Shahd Alshammari


You came into my life when I had lost touch with reality. I was living underground, refusing to come out. I was struggling with a failing body, a body that I was trapped in, and I had no sense of belonging. I was a nomad, a Bedouin, left stranded, homeless. Every home I have tried to build had sent me away. And there you were, reaching out for me. I only discovered the meaning of the word Ishq with you. 1

People like me don't have access to the world. We don't walk the way others walk. We stumble, we fall, we use wheelchairs, we use canes, and we find alternative ways of living. We take a bunch of vitamins in the morning, we experiment with different medications. We try to make this experience of life more bearable. I popped as many pills as I could, struggled with side effects, and yet there was nothing that could have prepared me for my ultimate destiny of meeting you. You walked into my life, announced your presence, and cradled my sleepless body. Before I knew it, there was a rejuvenation of cells, a boost of energy no doctor could explain, and I was transformed. Your touch was healing, the way you listened to the Quran in the morning, and the way you reached for me at night, whispering verses of forgiveness and faith. And I admit, you made me believe in God.

I fell in love with you, and I fell in love with God. This was the Ishq that they spoke about. Centuries of love. Histories of passion, herstories of unvoiced love. This was our story. I found my way to you at the verge of dawn prayer. The candle helped me see your dark eyes, your thick eyebrows, your beautiful, tanned skin. Satin. You taught me the mechanics of love, the ABC's of belonging, of finding a home, of growing roots. I set up a new tent, and I was a peg of love for you. My roots were grounded in you, my muscles flexed and stretched, finding a haven within you. I found myself lost in you, counting the times I said your name, buying a misbah 2 just so I could repeat your name. Once, twice, three times. In case I forget. In case I forget what you looked like, what it felt to be near you, and the way your name rolled off my tongue. I was worried that my brain cells would begin to degenerate, and I would lose sense of who I was, my memories, my moments, my coordination, my cognitive skills. But mostly, I was worried I would lose you.

And because I was so afraid of losing you, I lost you anyway. They took you away from me. You were my almost, my near-miss. We were right there on that bridge you loved. You were scared of being with me for a lifetime, you were worried my body would deteriorate. That I wouldn't be me anymore. And I wasn't me, I was lost in you.

When you left, I gathered pieces of my soul and attempted to make sense of an Atheist's life. There was no sense in being here. I went to the mosque, I read every Surra. But the ghost of you followed me, waking me up at 4 AM, and I would drag my feet out of bed, pray for you to come back. But do ghosts ever come back? I thought of Heathcliff, waiting forever for Catherine. I wanted to be a literary hero. I wanted to find you in another life. The world had forced us apart, and I was done with the cruelty of the world, the patriarchy of society, the oppression I couldn't deal with. You had left, and your strength had left. You always thought I was the stronger one, that I was the fighter. I fight a battle with my body every day, but I was not able to bring you back. My faith in us wasn't enough. And yet, I connect with you every night, when I feel your hand on my chest, telling me that only those who are Believers will see the light. Only those who are patient. Only those who leave their ego at the door. That is Ishq . The loss of the self for the beloved, in the beloved's world. And you are my Beloved, the Moon, the one all the Persian poets spoke of. I am still a nomad, but this tent is staying, rooted, stagnant. Waiting for you.


1. Ishq: in Persian refers to intense, passionate love.
2. An accessory made from beads, usually used with Muslim prayer, to call Allah's 99 names.


Shahd Alshammari is Assistant Professor of English literature. She has published creative fiction and her latest collection of stories is Notes on the Flesh which deals with disability and love in the Middle East.