Story-A New Type of Journey

Isra’ hated the doctor’s office. Yellowish-green walls. 

She had come in to get a quick diagnosis. Isra’ thought it was food poisoning, which is why the wait seemed strange. 

Why is she taking so long? Isra’ had not thought to bring Qusay with her for what was just nausea. 

The doctor walked in. Isra’ flinched as she shut the door abruptly.

Isra’s mind raced through the silence as the doctor opened a plain folder. 

“You’re pregnant.” 

Isra’ did not register the words. 

“Sorry, what?” she replied, legitimately not knowing what had just been said. 

“Isra’, you’re going to have a baby.” 

Isra’ was silent. Still. She swallowed deeply as she looked around the room, and then at the doctor. The doctor’s eyes were kind. 

Here? In this place? She immediately pushed the thought out of her mind. 

The doctor sensed Isra’s conflicted thoughts. 

“Isra’, you will be a good mother.” 

Isra’ was not worried about being a good mother. She was raised by a good mother and had been a mother to Hoda for much of her teenage years. 

How do I feel? Isra’ sat in silence. 

Joy. It was barely recognizable. It had been so long since Isra’ had felt this, a glowing warmth in her chest and a release in the muscles of her arms. In an instant, Isra’ felt like she had been placed in a warm bath. Without thought, and without hesitation, Isra’ reached out and hugged the doctor tight. 

And Isra’ smiled.

—  

The rare joy she felt in those moments after discovering her pregnancy made the Canada news all the more confusing. Qusay had taken Isra’ by surprise with the news of Canada. For the second time in a few days, Qusay was giddy. 

As he told her that afternoon as she made coffee, Isra’ wanted to share his reaction. 

She thought of her mother’s glow when she heard the news that she would be a grandmother. She thought of her future child’s little bare feet running through grass. Then running through dust. Then running through grass. Then her own feet running through thorns. 

Her thoughts were swirling. Joy. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Hundreds of thoughts ran in furious circles in her mind. The tightness in her stomach stayed.

Why now? Can my parents come? 

As Qusay rubbed his hands, hoping to emulate the warmth he felt inside, Isra’ opened her mouth, with little idea what would come from it. 

“I will go wherever you go.” She hoped he interpreted it as romantic, and not as resignation. 

The baby will be safe. 

Will I see my family again? 

And once again, Isra’ did not know what she felt in that moment.

As Qusay drew her head into his chest in an embrace of what, for him, was relief, she rested against him with eyes wide open. 

The past six years had taught Isra’ that expectation was just as dangerous as war. She let resignation sit alongside curiosity and joy in her belly as she embraced her husband. 

It took just a few months for them to pass all required interviews and procedures. 

Her family was hopeful. Her family had accepted this new phase of life—a phase far away from war—but they were not accustomed to separation. In six years, the family had endured so much, but never separation. 

No, it did not feel the same as the traumas of years past, but it nonetheless felt like a loss. Something was ending. Of course, Ahmad’s and Isra’s departures and separation implied a host of possible beginnings, but none of them were clear at the time.  

As Isra’ began to pack her bag, she could only feel the severance. She had not left her mother for more than three days since she was born. 

Is this what death feels like? Why does this feel like I’m losing her?

As she packed her bags, Isra’ wondered if she was insane. 

I should be happy. I am happy. Can I be happy and sad? 

She was disgusted at her own lack of joy. Qusay was elated, and Isra’ was tired of pretending she was fine. 

The world Isra’ was leaving behind in 2017, when she left the camp with Qusay and a baby in her belly, was still an enigma to her. It was a template she had never really known, a world of situations she had never been told of even in distant fairy tales. She was eager to leave and terrified of what it meant. 

In her heart, the gnawing fear of separation was not all she felt. She felt lucky. She also felt guilty. 

Lucky. Afraid. Guilty. 

She questioned why luck felt so much like fear—and why she felt scared to tell anyone she was leaving. 

Why us? she asked herself, as she placed neatly folded clothes in her bag. As she bent over the suitcase, she again fought back flashbacks of the day she packed to leave Syria. 

A different bag. A different crossing. But the same worry. 

Where will we go? When will we be able to come back and visit? Three years? More?

Isra’ believed none of what she heard. She had no idea when she would be able to come back to see her parents. All she knew was that her parents wanted her to do this. They insisted that this opened a chance for all of them to move to Canada, eventually. 

Isra’ left the camp the morning after she finished packing. 

Her brother was not there to see her off as she kissed her father and mother and Hoda goodbye. The last time she left home—or, at least, the place they lived—Ahmad had held her hand. The last time she crossed a border she was chased by bullets, unsure if she would live to see another second, yet alone another continent. Ahmad literally had kept her alive that night. 

On one level, Isra’ believed it was now her turn. It was her turn to take the farthest risk and go to the unknown until that time all five of them would be reunited. 

As she walked with Qusay to the bus at the entrance of the camp, Isra’ thought of her brother and their unique goodbye. As she put one foot in front of the other, her legs grew heavy again. 

She hesitated for a moment. She adjusted her hold on the bags and put another foot forward. 

She let her thoughts return to her goodbye with Ahmad. 

They had said goodbye without false pretenses. They had not spoken in clichés. Neither promised the other that they would see each other again. Too much had happened to believe or even utter something so thoughtless. 

When they said goodbye, Ahmad was wearing the same backpack he had arrived in Jordan with. It was faded. He knew he would need to get a new one if he was to make it to Turkey with any of his belongings. 

Isra’ handed him a letter.

“Do not read it unless you have to. You’ll know when you have to,” she told him. 

“What does it say?” he asked her. 

“Don’t be an idiot. Obviously I’m not going to tell you.”

Ahmad folded the letter as small as he could and put it in the special zipper he had sewn into his sweatpants. It was a special pocket where he kept his identification and some cash, in case he was robbed or mugged. 

Ahmad embraced his sister tight, confident that they would speak soon. 

“I don’t think I’ll see you here again, in this place,” he told her. 

“God, I hope not,” she laughed. “Get a good job. Talk soon.” 

Ahmad said goodbye to the rest of the family. His father kissed him on the forehead. His mother kissed him tight on both cheeks, unable to hide her tears. Ahmad could not hold his tears in any longer. 

He let a few silent drops slide down his cheeks unwiped as he whispered something to his mother that they would both take to their graves. And lastly, Hoda held him tight. They were the same height nearly, though Ahmad hugged her as one would hug a child. 

He walked out of the door in silence, closing the door gently behind him, in an exaggerated way, looking at Isra’, as if to remind her one last time that he still was there to protect her.

Less than a year later, it was Isra’s turn to say goodbye. In some ways, the second time was easier. Ahmad was safe and doing well in Turkey. The family, each in their own time, had learned to accept that distance did not compromise survival. That being separated by seas was just the next chapter in the family story, the ending of which no one dared guess.