“Another German”—a short story by Ahmed Awadalla

15 September, 2022
Mo Baala (b. 1986 Casablan­ca, lives/works between Mar­rakech and Taroudant, “Self­less Self,” 120x65cm, water­col­or on can­vas, 2021 (cour­tesy Mo Baala).

 

Falling in love after mov­ing to a new city could be the key for home­mak­ing. But what if the key is lost?

 

Ahmed Awadalla     

 

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?
—I 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. 

 

Arab in BerlinasylumEgyptgay loveLGBTQ communityqueer life in Germanyrefugees

Ahmed Awadalla is a writer and researcher from Egypt, currently based in Berlin. Their writing explores (queer) intimacies, identities, and historical narratives. Their work has been published in various publications and anthologies, including the Lambda finalist anthology, Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing Up With the AIDS Crisis.

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