The French Teacher

By on Sep 24, 2010 in Fiction

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Papier mache mask

The following nights were the same.  It was no good talking to Karen —  Julianne knew which side her friend, who was slightly paranoid about “foreigners,” would be on.  Should she call up her brother?

She caught him just coming in the door.  “I don’t want to do anything rash,” she told him, winding up her story.  “But the passport thing, you know.  It definitely looks off.”

“Definitely,” said Mike.  “Who knows what the bastard’s up to?  Listen, don’t confront him with the fact that you know what’s in the package.  That could be dangerous.  Do you want me to come over there?  Sherry’s at her sisters, so I could stay over.”

“No, no,” she said.  “I’m not really afraid of him.”

“What’re you going to do about the French lessons?”

She hadn’t thought of that.  The next one was tomorrow.  “Shit,” she said.  


Her hands shook as she picked up the phone to press in Bertrand’s number.  Hopefully, he was out and she could just leave a message, but he answered on the first ring.

“Bertrand,” she said, “I need to cancel our lesson tomorrow.  I have to go to the dentist.”  She knew she sounded like a teenager trying to get out of class.

“Oh,” he said.  “I am sorry.”  There was a pause.  “You have kept my package all right, n’est-ce pas?”

Ah, she thought.  “Of course,” she  said.  “Your package is fine.”

“Next week then?” he said, his voice anxious.  “We will continue then?”

“I hope so,” she said, uncertain.

The next day, someone pressed insistently on her door bell.  It was slightly after nine in the evening, and she’d been about to turn off the TV and go to bed to read.  No one she knew had the habit of dropping by unannounced.  Her heart raced as she went to answer.

A tall black man stood there.  When he spoke, she recognized an African accent similar to Bertrand’s.  He wore a dark suit, white shirt and tie. 

“Excuse me,” he said.  “I have come to speak to you about Bertrand Gbadyu.”

He appeared threatening.  Sweat shone on his high, almost purple forehead and his neck seemed too thick for the rest of his body.  She certainly did not intend to invite him in and glanced about to see if any neighbors were watching.  Could someone hear her scream if that became necessary?

“What about Bertrand?” she said.

“You should let him know,” said the ominous man, “that people are watching him. Let him know that he is expected to perform his duties as a man should.”

Before she could say anything, he turned and walked to his car — one that she hadn’t noticed until now, a large, black van.  Anything could be inside of it, anything at all.   


Julianne’s sleep continued to be agitated.  On Monday, Karen remarked that she looked terrible.  “You have circles under your eyes and I think you’re losing weight.”

“Funny,” said Julianne, “how you can never lose when you want to, but when you’re not even trying…”

“You’re making yourself ill.  It’s not worth it.  You don’t owe that man anything.”

After Julianne told Karen about the disturbing visitor, Karen said, “You need to give that box back.  Call him up and tell him to come get it.  End the lessons.  You don’t need to speak French perfectly to go to Paris.  Get real.”

Julianne was silent, but festered all day.  By evening, she had worked herself into a fine pitch.  Besides spurning her as a potential romantic partner, Bertrand had put her life in danger.  Horrible men knocking on her door at night —  just what was that?  And what had the man meant,  about Bertrand being expected to “perform his duties as a man should”?  This sounded more and more as if Bertrand was up to no good.  What else could the man have meant but some kind of undercover activities?  Surely, it was her duty to report this, to do something about it?

It took her another day of hell before she worked up the nerve to open the phone book and search for the number.  And then one more before she picked up the phone and dialed the FBI.


A man and a woman, both in their late twenties and looking freshly minted, arrived early that morning to pick up Bertrand’s package.  After asking several questions, they left, carrying the now resealed bag with them. They did not thank her for her good citizen behavior.

 She felt a mix of relief and unease.  The next day, she rushed to buy a newspaper, and there it was at the bottom of the front page.  “Cameroonian immigrant arrested for possible terrorist activity.”

The short article stated that Bertrand Gbadyu had been taken into custody Thursday afternoon from his place of employment, the Café Dakar.  He protested his innocence, of course, but incriminating evidence had been found.  The alleged terrorist would be held in custody pending further investigation.

Julianne suddenly was nauseated and rushed to the toilet to vomit.  Whether she had made the right decision or not, it was not a small thing to cause a man to be arrested.  An infrequent drinker, she found herself craving strong spirits and, though her stomach was sore, mixed herself a martini. After only one sip, the door bell rang. 

She opened the door to find the same, alarming looking African as before.

“What do you want?” she said sharply.  Her heart thumped.

His expression was even more severe than last time; his high forehead again glistened with sweat.  “You did that, did you not?  You stupid American; you stupid, interfering woman!”

She was taken aback.  He looked as if he were about to suffer a seizure.

“I — I —” she muttered, but he interrupted, now waving his arms.

“Stupid woman!  Bertrand is the husband of my sister!  His family sent me to persuade him to see reason.  He has run away and left her with four children. He has humiliated himself and shamed both of our families!  He —”  He stopped to take a handkerchief from his pocket and wipe his face. 

“You see, you have now made it impossible for him to return.  I don’t know what he gave you to hide, but I can guess.  Money and a bogus passport!  He was planning to escape forever, that’s what.  There was still hope, there was still hope, if I could have talked him into reason.  But now…”  He gave her a terrible look. 


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Margaret Karmazin’s credits include 140 stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, "The Manly Thing," was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has had stories included in Still Going Strong, Ten Twisted Tales, Pieces of Eight (Autism Acceptance), Zero Gravity, Cover of Darkness and M-Brane Sci-Fi Quarterlies #2 and #4, and a novel, Replacing Fiona, published by