The silk material slipped through his lightly brown hands. His dark melting eyes which reminded one of warm coffee cream with sweet sugar followed the passage of the material as it wound its way to the floor. Charlene quipped, “Ooh, I love it! I think it will be perfect for stepping out.” As I watched Boss’s eyes or otherwise Mr. Sam’s eyes light up in appreciation. I wished he knew I was around. I smiled meekly in an effort to appear agreeable, cool, sophisticated and everything else my friend, Charlene whose apartment in Paris which was paid for by the South African Embassy since she was the secretary to the Diplomat based in Paris. Little did I know that at the time, she had set her sights on the Diplomat stationed in Paris from South Africa. All I knew was that I was so happy to be part of her contingency from the Embassy which included another secretary. I had met her and Sammy at a Quaker Meeting in Paris. Bored and seeking English speakers, I attended a meeting and met both of them over coffee. As it turned out, we were all foreigners with little to do outside of work and that brought us together.
The French didn’t always like that we didn’t speak like natives and so, we stumbled often with the language. I was taking a language and culture course at the Sorbonne and teaching English as a foreign language as much as I could find work. Sam was working as a designer in Paris on his own but he was originally from India. He didn’t tell us much information but I was secretly in love with him. Now, I realize that I was mostly in love with the idea of the life that this group generated for me. The dreams of fashion design, travel, and glamour were represented by our little group. My second major outside of English was fashion design and I almost left my University for the Fashion Institute of Technology, Manhattan. I even went so far as to visit and inquire into living in the dorms. Practicality reared its head and I ended up finishing my BA in English at the University and finding a year abroad study in France. I was able to take out a small loan and this helped fund my travels along with teaching English on the side.
Charlene invited me to make use of her apartment when she wasn’t there and since I was living in a small apartment which I shared with a French artiste; I was very happy to comply. I think she was lonely and my friendship offered her some stability and a person outside of the embassy to go out with, have a drink and laugh. I wanted Sam to make and design for me a gown or an outfit but he didn’t. I think now he wanted Charlene to wear his creations to the Embassy parties and have his name recognized by all I would just sit back and watch him with the material gathered up in his hands, pins clamped by his mouth, and his eyebrows arched above his intense eyes. I felt that I was living the perfect life until the day the South African Embassy was bombed.
Until that day, and then everything changed. I remember that when I spent the night after Charlene, her other friend, and I went out…we would sleep in. In the morning, sometimes I would quietly leave to buy some fresh croissants at a boulangerie down the way and then return while Charlene made fresh coffee for us. One day, Sam started to discuss politics with me, and then as if in futility he laughed and said, “You don’t know much about my country or about South Africa. Do you?” I remember feeling insulted but also I realized he spoke the truth. I knew nothing about her country or his country. The only thing I knew was that my heritage included a quarter French, a quarter Irish, a quarter Swedish and that my minor at University was French. This was my mission. My mission was not to understand the politics of the country. In addition to this group, I made friends with some Americans who were starting to become involved in computers and were starting their own business. They lived in a very low rent and affordable area of Paris which was also inhabited by many Algerians. I still remember my counselor at school telling me, “Please be careful in these areas. Some of these areas were known as a high crime area. I feared nothing and marched through the neighborhood head held high visiting my friends. (To be continued)-Merry Christmas everyone!