau Hanauer had been so apologetic. She told Alexandra that she knew that Alexandra’s heart was breaking but that Professor Cochrane, Alexandra’s father, had tied her hands. She couldn’t allow Alexandra out on such a day to meet with a man. She sat with Alexandra in her room for a long time with her arm around the girl’s shoulders in a motherly fashion. Alexandra had appreciated the gesture but her anger at her father had intensified to the point that she couldn’t be comforted. Her first instinct had been to lash out at Frau Hanauer but when she looked into those soft, kind eyes, Alexandra realized quickly that this would have been a mistake. Instead she thanked the woman and asked to be alone for a while.
It was that horrible loneliness that accompanies anger and grief, that hung in the room like an invisible demon. As the last gray light of the afternoon stretched across the floor, the dark shadows threatened to creep from their corners and to slowly devour the light. Alexandra shivered as the dampness from outside pervaded any inner warmth. How could she face Ghassan after this? The poor man was likely soaked and cold by now and as miserable as the day because he was fruitlessly waiting for her. Alexandra began to sob loudly as the hopelessness of the situation engulfed her.
Downstairs, the other girls at the residence had gathered, as usual, in the salon for some social time. Today, however, instead of their usual giddy banter, they spoke in hushed tones. Alexandra was aware of their presence but had no desire to join them. She figured they were talking about her. But there was something else. Some other commotion that was out of ordinary. She couldn’t make it out and soon pushed it from her mind. Being wrapped up in her emotions she felt no desire to investigate. She was looking longingly at her bed with a need to curl up under the warmth of the covers, when Frau Hanauer’s voice startled her.
“Alexandra!” Frau Hanauer called sweetly, “Come downstairs Frauline, bitte!”
“Please, Frau, I’d rather not.” Alexandra begged from her doorway.
“Dear, you must.” came the reply.
Reluctantly, Alexandra made her way downstairs, wiping her eyes and face as she went. She imagined that she looked quite wretched but she hardly cared. She met Frau Hanauer at the base of the stairs in the foyer. The gentle woman embraced Alexandra and whispered in her ear.
“I’ve explained the situation, Leibschen. Together, we will find a way to make this work. I promise you.” Cooed Frau Hanauer and smiled sympathetically.
“What situation, Frau? What do you mean?” Alexandra was confused.
Without answering, Frau Hanauer ushered Alexandra into the salon. All of the girls sat watching Alexandra expectantly. As she looked back at their faces, Alexandra almost hadn’t noticed the anomaly. At the far end of room, huddled in a chair and wrapped in a blanket, sat Ghassan.
Ghassan had been escorted quickly from the front steps of Frau Hanauer’s home to the salon. The other girls who lived at the residence had arrived back from the library in time to see him there, sopping wet and miserable. One of the girls recognized him from the restaurant where he had first seen Alexandra and they immediately took pity on him. Frau Hanauer’s salon was comfortable and handsomely appointed. A modest fireplace drew the eye to the far end of the room from the entrance. It was lit and cast a warm glow about the room. Seconds after he had stepped foot inside, Frau Hanauer, approached with a concerned look on her face.
“Young man! You’re soaking. What in heaven’s name were you doing out there?”
“Alexandra.” Was all that Ghassan could muster.
“Oh! You must be Ghassan!” Frau Hanauer’s warm eyes set steadily on the tall, wet, bedraggled man who stood before her. “Willkommen. Sit. I’ll get a blanket for you.”
“Please, Frau, please tell me what as happened to Alexandra.” Ghassan’s voice was urgent and pleading.
Frau Hanauer wrapped Ghassan in a blanket and walked him to the chair near the fire.
“Alexandra, my dear, has been sequestered by command of her father. You mustn’t blame her. She is very distraught.” Frau Hanauer spoke in a very soft voice. “We will have to work out an arrangement by which you can see one another. I cannot stand to see your two hearts ripped apart.”
Ghassan stared at the woman in disbelief. Had he just heard her correctly? Had she just conspired against Alexandra’s father to help them? As he watched her face break into an enormous smile, he couldn’t help but smile himself.
“Thank you, Frau. Thank you, with all my heart!”
“You’re very welcome.” She looked at him long and hard and then winked. “You are a handsome young man aren’t you even if you are a little damp?”
Ghassan blushed as the other girls in the room giggled.
Frau Hanauer didn’t wait for him to reply. “Now,I must get Alexandra. The poor dear has likely cried herself into oblivion.”
Ghassan struggled from his chair as Alexandra’s eyes met his. Seeing the distress in her face, made him forget all of his own discomforts and concerns. For what seemed like forever, she stood in the entrance staring at him.
“Alexandra. Its me, Ghassan.” He smiled gently at her. “I know I must look like a drowned rat, but it is me!”
The moment of realization that a wrong has been righted, that a love has not been lost, is one of elation, almost of euphoria. A heart that, moments before, had felt as though it was reduced with an intense sadness, becomes full again almost to the point where it feels as though it may burst. The emotions, that have traveled from one pole to the other in a matter of seconds, become entangled in their desire to be expressed. A body becomes a slave to these overwhelming feelings and the expression of these feelings can be as confused as the situation.
Alexandra covered her mouth with her hand as tears of joy tumbled down her cheeks. She burst forward as though driven by some unseen force. Ghassan let the blanket drop as she approached and he took her into his arms. As he did so, he felt her small body melt into his. She buried her face in his chest and he stroked her hair softly. Suddenly, the rest of the room and the other people in it had become redundant. Neither Ghassan or Alexandra had noticed the collective sigh of admiration that had escaped the lips of the other women there.
As the fall months of 1955 drew on, the North wind blew into Stuttgart unsettling the withered leaves from the trees, tossing and spinning them along the nearly abandoned streets. Occasionally lone figures pushed against the wind’s icy blast, huddled in a desperate attempt to retain some bodily warmth. Unlatched gates, loose shutters, hung signs and pendant lamps, all swayed and groaned an eerie discord that echoed harshly against the gray stone buildings that made up Stuttgart’s neighborhoods. The only break in the bleakness were the bright, warm lights glowing from the windows that punctuated the gray facades.
If happiness could have shone, it too would have lit the streets from the windows of Frau Hanauer’s home. Inside, the kind-hearted mistress had wrestled the roots of young love from the clutches of an early demise. She lovingly planted them in fertile ground and gave them the sustenance they needed to grow and blossom. And blossom they did under her watchful eye. Every Sunday the sitting room, was the meeting place for Ghassan and Alexandra. At one end of the room, they sat close together holding hands, and talking in hushed tones. At the other end, sat Frau Hanauer usually with knitting or a book. She had felt that she needed to respect Professor Cochrane’s wishes to some degree.
