Right now there is nothing I can do but sit tight, stay home, and wash my hands. My son’s school is cancelled probably for the next two weeks and maybe for the next three which actually means five because of vacation. So maybe now is a good time to share some more stories. We are so lucky to live in a time when we can read and even hear each other’s stories without being amongst our bodies. I love being with other people and their bodies but it also feels like the right civic thing to do is to speak from a distance. So I’ll try to post a story every day here for the next two weeks to distract myself and you all.
Last week I had to go for my official medical visit for my long-term visa. I went to Arthur Rimbaud Street where the immigration office is. Rimbaud, the stranger, the exiled, would well have appreciated the marginal nature of his street. It’s far off in the north of Toulouse where immigrants live and where spicy food is actually spicy. I showed my official appointment letter and one of the guards in a black coat unlocked the gate and let me in. He walked me in to the secretary who took my paper and then he told me to wait in the Asylum Seekers waiting room. Which I am not but which was a perfectly nice waiting room with toys and books for children and posters on the wall advertising the French government program to help you go back to your country if you have a good investment project. I was afraid to take a picture because of all the no cell phones signs but, how encouraging. It looks like the French government would rather give people seed money to start a business in their home country, than just throw them out. I don’t know much about this program but I liked looking at the pictures of people in their new lives with little businesses in various countries.
After about 10 minutes the guard took me to another waiting room which was much bigger and a beautiful young woman in a white coat came out to give me a psychological test. That sounds sexy but it was just pleasant. On a laminated piece of paper I had to use a dry erase marker to circle oui ou non if I had ever been depressed, felt trapped, wanted to hurt myself, etc. The questions were thoughtful and all yes or no. They also had copies in other languages.
Then the nurse brought me into my office and informed me I was almost obese and should stop eating chocolatines, chocolate croissants. But then she looked at me and reconsidered and measured and weighed me. I was completely wrong about my height and weight (centimeters!) and am actually exactly average. I felt so foolish for turning 5’5’’ into 155cm.
Then I waited in a hallway for a very long time and listened to someone beyond an open door following a webinar or a training for virus mitigation while I read a good book and looked at all the brochures in so many languages that I do not recognize.
And then I went in to see the doctor. I couldn’t help myself and blurted out, « une rousse! », when my freckles found themselves in front of her freckles. A Frenchwoman who looks like me is extremely rare. I asked her if childhood had been difficult and she said yes. A little moment of silence, of sadness, of our shared girlhood exclusion, loneliness, difference in this office on the street of Arthur Rimbaud.
Her glasses were bright blue and she stamped my official documents and I left. On the way out the security guard in the black coat unlocked the gate with a key and I passed a huddle of young men, mostly speaking Arabic, all on their cell phones, all trying to get into these offices.
The lonely and difficult childhood of my speckled sister touched me. Bureaucracy and humanity. Everyone more and more separate, or not.
P.s. I am experimenting with writing in French first and then translating kind of stiffly. Hence the odd style. It’s interesting to me to see how my brain constructs the world differently in different languages.