Written by Nada Hemida

“We always felt like we were surrounded by family.”

We lived in a small city where dreams came true, where people had every reason to live. A city where souls danced under the clear night sky, where eyes gleamed in the sunlight – it was a city where pure happiness wasn’t hard to find.

Streets were always crowded and whether or not we knew the people walking down the roads alongside us, they always smiled and wished us a good day. The air always smelled of tea and cinnamon biscuits; because people liked leaving their doors and windows open for the welcoming, rich smell of food to waft around, as though they were inviting the passersby to join them. To walk along the cobblestone and not have a barista or baker from here and there offer us a delicious treat would be outrageous. We always felt like we were surrounded by family.

The buildings weren’t perfect; they weren’t made out of polished emeralds and rubies. They were ancient, indestructible, made out of stone that has stood here for as long as people have walked down these paths.

The parties never stopped; at night – from a distance or from right across the street – we could always hear people playing music and laughing like they would outlive eternity. We lived and breathed fantasies, and we knew they were forever.

It was a place where hearts were worn on sleeves, where sadness was lost in the past – no matter how old or recent.

It was a place I called home – we called it home. How could you take that home away from me? How could you rip me from my forever?

We had been born and raised together. You, only eighteen days younger than me, were always mistaken for my twin when we were seen together as kids. We lived five seconds away from each other, yet we never grew bored of hanging out together. After school, we had always gone to our favorite spot in the city: a little park where we’d have picnics, study, and laugh until our stomachs ached. You were my family. We had each other. We always had each other.

When we were little and my brother would tease me too much, I wouldn’t even need to come to you. You’d see the frown on my face and approach me, saying something as small as “It’s okay… He teases me a lot, too” and it would already cheer me up. When we were in school and people wouldn’t be friends with you because you were different – you were intelligent yet mischievous, the kind parents had warned their kids against befriending – I’d leave all my friends behind and sit with you, even if I lost them in the process. When our parents would force us to stay home and study, you’d always find a way to sneak us out of our homes and we’d go anywhere they wouldn’t find us.

“…together we were one, but each of us, alone, was no one.”

It disgusted me, disgusted us both, when people thought we were dating or that we would and should be in the future. We were almost siblings. The truth is I’ve always seen us the way people did when we were young: twins. Not in the way that all best friends claimed they were, either.

You were a part of me the day you were born; together we were one, but each of us, alone, was no one. I was the second half of you, and you of me, and without each other, we were always incomplete. I remember when I’d go out with friends and always look around for you, forgetting you hadn’t come along. You always told me, when you’d watch a movie you knew I’d love, how you always felt like you wouldn’t enjoy it until we saw it together. We were never separated, never even attempted it. You were always by my side and I by yours, as though leaving each other would tear us apart.

But you’re leaving. You’re leaving what you once called home. The city, “it’s suffocating me”, you said. I wanna see beyond these borders, beyond this life. Our life.

You were waiting by the park, we had always gone to growing up. You had your backpack on your shoulders, your suitcase by your side, and your eyes stuck on the horizon with hunger and lust I had always seen but always ignored.

“So you’re really leaving?” I asked in a raspy voice, because of all the crying I had been doing.

You turned to me, and I didn’t think someone’s expression could change so fast until I saw the sorrowful look on your face. You nodded solemnly, unable to look me in the eyes.

Why are you doing this? Why are you leaving a city where no one ever felt anything but joy?

Why am I not enough to keep you here?

“I’m not gonna hold you back,” I said, and I could feel the lie bitterly roll off my tongue.

I thought I saw you wiping tears rolling down your cheeks, but with the sun setting behind you, I could only see your silhouette.  I convinced myself that I had imagined it, convinced myself that if you had any regret about this, you wouldn’t be doing it.

“Please,” you begged, “I don’t want this to hurt you.”

You’re not hurting me. That’s what I wanted to say. But after all the lies that I have said, I couldn’t manage anything but a nod.

You started crying, that I was sure of. I could hear you sniffling. Back when everything was alright, I would never leave you crying like that. I would’ve already had you in my arms, telling you that nothing was ever worth your sadness; but now, I could barely keep it together myself. Inside, I was screaming. I was holding onto you for dear life. I was begging you to stay; begging you to remember the days when having each other was enough.

But you broke me.

You broke me when you said you wanted to see the world, live anywhere but here.

So quietly, I watched you – I watched you say that it was the best for you, because you couldn’t imagine staying here forever. You wanted to study abroad, meet new people and cultures, learn and explore new things. I watched but didn’t listen, with every bone, every muscle, and every cell in my body screaming at me to hold you and tell you that I don’t care. I don’t care where we are, what we’re surrounded by. I only care that we’re together.

But I had already lost you to a world you knew nothing of but yearned to see.

And as you turned away from me, I could feel my heart split in two, one leaving with you, and another shredding, rotting inside me, beating for the sole purpose that you’d one day come back and never leave.