Alexandra had never minded Frau Hanauer’s presence. She was so grateful to the woman for allowing her to see Ghassan at all, that she hardly felt that she could complain. Sitting with Ghassan’s warm, gentle hands holding hers and losing herself in his deep, dark eyes while he told her stories of his homeland, she rarely noticed anything else around her. They would sit together for hours, often talking but sometimes in silence – just allowing themselves to feel the unspoken poetry of their closeness. During these moments, Alexandra could imagine she could hear Ghassan’s heart beat in time with hers.
At times, when Frau Hanauer was particularly engrossed in her reading, Ghassan would pull Alexandra closer and softly nudge her cheek with his nose. She would feel his breath on her face and nearly go mad with an urge to kiss him. The warmth of desire would spread throughout her body like a torrent. She felt weak and anxious all at once. The pit of her stomach would be filled with what felt like a hundred butterflies and the hair on her arms and the back of her neck would stand on end. Sometimes it was almost too much to take. She felt as though she would succumb indelicately if she didn’t pull away from him with a teasing admonishment.
When the time came to part a the end of the day, the lovers moved slowly and reluctantly to say goodbye. Alexandra almost felt as his hand slid slowly from hers, their fingers stretching beyond their reach to avoid moving into empty space, that she wouldn’t be able to go another week without him. But she always did and the week always went better than she expected it would. Just knowing that Sunday would come again and so would he, was enough to make it through. In fact, she was happier than she had ever been. She often caught herself humming while doing her homework, or smiling radiantly as she walked along the street. She felt that carefree lightness of heart that comes with being in love.
Alexandra didn’t want to allow herself to think about how long her meetings with Ghassan could take place. She dreaded the thought of returning home for Christmas with no hope of hearing Ghassan’s voice during that time. She dreaded the thought that someday she would have to face her father again; to tell him that she was seeing this man from Syria against his wishes. Even more so, she feared the long arm of her father’s authority. How would he react when she told him that she might marry this man if he asked her? Would he continue in his attempts to suppress them? What she didn’t realize was that she would find out sooner than she had thought.
Christmas break was arriving much faster than Ghassan had expected. An enjoyable fall with Alexandra had made the time whisk by. As the snow gently fell, once again, on the Stuttgart streets, he regretted only one thing – that he hadn’t been able to take her somewhere special, just the two of them. He understood Frau Hanauer’s desire to put limits on their freedom, but he had hoped she might grant them a little more, even if it were just a walk in the snow. He had wished to be able to hold Alexandra in his arms, to touch her face, and perhaps even to sneak a kiss – all things impossible in a proper sitting room. For weeks these thoughts had been building in his mind. Today, being Sunday, he had decided that he would finally talk to Frau Hanauer about the possibility.
On this afternoon the skies were overcast, but the freshly fallen snow which blanketed the ground and the roof tops gave the neighborhood a magical glow. The nip of frost in the air was invigorating as opposed to oppressive and Ghassan breathed deeply as he trudged through the streets to Alexandra’s. Many of the homes along the way had beautiful fir wreaths with festive ribbons adorning their doors. Ghassan laughed to himself as he stopped to watch a cat, huddled on a windowsill, yowl unpleasantly at its owner through the glass. Only a cat, he thought, could be so unpleasant and still so adored. Further along, as he approached Frau Hanauer’s, Ghassan felt a spring in his step – a lightness that came only with the thought of Alexandra.
Frau Hanauer’s home was always neatly kept. Today, the walk was shoveled, fresh sprigs of evergreen followed the wrought-iron banister to the bottom of the steps, and a tidy welcome mat invited one to wipe one’s boots before stepping upon the threshold. Everything appeared as it always did and Ghassan had no reason to expect anything out of the ordinary behind the large, wooden, front door. But when Frau Hanauer opened the door, her face was sternly set. In a loud voice she shouted in German something about not wanting any, and forced Ghassan back out onto the landing as she closed the door behind her.
“Ghassan, dear.” began Frau Hanauer in a hushed tone, “You can’t meet with Alexandra today.”
“But why, Frau?” Ghassan staggered with confusion. “What’s happened?”
“Her father is here.” Frau Hanauer looked directly into Ghassan’s eyes to ensure that he understood her message. “You’d better go home.”
Ghassan looked back at Frau Hanauer wide eyed with surprise. “Her father.” He repeated. As he did so, a twinge of fear nestled itself into his heart. “But why?”
“He has come to take her home for the holidays.” Frau Hanauer stated simply. “But I suspect there’s more to his arrival than he has stated. I think he wants to survey my home to make sure all is as it should be, according to his instructions.”
Ghassan stood completely still, his eyes on Frau Hanauer and his mind spinning. The fear that had tried to implant itself was now being washed away by fiery Arab blood. The darkness of anger and frustration began to pool in his already dark eyes. Stiffly, he stood tall while he placed his hands behind his back and clenched his fists.
“I need to speak to him.” he said coldly.
“Ghassan, please.” Frau Hanauer implored. “He is not a man who is easily reasoned with. Go home and let me deal with him.”
“No. I will not. With all due respect, Frau, this matter must be settled by me and Alexandra.”
“He does not know.” Frau Hanauer said sternly. “He thinks everything is as he had ordered. What do you think will happen if you go in there right now? How do you think that would affect Alexandra? He could take her home and never let her return.”
“This charade must end. I must face him.”
“Not today, Ghassan.” Something in Frau Hanauer’s voice alerted Ghassan. Her face was stony and her eyes fierce. “Go home.”
Ghassan’s instinct was to push past her and to enter the house. But as he felt his blood boiling, he felt a deeper gratitude to, and respect for, this staunch woman standing before him. He turned briskly and descended the stairs and then turned again to look at Frau Hanauer.
“My heart is in your hands, Frau.” he said with a slight edge to his voice – partially a plea and partially a warning. As he walked quickly away, he heard the large wooden door close again as Frau Hanauer went back inside.
Professor John Cochrane was a formidable figure, tall, steely-eyed, and rarely smiling. Even when he did smile, it held the shape of irony – nearly a smirk. At the University he was an esteemed professor. He was very knowledgeable in his field and a fair grader. One look at him and the student knew to take his course seriously or to leave. He was well respected by his colleagues, outspoken in debate and a well-spring of facts and information. At home he was very much the patriarch – strict and overbearing. He was a good provider – neither his wife nor his daughter wanted for anything, except perhaps for some affection.
The Professor had made decisions about the path in life that his only child should take. He had decided her course of study, where she would work once graduating, and had even narrowed down candidates who might be good husbands. Alexandra had always been an uncomplicated child, willing to please her father and always obedient. But as they sat across from one another in Frau Hanauer’s sitting room, he saw a change in his daughter. One he didn’t like. She had a look of hostility, if not outright rebelliousness in her eyes. He knew that he would have to deal with her toughly and swiftly.
“When we return to Scotland tomorrow, our family shall have dinner with the MacEwans. Do you remember David?” He asked brusquely.
