Iwas teaching ESL at a community college in New York about five years ago when my prettiest student invited me to her house out of the blue to discuss what she referred to as “an urgent thing.” I asked Natalia, as I will call her, if we could perhaps talk in a more neutral environment, like our classroom or a café. But she insisted on complete privacy. I vaguely recalled something about my school’s ‘No Fraternization’ policy, but agreed to pay a visit to my twenty-two-year-old Russian-Greek student’s home.
On the N train to her place in Astoria, I wondered what Natalia could possibly need to talk about. Some arcane point of English grammar? Or was I getting lured into a trap that would have the makings of a noir thriller? With her jet black hair, bright blue eyes, svelte figure and short skirts, Natalia was just right for a femme fatale. I of course would excel as the hapless Joe who gets in over his head.
When I got there she asked me to sit on her sofa while she fixed something in the kitchen. She brought out orange juice and pizza. We ate and drank, made small talk. Then she cleared everything away, sat down next to me, and smiled.
“You ready for talk?” she asked.
“I’m all ears,” I said, wondering if she knew that odd idiom.
She told me how much she enjoyed my class and what a good teacher she thought I was. And then she said I was good-looking and wondered if, by any chance, I happened to be gay. I said I wasn’t. She asked if I was single. I said I was.
“So no one can be surprised if handsome, single, not-gay English teacher and his young student fall in love,” she said.
“Good! So here’s what,” she said, taking my hands in hers. “We can get married so I can get Green Card!”
I looked at her with a slightly furrowed brow. She went on:
“I can pay you $15,000 cash when we marry and $15,000 after two years when we can divorce. I have lawyer who will help with everything. We live together and my mother can come from Athens to live with us. So how do you think?”
“Well, um …”
“We don’t have romance,” she said. “It’s business. I get Green Card. You get money and to live no rent.”
I’d been bracing myself for a proposition of another kind. But all that cash wasn’t so easy to resist either, not to mention two years of relief from New York’s obscene rent. I told her I needed to think it over.
The next day, I talked it out with a few friends. One told me the going rate for a Green Card marriage had to be at least fifty grand. Another thought her means of income—she said “exotic dancing”—made the whole thing a bit dicey. A third pointed out the prospect of a failed INS interview as in the movie “Green Card.”
And all the while I kept thinking about the sticky intertwining of our lives that would be necessary to pull it off. Like how would I explain to a future girlfriend what an exotic dancer and her mom were doing watching “Baywatch” reruns in my living room?
There was no way to sugarcoat it for parental approval either. If something went wrong, I could be looking at up to five years in jail plus a quarter-million-dollar fine for committing marriage fraud.
A few days later I called Natalia and told her I appreciated the offer, but the risk outweighed the benefits.
“But nobody know truth!” she said. “We live together two years then divorce! This is good plan. What’s problem?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” I said.
She told me to take a little more time to think about it and called the next day. When I told her the same thing again, she let out a sigh and said I was “selfish.”
Her lawyer, she said, thought so too. Neither could understand how I could pass up the chance to make all that money while helping a girl and her mother get a shot at becoming American.
I told her I would gladly refer her to someone else. She let out a deeper sigh and said my teaching actually wasn’t so great, and I was probably gay after all.
The next day, she transferred out of my class, and that was the last I heard of Natalia.