Three years ago, I sent an email to a business owner – as I had done a million times before – and requested an interview for a feature story. He replied immediately, which I didn’t expect. And he was in the same city as I was – which I expected even less. He was leaving in two days and so we agreed to meet the same day, that afternoon in fact.
I interviewed him, wrote the story and three weeks later sent him a fact check email. That started an email correspondence between us, which transitioned onto whatsapp by the end of the week. And by the end of that month we were talking to each other all the time. I was falling in love and I thought he was too.
Over the next three three years – on and off – we talked to each other on text and sometimes on Skype. Late into the night, first thing in the morning and every moment in between. Even when I was driving down busy Nairobi highways I was typing a message to him, and when the traffic police kept Nairobi cars at a standstill for hours, he kept me company. Our conversations were so vivid that there are certain landmarks of that drive home when I can almost hear the sound of his voice in my head saying something.
Even the time difference didn’t seem to matter. I woke up when he was falling asleep; and when I was in bed he was half way through his day. We talked about everything, shared intimacies that would have taken months to build up to if we had been in the same city and the same time zone.
I fell fast. I knew I would from the moment I placed my audio recorder on his thigh that day at the interview, sitting on a bench at the University of Nairobi.
In hindsight, I could write a list of why it didn’t work: the distance, our conflicting religious beliefs (I am Muslim, he is Jewish), different life plans … but I won’t. I’ve spent enough time thinking about all the reasons why it didn’t work.
As life took over, we talked less and then there were times when we stopped talking altogether. And then we started again. And stopped again. It was a roller coaster that kept my heart in my throat the whole time. And each time it ended, I put myself back together again. He lost his job and started questioning his self worth and his future. There were days when I gave him his space and was supportive, days when I consoled him and gave what I could of my strength and hope. And then there were days, weeks of silence. I started to doubt whether his heart was still in this or whether I was just clinging to a connection that seemed to be growing thinner with every moment.
At the end of that first year, he came to Nairobi – for work and I hoped also to see me. We finally had a chance to do things together. Or rather we should have. But it didn’t happen the way it should have. The magic and the chemistry was all there, as intense as when it was online. We fit.
But he was distracted. It was not as I imagined we would. Again – I could list a 100 reasons for this. And his leaving was shadowed with hurt and anger.
The months came and went with a back and forth in some months and silence in others. During one of the times when we were talking, in April, I remember asking him to go to DC to take a photo of the cherry blossom trees for me. It was something I had dreamt of seeing and the closest I ever imagined getting to them was seeing a photo taken by someone I knew. I don’t remember what exactly he said when I asked but he never sent the photo.
Then just under a year ago, the fates opened and I had a chance to visit DC in April. And I was blessed to see the cherry blossom trees just as Winter was being warmed away by the arrival of Spring. Tiny little buds of pink on the trees but I could not stop staring at them as the tears rolled down my cheeks.
I was grateful for being blessed with the opportunity to see this magic of nature, and deeply sorrowful for the relationship I had dreamt of with a man that had come to nothing; a man that I was still deeply in love with.
This year, I again give thanks to God for the chance to see the cherry blossoms blooming. And again I mourn the man who I dreamt of a future with, a man I wanted to stand side by side with and watch the trees come into their glory.
So these blossoms are for him. And for the love I still feel for him.