Alexandra sat uncomfortably across from her father. Her hands were set tensely on her knees and her posture perfectly straight. For the most part, she avoided looking directly at him for fear she might impart some information to him that she hadn’t wanted to. Unfortunately, this act in itself, had already signaled to him that there might be a problem. She could see him looking at her keenly and waiting for a satisfactory response.
“Yes. I remember David.” she said quietly.
“And what do you think of David?” Every question was exploratory and never simple.
What do I think of David? Alexandra had never thought about David MacEwan except that she was repulsed by his freckles. He was quiet and studious but hardly appealing – at least to her. She wondered bitterly, where her father was going with this line of questioning.
“David is very hard working.” She responded flatly.
“Indeed. He will be a good provider to a lucky woman.” Professor Cochrane had not moved his sight from his daughter’s face.
“Probably.” Alexandra felt nauseous. She held her breath and quickly added, “But I won’t be able to join you for dinner.”
“What do you mean?” her father said slowly through gritted teeth.
“I’m staying here for Christmas, with Frau Hanauer.” Alexandra’s heart was beating so hard she could hear it pounding in her head.
“You most certainly will not.” Her father’s voice was flat and terse. Alexandra could tell that he was extremely vexed.
“I’ve already made the arrangements with Frau Hanauer.” Alexandra looked at her father with determination in her eyes. Something he had never seen before.
“Do you remember who is footing the bill here? Or have you forgotten that along with your family?” Her father launched at her.
Alexandra wanted to hit him. To smite him as harshly as he had always tromped on her feelings. But she had always sensed it wouldn’t make an impression on him. He seemed to have no feelings to hurt. She decided to play a card from her father’s deck. As cooly as she could she responded. “I haven’t forgotten who is footing the bill or who my family is, but perhaps you have forgotten why I am here and who wanted me here in the first place.”
“Very clever, Alexandra. But not clever enough. While I am paying the bills, you will do as I bid. Once you are married, and someone else is footing the bill, you will no longer be accountable to me.” He sneered.
“Then I shall marry.” Tears of frustration were welling in Alexandra’s eyes.
“Yes, you shall. David MacEwan has asked me for your hand and I have agreed.”
“You did what!” Alexandra was standing now and shouting. “I will not marry David MacEwan.”
“Alexandra, you are making a scene.” Her father looked at her with victory in his eyes. “Go up and pack your bags.”
Without another word, Alexandra stormed from the sitting room, past the stairs, and out the front door. Professor Cochrane started as the large wooden door banged shut. “Alexandra!”
Outside on the front step, Frau Hanauer was watching Ghassan make his way up the street and was startled by Alexandra’s sudden slamming of the door. As the girl flew by her and down the steps, Frau Hanauer made no attempt to stop her.
The black anger that had seized Ghassan’s mind, made him oblivious to his surroundings. The northerly wind pushed at him and he pushed back angrily. Words of an imagined argument with Alexandra’s father swirled around in his head; thoughts of stealing Alexandra away in the middle of the night, heading East on a midnight express, made his blood course. With each deliberate footstep away from the house his resolve strengthened. He had to do something. If he went home he would go mad with waiting. Waiting for someone else to decide the course of his future was not something he could stand for. Why was he being barred from the discussions when he was central to them?
Ghassan stopped abruptly with the purpose of turning around but just as he did, a young woman ran past him. Ghassan’s mind had been so focused on his own thoughts that he did not pay her much attention except he noticed she wasn’t wearing a coat and only a scarf over her head. Inadvertently he turned to look back at Frau Hanauer’s home and was surprised to see Frau Hanauer still on the stoop. She was waving frantically in his direction. Then he saw a tall figure emerge hurriedly from the house and leap the four steps from the stoop to the front walk. Suddenly, Ghassan’s mind focused on the events that were unfolding. He realized that the woman who had passed him was Alexandra and the man quickly approaching was her father.
Without another thought, Ghassan began to run after Alexandra. She was at least several hundred metres ahead of him. He could hear her father shouting her name behind him and he knew he had to catch up to her before her father did. His long legs took him further and faster than either Alexandra or her father could run. Without looking back, Alexandra turned down a lane way. Ghassan rounded the same corner now less than 50 metres behind her and was catching up quickly. Alexandra seemed to sense someone approaching and sped up. As the two took a sharp curve in the alley, Ghassan could almost reach out to touch the back of her dress. He quickly looked behind him but could see no sign of her father.
“Alexandra! Stop!” He shouted. “It’s me, Ghassan!”
Alexandra turned to look at Ghassan while she continued to run, her face a mix of surprise and fear.
“I can’t stop! If he catches me…” Her voice trailed off as she continued down the alley.
The alley had mostly a mixture of back doors and doors to storage rooms set into the gray stone buildings. Higher up, were several stories of windows. The alley was deserted except for garbage cans, and stacked boxes and a few stray cats. Ghassan’s and Alexandra’s footsteps echoed loudly as they slapped against the old stone walkway. Ghassan was starting to feel tired from the running and was wondering where they could run to to elude Alexandra’s father. As they had almost arrived at the far end of the alley, he suddenly recognized a sign from a café that he frequented on one of the back doors. Without a warning, he grabbed Alexandra’s arm and pulled her toward that door.
Shouts behind them warned them that Professor Cochrane was still in pursuit. Ghassan pulled hard on the door but it did not open. He rattled it a little more and finally it gave way. The two slipped quietly into the tiny pantry for the café and closed the door gently. Ghassan wrapped his arms around Alexandra and pulled her close as they both panted hard after such a run. Again, they heard her father’s shouts now just outside the door and then nothing as he had emerged onto the main street.
Alexandra began to cry as she buried her face in Ghassan’s chest. “He is going to marry me off to David McEwan! Take me away where he can’t find me!” Ghassan looked down to see her small, flushed face looking up at his. “Take me to Syria!” She pleaded.
Ghassan stroked her hair gently and sighed. “If only it were that easy, Habibti. If only.”
Alexandra felt as if her sobs would tear her apart if it weren’t for Ghassan’s strong arms around her. Suddenly nothing else in the world mattered except escaping this repulsive fate that her father had brought down on her. How could her father take her away from the man she really loved and place her, instead, with someone for whom she had no feelings? He had always been very strict with her, but doesn’t a father ultimately want happiness for his child? In one swift blow, her father had negated her judgment. Feelings of betrayal enveloped her. The hurt was only abated by the love she felt for the man who now held her.
Why couldn’t they just leave for Syria? Leave all this behind and go somewhere where her father couldn’t, or wouldn’t, follow her. The hero and the heroine were always escaping under the cover of darkness in the movies; secretly married and riding off into the sunset. If this scenario could be imagined, why couldn’t it really happen? Alexandra didn’t want to have to defend herself against her father anymore. She wanted, rightly or wrongly, to be whisked off by a fearless defender on a pure Arabian across the deserts to the exotic lands that she could only imagine in her dreams.
