Unedited excerpt of my memoir – ©2019 Sylvaine Francine
Every day, from morning to evening I run ragged, constantly I glance at my watch. It is seven o’clock. I lock my door and one more time, I mentally inventory what I need for this day. I fly down the seven floor spiral staircase and hold on tight to the railing. It is easy to get dizzy, to miss a step. Every day, at this early hour, I meet the concierge in the two buildings courtyard She sweeps the cobblestones, stops for a second, her two hands on her broom.
“Good morning. Cold day, eh?”
“Good morning Madame Beranger,” I reply, “Yes, it’s cold again. Should we expect rain?”
“Hope not! Are you staying warm upstairs?”
“I’m all right. Have a good day!” I keep moving, rush to the subway, never ready to face the corridors and stations’ stale oxygen. Soon I will enter the university campus.
Jussieu—University in central Paris. Asphalt university. Impersonal. That was the year when in this university, a Japanese student was trialed on charges of cannibalism. The police discovered in his freezer the remains of his French girlfriend half-eaten.
Every day, I just pass through. I don’t know anyone. My morning classes end at one in the afternoon. I don’t enjoy the curriculum, but they are prerequisites to my acceptance in the American schools. A three-year program condensed in one which is giving me my equivalence to the Science Bacchalaureat. It is tough. I am lost most of the time or, should I say… all the time? I meet with a tutor on Thursday afternoon—a student who guides me, helps me find my ways through equations, numbers, principles and paradigms. Every day, I remind myself I can do it. It is my key to freedom.
At one in the afternoon, I feel the tiredness of my brain, heavy with new material I have to digest. I take a deep breath and the cool air invigorates me. Briskly, I walk the cemented courtyard and join a crowd of lively students. Elbow to elbow, we surround long tables covered with clean checker cloths, where every day wrapped sandwiches await us. We are hungry and the mouth-watering display prompts us to quick decisions. The bread crust, always fresh and the sandwich size, always honorable, make for a tasty and easy on-the-go meal. Every day, we count on the industrious students who operate this simple business. Well organized, they offer choices: cheese sandwiches (Gruyere or Brie): bottom right, jambon-beurre: bottom left, saucisson: top right, rillettes: top left. In the middle: salade-tomate-gruyere. This is how I do lunch. I will discretely eat on the bus. That is if I get to the bus stop before it leaves. Otherwise, I will eat my scrumptious lunch in the subway, never my first choice.
Seven minutes past two. I arrive at the medical clinic where I work at the reception. A bald head appears, the psychiatrist. Between a frowned brow and a mouth marked with lines that reveal sign of disdain, the green eyes display a silent grievance. “Yes, I am five minutes late…Sorry, how’re you? How was morning?” The bald head recedes in the consultation room furnished with plush furniture—deep dark leather sofa, matching comfortable armchair, a wide desk of exotic redwood, lithography and other modern art pieces on the walls and thick curtain of rich fabric that frame the tall windows. The monster, harmless, back in his lair, reminds me of a snake slithering back in his hole. I take a deep breath and glance: the morning receptionist took the time to pull out the files for the afternoon consultations. Still standing up, I read the notes she left me. I throw my bag and school books under the desk and quickly settle for the afternoon. The phone doesn’t stop ringing.
Every Wednesday afternoon, between one and two o’clock, pharmaceutical representatives present their new miracle products. The doctors use me as their guinea pig. They urge me to give them feedback on the new medications.
“Take this, next time you have a headache, (or an upset stomach, some cramping, or insomnia.) Let me know.”
“Well, thank you very much,” I answer. I look into their expecting eyes. “Will let you know.” They leave the bottles on my desk. Little do they know. Already, I have made up my mind about meds. Every sample they graciously offer goes into the waste basket at my evening bus stop. This is the extent of my participation. The nerves of those people. Why don’t they try them on themselves? Or why don’t they look for another profession since they don’t know what they are prescribing?
Six o’clock: time to leave, time to run. Today’s files are put away.
Tomorrow’s files pile up on my desk, organized and divided by practitioners. The yellow ones for the gynecologist. The blue ones for the general practitioner. The green ones for the psychiatrist.
Before I grab from under the desk my belongings, I write a note for the gynecologist. “Madame Gaderout called three times today. Please call her back. I placed her file on the back counter. Could not find Madame Chevalier’s. Sorry—you may have kept it in your office since her last visit.”
Did I forget anything? I can hear the phone ring, but I close the door behind me. If it is my mother, it is too late. If it is a client, the answering machine will pick up…
Back on the street, I hear the familiar sound of an approaching bus. I rush to the stop and in my eagerness, miss to see a large puddle of water. A big splash splatters dirty water as high as my hips and my right foot and shoe are soaking wet now. Once on the bus, crowded at this time of the day, I stand between a woman who just left her hair salon and a man in business suit who got caught in the rain. I stretch my neck, past two tall men with broad shoulders and search through the window for the landmarks that warn me when to get off the bus. I wiggle my toes in my very wet shoe and along the way take a noisy step. I switch to the subway. No empty seat at this busy commuting time—push and shove is the evening mode. Finally, I run for my last bus. I go to Vincennes, university for blue-collars. It offers day and evening classes.
At the students’ table I pick up my evening meal: a sandwich. That is if I have enough money. If I am broke, I will eat oat meal once I get home, around eleven at night. Tonight, I can afford.
Photo Credits:Rosamore from Morguefile.com