She has learned some French.
"Je t'aime," Vjosa Maliqi says. I love you.
He has learned some Albanian.
"Te dua," her boyfriend, Gilles, replies, and then he recites some of the other expressions he's learned in the past month since she came to France to be with him. The expression for "thank you." For "Albanian girl." For "I'd like coffee," which doesn't consist of words but of two short coughs, which is what her father would do every morning, a sound that would send her mother scurrying off to the kitchen. Laughing, Gilles coughs twice, and Vjosa laughs too, and she doesn't scurry anywhere because at the moment she is in the passenger seat of Gilles's black BMW, on the way to the beach -- and is it really only a month since she was in Macedonia, in a refugee camp, in a tent, waiting for a war to end that had no end in sight, asking her father, Aziz Maliqi, if they could go to France.
She had fallen in love with Gilles, a French aid worker who had fallen in love with her, so much so that he helped arrange for the Maliqi family to be put on a humanitarian evacuation flight from Macedonia to Toulouse.
"No," her father had said, telling her that they would wait in the refugee camp until they could return home to Kosovo, no matter how long it took. "If you want to go, go," he also said. So Vjosa, faced with a choice between staying with a father she had never disobeyed or going to a man she loved, made a decision: to go, alone, leaving two sisters, a brother, a mother who was crying and a father who was saying, "She's never going to be my daughter again."
A month ago, Vjosa's story (her name is pronounced Vee-OH-sa) was the subject of an article in The Washington Post. Since then:
She has turned 24.
She has fallen deeper in love.
And she has begun a new life in Gilles' house, which has a stereo on which she plays Albanian music while Gilles is at work, and a dishwasher that she won't use because in Kosovo she never used such a thing, and a soft bed for her to sleep in where, the previous night, like most nights so far, she woke up screaming from a dream.
There was her mother, still crying.
There was her father, still angry at her.
And there she was, suddenly awake, in France, with Gilles trying to comfort her, telling her that everything was going to be all right.
Vjosa's choice, in other words, is a choice still being made.
Sometimes she is glad to have followed a man to France, and sometimes she wishes the embrace she is in were her family's. "Sometimes I like this," she said, at the beach now, watching Gilles, 33, who is out in the water on his Jet Ski, who has asked her to marry him, "and sometimes I'm so sad I think, `Oh, God, where am I?' "
She had never been to a beach before coming to France. She had never been on an airplane before coming to France. She had never lived in a place where no one spoke her language, or where everything that happens to her in the course of a day evokes a comparison.
Gilles rides around on his Jet Ski, and she thinks of her brother, who always wanted to ride around on a Jet Ski.
Gilles takes her to the city, and she thinks of Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo, where she lived.
Gilles comes home from work and touches her hair, and she thinks of when she was a girl and her father would come home from work, "and he'd put his hands on my hair, and after five minutes I would sleep."
Gilles asks her what she'd like to do, and she wonders what her family is doing at that very moment.
She doesn't know that her family left the refugee camp in late June.
She doesn't know that as they walked away from the tent where they had lived for nearly three months, not one of them looked back. She doesn't know that, despite how bitter her parting was, one of the things they packed to take home to Pristina with them was a French dictionary that Gilles had given her.
She doesn't know that as they waited at the side of a road for a taxi, her father, who suffered a heart attack the day after Vjosa left and continues to feel weak, said with more hurt than anger that he had nothing to say to Vjosa, and she doesn't know that he misses her so much the mention of her name caused him to weep.
Instead, her family has become a province of her imagination.
"I think my father's thinking of me," she says. "I think he's saying, `God, bring Vjosa here.' "
She thinks he is thinking that because that is what she is thinking, because "when I sleep, when I eat, when I drink, all the time to me in my mind is my family. But I can't tell Gilles. All the time, in his mind, he thinks, `She's going back. She's going back.' He's afraid. He's afraid I'm going back home. If I cry, all he can do is hold me and say, `It will be okay, my love.' "
Here he comes out of the water -- and maybe it is fear on his face, or maybe it is concern.
"Are you crying again?" he says.
"Many problems. Many, many problems," Gilles says.
Now she is the one out of earshot, and he is saying he wishes to be as anonymous as possible when talking about Vjosa because his supervisor at work has told him that to do otherwise could hurt his career. That he was sent to Macedonia not to fall in love but to render aid. That a relationship with Vjosa would suggest the kind of poor judgment that could have repercussions when he comes up for a promotion.
So there is that complication, and there are the difficulties Vjosa is having adjusting.
"She dreams -- so bad. She screams in the night. If there's even a little thing bad, she says, `Why am I in France? Why didn't I listen to my family?' If I get even a little bit angry, she immediately starts to cry. She is, how can I say, like a crystal. Fragile. She's a strong woman, but she's very fragile at the same time."
He looks toward where she is standing at the edge of the water. The beach, like most in southern France, is a topless beach. She is in shorts and a shirt, beautiful to him in her modesty, and as she walks back toward him, his eyes are nowhere else.
"I never met a woman like Vjosa," he says.
"She thinks all the time what I'm thinking. It's not necessary to speak. She knows all the time what's in my mind. All the time. She sees my eyes and knows what I have in my mind."
He turns to her.
"I think it's the same for you," he says.
"Yes," she says.
Someday, Gilles says, he hopes Vjosa's father will come to France so he can see for himself how deeply Vjosa is loved, and how willing Gilles would be to raise children with the values of an Albanian family, and how good Vjosa's choice turned out to be.
"But perhaps he doesn't want to see me," he says.
Someday, Vjosa says, she will telephone the house she grew up in and tell her father what she has learned since leaving, that "I want to die with who I want to live with who I want to have children with."
She says this and goes back to the water, and Gilles says he thinks Vjosa will have to see her father, that she'll have to go back to Kosovo, to stop being a refugee, before she'll be able to marry him. If she does go, he says, he'll wait for her.
He follows her to the water and soon they are on his Jet Ski, well offshore, idling. From a distance it appears she is leaning against him, hugging him tightly.
But the truth, Gilles says later, is that she was crying once again.
He says this as they are driving. And then, inadvertently, perhaps because of dust in the air, he coughs, and coughs again.
And Vjosa says, "Coffee, my love?"
And now, instead of crying, she is laughing, and so is Gilles, and he presses down on the gas pedal until the car is going almost 100 mph, and the sky is blue, and the south of France is beautiful, and there is no swirling dirt from a refugee camp in the air, only bits of sand.
Vjosa, laughing, says, "It's very good here, but Pristina is the best."
And Gilles says, "Yes, yes, Pristina is the best city in the WORLD."
And he laughs even harder at that, until he notices that Vjosa isn't laughing, that she is gone, gone, probably, to Pristina, to her next set of choices, and he reaches toward her and takes her hair in his hand.
"Stay with me," he says.
And Vjosa, looking at him with only tenderness, says nothing at all.
CAPTION: Gilles, who asked that his face not be shown, fingers Vjosa's hair on a recent outing.
CAPTION: Vjosa's mood shifts often from exhilaration at being with the man she loves in France to somberness as she thinks of the family she left behind in Kosovo. She and her boyfriend, Gilles, communicate mainly in English.