Naina and Katya Arrive in America

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This was originally one of a batch 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, such as in the pedantic use of accent marks and the name of Katrin’s husband. His name is now Sandro, not Sandros.

***

So begins Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time, “Naina and Katya in North America,” and the linking-up of their story with the story arc of the main characters. Katrin’s husband Sandros, an Ellis Island worker, notices the girls as they’re unboarding, and is moved to helping them remain in the country by sponsoring them.

***

Sándros watches the people unboarding a ship from Varna, Bulgaria on Thursday, June 16. He knows how lucky these people are to be allowed entry to the United States, given the racist quotas limiting Eastern European immigration. At first he wondered why some of the people unboarding look more like tourists than immigrants, and was told by one of his superiors that the passengers include a young dance troupe who’ll be performing in the city and several other locales. At least the dancers will be easier to process than the people who are coming to stay, he thinks as his eyes are drawn to two young ladies who seem a bit out of place in the crowd.

“Do you speak Russian?” the younger one asks nervously.

“It’s my native language, though I’m actually Estonian. But aren’t you young ladies Bulgarian? Are you some of the White Russians who escaped to Bulgaria and are only now coming to the United States?”

“We’re coming from the Ukraine,” the older one says. “I was born there, though I’m an ethnic Russian. Both of us were living in Russia till sometime in late 1919, when we were shipped to an orphanage in Belarus and then to an orphanage in the Ukraine, where we remained till last January. We went to Bulgaria this April, on the pretense of taking a cruise, and were met by a man who put us up in a hotel until this ship was due to take off. We’re not really in the dance troupe. Our good man who arranged to put us on the ship to Bulgaria said we could declare political asylum once we got here.”

“We’re not going to be sent back, are we? My younger cousin disappeared on the train taking us from the orphanage to Cherkasi last January, and I hate to imagine what her fate might be if she’s still alive and well. For all I know she’s being taught we’re enemies of the people for wanting to get out of there. I was already concerned at how the orphanage teachers got her to adopt a quasi-worshipful attitude towards Lénin.”

“Do you girls have a place to stay, jobs, or any money?” Sándros asks. “I’m sure they’ll grant you political asylum, since this country hates the Soviet Union and Socialism in general, but customs have been known to send people back if they can’t produce any proof of waiting work, a place to stay, or people sponsoring them. For the last three years, the only people coming through here are war refugees and displaced people. The peak immigration days are over. In fact, this serves as more of a detention and deportation center than immigration station now.”

“But that’s not fair!” the older girl protests. “This is supposed to be the richest and best country in the world! Why are they turning away deserving people who’ve been through a lot to get here?”

“In 1924, a racist immigration act was passed, severely limiting immigrants from places that make the establishment uncomfortable. That includes Eastern and Southern Europe, as well as Asia. There’s a lot of hostility towards foreigners in this country, sadly, particularly if you’re not from Western Europe. Do you have anybody you know who’d come to get you?”

“I have a feeling my aunt is alive and escaped Russia,” the younger one says. “Though I have no idea where she is, or if she came to Canada instead of the United States. I did hear some things about how Canada was more welcoming to immigrants these days.”

Sándros looks around as the arrivals continue entering the building. “I may be Estonian, but I have connections to the Russian immigrant community because my wife is friends with a lot of Russians. She lived in Russia from April of 1917 to February 1921 and came here with a number of her Russian friends. We also know some Russians who settled in Toronto, Canada. One of our friends might be able to find some information for you. In the meantime, I’ll offer myself as your sponsor. When they ask you who’s sponsoring you or where you’re going to stay, you provide my name and address.” He writes it down on a notepad and rips the sheet out. “What are your names, by the way?”

“I’m Kátya Chernomyrdina and I’m nineteen, and that’s my best friend Naína Yezhova. She’s fifteen. Her aunt and my mother were best friends too. That’s how we met each other when we were tiny.” Kátya looks at the information he’s written down in Cyrillic. “Your name doesn’t look very Russian or Estonian to me.”

