Last week, in the wee hours of the morning, I headed off to the train station to make my way to Clermont-Ferrand, where l’Office français d’immigration et integration, aka the OFII, had ordained that I and a couple hundred other immigrants to this fine country should take our test of the French language. It was still dark outside as I half-walked, half-ran to the station – and not because I was late, but because it was so freaking cold. The streets were bare save for one truck shooting salt out onto the pavement and another picking up garbage. Just me and the streetlights and that most silent part of the day, before the world has kicked into gear. Then – at volume:
Criminey. I nearly peed myself. It was M, a former classmate – Ukranian – making her way the same direction. We did that penguiney power-shuffle together the rest of the way, not talking much as our faces were buried in our scarves. At the door of the station was M2 – Romanian – and Y – Chinese, the former waiting for M and the latter for me, both of them standing with hands shoved deeply in pockets and chins tucked deeply in scarves. It was not warm.