Chapter 39 - The Welfare Office

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On the lengthy walk to the street next to Rue de Poitou Valentina had much to think about. Perhaps she was imagining the boorish peoples' hostile (and absolutely inappropriate... and laughable!!) attitude of superiority towards her (not including Martin Martin though; his hostility she was not imagining). Perhaps "imagining" wasn't quite the right word, but maybe because they thought SHE looked unpleasant towards them, they were simply unpleasant back to her, out of ordinary self preservation.

There was a good deal of truth to Valentina's deduction. Although she had always felt 'different' (in a charmed way) and she had occasionally seen from a distance and even personally felt the sting of a few screwed-up people who fostered irrational hatred towards others, before she had arrived at the little cottage and for all her life up until that time, she had never experienced the sort of insecurities or fears that any of these narrow-minded people might be right, or that their poison could actually ever touch her. Prejudice, wherever it came from, was obviously abhorrent (and Valentina had long noted –contrary to popular opinion that it was an affliction only of the privileged– bigotry was not limited to one particular group, whatever their class, religion, race, or walk of life). So, she wouldn't have guessed people with any degree of sanity, worried about that sort of thing on a regular basis. That was BEFORE. All she knew now was, this new person she was living inside of felt STRANGE and FOREIGN (in a bad way)... INADEQUATE and none of it was doing her any good.

In fairness, Valentina wasn't completely 'imagining' her new social tribulations. In an area that was dotted with a strong sentiment of French nationalism, intermingled with those who held more liberal and socialist views typical of the region, her foreignness (most especially without the sophisticated status of being a 'someone') did indeed make enough of those with particular leanings less generous (less patient) in their assessment and conduct towards her. 'Tourists were one thing, but living in their village was quite another matter!'

Opffh! What difference did it make what any of these awful people thought? It was all a waste of energy and she didn't want to waste her time on such small-minded nonsense... Oh, ahh, but yes... yes, that was right. She no longer had a choice. She had no money for food and she had to go to the welfare office like the poor little immigrant that she was and tell them her life story, so that she and the goats and geese wouldn't starve. She knew that France had strict laws against ill treatment of people based on prejudices and that so many people in the country were nothing like as backward as some of the people she had encountered there, but if any of them were like Martin Martin at the welfare office (whatever the law was) they could easily make it difficult for her. She was scared. And regardless of anything else, it was shameful. She hadn't been raised that way. If Tutu knew! Or her poor parents!... Changing one's outlook was easier said than done.

By the time Valentina got to the Caisse d'Allocations Familiales, she had worked herself up so much, her stomach was boiling and her heart was pounding so much she needed to vomit. There was a counter that looked like the reception, but no one was on duty. There were several workers in a large office area, divided off from the main seating area by what looked like a teller's desk and windows at a bank, but none of them took any notice. Perhaps, because she was an exceedingly reflective person (or perhaps it was just down to nature's handy work) when she was ordinarily neither particularly happy nor sad, Valentina's relaxed face had the sort of sullen expression that often inspired helpful builders and other concerned citizens to call out: "cheer up it may never happen!" Now that she was actually deeply disturbed, instead of giving off the appearance of a rabbit caught in headlights as she felt, she looked rather disgruntled as she stood there at the entrance, startled and unsure of what she was supposed to do.

A guy on crutches chatted on his mobile phone and somehow managed to smoke a cigarette at the same time, as he hobbled back and forth near the entrance, discussing a price for a car he was stripping and re-painting. He stopped what he was doing and growled at Valentina: «[Go up to the desk!]» looking at her with a mixture antipathy and disbelief.

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