“Well, my surname had to come from somewhere, and not all Russians or Russified Balts have names reflecting that. I think my parents were trying to give me a Greek-sounding name, since we’re Eastern Orthodox. Anyway, I’ll come to get you either later today or tomorrow morning. My wife and I have to go to a wedding on Saturday, so you can get settled into our penthouse while we’re gone. My wife has a lot of money, and every summer she finances a trip for us and our friends to Coney Island and Long Island. There are a lot of other Russians in the hotel we stay at on Coney Island, and there are also a fair number of Russians at the place we stay at on Long Island.

“Would you like to come as our guests? It doesn’t sound like you really had a childhood, and it might be nice to enjoy amusement parks and beaches instead of spending your first months here worrying about making a living, finding housing, or tracking down friends and relatives. We can put you in a room adjoining one of our hotel rooms on Coney Island, and then let you have one of the floors of the house we rent on Long Island. There are five stories, and one of them has been free for the last couple of years. My wife’s friends had a falling-out with two women who were staying with us that first year.”

“You’re an angel!” Naína says. “What a nice way to come to North America!”

Naina and Katya Get Permission to Leave

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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.”

Karla’s Disappearance Is Discovered

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This was one of a batch of 20 posts I put together on 24 June 2012 and indefinitely put into my drafts folder, planned as future installments for the now-cancelled Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs a bit from the published version in The Twelfth Time, such as not using the pedantic accent marks.

In the last installment, Karla fell off the roof of a train taking her, her cousin Naina, and their friend Katya away from the orphanage they grew up in.

***

“Why hasn’t Kárla come back to join us?” Naína asks as she and Kátya take their seats in the dining car. “Do you see her anywhere?”

“She’s only eight. I suppose she lost track of time while she was exploring.” Kátya scans the length of the dining car. “I’m sure her growling stomach will bring her in here soon.”

“I don’t want her getting lost in this big train. I’m sure she’s overcome with excitement to finally be the hell out of Mrs. Brézhneva’s asylum, but it’s important for her to eat good food. This food looks even better than the stuff that old ape finally agreed to bring in in place of that garbage she’d been feeding us.” Naína gets up and sashays through the train, calling Kárla’s name.

Kátya feels somewhat alarmed when Naína returns twenty minutes later without Kárla, visibly shaking and her face looking very gray. When she sits back down at her place, she picks at her food and almost drops her glass of water when she picks it up.

“What happened?”

“I didn’t find her in any of the cars, and she didn’t come running when I kept calling for her. This train is big, but it’s not ocean liner big. I tried the water closets too, and she wasn’t in there either. And I described her to a number of people, and no one had seen her. How could she have disappeared without us knowing it? Where could she have gone to when she was on a moving train and not the type to run away?”

“Do you think she fell asleep under a seat or climbed into an empty sleeping car?”

“It’s possible. She is only eight. I suppose the lure of a sleeping car could’ve been too much to bear, and she trespassed into someone else’s area for a nap. Still, we’re not leaving this train without her. We’ve been through too much and have come too far to lose her on our first step to freedom.”

When the train pulls into Cherkasi at 2:00 in the afternoon, Naína and Kátya gather up their luggage and go through the entire train five times, calling for Kárla and describing her to everyone they see. They can’t imagine what in the world happened to her, and why she never came back to them. Surely Kárla’s too smart and loyal to have gone with a kidnapper who got off at one of the previous stops, and they surely would’ve heard her screams had such an awful thing happened.

“It’s entirely possible your cousin stood outside on the end of the caboose and fell off,” the conductor says after everyone has unboarded and several policemen at the depot have been called in to search the empty train. “And some kids try to imitate what they see in movies, people walking on top of the train.  Perhaps she slipped and fell on some ice or snow. If one of those things did happen, there’s no telling when it happened. This train was going over a mile a minute, and there are one hundred ninety kilometers between here and Kiyev. Even if you went right back on the same route, on another train, you might not find her. Someone could’ve seen her and taken her in, or bad people could’ve gotten to her first.”

“My aunt will have my head on a platter if she’s still alive and in North America!” Naína howls. “It’s bad enough my other cousin, her older sister, was beaten to death by some sadistic orphanage warden when I was seven years old and unable to do anything to stop it!”

“Is this your final destination?”

“No, we’re going to get on another train going to Odessa,” Kátya says, stroking Kárla’s little suitcase.

