Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The French Strangers - Part Two

Here is part one if you missed it.

We stood up together to make a run for it but the stranger caught me from behind. As he swung me around, he punched me in the face. His fist connected with my upper left cheek and for a few seconds everything went black with bright spots flashing. The hit should have sent me crashing to the ground but he still had a firm hold on me. Luckily, my friend was getting away because the other guy was not interested in attacking American women. He just watched.

She came back though. She rescued me. She whacked him in the face with her umbrella and got herself a massive kick to the stomach in return. It was enough to divert his attention and I scrambled backward out of his reach. Before he could decide which of us to come after, I screamed at her to run the other way and I ran out into the road.

I ran right into the path of an oncoming car, the only car on the road. It swerved, screeched to a stop, and two men got out. One of the men was the tram driver. I was hysterical. I told him over and over that a man had hurt me and I asked them “Where is my friend?” I don’t know how those men understood what I was saying in my broken, sob-filled French, but they did.

They wanted to take me to the hospital, the police station, or even home, but I kept asking them about my friend. So they drove up, down, and around the streets near the station until we found her. She (whose French was so much better than mine) explained to them what happened, and then she told them where we each lived.

You wouldn’t blame me if I packed up and flew home, especially if I told you I saw him again a couple days later on the tram, on my way to school, and he flicked his tongue at me like a snake. But as scared as I was to go out to class, I stuck it out. Eventually, I made friends and found out I was living in a French ghetto highly populated with Algerians. I learned that (back then anyway) the French and the French Algerians hated each other.

Oddly enough, it was a friendship I made with an Algerian shop keeper that kept me in France. His tiny grocery store was located on the roof plaza of the building just across from mine, accessible by a pedestrian bridge that was attached to our building a few floors below me. There was a butcher shop and a bakery over there as well, and that plaza was just about the only place I wasn’t afraid to go because I didn’t even have to go down out to the street.

The stranger who owned the grocery store was tall, well-built, with dark hair, dark eyes, and a beautiful smile. He made such an effort to befriend me, tolerating my immature French, asking me about myself in between explaining as best he could the difference between the zillion types of milk. He wanted to know if I was enjoying his country, and so I told him my tram station story.

It made him visibly angry. He brought his sister out from the back room to tell me in her broken English that he would take care of this problem for me and that I should not be afraid to go out. She said that her brother was my friend and that this meant that I would be safe anywhere in the neighborhood. She was right. I stayed in France until the following July and I never saw tram man again.

I’ve never stopped traveling, but tram man taught me quite a bit about how to do it. I’ve also never been able to kick the innate fear of strangers that most of us have but I do recognize it for what it is and find my way around it.


L.L. Barkat said...

oh God, oh.

listening to your brave heart. you write it well.

Anna said...

you are a very strong person. I am so glad you were able to stay and had someone that watched out for you. Thank you for sharing with us.

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