As she listened to Ghassan’s heart beating, Alexandra settled comfortably against his body. She breathed deeply and the sensual scent of his cologne mixed with the bouquet of his sweater filled her airways. The ambrosia nearly stupefied her and at the same time rose a desire in her that she had never felt before. Away from his chest she moved her face to nuzzle softly in the tender place just below his ear. The skin there was so soft and compelling. Alexandra allowed her lips to caress that place as she drew him in closer with her embrace. She felt his body tense but continued anyway. As a lock of his hair tickled her cheek she took the supple, irresistible part of his ear gingerly between her teeth and massaged it with her tongue. A more delectable morsel she had never tasted.
Suddenly all the anger, fear, frustration, and even hatred, toward her father transformed into an energy of passion. Back in that little pantry, she knew that what she now wanted she couldn’t possibly have and yet she had no control of her pursuit of it. In her ear, Alexandra heard Ghassan’s breathing intensify driving her further into a state of complete longing. She released the tip of his ear lobe and moved along his strong jawline and nudged his lips with hers. At first he was unresponsive, but as she nudged again, he smoothly replied in kind. Alexandra found the effect so utterly intoxicating that she pulled him in even closer and kissed him fully. At that, as if no longer able to restrain himself, Ghassan enveloped her, drawing her in so tightly that she was sure she would never be able to breathe again.
The agility of Ghassan’s lips and the intensity with which he now poured his devotion upon her made Alexandra weak in the knees. She felt as if the rest of the world was literally dissolving around her. All coherent thought had flown from her mind. All she could do, all she wanted to do, was to hold on to that moment’s rapture forever. But it was not to be. From within the café a plate crashed loudly against the floor and sounded as though it had broken into a million pieces. And so shattered that moment between them. Alexandra desperately wanted to reclaim it and bring it to life again but Ghassan held her back by taking her face in his hands.
“No, no more. Not here. Not now, Alexandra.” He said quietly and took a deep breath as if trying to compose himself, as if trying to convince himself of his own words. With a little smile he added, “We’re wanted criminals now. We have to keep moving!”
“You didn’t like…” Alexandra started.
“I liked it all too much, my Beauty. But you do agree that this pantry is a little…confining?” He whispered with a sparkle in his eyes.
Alexandra couldn’t help but smile and to let out a small laugh. “Where will we go? We can’t go back to Frau Hanaur’s. He’ll be there.”
“Let’s go back to my residence. Your father doesn’t know where that is. We can figure out what we’ll do once we get there.”
With that, Ghassan pushed open the back door of the café slightly to make sure the alley was empty. When he had deemed all was safe, he placed his coat around Alexandra’s shoulders, took her hand in his and they left the temporary safety of the pantry for the Stuttgart streets.
In the salon of his residence, Ghassan deliberately sat across from Alexandra on a separate sofa. Flashes of what had taken place in the pantry continued to titillate him. Sitting next to Alexandra, would have been too much of a distraction and now, more than ever, he needed a clear mind. He was determined to settle this issue with her father once and for all. He couldn’t stand to see Alexandra in such distress. Looking into her beautiful eyes and seeing such pain there brought pain to his own heart. For a while, Ghassan and Alexandra sat in silence, each consumed in their own thoughts. The impact of the situation was finally starting to sink in and it didn’t appear as though an answer to the problem was going to arrive swiftly.
The long, low light of late afternoon softly infused the salon with a dreamy glow. Ghassan looked to Alexandra and finally allowed himself to be distracted by her. He couldn’t help but admire how the mellow light created an auburn halo around her red locks. But as he drew his eyes away from that lovely phenomenon, he was startled to notice that she was visibly shaking. Quickly, he went to sit by her and took her in his arms once again. Even then, her body continued to quiver uncontrollably. When he looked into her eyes, he saw the anxiety that had risen there.
“Are you cold?” he asked with concern.
Alexandra gave a weak smile and softly replied, “Yes, Ghassan. I can’t seem to warm up.”
“Let me get you a throw.” Ghassan rose to get one for her when she took his hand.
“No, Ghassan. Just keep holding me, please.” Her eyes pleaded with him. “I feel much better with you beside me.”
Ghassan smiled as he seated himself again and admitted, “I feel better here, too, Alexandra.”
With Alexandra’s head on his shoulder, Ghassan resumed his thoughts. He still believed that he should face her father. But now he was concerned that the police would be involved since it appeared that Alexandra’s father would go to any lengths to ensure his demands were met. Ghassan couldn’t risk putting Alexandra in jeopardy of being forced to leave with her father. He thought of leaving her at his residence and returning to Frau Hanauer’s himself. But what if her father had convinced the police that Ghassan had kidnapped his daughter? Then he might be taken in for questioning which, ultimately, would cause more stress for Alexandra – not to mention, for him too.
As Alexandra’s shaking had abated somewhat, Ghassan concluded that the first thing that should be done was to call Frau Hanauer to let her know that Alexandra was okay. He figured the wise woman may also have a solution to the situation or at least some suggestions on what they might do next. He also believed that Frau Hanauer would not betray them to Professor Cochrane and as he conveyed these ideas to Alexandra, he saw that she, too, felt comfortable with the idea.
Frau Hanauer’s voice was like a light breeze that can softly lift a dense fog. She cooed and fussed over Ghassan and Alexandra as if they were two children who had run to the arms of their mother. Frau Hanauer’s relief in hearing from them was very evident. As Ghassan imagined she would, she spoke softly in her office so as not to alert Alexandra’s father.
“Alexandra, your father went to the police. But I’ve made some phone calls too. There’s only one solution to this situation.” Frau Hanauer said with conviction. “If you are married, no one can force you to do anything.”
The words danced in the air before Ghassan. If you are married. For months now he had been envisioning Alexandra as his wife. He had dreamed of proposing to her romantically. What was now being proposed, however, by Frau Hanauer, had removed all of the romance from the picture. He would wed Alexandra out of necessity rather than by following the regular course of love. Love sped up? Surely the end would justify the means. Putting that all aside, there were also the practicalities. He had no desire to marry in a church and he had never spoken to Alexandra about converting to Islam. He had no idea whether or not she would be willing. And where would they find an Imam to marry them that day?
Frau Hanauer had worked that out too.
After Alexandra and Ghassan hung up the phone with Frau Hanauer they looked at each other in stunned silence. Alexandra’s mind was spinning. Everything was overwhelming her and it felt completely wrong. She had thought after talking to Frau Hanauer, she would feel more at ease, but it was quite the opposite. She felt as though her life was being spun out of control, as though she were in a centrifuge and someone had pushed the on-switch. It was almost as if she and Ghassan were merely puppets acting out someone else’s plan. She suddenly had the urge to grab onto something to stop the spinning, to stop the show. But what was solid enough to hold?