“I’ll have one of the policemen take you to the newspaper office so you can put out a missing person notice, and when you get to Odessa, you can ask a policeman to take you to that city’s newspaper office. We can also put up missing person flyers here in the depot, and anyone who’s seen her can get in touch with you, or with the correct authorities, if you don’t know your new permanent address yet. Would you girls like to go back to the dining car? The cook will give you some treats for your ordeal.”

“Baked goods can’t replace my cousin,” Naína mourns.

“No, but they can help you feel better in the meantime and take your mind off the situation. Think on the bright side. Maybe a good person found her and gave her some sweets too. You could be reunited with your cousin before the month is up.”

Karla Gets Lost

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This is one of a batch of 20 posts I put together on 24 June 2012 and shuttled into my drafts folder for future installments of the now-permanently-cancelled hop Sweet Saturday Samples. It’s slightly different from the published version in The Twelfth Time, including regarding the absence of the pedantic accent marks.

***

So begins Naina, Katya, and Karla’s journey away from Mrs. Brezhneva’s orphanage, where they’ve lived since February 1920. When I was pulling together the various storylines for the sequel in my head over a decade ago, the unexpected turn of events was envisioned a little bit differently. The basic element that remains is the image of little Karla lost in the snow.

***

The last time Naína, Kátya, and Kárla boarded a train, it was to take them to an orphanage. Today, January 5, 1926, is the first day of the rest of their lives, the first time they’ll be taking a train bringing them one step closer towards freedom. After being seen off at the depot by Mrs. Brézhneva and a delegation consisting of Ínna, Alína, Ohanna, Izabella and her mother, Irína, and Sarah, the three of them check their luggage and board a train heading towards Cherkasi, an old Ukrainian city on the right bank of the Dnipro River. When they reach Cherkasi, the plan is to get another train going to Odessa.

Kárla wishes they had time to stay and take in some of the sights of the famous city, but Naína and Kátya tell her they don’t have that kind of time or money. They’re on a mission to leave the Soviet Union for either Canada or America, whichever accepts them. Acting like tourists would slow down that mission. After they’ve arrived in Odessa and are starting to petition for permission to immigrate, they can look around a bit.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Naína tells Kárla. “This trip isn’t long enough to merit a sleeping cabin. It’s not like we’re taking a leisurely trip from Kiyev to Paris.”

“Can I still look around while we’re here? I haven’t left the grounds of the orphanage in almost six whole years, and I don’t remember what life was like before we were in orphanages. All I remember is being transported from one orphanage to another, and being kept on orphanage grounds.”

“Go ahead, but make sure to be back by lunch,” Kátya says. “The distance between Kiyev and Cherkasi is about a hundred ninety kilometers and takes a bit under three hours, but that’s not taking into account stopping at other depots along the way. We’ve got a few stops coming. Probably we’ll be in Cherkasi within five hours.”

Naína smiles as Kárla trots off to explore the train. “See you soon,” she waves.

While Naína and Kátya are reading the newspaper and discussing current events, Kárla walks the entire length of the train. Even though this is just an ordinary train and not one transporting first-class passengers, it seems like a paradise on rails after all the cattlecars and goods wagons that took her from orphanage to orphanage. When she gets to the exit door on the caboose, she steps outside and watches the snow-covered Ukrainian landscape going backwards.

After boring of watching the scenery going by in reverse, Kárla climbs up the ladder and starts walking on top of the cars. She’s heard about people walking on top of moving trains, and wants to see if it’s as exciting as it sounds. No one else is walking around on top, so she’s not forced to step aside for anyone else.

Kárla sees a sign indicating the kilometers to Bila Tserkva. She remembers hearing about the history and sights of this historic city in some of the Ukrainian history classes she was forced to take in the orphanage. Perhaps they’ll be able to come back here after they’ve gotten settled into Odessa and are at liberty to explore the land while they’re waiting for their visas.

As the “Welcome to Bila Tserkva” sign comes into view, Kárla loses her balance and slips on a patch on ice on one of the car roofs. No one can hear the screams of an eight-year-old girl falling off the roof of a train going over a mile a minute. She tries to get up after she lands, but she screams again, this time in pain, when she stands on her right leg. Then her throbbing head overtakes her and she falls back down, lapsing into unconsciousness.

Good News at Mrs. Brezhneva’s Orphanage

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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.”