Story-When the Light Shines Brighter

Isra’ and Qusay met and married quickly. 

As a girl, Isra’ had imagined every detail of her wedding. Of her husband. Of her makeup. Of how she would be a world-class engineer and a flawless mother at the same time. She had imagined her daughters’ hair. Her future children’s own weddings. Those were the fantasies she and Marwa would compare in hushed conversations that lasted until sunrise. 

Isra’ had not thought of marriage since the conflict began. The last boy she loved, Adnan, was killed in 2015. He had been her classmate in the first years of university. She chose her seat in the lecture hall carefully each day—always waiting to see where Adnan sat first. 

It was only after two years in the camp that Isra’ tolerated the thought of marriage. Love seemed a bit ridiculous now. Few people in the camp remembered how to fall in love, but they all understood stability. 

Isra’ hoped that marriage would at least be stable. Another hand to hold for safety, as the future surely had sharp teeth. 

Isra’ prayed. She prayed for wisdom, for opportunity, for her parents’ decisions. 

Her brother’s plans to leave Jordan softened her to the idea of marriage. In the camp, things had remained unchanged for two years. In their immediate family, no one had died. No one had fallen ill. Whether here or back home, the family would have expanded. Either she or Ahmad would have married anyway. 

The potential change brought on by marriage was not tragic. Isra’ welcomed it. It felt natural, perhaps the only natural change that Isra’ endured in eight years of war. 

Isra’s parents knew Qusay distantly. Ahmad knew his family. 

Qusay was thin. He was tall, of course, with a beard trimmed so delicately she wondered how long he spent each morning ensuring no hairs dared encroach beyond the line that so neatly outlined his jaw. He was an aspiring engineer, like her, with a passion for writing. In their first formal meeting, they shared, amused and slightly embarrassed, that among the only things they each brought from home were notebooks. If they had only known what they would really miss. 

Isra’ was not in love, but she had no objections to Qusay. And, by that point, lack of objection felt more rare and luxurious than passion had ever felt. 

Of course, her wedding was far from what Isra’ had dreamt. No party. No feast. No lights like the ones she saw in Bab Touma on Christmas. 

And marriage was not perfect. Not through any fault of her husband’s, but simply because the heart she had in the camp was so far removed from the heart with which she used to dream of marriage. It would take years for her to love Qusay the way she wanted, and the way she knew she could. It would take years for her to befriend and engage that part of herself that could feel passion. 

In the first years of marriage, neither Isra’ nor Qusay knew how to build a relationship. Both of them had spent years losing people who had been such a natural part of their lives. Both of them had accumulated years of devastation, building a natural and daunting hesitancy about new relationships. Neither of them had added new people to their lives for years—they had just been counting losses. 

Admitting their pain, and their past, step by step, was the very thing that brought them closer. 

In late 2016, Isra’ got another phone call that would change her life. 

Isra’ was in the kitchen, making coffee, reciting the same prayers her mother whispered the days after Mazen died. Isra’ was praying for her brother, for his safe passage.

Qusay came home, ducking his head through the door. Isra’s heart leapt a little whenever she saw her husband duck through the doorway. She was glad she married a tall man. 

Qusay walked into the kitchen, still wearing his backpack. He was glistening with sweat from a long bike ride back from work. 

She put the coffee down. 

He took both of her hands in his. Qusay’s hands were cold and wet. Isra’ tried hard to fight off a memory of the night of the border crossing, when Ahmad’s sweaty and cold hands pulled her through the maze of bullets. 

She felt the shards of plastic in her fingers, the pieces of her phone that had shattered. She closed her eyes tight, fighting off the flashback. 

Her hands were freezing too, as the kitchen was walled with tin and no insulation.

“Hayati,” he said. His smile was still wide. My life, he called her always.

What could it possibly be? What would make him so happy? Isra’s stomach bunched up. She felt a pang of nervous hunger. She felt nauseous, swallowing fast to keep her nerves from moving beyond her stomach. 

“They called. They want us to go to Canada. Resettlement.” Qusay’s eyes were wide and shiny. Isra’ had never noticed the slight difference in color between the two. 

Isra’ placed her hand on the stove unknowingly. She recoiled, placing her hand on her chest and checking her heartbeat.

Oh God. And my mom? 

Will I see my brother? Hoda? Her mind raced. 

She was unaware of the smile on her face, toothy, matching Qusay’s. He read it as joy. 

“What? Are you sure?” she asked him. 

“Yeah. We have to go for an interview next week,” he said with confidence. 

Thank God we can leave. 

I don’t want to leave. I hate it here. 

I cannot raise a child here. 

But I cannot raise a child alone.

Isra’ had found out she was pregnant just days before this news.