Alexandra looked into Ghassan’s eyes. There was a wildness there as if he too was feeling the same way as she – very unsteady. She grabbed his hand and held it firmly in hers.
“Is this what you want?” Ghassan asked, his brow furrowed.
“Yes.” Alexandra shook her head. “I mean, yes, I want to marry you. But all of this isn’t…right.”
“I don’t want it to happen like this either.” The wildness in Ghassan’s eyes turned from confusion to determination in an instant; the intensity that made him so compelling had returned. “Enough of this farce, I am going to speak to your father! I do want to marry you, but not like this. Not like this at all. Marrying in secret and hurry only implies we are doing something wrong…clandestine almost. And it is not wrong that we love one another and I love you very much.”
“I love you too!”, Alexandra’s heart melted. It was the first time he had ever directly spoken those words to her. “But we need to face my father together, Ghassan. We need to do this together.” As her own words echoed in her head, she felt a strong resolve throughout – particularly in her heart. She was still terrified of her father but if she could hold Ghassan’s hand, she felt that maybe she could face anything.
Ghassan held her face in his hands? “Are you sure?”
Alexandra nodded. She had rarely been sure of anything in her life or cared to be sure of anything. Almost all was looked after for her or decided for her. But today she felt that she needed to be sure of the course her life would take – at least the part of it that she could control.
Ghassan must have seen something in her eyes that spoke of her resolve. “Alright. Yes. Let’s do it together! I’ll call a taxi.”
“Wait, Ghassan!” Alexandra marveled at his decisiveness but she needed to plan. She needed to decide upon and to rehearse ahead of time what to say to her father. She was getting pretty good at predicting his responses to any particular statement and she needed to know what to expect from Ghassan. She needed to warn him if he would be wading into murky waters by his comments. “What will we say?”
“What do mean, Alexandra?” Ghassan immediately looked perplexed. “I’ll tell him that I shall marry you, that I shall look after you.”
“Come. Let’s sit down and plan this.” She tugged gently on his hand that she still held, urging him toward the salon. “I think you know that my father is a very rigid man and there are certain ways to act and not to act with him.”
Ghassan pulled back, drawing her close to him, he held her firmly but not roughly. “I have dealt with men far more rigid than your father. With all due respect to you, there is no planning required. I shall simply tell him what I am going to do, what we are going to do.”
Alexandra cringed, “Ghassan, with all due respect to you, he will laugh in your face. You have no power over him. He holds all of the cards. If he takes away my money, my student Visa, I’ll have no choice but to return home with him.”
As Alexandra looked into Ghassan’s face she was startled to see his dark eyes had gotten even darker. “Your father does not hold all of the cards. He does not hold you. You are with me. He cannot force you on a plane and he cannot take away your Visa. That is your Visa.”
“But he said…” Alexandra started.
“He told you that to keep you under his control, Alexandra.” Ghassan put his hand behind her neck and drew her in even closer. “But in reality, the only control he has over you is in your head. Push him out, Alexandra! Take away the power he has over you and be with me.”
Suddenly, as though a curtain had been lifted, Alexandra felt as if she was finally seeing everything more clearly than she ever had. The centrifuge had stopped and everything previously obscured was now separated out in plain view. She had always been her father’s puppet but Ghassan had shown her the strings so that she could cut them. She wasn’t sure yet how sharp her scissors would be, but she did feel she had the strength to wield them. After taking a deep breath, she squeezed Ghassan’s hand tightly. “Alright, Ghassan. I’m ready. Let’s go.”
As the South wind breathed springtime into Stuttgart once again, the rains washed away the snow and cold and ushered in a warm and sunny April. In the nurturing rays of the sun, the grasses and leaves exploded across the city in splashes of emerald. Spring flowers popped up their sleepy heads in neighbourhood gardens in vibrant hues while wildflowers danced in the meadows at the edge of the city. The busy downtown streets resounded with the energetic voices of the many people who walked there. Life had finally returned to the city that had slept for months.
On a particularly beautiful day, hung with blue skies and awash in sunshine, Ghassan rode alone in the back of a taxi. He was on his way back, his first visit of the year, to Wilhelma. He watched, stoically, through the taxi window as it ticked by the bones of the city he had grown to love and despise. In a few days he would return to Syria with his engineering degree and may never, as far as he knew, return to Stuttgart. If there was any part of the city he wanted to take home with him, it was the unmatched beauty of Wilhelma Park. He knew, however, today’s visit there would be bittersweet.
Ghassan had made a point of ignoring the empty seat beside him. But he couldn’t help thinking back to a year ago when he brought Alexandra to the park. He smiled as he remembered the excitement that was in her eyes and the flush that coloured her cheeks. She had been such a perfect vision of beauty that day. She had been everyday, in fact, but from that particular day his mind held an exquisite memory of her. But the memory quickly became painful and he turned his attentions once again to the streets. He was pleased to see the grandeur of Rosenstein Park rising before him and finally the intricate fence of Wilhelma not far in the distance.
Against their exotic backdrop, the magnificent magnolias of Wilhelma reigned in blossom over the Moorish Gardens just as they had the year before and likely many years before that. Butterflies fluttered from flower to flower, birds sang in harmony with the breezes, and the waters in the enormous reflecting pool shimmered with diamonds of sunlight. Infused with a dream of perfection, of heaven, the park drew Ghassan along its meandering paths. He ambled with a carefree appearance but inside his heart began to ache as he approached the magnolias. The scene was unbalanced without her there. But he continued forward as if walking against a gale – a strong wind of regret and loss.
The day she left for Scotland was forever branded in his memory. Over and over in his mind he saw her walking out to the plane beside her father, her red hair tossing in the December wind, her blue coat wrapped tightly around her. He had stood powerless. Before she left, he tried everything to convince her to stay with him. But she had to go. Why he could never fully understand. But there she went. As he thought about her father, he remembered, resentfully, the fateful day of her father’s arrival in Stuttgart. How they had fought so hard to be together but to know end. Later he had tried to convince himself that their love wasn’t meant to be. That she simply hadn’t been the right girl. But that didn’t work for he knew in his heart that she was. And now he stood steeped in the most powerful memory he had of her.
As the magnolia petals of Wilhelma Park swirled and danced in the air before him, he made a decision. He would delay his return home and go to Scotland. He would not leave until she came with him.
Alexandra’s return to Aberdeen proved as dismal as she had anticipated. Ultimately, however, the decision had been hers and she knew in the long run that it was the wisest course of action. Her only regret was leaving Ghassan in a state of confusion. But she had also known that a showdown at Frau Hanauer’s house would have proved disastrous, particularly for Ghassan. She had purposefully left Ghassan in the dark and disconnected in hopes that he would not try to come to Aberdeen to confront her father. In order for her plan to work, she needed to be in full control of all of the variables. Of course, on that fateful day in December, she hadn’t fully planned everything out. The one thing she had known, however, was that once she was home it would be easier for her to get away from her father than it would would have been at Frau Hanauer’s.
