Half a dozen students were working in separate cubicles that evening at the language lab.
Mitchell, the tall blond guy with a crew cut in his early thirties running the lab and the English as a Foreign Language (E F L) course for foreign students, was in his office next to the booths. Mitchell's workday began at 2 p.m. and ended at 10.
Headsets on the ears, a microphone at the side of the mouth, and a control panel of buttons for the tape recorder on his desk, each student was trying to pronounce English words and sentences as natives.
Dragomir was there, a booklet opened in front of him. Like a medical textbook, it presented elaborate and slightly disgusting pictures of the tongue, the mouth and the larynx to produce specific sounds.
On the first figure of a page entitled "ze and the" the tongue touched the palate and on the second it touched the tip of the upper teeth.
Joe was there too, lost in deep thought, watching the ceiling.
This was another Frenchman whom François had made friend with.
They had met in Mitchell's classes, and discovered that both did their best to keep away from the community of French expats.
They also had many centers of interest in common.
To start with, both enjoyed learning English. They liked to challenge each other:
J.: Hello, I have a hard one for you today. What is a pew?
François happened to know. He had read it in the delightful short story "For Esmé - with Love and Squalor" by J.D. Salinger a couple days before.
He faked fathoming his memory for a while, so Joe would think he did not know, and suddenly answered:
F.: It's a church bench!
Joe was startled.
F.: My turn. What is a poker? I'm not talking about the card game.
J.: That's an easy one: it's a rod to stir a fire.
F.: Gosh! How do you know?
J.: Every evening I learn a few pages of the dictionary. Yesterday I reached the letter p.
Joe suggested a pause.
They went outside, and he lit a cigarette.
Joe was a very smart man if somewhat unconventional. His field was mathematical logic.
The previous week, he had bought a second hand bike at a student sale.
F.: Where is your bike? You didn't come with it?
J.: No, I abandoned it against a wall somewhere. It was going too fast. I prefer walking.
He began to talk about his topic of the day - the rôle of medieval trade fairs in bringing about modern money -, and there was no way to sway the conversation elsewhere.