This is the second of 20 posts which were originally put together and put into the drafts folder on 24 June 2012, for future installments of the now-long-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. The published version is slightly different, most notably in being stripped of the pedantic accent marks.
Chapter 15 of The Twelfth Time, “Tales Out of Kiyev,” is one of several chapters focused around some of the letters exchanged between Vera and Natalya Lebedeva in New York, their old friend Inessa Zyuganova, who now lives in Minsk with her uncle Dima and several other girls he adopted, and their friend Inna Zhirinovskaya, who’s remained in Kiyev even after reaching age 18, to be an orphanage helper and to study at St. Vladimir University (now Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv).
During the course of the chapter, the sequel’s storyline involving Naina Yezhova, Katya Chernomyrdina, and Karla Gorbachëva starts unfolding. The girls have gotten permission to leave the orphanage in early January 1926, but it’s going to be awhile before they can go to North America, and there’s going to be quite a bump in the road along the way.
Mrs. Brézhneva surveys her dining hall in disgust. Some of the Jewish and Christian girls are praying over their food, the religious Jewish girls are complaining the food isn’t kosher, the Muslim girls are protesting they can’t eat pork either, several girls are claiming vegetarianism, and Alína is leading the Georgian girls in clamoring for Georgian food instead of only Russian and Ukrainian fare. Hoping to put their minds on something more productive, she raps on the table. After twenty raps, she finally gains everyone’s attention.
“We have a going-away party to prepare for. Three of our seasoned residents, Kátya Chernomyrdina, Naína Yezhova, and Kárla Gorbachëva, have received permission from both me and the appropriate authorities to leave our wondrous orphanage. They’re going to stay here in the Ukraine until they receive permission to immigrate to America. The going-away party is going to be tomorrow, so you’d all better start making them farewell cards, presents, and meals as soon as you’ve cleared the table.”
“How’d you manage to get the old ape’s permission to leave underage?” Alína asks, smirking triumphantly at Mrs. Brézhneva’s angered facial expression. “Maybe this opens up the door for me to go home to Georgia.”
“I’m eighteen now,” Kátya says. “No one has any legal right to hold me here any longer, and damned if I’m leaving without Naína and Kárla.”
“I guess we have no choice but to immigrate the legal way,” fourteen-year-old Naína says, sighing and rolling her eyes in a very exaggerated fashion. “We’ve always been masters of escape and guile, but we don’t want to start out such an important part of our lives on a lie or crime. If they catch us stowing away on a boat or train, there will be consequences. Even if it means waiting awhile, it’s better than remaining hostages here.”
“How does it feel to hear your inmates describing themselves as hostages, you old gorilla?” Ohanna sneers. “‘Wondrous orphanage’ my eye.”
“You’re describing me as the gorilla and ape?” Mrs. Brézhneva asks. “Maybe I’m not fit to sit at the Queen of England’s table, but at least I come from a civilized, modern culture, and my alphabet isn’t nightmare-inducing.”
“I believe both Alína and I were referring to your physical appearance and your terrible short haircut, which has always looked like an ape cut it. But since you brought up this subject, the Georgian and Armenian alphabets are beautiful works of art. Your alphabet is pretty damn boring, even if it’s not as bland as the Roman alphabet I’ve seen. And our respective cultures were here and thriving when Russia was still some backwoods trash heap. My people were the first to adopt Christianity, though perhaps in your mind it’s an honor to be part of the first people to abandon all religion.”
“I hope we find my mama in America,” Kárla says. “We don’t think any of our fathers or uncles are still around, but maybe my mother is still here. I don’t know what happened to Naína or Kátya’s mothers, but Naína thinks my mama has the best chance to still be alive and have escaped.”
“Just think, we’ll be going to a real school in America or Canada,” Naína says. “Don’t give me that look, Mrs. Brézhneva. You know full well the excuse of an education we’re getting here doesn’t even compare to an actual school, with trained teachers and real textbooks and homework.”
“I’m glad to wash my hands of you trouble-makers, but don’t fool yourselves into thinking you’ll pick up exactly where you left off before the state stepped in to feed, clothe, house, and educate you. You only know Russian and Ukrainian. It takes years to get fluent enough in a much different language to keep up with instruction in that language. Although I suppose at least English isn’t as far from Russian as Chinese or Finnish.”
“We’re young. We’ll manage. And Kárla’s only eight. Before long we’ll be masters. But we’re not banking on getting the hell out of this blasted empire as fast as we got permission to beat it out of this hellhole. It takes awhile to get cleared to immigrate, particularly now.”
“I’m hoping they take pity on our sob story,” Kátya says. “And we’re young. Even if America has racist immigration quotas and the Soviet Union isn’t handing out escape passes like candy, I’m sure they’ll let us move up in the line faster because we’re all alone in this world and were raised in orphanages.”