Alexandra knew that her father thought he had won, thought that his ever obedient daughter had returned home because of his will. Once home, Alexandra never once defied him. She went to dinner parties at the MacEwan’s, she went to the cinema and some dances with David MacEwan, she attended church regularly, and she continued her studies by correspondence – arranged, of course, by her father. So long as she was willing to comply with her father’s demands, they had very little to discuss and for the most part, he left her alone. Life at the Cochrane home was smooth albeit chilly.
During all the time at home, however, Alexandra had plenty of opportunity to fully organize her plan. She was getting things in order for her eventual departure. She had a packed suitcase, made sure her documents were up to date, and took a job tutoring some students at the university and high-school to pad her bank account. She had spoken, secretly, with Frau Hanauer on several occasions. Any day now Alexandra would purchase a ticket back to Stuttgart to stay at the Frau’s comfortable home. The only important detail that she wasn’t sure about concerned the one person for whom she was doing all this planning.
Ghassan was the only man she ever wanted to be with, the only man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She would walk the earth if it meant that she would eventually be with him. But what were his thoughts now? Surely from his perspective she had abandoned him. She knew that Frau Hanauer had spoken to him several times. The Frau had tried to soothe him without revealing Alexandra’s plan. But he was determined and so protective of Alexandra that it was difficult to find that fine line between dissuading him from going to Scotland and from not discouraging him altogether so that he would think he had lost Alexandra. But, Alexandra noted, Frau Hanauer seemed to be a genius when it came to human relations and, as far as Alexandra knew, the Frau had managed to keep him where he needed to be for Alexandra’s plan to work.
On a beautiful, May, Tuesday morning, Alexandra took a handful of money from her jewelery box – a place she had always stored extra cash. She donned her spring jacket and hat and stepped out onto the grey cobblestone street to walk to the local travel agency. She had enough to buy her ticket back to Stuttgart. With butterflies in her stomach and a lightness of excitement, she strolled carefree through her neighborhood. It wasn’t until she had almost reached the market that she realized that she was being followed. It wasn’t the sound of heavy footsteps, or a shadow that had given away her pursuer. It was a most familiar cologne that wafted toward her mixed in the sea air. At first, she thought her senses were misleading her, but as the scent grew stronger, she knew that she had not been mistaken. She suddenly stopped in her tracks and looked as casually as she could over her shoulder. There he was, her Ghassan, not more than a few feet away looking at her with those eyes, those boundless, dark eyes.
When those blue eyes looked into his, he was completely intoxicated by them. Ghassan had forgotten how incredibly beautiful her eyes were and how they could immediately affect him. Perhaps forgotten was the wrong word. It was more that each time he saw her eyes their impact took him as if he were seeing them for the first time. Suddenly all the resentment he had felt toward her dissipated. His plan had been to confront her and now he was left without a plan. Even the surprise that showed on her face at seeing him now could not equal the surprise he felt in himself at how quickly he had been softened. He couldn’t say anything.
“Ghassan?” the most contagious and brilliant smile illuminated Alexandra’s face. “What are you doing here? Are you okay?”
“What else would I be doing here Alexandra, except to see you?” He said, feeling as though he barely moved his lips. He continued to watch her closely. He was mesmerized by the sun on her auburn hair that peeked out from under her hat and her milky white, delicate neck as it rose elegantly from her coat collar. He noted a slight flush in her cheeks as she lowered her gaze, her long eyelashes fluttering nervously. He only wanted now to take her in his arms but maintained his distance. “I want you to come back with me to Syria.”
Now it was Alexandra’s turn to remain speechless. She stared at him, her eyes bright.
“I have brought enough money to buy you a ticket and the required paperwork.” He stepped toward her in anticipation of a possible refusal on her part but still she said nothing. “Alexandra, I want us to be married. I want you to be my wife.” As he looked in her eyes now, he could see the emotion but the rest of her was motionless, like a porcelain statue. Was she happy or sad? He couldn’t tell and it was making him crazy. “Hayati, say something, please!”
“Hayati?” She repeated quietly with her Scottish lilt. It almost didn’t sound like the same word.
“My life. You are my life.” He took another step toward her and watched as a single tear ran down Alexandra’s cheek. He lifted his hand to brush it away, to caress her silky cheek but hesitated. He needed her to say something, something to indicate that he could touch her, that she was with him.
She looked up at him almost pleadingly, urgent and then, to his surprise, took his hand in hers and smiled broadly. “Come on!” She chirped and pulled him along with her. “Come with me!”
They practically ran along the cobblestone streets. “Where are we going?” Ghassan couldn’t help but laugh. Alexandra had such a way of making him behave in ways he’d never imagined himself doing. But inside he still felt tense. He had practically proposed to her and she seemed to be unwilling to respond. His plan, his purpose for being here, was unraveling before his eyes. Suddenly he tugged at her arm, bringing them both to an abrupt halt, and pulled her into him. “Alexandra, where are we going?”
He could see the effect of his austerity on her face, but he could no longer take the uncertainty. He had come to Aberdeen with a definite purpose and he needed to get his plan back on track. “Alexandra, I have come here for you. I need to know your intentions. I need to know that I haven’t made this trip only to leave again without you.”
“Ghassan you don’t understand…” Alexandra began.
“If there’s nothing here for me I need to know now.” Ghassan pressed. “Will you be my wife and come back to Syria with me?”
Alexandra hesitated. “But Ghassan…”
“Will you marry me?” Ghassan was stern.
As he looked into her face, he was unable to read it. At first, he could tell she had been taken aback by his forcefulness but within seconds something softened. She reached up with her hand to his face and stroked it gently. The pleasure of her touch was instantly calming and the frustration he felt transformed into softer emotion. He watched as the edges of her pink lips curved into a tender smile and her eyes filling with tears, looked lovingly into his.
“Yes, my love, I will marry you.”
The morning sun filtered through the emerald trees lining the old street. Its rays danced like diamonds in Alexandra’s tear filled eyes. As she looked up into Ghassan’s handsome face, she watched as her answer swept away any traces of impatience and doubt he had shown mere moments earlier. She could almost feel her words weaving an invisible blanket of happiness around them, impenetrable to the rest of the world. Alexandra felt, as Ghassan’s arms enfolded her, that she had just entered a dream. Before, she hadn’t dared dream it. She had only looked at the long flight of stairs to the dream and the best way to ascend each one. But now, suddenly, she was nearly at the top having, miraculously, skipped many steps in between. The last few steps, however, worried her most and that worry brought a heavy cloud upon the otherwise sun-filled dream.
