(name changed again)
Antoine was a Ph.D. student in the department of education. His specialty was second language acquisition, which put him in many classes with me.
He was from Burkina Faso. He had gone to boarding school. He was able to speak his home dialect but his preferred language was French. He was also, obviously, fluent in English, though he spoke it with that special African-French accent.
We would chat before lecture. He was pleasant. Polite. Well groomed, and always neatly–formally, in my Midwestern opinion–dressed. His shirts were ironed. His shoes were polished. I cannot remember a single thing we talked about, I think because it was all perfunctory banter. Classes. Weather. Essays. I have gone by Kat since before it mattered, but he insisted on calling me Kathy, always. He established that I had studied French. Yes, many years of French classes.
He joined the legions of Guys Who Took Me On One Date in the way that so many of them did: he found out that I had a stammtisch, a regular’s table at a campus coffee house, and he joined it. Not for many weekends. One or two. Then, he pulled me away to the coffee house across the street (enemy territory, as far as I was concerned) because he wanted to talk to me about something.
My guys watched us go. They raised their eyebrows at each other. Another one bites the dust, they wanted to say. With one notable exception, none of the half-dozen men in my stammtisch ever made a pass at me. They knew better.
At the enemy coffee house, Antoine was clearly hot under the collar. He asked me if my father was alive. Yes? Was I on good terms with him? Um… yes? Do I have any brothers? No.
That’s all fine. He wanted me to know that he was interested in getting to know me better.
That was my internal oh crap moment. I was twenty-one years old and still, somehow, naive about the way men operated. I had gone across the street thinking… I don’t know what. That we were plotting a surprise party? That he had found a treasure map? Juicy gossip to share?
Then he moved me to the third corner of that intersection, which was occupied by a pizza-and-beer bar. He knew the manager. He ordered a pitcher of beer and had the place play Brown Eyed Girl for me. We were now, I was flummoxed but amused to discover, Dating. Not just Dating. Going Steady. With A Purpose. This was a formal process, I realized, that he intended to end–after a decent interval–in marriage. He would never have asked me about my family, or taken me to the third location, if he hadn’t already made up his mind.
We drank two pitchers of beer, and talked a lot. He held my hand across the table while he told me about his family. He was the youngest of ten brothers, at home. His father was dead. His oldest brother was now the tribal king. Which made him a very much last-in-line African Prince, I suppose.
The only other thing we talked about that night that I can still remember is how he would get me to exercise. I protested that with my double degree, I walked four miles a day just to get to my classes. That was not enough, he said. We would play tennis. We would swim. I am 5’6″, and at the time I weighed 160 pounds. I suppose I was a porker by his standards.
When we were finished, he walked me home through the underground corridors to my room in the graduate dormitory… he was so drunk and happy that he held my hand and skipped. The palms of his hands felt dry, I remember, and his fingernails grew all the way to the end of his fingertips. He was no more than an inch taller than me.
He called me the next day. I let the machine get it.
And the next.
And the next. “Ka-thy… this is An-toine… I am trying to reach-you… please call me back…”
After that he stopped calling.
Two years later a mutual acquaintance reported that he had married another young Midwestern girl, and that she had already produced a Young Prince. They appeared very happy together.
And that is, honest to God, all I can remember about Antoine