This is one of a batch of 20 posts I originally put together on 24 June 2012 for the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version, for reasons including the pedantic accent marks.
Chapter 24 of The Twelfth Time, “More Tales Out of Kiyev,” continues the subplot of Naina, Karla, and Katya, and the separate trajectory their lives took after Karla became separated from her cousin and their best friend on their way towards freedom. Naina’s blood great-grandmother, who is alluded to here, has already been briefly introduced in an earlier chapter, but it won’t be till the third book that Naina and her aunt Sonya figure out that this woman is the birth mother of Sonya’s father.
Naína and Kátya know the immigration quotas to the United States have become dismally low, particularly for people from Eastern Europe, and that the Soviet Union isn’t exactly handing out exit visas like candy, but they’re bound and determined to find some way to leave legally. There are still limited openings, and they intend to find one of those openings while there’s still time. Paying a smuggler and having to fend off potential rapists and thieves aren’t things they’re willing to do to leave the country.
“I think they’ll be more lenient with us because we’re young,” Kátya says as they wait outside the latest agency on their list. “They might want to get rid of us before we become adults they’ll have to waste resources on sending to prison.”
“This time I want to try playing up the fact that my grandfather was half French. I know that doesn’t give me French citizenship, but it could give us a slight advantage. They could let us go to France, and then we can have an easier time going to America.”
“It could work. Even if your grandfather was adopted and sired by a rapist, you can’t change having French blood.”
“Where do you think we might get permission to go to? I know there are big White communities in Turkey and Bulgaria, which are very close by. And even if we get permission, I don’t want to travel in the winter. Do you mind waiting till the ocean isn’t so frozen? God willing, they won’t rescind our exit visas if we don’t leave immediately.”
“If we’re going to stay here for the winter, I want to stay in Yalta. The weather there is so nice, and there are so many things to see and do. If we’re going to be leaving, we might as well have our final memories of this place be happy ones. As happy as can be, anyway, without Kárla.”
They go into the office when the people ahead of them leave and the immigration officer calls their names.
“My name is Geórgiy Yakovlevich Dovzhenko, and I’m responsible for approving select trips abroad. I know and you know that most of these trips abroad turn into permanent stays, but the people above me don’t have to know that. Understood?”
“Yes, Comrade Dovzhenko,” Kátya nods. “I’m an ethnic Russian, but I was born in your country. I’m from L’viv.”
He smiles at her. “Most of your compatriots don’t know the proper names of Ukrainian cities and force their Russianized spellings and pronunciations on them. Which one are you, Yekaterína or Naína?”
“I’m Kátya. I’m nineteen, and she’s fifteen.”
“How long have you been living in the Ukraine, or did you just come here so you’d be closer to an exit port?”
“We arrived here in February of 1920, and until this January were at an orphanage run by a Comrade Brézhneva. After I turned eighteen, I received permission to leave and take Naína with me. We had another girl with us at the time, Naína’s younger cousin Kárla, but she disappeared while we were taking the train from Kiyev to Cherkasi. We haven’t found a trace of her since. We know Ukrainian very well because we were schooled in that orphanage for so long.”
“I appreciate that you can talk to me in my own language. A lot of the people coming through here only know Russian.”
“We think my Tyotya Sónya survived the Civil War and went to North American,” Naína says. “I’m not sure how hereditary citizenship works if you’re not born somewhere and you’re not the first generation, but my mother was a quarter French. Her father had French citizenship, even though he was born and lived his whole life here. He too was born in the Ukraine. Could you write us out an exit visa to France, and we can go to North America from there?”
“I think the authorities would find that a tenuous connection at best. Would you really prefer to go to France? That’s an awfully long trip, whereas a little trip abroad to a place like Bulgaria is much shorter, and puts you in a country also on the ocean. You might even find some ships sailing to North America on the Bulgarian coast, and you won’t have to make up any stories or grasp at straws there. There’s also a big Russian ex-patriot community there.”
“You’re sending us to Bulgaria?” Kátya asks. “But that’s still Eastern Europe. North America isn’t letting in too many Slavs anymore.”
“And we don’t want to travel in the winter,” Naína adds. “We’re going to stay in Yalta till the weather improves, maybe April. Is an exit visa good for that long?”
He consults some of the notebooks and papers on his desk. “There’s a little cruise departing from Yalta in April. It’s going to make a stop in Bulgaria. When the passengers are allowed a chance to get off and stroll, you simply don’t get back on the ship. Got that? I know a man who works in immigration in Varna, Branimir Mladenov Draganov. I’ll arrange to have him waiting for you at seven in the evening on the date you’re due to arrive there. He’ll take care of you from that point and put you in a hotel till the next ship leaves for North America. If anyone asks, you’re members of a young dance troupe going on tour in the United States. Once you’re on American soil, you’ll claim political asylum. Given how much the Americans hate the Soviets, I’m sure they’ll believe you and won’t send you back home.”
“You’re an angel!” Kátya proclaims. “I hope the authorities never catch you and you can go on getting people out of this cesspool while there are still opportunities!”
“I wish we could find Kárla before we have to leave,” Naína says. “What day does the ship leave?”
“April 8, 1927, Friday,” Mr. Dovzhenko says. “I expect it won’t be too long a wait in Varna for the next ship to America. I know it’s a longer sea voyage than if you were sailing straight from France, but at least you’ll be spared a long rail journey.”
“We’ll do anything to get out of here! And maybe we can still find Kárla before it’s time to leave. Then all three of us will be going to America together, and we can start forgetting we ever went through the half of what we did here.”
“We still have her little suitcase,” Kátya says. “It’s untouched, just waiting for her to come back and use the clothes and other things in there. We have to hope she’ll somehow turn up somewhere before it’s too late.”