Holding Ghassan tightly she whispered to him, “Please, my love, you must listen to what I have to say.” In her arms, she could feel Ghassan tense again. “Alexandra…” She put her fingers to his lips to quiet him. “Please listen to me, Ghassan. I have to tell you what I was planning to do. If it works, then I can avoid dealing with my father altogether.”
Ghassan looked at her worried and shook his head. “Alexandra! You can’t not tell your father that you are marrying me. I can’t tear you from your family! What about your mother?”
“You are not tearing me from my family. My family chose not to support me even though they know how much I love you and how much I wish to be married to you. That is their doing not yours.”
“Yes, but if it weren’t for me…”
“Ghassan! A life without you is unthinkable. I want to move forward without looking back. I’ve spent too much looking back over my shoulder. Please, just listen.”
Ghassan looked at her for a long time as if he were trying to digest what she said, as if he wasn’t sure whether or not he should be agreeing with her. But he said nothing and let her speak.
“I was on my way to the travel agency. I was going to buy a ticket to Stuttgart. I’ve been in touch with Frau Hanauer almost weekly since departing in December. She has invited me to stay with her as long as I need to. Our plan was to convince you to return as well. I say “convince” because I thought you would be too hurt and too angry to come easily.” Ghassan’s face did not change expression so she continued. “If things worked out – I mean if you came to Stuttgart – we could be married there. Frau Hanauer has tentatively arranged everything.”
“You’re running away.” There was a trace of sadness in his eyes.
“I’m not, Ghassan. I’m not waiting for anyone to tell me what I can and cannot do with my life. I’m moving forward and I was hoping you would go with me.” This time he looked away and she suddenly understood. “Ghassan, my parents may never accept you. But I have accepted your proposal. I want to be with you. If we wait for them we may never have a chance to be together. I have planned this for months, my love. I’m not acting on a whim. I love you.”
“Months?” Ghassan muttered – one side of his mouth flirting with the idea of a smile.
“Ever since I left Stuttgart. I’ve been planning and saving for this very day.” Alexandra smiled sweetly.
“Then you really do love me.” Ghassan’s face broke into a wonderfully, bright smile. Alexandra had never seen him look so…radiant.
“Kiss me and you’ll see how much.” Alexandra was surprised at her own words but liked the sound of them. Apparently, Ghassan did too. He took her face in both of his hands and pressed his lips to hers. His kisses were soft and, at the same time, strong and passionate. How she had missed the taste of him, the smell of him, the feel of his body next to hers. She found herself craving all of him. Five months apart was just too long.
Ah, the tender sweetness of her lips. Ghassan couldn’t draw himself away from them. It was risky, kissing Alexandra this way in the streets of Aberdeen, but he just couldn’t stop. He had missed her so much – this beautiful woman who had become his entire life. And now she had just agreed to be his wife. Apart from the obvious hurdles they still had to leap, they had, indeed, come so far. And now he felt a sudden burst of emotion, and a wave of relief simultaneously. As he pulled her in even closer to him, a vision of the snowy evening at the Gaststätte in Stuttgart, where he first saw her, flashed through his mind. Back then she had seemed so fragile, so dainty and, on the surface, she still appeared so. Even the grace and intelligence that glistened in her eyes that night masked the depth of her strength and tenacity which he found later and had come to know so well. He now realized that he not only loved her, but admired her.
Time seemed to stand still as their bodies reconnected through the passionate embrace and kiss. Aberdeen seemed a million miles away – any place did. As Ghassan closed his eyes, all of the sounds around him melded into a distant murmur. Alexandra was the only thing that was real. Suddenly a burning desire rose in the pit of his stomach and as he kissed her, he found that, although they held each other tightly, their bodies merged, he just could not bring her close enough. In his mind, he knew that he should contain himself, but his body spoke of hunger and his kisses became more fervent beyond his control. In his mind, he half expected Alexandra to stop him, to push him away, but, to his surprise, she seemed equally starved for him and unconcerned about the consequences of them being seen together.
Ghassan was so engrossed in Alexandra, in fact, that he had not felt the tap on his shoulder. Before he knew what was happening, a surly, pale and freckly face practically inserted itself between Ghassan and Alexandra.
“What are you doing with my girl?” the face said indignantly, watery blue eyes glaring at him.
“David!” Alexandra uttered sternly. “I am not your girl!”
David MacEwan was shorter than Ghassan but much more stocky like one might expect of a rugby player. Ghassan knew immediately who he was and immediately he could feel his blood boil. He and Alexandra were about to finally move on with their lives and he would be damned if he would let this pawn of Professor Cochrane’s interfere now.
“This is your Arab then, Alexandra?” David said calculatedly.
“David. Don’t start…” Alexandra warned.
“So what of it?” Ghassan hissed, his dark eyes trained on the intruder. He had already clenched his fists, his body taut with adrenalin. “As far as I can see, you have no business here.”
“I think the good Professor would disagree.” David looked to Alexandra and smirked. “Are you planning on running away?”
“I said, you have no business here.” Ghassan took a step toward David and carefully moved Alexandra behind him with his arm.
“Ghassan…” Alexandra started but then fell quiet.
“What are you planning on doing, Arab? You want to strike me?” David goaded.
“Don’t flatter yourself. I wouldn’t waste my energy on you.” Ghassan retorted coldly but he remained tense.
“You might change your mind about that.” David snapped. “I think I’ll go have a word with Dr. Cochrane.”
Ghassan’s lips curled into a dry smile. “You wouldn’t want to keep him waiting then.”
David nodded sarcastically to Ghassan, and removed his cap to Alexandra, as he went on his way, clearly pleased with himself.
“Ghassan!” Alexandra uttered astonished when David was gone. “He will go to my father!”
“Good.” Ghassan replied curtly. “Let the snitch get it out of his system. Neither he nor your father will interfere with us – not any more!”
“But Ghassan…!” Alexandra was close to tears.
Ghassan saw the fear in her eyes. He knew she worried that her plan would crumble now that David had found them out. But the fear told him something else – that she didn’t have the confidence in him or herself to resolve the matter.
“Look in my eyes, Alexandra. Do you see the kind of man who will be diminished in this way without ever putting an end to it? Am I the kind of man who would allow my future wife to live in fear and uncertainty? I have been patient and held back because I was reluctant to tear apart your family. But as you said yourself, it is not we who are tearing the family apart but your parents in their unwillingness to let you be free to choose for yourself. Unless you ask me to stop, I will fight for us. We will not run any more. I will marry you and you will join me in my life in Syria – if that is what you truly want.”
Ghassan watched Alexandra’s face closely. He saw a look of genuine realization pass over it, the solid determination and sparkle return to her eyes.
“Its you and me, Ghassan. We’ll make a family of our own, together, in Syria.” A gentle smile passed over her lips.
