Chapter 42

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France is famous for its slow administration. Waiting hours in administrative lines is a habit the French learn at quite a young age, and that is true even when they have an appointment.

Unfortunately, it was Maude’s first encounter with a French public administration and what she thought would be a matter of minutes actually turned out to be a matter of hours.

Her appointment was at 2:00 p.m., but she had arrived at 1:00 p.m. thinking she would leave sooner. She had no idea, poor thing that 1:00 p.m was these workers' second hour of lunch break.

When the clock finally struck two, Maude had only begun her second hour of waiting. As time went by, she began to worry. She had to be at the TV studio for 5:00 p.m. to check the acoustics and do her makeup and hair.

But she couldn’t miss, this chance, her only chance to retrieve her box.

Tick-tock went the clock.

Tick-tock went Maude’s brain, and just as she was about to despair, she was finally called in by a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Rotonde, who looked like she wanted to be anywhere else than where she was. Discontent is one of the prerequisites to work in the French administration.

In Maude’s eyes the woman appeared to be a plump middle-aged Messiah with the key to Maude’s identity. Maude followed her religiously to her office and recorded every moment in her mind.

 “Your name is Maude Laurent,” she let out in a lazy, unconcerned drawl.

“Yes,” Maude answered as if a pale, floating halo could be seen over the woman’s head.

“Can I see some ID?” she asked as if Maude was the dumbest person she’d ever encountered.

“Of course,” Maude stammered, hurriedly rummaging through her bag. “I’m sorry, I’m terribly nervous because I’m finally­­­—”

“That’s nice,” she interrupted.  “Just give me the ID.”

She checked the ID then left the room. When she came back a few minutes later, she was carrying the treasured box she thrust into Maude’s hands.

It was nothing like Maude imagined. In the girl’s imagination, she’d picture a chest more than an actual box. The box she held in her hand was a medium-sized, wooden box with tooled leather on the lid adorned with exquisite fan motifs. The box was locked with a wrought-iron clasp. Maude searched for the key, but there was none to be seen.

“I’m guessing the key’s in here,” Mrs. Rotonde indicated, waving a sealed envelope. 

Mrs. Rotonde’s usual apathy was starting to wane as she looked at the carved box with keen interest. Mothers rarely ever left objects for their children. Letters, documents, yes. Beautifully carved boxes were never among the things she handed to people searching for their biological mother. Mothers who gave birth anonymously in France were often poor, abandoned young women having nothing left but their own selves. No family, no husband, no friend. They surrendered their unknown, unnamed child to be brought up by a better family, in hopes of giving their child a better chance in life. She almost wished the wide-eyed girl would open the box in front of her and sighed in disappointment when she made a movement to leave.

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Rotonde,” Maude whispered hoarsely.

She certainly had no intention whatsoever of opening her box hurriedly in front of a complete stranger. Besides, she had to leave right away if she wanted to make it in time for her live performance.


Author's note

So this is a short chapter, sorry! Just wanted to add that what I say about the French administration is very, very true, unfortunately :(

The delays are really unbearably long, and the staff is often (but not always) rude.

But I do love my country, lol

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