It was my first day at the university of Damascus in 2011, Syria.
Like many other students who had just moved to Damascus, I felt lost. It's a big and crowded city, so the easiest way to find your way around was to ask someone.
And there was this guy, a bit blonde with a short haircut, wearing glasses, carrying his black jacket on his arm and holding some books fondly. He looked so confident that it caught my attention. And I knew why; I had been around the block a couple of times. I had felt before this kind of slight happiness you get when you meet someone with the same "interests" as you. But he wasn't. He lived in a world blessed with ignorance.
In our first conversation, I asked him where the classroom for my first lecture was. He could immediately tell I was not from Damascus because of my accent. He said he was also studying journalism, and my heart jumped like a little rabbit.
We spent the next hours together, sitting next to each other in the auditorium. I wanted to talk to him as much as possible, so I didn't stop commenting on what the teacher said. My evening was free, so I told him we could spend it together, but he had his own life and friends and wanted to go.
We kept seeing each other every day at the university, having a cup of tea or breakfast with his friends. I was giving him hints, trying to test whether he was interested. I asked every cliché question. "Do you watch football? What do you do in your free time? Do you have a girlfriend?" All his answers were neutral. Football only every now and then, mosque for prayers and getting closer to God, no girlfriend.
Nothing he did or said took my doubts away or confirmed my hopes.
However, no matter how much I tried to come closer, I could not get him to like me the way I liked him. So I just gave up and accepted that he might be hetero even though my gaydar is never wrong.
I tried one last time and did something he did not like. I held his hand and tried to kiss him. He just got so mad and did not want to be my friend anymore because I demanded too much attention and time.
In a month or two, things got terrible in Damascus. The war reached the city, and it was not even safe to go out. There were so many explosions which caused massive damage. I witnessed one of them, and the things I saw still haunt me; I guess this is where I got my blood phobia. So I returned to my city Latakia, and he fled the county. I did not know where because we lost contact. I thought he blocked me.
In 2015 I left Syria and went away like thousands of refugees. I arrived in Germany and was able to get started. One afternoon in 2016, I was with my tea, and I got his text.
"Hey Ali, it's been a very long time. How are you doing? if you are free, we can video chat."
He was in Cairo, Egypt. We talked for hours, and then he came out and apologised to me for his behaviour and past ignorance. I forgave him immediately; holding a grudge would not make things better. After that, we kept on talking and chatting every now and then. I felt a sense of responsibility as if I was his guide in a journey I knew well.
In 2018 he came to Germany to visit his brother and asked me if I could go and meet him. I didn't think twice. Seeing my first crush after all this time excited me with happiness and paralysed me with nervousness. How was I meant to act? I had moved on. I met so many new people on the way. I wasn't the person he blocked in Damascus anymore, but he was my first love—well, I don't know if I can call it love, but it hit differently. I just wanted to tell him how I felt openly, and I felt like I could this time.
We met in the city, walked a lot, talked even more, laughed, cried, and smiled at each other. Each had been dealing with our own challenges, trying to find the right path. W hadn't said goodbye yet, and I could see he was nervous.
"Is everything OK?" I asked.
"Can I have a kiss?" He said.
He sat down as if he had put all his strength into that single question.
I hold his head with my hands and felt his cold ears. I got closer and felt his cold nose too. It was a week before Christmas, and Germany is no Damascus.
I hugged my fingers around his head, and our steamy breaths joined. He didn't know how to kiss back, so I guided his shaking lips around my mouth. And just for a moment, it all got warm again.
"I've never kissed before. You are my first", he whispered. "I couldn't wait for this. I'm glad you could tell I was gay before I could."
I was with him on the top of a small mountain next to the city of Barcelona on the last day of 2022. We sat and watched the fireworks making the horizon brighter after the winter sun went slowly down.