Topic: "Promises To Keep" (5)
When Frodo was a lonely graduate student in the City of Orleans, he got to know a number of foreign students. Like Frodo, they didn't have much money, and their loved ones were half-a-world away. Most Americans avoided any relationship with foreign students, simply because there was nothing to be gained. You couldn't understand half of them, and the other half glared at you behind your back, according to Frodo.
Gabriel Bach lived on the same floor as Frodo, and they were students in the same department. By accident, they mutually shared the opinion with each other that the Department Chair didn't have an elevator going all the way up his anatomy. They immediately took a liking to one another. Gabriel had red, curly hair, already receding, and a full beard, also red. He carried about 10 pounds too much on a frame over six feet tall. Frodo would never have guessed him to be French, until he heard him talk.
One Sunday evening, as Frodo carried a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a Barq's Root Beer back to the dormitory, he met Gabriel coming out in another direction. Frodo recognized Chito, from the Phillipines, the greasy guy from Manchester, England, and the wild-eyed Chinese Physics guy whose name Frodo never did learn to pronounce. Gabriel explained that it was "Lutheran Night," and they were all going to the Lutheran Student Center for dinner. Subsequently, after many questions, Frodo learned from the foreign students that each of the student activity centers sponsored by religious faith-groups offered a free dinner each week to any student who attended a prayer service that evening. Monday it was the Methodists, Tuesday the Episcopalians, and so on, with the total coverage being six dinners, family-style American food, for free (Saturdays were uncovered, for obvious reasons). All you had to do was pray. Frodo can do a pretty good imitation, he learned.
When Mardi Gras came early in March, Frodo carried a bottle of cheap wine with him as he wandered the French Quarter all alone amid the most-festive environment in all of Middle Earth. Frodo missed Sam very much, and he was content to drown his loneliness. While he sat alongside the docks of the river, he heard his French "amie" call to him, as he and what appeared to be one-half of the entire United Nations were running, hand-in-hand, through the crowds, singing songs and celebrating their inebriation while Frodo concealed his. Gabriel grabbed the Hobbit's hand and pulled him along as they all sang something that sounded like "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall," in a dialect discernible to no one.
It was a sad day for Frodo when he loaded his trunk of books into the taxi that would take him to the airport at year-end. Gabriel was staying in order to attend summer sessions (in the City of Orleans, gasp). The illness of Frodo's father was such that Frodo was pretty sure that his academic career faced an uncertain conclusion a degree before his plan. Frodo knew that Gabriel was a life-long resident of a town called Strasbourg, in France, and he promised his friend that he would someday come calling. That promise seemed to satisfy them both.
Frodo thought of his promise this day. He searched the faces in the crowds of young people in the small town on the French-German border who had come to see the new American President, and to ask him questions. Frodo realized that he was probably looking for a young boy or girl with red hair, and hoping that one of them might ask the President if he knew someone named Frodo. Frodo will keep his promise, but until then, he can perform that imitation prayer hoping that he does not end up like Helene Hanff, arriving too late at Charing Cross Road.