Chapter 2

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The morning after the storm, the air was chilly, and the town of Carvin was filled with an unearthly atmosphere. The sun, on this new autumn day was gradually creeping through the shadows, renewing the world with its ancient light.

Maude woke up at seven, like every other Saturday, dressed and headed towards the center of the town, the Grand Place. In Carvin, the buildings were low, and a faded greyish color. The Grand Place, which, on the occasional bright day, could hold the entire population, had a few shops, a few cafés, a church, a former tribunal, a bus stop, a police station, a Chinese and an Italian Restaurant ruthlessly competing against one another. Most importantly, it held the traditional bakery, in which children delighted in buying croissants, pains au chocolat and various forms of candy and of course, baguettes.

Each Saturday morning, Maude's first errand was buying croissants for the Ruchet family. It wasn't her least favorite task, as she enjoyed walking through the deserted town where the only other person up was Mrs. Bonnin, the baker.

The streets were damp, and droplets of rain fell from the lampposts unto Maude's head as she joyfully glided through the leaves that had started their seasonal journey, changing shades and covering the town in a new, light brown, autumn mantle.

As Maude pushed the door to enter the bakery, delightful scents of croissants and bread greeted her nostrils, and she smiled as she heard the bell announce her arrival.

Mrs. Bonnin hurried to the counter to greet her customer. Mrs. Bonnin was a pretty, plump woman who always greeted her customers with a smile, even when she had no reason to smile. She was also the town gossip, as each small French town has, although she was one of the best. Indeed, the location of the boulangerie in the center of town was perfect for the mission she felt she had been called to accomplish. From behind her counter, at what she called her "observation post," Mrs. Bonnin eyed every new couple lovingly holding hands and would unabashedly observe a week later the same couple having screaming matches on the terrace of Paul's café. Mrs. Bonnin had once been the object of every wild story in the small town but had now grown to feel immensely bored with her life. She couldn't stand the humdrum of her calm, uneventful existence, and longed for amusement. That is why she dedicated her time to learning about other peoples' mishaps and commenting on them to her friends. She never did it to hurt anyone, she just couldn't help herself, and nobody in Carvin really blamed her for it, seeing as she had a lot more interesting news than the local newspaper. She knew everyone's life and history in Carvin.

Everyone's but that of Maude's, which she had said she knew nothing about when the young girl had once found the courage to ask her. All she knew was that, one day, sixteen years ago, Mr. Ruchet had come home with a delightful, beautiful, smiling brown baby. Mr. Ruchet, who had refused to give any sort of information about this newborn, became the object of the wildest speculations. It had been the talk of the town for three whole months, dying down only after a fresh new, explosive scandal surfaced: the mayor's embezzlement scandal.

Apart from Maude's history, Mrs. Bonnin knew everything there was to know about Carvin, past and present, and shared her knowledge with every sympathetic ear she encountered. And Maude, who didn't know how to refuse anything to the kind woman who always gave her a free, delicious croissant with a cup of hot chocolate "to warm up her tired soul" as Mrs. Bonnin colorfully put it, was the most sympathetic Carvin listener in the baker's sight.

Mrs. Bonnin knew nothing about Maude's miserable existence, though. The young girl never breathed a word about it, and Mrs. Bonnin never attributed her skinniness and the circles under her eyes to mistreatment. She always urged Maude to eat more, scolding her for "imitating those anorexic models, you youngsters look up to." Maude would just laugh, and then sigh wistfully, almost wishing that self-deprivation had been the real cause for her weight and not the Ruchet family's greed.

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