Tenderly he stroked her cheek, the blush of excitement still lingering there. He marveled how her colours all worked together to create a most brilliant canvas. The red of her hair, the pale pink of her lips and cheeks, and the milky white of her skin all enhanced her already dazzling sea-blue eyes. A rare beauty, an even rarer woman – one who’s life he could no longer leave to chance or under the thumb of her oppressive father.
“Let’s go and get our tickets to Stuttgart.” Ghassan smiled and placed his lips upon hers again in succession of soft kisses before taking her hand so she could lead them in the initial step to starting their life together.
The library in the Cochrane residence was dimly lit. Very little sunlight filtered through the Tudor windows even on the brightest of days. Alexandra always disliked being in that room. As a child she had believed it was haunted and the large stone fireplace reminded her of the mouth of a monster ready to gobble her up. She wouldn’t go in unless her father was there. Of course, even if he were there, his presence was of little comfort. Now it was only her father who unsettled her in that room. As she had seen him do many times, Professor Cochrane sat stiffly behind his large wooden desk and coldly eyed Ghassan. Alexandra stood nervously beside Ghassan, her hand tightly entwined in his. The tension in the room was overt and she began to doubt that she had the strength to stand up to her father like she needed to.
She looked up at Ghassan’s face and although it was grave it was also set with determination. She remembered his words to her that afternoon, that he would fight for them, and although she believed him when he said it, now she could see that he meant every word. Seeing this helped to boost her confidence and she grasped his hand a little tighter.
“Father, I am going to marry Ghassan.” Alexandra heard the words leave her mouth but she wasn’t really sure she had spoken them. Her father’s face remained expressionless. “We are leaving tomorrow for Stuttgart.”
“Is that so.” Professor Cochrane said icily.
“Yes, it is so.” Ghassan repeated equally icily.
“You think you will live happily ever after with this…man, Alexandra? Do you think living in Syria will be some kind of paradise?” The professor hissed speaking only to Alexandra and ignoring Ghassan.
“Father, I don’t know what living in Syria will be like but I do know what living in Aberdeen is like and I am not happy here.” Alexandra said quietly. “I love Ghassan, Father.”
“You are a fool, Alexandra. I thought I had raised a well-informed daughter, but clearly I have failed somewhere along the way.” Professor Cochrane’s face was sheathed in disgust. “You have a penchant for self-destructive behavior.”
“You have certainly failed, Dr. Cochrane, as it is you who is the fool for not seeing Alexandra’s true intelligence and worth.” Ghassan’s voice wavered slightly, his anger starting to tear at his stoic exterior.
Professor Cochrane still behaved as though Ghassan had never spoken. He spoke, instead, directly to Alexandra.
“If you get on that plane tomorrow, that will be the last you will see of me and your mother. We will not attend your wedding, we will not come to Syria to visit, and we will not have any interest in any children you produce. If this is what you want, by all means, marry…if you can call it that.” Professor Cochrane never made empty threats and Alexandra knew that he would disown her without batting an eye. Her heart sank to the pit of her stomach. But she had been prepared for this eventuality and she had decided that she would not give her father the satisfaction of knowing that it bothered her.
“I’m sorry you will miss the happiest day of my life.” She said quietly and turned to leave the room.
“You will regret this Alexandra Mary Cochrane. Mark my words, you’ll come crawling back here in less than a year a miserable and tarnished woman.” Professor Cochrane sneered.
“It is testament to her spirit that she is not already miserable and tarnished.” Ghassan snapped.
Professor Cochrane rose from his chair and for the first time, spoke to Ghassan.
“Get out of my house, you loathsome Arab. You would regret showing your face here again.” he hissed.
Ghassan bowed slightly and replied very deliberately. “I have no reason to return here, Professor. All I want is coming with me.”
Alexandra interjected before her father could say anything, “Goodbye, Father.” Shakily she joined hands with Ghassan again and left the library and her father behind.
The magnolias of Wilhelma had blossomed and fallen more than a month before but the Moorish gardens provided no end of brilliant colour on the day of their wedding. The sun shone through billowy clouds making the day as near perfect as one could hope for. Ghassan and Alexandra sat quietly as husband and wife by the water lily pond after the guests had dispersed. The wedding had been small and intimate. Most of the arrangements had been made beforehand by Frau Hanauer and there had been little for Alexandra to worry about once she and Ghassan had reached Stuttgart. The Imam of the city mosque had been invited, there were a few friends from school, Frau Hanauer, and Ghassan’s parents. Ghassan and Alexandra, however grateful to those who had shared the day, only had eyes for each other. As far as they were concerned, they were the only two people on earth that day.
As he held her small hands, Ghassan watched the cool, summer breezes ruffle the skirt of Alexandra’s beautifully simple ivory silk dress. She was beyond elegant, beyond beautiful – her red hair swept up on her head and an embroidered, ivory scarf, which his mother had brought, laid loosely over her curls. Her bright, blue eyes had never looked happier as she had said her vows and now, as she sat beside him. In that moment he pledged to himself that he would never let that happiness in her eyes fade. He would do whatever he had to to make sure that the rest of her life was nothing like the first part – wrought with unhappiness and disappointments. He would make sure she had the life she deserved.
In many ways, Alexandra had put that old life behind her. Her life now was one with her husband, Ghassan, and as she looked into his dark eyes she knew she was safe there. Today he was radiantly handsome – probably due to the smile that had not left his face since she first saw him before the ceremony. It was contagious that smile, and even now as she lovingly admired his face, she found herself smiling back. Certainly, in the back of her mind, the obvious absence of her parents, caused some sadness, but, at the same time, she had never felt freer in her life. She was excited, and a bit anxious, about starting her new life in a land she had never been to, but her sense of wonder and adventure, and the security she felt with Ghassan, encouraged her. This man, this amazing man, who had stood so steadfastly by her was who she would walk with certainty into the next part of her life.
Ghassan stroked Alexandra’s cheek lovingly, as he had done so many times before, but today it felt particularly affectionate for both of them. She placed her hand upon his.
“The love I have for you Ghassan, is beyond description. If love is in one’s heart, then my heart has grown far beyond my body to hold my love. It is the sun and the moon and the vast space beyond. I will love you until the day I die and if we are fortunate enough that our souls live on beyond our lifetime, then I will love you for all eternity.”
“Rohi. You are my soul.” Ghassan held Alexandra’s face. His kiss was long and tender. “Hayati, my life.” He whispered. “Let’s leave here. Let me make love to you. You will start to understand then how much I love you.”
Arm in arm, Ghassan and Alexandra strolled the paths of Wilhelma park, through the shaded magnolia grove, along the covered walk, past the look-out pavilion, toward the main gates and off to their life beyond Wilhelma and Stuttgart – off to a lifetime of love tested but unshaken by the challenges of marriage, children, and the passage of time.
Ghassan and Alexandra were my parents. They both passed away nine years ago within months of one another – my father from cancer and my mother, they say, of a broken heart. May their souls always find their way back to one another.