This was originally one of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. I now no longer pedantically use accent marks, and Katrin’s husband Sandros became Sandro.
It’s now Naina and Katya’s second day in America, and they’re being picked up by Katrin, who’s agreed to let them stay with her and Sandros until they leave for vacation. The two teen girls, who barely remember life before orphanages, are in constant marvel at everything they see in America.
On Friday morning, after having breakfast in the communal dining room, Kátya and Naína are approached by one of the Ellis Island officials and a Russian translator. They obligingly follow the officials after being told their sponsor’s wife is waiting for them at the Kissing Post with two of her servants. Kátya and Naína’s eyes widen in delight at the thought of someone who started out as an immigrant already being rich enough to afford servants.
They stand and gape when they see a woman with blonde hair cut as short as a man’s. They’ve known bobbed hair is in fashion for women, but not that women in North America are allowed to get away with cutting it even shorter. The second thing they notice is the woman with dark brown skin. Neither of them has ever seen anyone with such dark skin before, except in pictures. Naína represses the urge to wonder out loud if she and Kátya might be suffering from consumption, since their skin is so pale in comparison to the servant’s healthy dark skin.
“Hello. My name is Katariina Kalvik-Nikonova. You met my husband Sándros yesterday. I’m Estonian too, but Russian is my second language. You may call me Katrin, though I also go by Kati and Kadri. The Negress is my maid Mrs. Samson and the man is my butler Mr. Rhodes. Mrs. Samson came to help me with my baby Viivela, and Mr. Rhodes came as our male escort. Unfortunately, women travelling alone still run the risk of being assaulted, particularly in a place like this.
“We live in a very nice neighborhood called the Upper West Side, in a penthouse suite. You’ll find plenty of room to put yourselves up till we go on vacation. I hope my husband’s instincts were right and that you’re on the level. We live with my best friend Anastásiya, who runs a very successful bridal salon; her bastard son Dmítriy, a year and a half old; my five little girls, Oliivia, Mireena, Milena, Ilme, and Viivela here; my nanny, Mrs. Woodward; Stásya’s nanny, Mrs. Whitmore; my twenty-year-old sister Viktóriya; my cook, Mrs. Oswald; and Mrs. Samson and Mr. Rhodes here.”
“Is it true all Americans are rich like you?” Kátya asks.
“Unfortunately, no. I can tell you more about that in private. For now, we should get on the next ferry into the city.”
“I can’t believe you have a real butler!” Naína says. “Just like in all the old British books!”
“You may be sharing your living quarters on vacation with the youngest stepsisters of one of my friends. They’re twenty-two, eighteen, and going on thirteen. We all know many people in the Russian immigrant community, so we may be able to help you find anyone you’re looking for. We also know some people in Canada who might be of help.”
Naína and Kátya follow them out of the building and onto the next departing ferry. The entire way over to the penthouse, as they’re riding on the top level of a bus, they take in the city sights with wide eyes. Even the beautiful historic landmarks they saw in the Ukraine and Varna don’t compare to the amazing tall buildings, movie palaces, and beautiful architectural styles of the houses and apartments they’re passing. They hope they’re not gaping at the foreigners on the bus. If they knew any English, they’d tell them they’re not staring to be rude, but because they’ve never seen dark skin, turbans, or Asians in person before.
Upon their arrival in front of the building, they stand and take it in with the same voraciously wide eyes. They know America is a lot younger than Russia or the Ukraine, and that the buildings they’ve seen so far are probably mostly only a hundred years old or younger, but that doesn’t detract from their sense of awe and wonder. They know if they went to other places in the world, the local landmarks and architecture would make Russia and the Ukraine look like babies. Back in the orphanage, Sarah sometimes told them how there are buildings thousands of years old in Palestine, and Ohanna told them about the ancient buildings and ruins in Armenia.