Sunday, December 11, 2011

The French Strangers - Part One

Ever since I spent six weeks one summer partying in Montreal, I have felt that I should go everywhere I can, whenever I can, for as long as I can.

(Did I say partying? No Dad, I was learning French, studying every day, behaving myself, I pinkie swear it.)

On the 27th of September many years ago, I landed in Lyon, France with a bunch of college students from all over the US. We arrived by van in Grenoble after midnight and I was handed off to a tiny blond lady who had agreed to host me and another girl. As Madame explained the house rules to us, I realized that all those years of French class didn’t add up to much and my brain hurt terribly.

(Uh, guess I should have studied French during my immersion program in Montreal.)

On the night of October 3rd, not even a whole week into the great adventure, I was at the deserted end-of-the-line tram station, our stop, waiting for my housemate who was supposed to be on the last tram of the night. I was with another female student who lived near us and had agreed to show me how to get there and to keep me company.

On the far side of the station parking lot was a Superman kind of phone booth with a metal bench by it. I had a new fancy phone card, so I stepped inside to call my mom and wish her a happy birthday. We talked for a few minutes until the clicks cut in and a pretty French robot voice said something like “you are out of time”.

I hung up the phone and turned to exit the booth, and there he was... pinning the door shut. Medium height, slim, dark hair and eyes... the stranger I never saw approaching. His companion sat next to my friend on the bench. She looked frightened.

After a moment of grinning at me through the glass, he opened the doors, pulled me out of the booth and pushed me down on the bench. I could not understand much of what he was saying but he would not let go of my arm. His powerful grip transcended the language barrier.

My friend and I talked over them, trying to come up with a plan. There was no one else around. The last tram had come and gone, and my housemate had not been on it. The station lights had gone out and there were no cars left in the lot. The adjacent road was dark and quiet.

I remember being glad that I had just said “I love you” to my mother.

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