Falling in love after moving to a new city could be the key for homemaking. But what if the key is lost?
I wanted to leave the bar, but my friend — a bearded guy with obvious signs of rigorous gym-going — wanted to stay. A hunky Arab, he is a popular product on Berlin’s market of desire. A couple of men are eying my friend, while he has eyes on another man. A vicious cycle. He and I didn’t start out as friends. After we hooked up a couple of times, he friend-zoned me. He doesn’t do relationships with other Arabs, he said. He prefers to be with a German. “You can go if you like, I am staying,” he responds in his dialect when I ask if he wants to leave the bar together.
It’s a stretch after midnight on a Friday night. Flocks of people are arriving at the bar. The night is quite young. But I feel tired. It’s been a hard week. I began going to a German class in the evenings after I finish my work shift. I feel like a zombie, who craves human flesh but would instead be satisfied with a long, deep sleep.
The guy at the next table smiles in my direction. Possibly, we met before, and my memory couldn’t retain that encounter anymore. Possibly, he is high on some substance, and is simply channeling his state of mind. I smile back as a way of being a good sport. I reclaim my jacket from the Garderobe in preparation for the gusty wind on Berlin’s streets. He suddenly stepped towards me, the smile now turning into a grin. His smile was comforting, disarming. He convinced me to stay for another beer. I didn’t feel ashamed telling my friend that I wasn’t leaving the bar after all. He would do the same once he found his German.
I am curious about his roots, but I don’t ask. I find that question quite basic and sometimes outright rude. I speculate about it all the same. My guess is that he comes from somewhere around the Mediterranean, perhaps Turkish? Turkish guys can be quite confusing. They can completely pass as white. Especially when they’re dressed as hipsters.
He asks me where I am from. “I am from Egypt. What about you?” When he said he was German, my heart dropped. I don’t know if I can date another German. Too many of them have already broken my heart: The one who ghosted me after months of steamy dating. The one who was breadcrumbing me, while he was trying to get back with his ex-boyfriend — who was a Greek orthodox priest, by the way.
Flashback to a series of failed dates with German men:
—The one who spent our first date complaining about being rigged during his vacation in Egypt.
—The one who kept miscalling me Mohamed.
—The one who inexplicably got angry when I mentioned neo-Nazi demonstrations.
—The one who started our pillow talk by asking if I want to destroy Israel.
—The one who kept comparing me to his Lebanese ex.
—The one who would laugh at my accented German.
—The one who told me that I remind him of a song called Killing an Arab.
—The one who…
I hate this distance. I am done with Germans, I thought. I couldn’t keep my word. Wasn’t a loving relationship with a person from the native culture the best way to make a new home in diaspora? Love could be the key to unlock the foreign surroundings. I just wish we could separate love from geopolitics. I just wish I were less afraid of opening my heart. With him, the conversation was flowing smoothly. He felt warm. He said I had beautiful eyes. His kisses were slow, and his smell was sweet. He wasn’t much taller or stronger, he didn’t trigger my morbid kidnap scenarios. (That piece of news about the Berlin gay cannibal who lured his victim on dating apps continues to haunt me.)
Maybe he could change my mind. Maybe I should give him a chance. Maybe a new love story is about to be born, right here at this cruising bar.
We go to the darkroom. We passionately kiss, with occasional pauses for hugs. I love his average and slightly hairy body, though he is not inclined to please (a problem I find common among the Germans I have come to know). In that moment, I felt powerful enough to guide him, tell him what to do. I summoned upon the spirit of my past days. If I could cruise on Cairo streets, I could definitely handle this. He follows my instructions. I like him even more.
“Would you like to go home with me?” he asks me gently. My heart is racing. He wants to spend time even after the darkroom orgasm. Maybe something is really happening between us. Maybe I am not a delusional romantic after all. I pretend to consider it shortly but, in my head, I’ve already said yes. I miss falling asleep next to somebody. My body craves having sex with him another time. We do it again before we fall asleep.
We wake up in a room filled with sunlight. Boxes scattered on the floor and half-painted walls. He just moved into this flat, he explains. We discuss our plans for the day. I didn’t have any. He is going to IKEA to get furniture for his new flat. I wish he would invite me along, even though I don’t really like it there, too many couples arguing. Instead, I ask him how he found his flat. Can I get to have my own flat like him one day?
When I arrived in Berlin, I was sent to live in a refugee camp in Marzahn. The conditions were awful. Inside, there was no privacy. The security staff would open the doors without knocking, to check if the refugees were breaking one of their endless rules. Outside the camp, there were neo-Nazis demonstrating against the camp, against our existence. There was nowhere to hide.
I went to an LGBT NGO that promised to find housing for people like me. They arranged a meeting with a local gay couple who had an extra room in their apartment. The couple conducted a long interview with me, they asked about my life story, my family, and ultimately my sexual preferences. I was confused, I went back to the social worker at the NGO, who said she had referred to them an older Russian refugee in the past, but they refused as they preferred to host a young Arab. I declined the offer and decided to stay longer in the refugee camp.
I eventually moved into a shared flat with a queer German woman around my age. She maintained a good image of herself as the benevolent person who hosts refugees, and she wanted us to appear in the media to talk about our peaceful coexistence. While at home, I felt stifled and controlled, as if I were stepping on eggshells not to upset her. She monitored my moves and controlled my diet. She imposed strict vegetarianism in the house. When I mistakenly bought some cheese with tiny chunks of meat, she called to tell me she threw it away and wouldn’t tolerate such mistakes in the future. My confusion at her behavior only matched with that at the German supermarkets with their profuse products and the incomprehensible labels on them. I became reclusive in my room trying to avoid her. I was increasingly late for the Putzplan (cleaning schedule), and she blamed Arab masculinity for that.
I am jealous of his flat. Right in the heart of Neukölln, the sought-after trendy area where the cool people want to live. A balcony. So much light.
How did you find it? It wasn’t that hard, he said simply. He sent a few applications and landed a contract. Can it really be that easy, I ask myself in disbelief, as if we live in different worlds. I curl under the cover and observe him in the daylight. He looks paler now. We didn’t have morning sex, I thought we hinted at it before we cuddled and fell sleep. Is it the beginning of the end?
He suggests we get breakfast together. My heart races once more. We stroll the busy streets of Neukölln, heading to the restaurant he suggests. A cold wind blows in our faces, as he begins a conversation.
—Do you go back to Egypt?
—No. I haven’t been back since I came to Germany.
—You don’t want to or you can’t?
—Why is that?
—Because I am a refugee.
—What does this have to do with it?
I can’t help but release an audible sigh. I want him to know without going to the trouble of explaining how asylum works. He asks a lot of questions; what is the situation for gays in Egypt? how was life at the refugee camp? how is my relationship with my family? I answer his questions. He listens to my answers while commenting. I find it hard to read his blank face. When our breakfast arrives, we begin talking about him; his struggles when he lived in Argentina, how he was angry about the lack of air conditioners, and how he missed good techno music. I nod as I listen, occasionally saying, “Yes. I understand.”
I notice that he isn’t showing emotion when I share my story. I notice that he asked me if I had a job three times already. I also observe that my voice quiveres, that I feel smaller. He offers to pay. ‘Are you sure?’ I ask. I don’t want him to pay because I don’t want him to feel superior. But eventually, I let him do it and I consider it a form of emotional reparation.
We walk to the station. We smile at each other, not sincerely. He leans toward me and gives me a kiss before he walks in the other direction. I realize we haven’t exchanged phone numbers. It is our last kiss. I feel surprisingly relieved.