Welcome back to Sweet Saturday Samples! This week’s excerpt is from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, Chapter 42, “Spring Renewal.” It’s May 1938, and former orphanage girl Izabella Nahigian is preparing to finally marry at the then-high age of 27. She, her young single mother Maral (a former cook at her childhood orphanage), and some friends defected to Persia from the Soviet Union last year by going over the Alborz Mountains. They’ve settled in Fereydan in Isfahan Province, a town with a large Armenian and Georgian population.
It’s a traditional Armenian pre-wedding custom for single ladies to sign the bottom of the bride’s shoes. As each one eventually marries, the bride crosses the names off. Mrs. Brezhneva is their old orphanage mother, one of my favorite secondary characters since I created her in late ’96.
After all the single women and young girls have signed the shoes, Izabella takes her red veil from its box and swings it over their heads for good luck. Following this, Firuza steps forward to veil her. Izabella doesn’t care she’s not Armenian or even Christian. All that’s important is that she’s been married for many years and has been very welcoming to them. In a way, she feels closer to Firuza because of her shared Russian connection, something she doesn’t have with most of the Armenian women of Fereydan.
Ohanna opens a drawer and pulls out a necklace with a blue glass eye pendant, meant to ward off the evil eye. She fastens it around Izabella’s neck and tucks the charm inside the bright red dress.
“I suppose your proper Soviet upbringing didn’t really take,” Mrs. Brézhneva says. “Superstition has no place in the modern world.”
“This is a one-time thing for a wedding, not an everyday occurrence,” Ohanna retorts. “You’ll never catch us doing superstitious things at any other time.”
Izabella picks up a wooden box and carries it around, letting everyone look inside at the wedding crowns. Mrs. Brézhneva looks wistful for a moment, then reverts to her usual world-weary expression.
“We know how old you are,” Ínna says softly. “No one would be surprised to be told you had an Orthodox wedding and used to attend church.”
“My husband didn’t have much money, and my family certainly didn’t earn much either. We had to rent our crowns from the church. Whoever heard of a peasant buying and displaying the wedding crowns? That’s something for rich folks. Please don’t tell me you’re reverting back to religion too and are having a religious ceremony when it’s your turn soon.”
“Arkásha wants it to have a more Persian than Christian flavor. Why should we be married by some scarce priest when we’re not even religious?”
“Oh, your young man used to be a prince. I’m sure he’ll want to show off his money and prestige by throwing an extravagant wedding. People can be strange like that. They insist their roots don’t matter, and then they have a funny sentimental longing for something at important moments. It’s as irrational as when Alína called me to her birth.”
“Oh, that meant a lot to her. Perhaps Tamar will eventually call you Bebia. Wouldn’t you like to be acknowledged as someone’s grandmother, even if it’s only in a surrogate role?”
“I’m no one’s grandmother.”
Velira tugs at a crown. “Can I wear it?”
Izabella sets the box down and gently puts the crown on Velira’s head. “Maybe someday you’ll be married in a religious wedding, and you’ll get to have a crown on your head too.”
“Tyotya Ínnushka is going to be a real princess when she gets married. She needs to wear a real crown too.”
“We’ll see what happens then. In the meantime, we have to go to the church for my own wedding, or Zavik might think I jilted him.”
Firuza lowers the veil over Izabella’s face, and then the party proceeds to the church. Maral takes Izabella’s arm and walks her to the vestibule, where Zavik is already waiting with his groomsmen.
“Remember this is my only child,” Maral reminds him. “We survived the Turks together. You’re going to treat her better than anyone, and never forget what a precious trust I’m giving to you.”
“I’ll do my best, Tikin Nahigian. I don’t have any immediate family except a few distant relatives. We’re going to make the best new family we can.”
As Ínna stands with Ohanna and Alína during the ceremony, she can’t help but picture Izabella as she was when she first came to the orphanage with her mother not quite eighteen years ago. Not only did she seem more like a little girl instead of a peer, but she was so matter-of-fact about having survived the Turkish massacres, being the child of a rapist, and having whiplash scars on her back. That was what she knew as normal at that young age, since she’d never really known much that was normal. Now, hopefully, she can start to create a somewhat normal life for herself in a peaceful country and surrounded by love and support.