Illustration : Baptiste Condominas
In 2012, my home town of Raqqa was under the control of the Syrian regime. The terrorist group Al-Nusra Front was present as well, threatening the population with their radical interpretation of Islam. The local youth, which I was part of, were fighting on two fronts: against Bashar al-Assad and against the jihadists.
In spite of the many dangers, I would often cross the city to see young people who had fled the fighting in Deir ez-Zor [on the Iraqi-Syrian border] and were sleeping in the dormitory of the city's university. Entire families were moved from the border area to Raqqa. People lived there, one on top of each other. To brighten their daily lives, my friends would cook for them every day.
He also was there - somewhere, with his family.
We were separated by one floor. He never came down, I never went up. We had thousands of chances to run into each other, but we never met.
I lived with my family for two weeks in the dormitory at Raqqa University. We then moved to an apartment.
We lived not far from her house. There was only a park that separated our two buildings. We frequented the same places. I later found out that once I gave a lecture at a cultural center in Raqqa that she went to every day.
I also remember a friend who told me about a girl he liked. He told me they were going to have a New Year's Eve party at a restaurant. It was a brave move, as the jihadists of Al-Nusra had started intimidating the local population, putting a great amount of pressure on young people in particular. He invited me to go with him that night.
In the end, I didn't go
When my friend arrived at the party, he was alone. He had said he was going to bring a friend, but no one came with him. I didn't ask any questions. I just thought his friend was stupid to miss such a good party.
Soon after, I left for Turkey.
I went to Turkey, too. It was around the same time. I lived between two cities, Gaziantep and Urfa, which are not far from the Syrian border. I made friends there. Some of them actually knew her.
One day, after having been in Mersin, a town on the Turkish coast, I returned home by bus. I went to the central bus station - it was very crowded. I remember that the buses all were delayed. I stood there waiting for a long time.
I stood for a long time at the bus stop that day, too. There was a problem with the buses and it took a while to get on. He was there. But I didn't see him.
We had friends in common. When I heard people talk about him. I thought he must be nice. I was curious to meet him. It's crazy to think that I knew almost all of his friends - except him. We hung out in the same places. Places that many of the Syrians there would often go to.
So one day I sent him a friend request on Facebook. It was the end of 2015. I was leaving for France, thanks to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement program.
Of course, he didn't accept my request until a year later.
I accepted her Facebook request without really paying attention. And for my part, I was sent to live in Reims, in eastern France - via the same UN refugee resettlement program.
A French friend, who is an activist who was helping Syrian refugees in France, told me that he knew a girl from Raqqa. He had seen her in a TV report. He gave me her first name and asked me if I knew her. I laughed. I told him that Syria wasn't a village and that I didn't know all the Syrian refugees in France.
Time went by. Then, one day, I was invited to go to Paris for a conference.
I knew he was coming to Paris. He had posted a message on his Facebook page and our mutual friends had told me about it.
I had planned to go as well, but what was happening in the news made me change my mind. That afternoon, there were bombings in Aleppo, so I wanted to save my energy to take part in a demonstration against the regime, which was to be held the next day.
I also went to that demonstration along with a friend. It was held not far from the Russian embassy in Paris. I remember the security there. There were guards trying to push the demonstrators away. Everybody was angry. We couldn't stand the violence of Assad's regime anymore.
Suddenly I lost sight of my friend. I was lost.
Then I saw her.
I noticed a girl sitting in front of the embassy. She refused to leave in spite of the threats from the police. Her friends couldn't convince her to get up, so I walked over to her thinking maybe she would listen to me. I leaned over toward her and said, "Come on, I'd like to talk to you."
He told me to get up. I walked up to him and smiled. I felt something right away.
I wanted to chat but I had no voice left in me. I had screamed too much at the demo. He told me that I shouldn't confront the police.
But I was a little out of it. I really wasn't myself. My mind was still at the demonstration. I asked him questions that had nothing to do with what was going on at the time. I asked how his stay in Paris was going, how his conference was going. It was neither the place, nor the time.
He must not have understood. So I left in a hurry, without looking back.
We met again afterwards, always surrounded by friends. We didn't talk much, I stuck with my friends. I thought she was behaving a bit strangely. She was a bit of an odd girl, actually.
At that time, we weren't close. Then one day I came to Paris, and we saw each other face to face.
Something had changed. She was different ... I watched her. I liked the way she walked, talked, laughed. I felt like I'd known her forever. The next night was strange, I didn't sleep much. I thought about her the whole time.
After that night, he texted me for the first time. He suggested we meet again.
He liked me, I could feel it. I knew my attraction to him was reciprocal. But there was something else. Something hard to explain. Something familiar between us. It was like we had known each other forever.
We used to go out a lot with our friends. Everyone thought we were a couple, but we weren't.
One night, we were all at a friend's house. At the end of the night, people left. We were alone, the two of us, having a serious conversation ... All of a sudden, he kissed me. Without warning. A long, passionate kiss.
I had waited so long for that kiss...
That night, I couldn't fall asleep.
After that first kiss, we spent our days together. More and more, we were becoming partners. But we never talked about "us," about what we were to each other.
Were we a couple? I didn't really know. There was a lot that wasn't said.
She was a little jealous, I liked that, but at the same time, it annoyed me. She wasn't clear about what she wanted. I knew I wanted more.
So, one day, I called her to talk. "Are you jealous?" I asked. She said "no." So then I asked her "Do you love me?" And she said "no" again.
So I said "all right, I'll leave you to it."
I was scared. I was stupid. If I told him I loved him, he'd take me for granted. He'd lose interest in me. I also thought he wasn't the relationship type.
I ruined that relationship. He left me. And I actually was in love with him.
For two months, we cut off all contact. I wanted to call her, but I was hurt by what she had said to me. I was so upset.
I knew she was lying to me, that deep down she loved me but didn't want to admit it. It drove me crazy. I figured she wasn't the committing type, not the relationship type.
One day, I heard from mutual friends that she was seeing someone else.
It made me crazy. I had to know for sure. So I called her and asked, "Is it true?"
She said "yes." So I congratulated her, and she said she hoped things went well for me. And that was that. Goodbye.
I had left Paris to go to Berlin to rest, to breathe, to get over it. I told everyone I had a boyfriend. It wasn't true. I was in love, but I'd ruined everything and my love story was over. When he called me, I was upset.
So I took a train back to Paris, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I thought maybe he'd be at one of our friends' houses. I went and knocked on his best friend's door. I didn't even say 'hello' to anyone, I ran into the living room to see if he was there.
He wasn't there. I'd messed everything up again, for a second time.
I left again, I was devastated. I didn't want to leave it like that. So I mustered up my courage and I called him. I told him I needed to see him right away.
I was in Reims, I jumped on a train to meet her in Paris.
We saw each other at the station, but we didn't jump into each other's arms. She was full of pride, and so was I. We talked, but in the end we didn't really say anything. We saw each other again over the next few days, nothing happened. Well, at least not right away. We started to spend our days together again. I knew my feelings for hadn't changed.
And then, one night, things started to move quickly. We met at a party in Paris. She was talking to another boy there. I became very jealous. I hated the fact that I was making a scene, so I apologized right away. And then I finally made the first move: I told her she was really not like other people. And that I like girls like that. And next I admitted that I couldn't stand the thought of her being hit on by anyone but me.
I smiled. I told him that I thought it was crazy that our story had started in Raqqa, Syria, and had become real in a little apartment in Paris.
And then, finally, I told him: "I love you." He said, "I love you, too."
We were still at our friends' house then. We fell asleep. Together.