The French Student

It was 2012, and I didn’t have a job as such. I worked as a freelance writer, but mostly spent my time pursuing my interests in a vague sort of way. One of those interests was French, and I joined Alliance as a student. This wasn’t my first brush with the language, and I already had intermediate qualifications, but the courses on offer were not at par, so I joined a fairly basic level. I figured it would be good practice.

Some months later, I blazed through the exams, and the director was impressed enough to offer me a part time role teaching there. I accepted, again thinking it would be excellent practice to teach the language. The compensation was absurd to the point of insulting, but then that was not my goal.

I had one batch to begin with; a weekend one with 3-hour classes on Saturdays and Sundays for about 12 weeks. I missed my first class because Alliance suggested I attend a conference of French teachers first, and so another colleague took that first class.

The next week, I stood in the classroom, teeth chattering uncontrollably, when the students started coming in. I was about an hour early due to to sheer nervousness. The students were surprised to see me, so I smiled reassuringly, and chatted with them till everyone arrived.

And then he walked in.

I was single at the time, although I had had some uncomfortable entanglements and acrimonious break-ups, which had sworn me off relationships. I was not looking for love; quite the opposite actually.

And then he walked in.

“May I come in?” (After he was already in, but the thought barely flitted across my mind when I turned to look at my last student.)

Tall. That struck me first. Really tall, at least for that small classroom. Tanned. That thought also fleetingly appeared and disappeared. Fit. Wow. Oh my God, so very fit. He had his tshirt tucked into tracks, and I could see his abs through his tshirt. I was dumbfounded.

The guy was arresting to say the least. Not pleasant, mind you, because he didn’t have even the tiniest smile on his face or in his eyes. Just a professional, very detached appearance. He screamed military, right from the haircut to the posture, the barely repressed strength in his mien, and finally the precise politeness.

He wasn’t even my ‘type’. I didn’t usually fall for looks or physiques. I liked humour and friendliness, and this stony-faced chap failed on both counts—at first look at least.

I must’ve said something along the lines of, “Yes, of course.”, because he entered and sat down. With a superhuman effort, I yanked my unruly mind from appraising this ridiculously magnetic creature, and got back to teaching.

I soon got into the groove, and finally managed to stop being acutely conscious of this bloke. But I did notice that he zoomed out of the classroom as soon as I said they could leave for the day.

The next weekend was similar. He spoke very little, answered direct questions, asked incisive questions, and left. Since our classes were 3 hours long, I had a 10-minute break in between, where we could chat and get to know one another. (It helps the pedagogical process, and there were a grand total of 6 students.)

During that break, during the second class, I started a conversation about football. (I was desperate—no one was talking!) And he said something so arresting. Wow, I thought, the guy was intelligent. Cue even more attraction. All in the space of three classes. This was unprecedented for me.

The third class, he told me he was being transferred to another city for work, for a short while. He wouldn’t be able to continue with the classes. I felt really disappointed, but he wasn’t the friendliest soul, so I figured it made no difference. And at the end of the class, he zoomed out for one last time.

Ten minutes later, a fellow teacher and a friend pointed out to a bike helmet in the corner of my classroom, “Quelqu’un a oublié son casque!” It was his helmet, and he wasn’t answering my repeated calls. Fair enough, I thought, he’s lost his helmet.

We locked up the classroom, and started walking down the stairs. Only to be confronted two minutes later with him charging up the stairs at full speed. I looked at him, and smiled. “You forgot your helmet.”

I turned to my friend and said I would meet her downstairs, while we retrieved the helmet. We turned and walked slowly up the stairs, because my arms were laden with files and books.

The door to the classrooms were old and the locks were rusty. They didn’t open without a fight, and for the first ten seconds, we stood there in awkward silence while I fumbled with my books and the lock. Finally, I exasperatedly asked him to hold the load, while I attacked the lock some more. We then made small talk, where I learned he was single and yes, in the military.

The door finally opened, and we went in to get the helmet. As I locked up again, he had the common courtesy to wait, and walk down with me. I was expecting him to zoom off again.

We walked down slowly, talking about small random minutiae which makes up small talk. And we finally reached the ground floor. “Keep in touch,” I said, drawing upon the standard farewell. And he stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to respond. Increasingly awkwardly, I suggested Facebook, which he claimed not to use. He then said he sent emails, which I assumed was a way of asking for mine, so I gave him my card. And we finally parted ways. I was never going to see that fellow ever again.

Except, two weeks later, I receive an email from him. Very generic, but interesting nevertheless. I reply, and he replies to my reply. We became friends. The emails continuously increase in frequency, till the point we are emailing each other several times a day. He returns to town, and the emails become messages, and then the messages become calls.

A month or so later, I start my second (and last) batch of classes. And he is sitting in the front row. He attends for about a couple of weeks, but then stops abruptly after.

His logic was simple: why attend French classes, when you’re planning to marry the French teacher?


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