WeWriWa—Velira’s Birthday Wish

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m returning to my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, this week. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing from Chapter 39, “Velira’s Birthday Wish,” one of the chapters set entirely in Persia. (The country had been officially renamed Iran by that point, but the older characters still call it Persia out of force of habit.)

It’s September 1937, and there’s a special birthday being celebrated at the orphanage that was partially relocated by stealth from Kyiv, Ukraine a few months earlier. Vitya, the man who saved Inessa’s life at the River Bug in June, gave his daughter Velira to his sister Inna and their old orphanage mother Mrs. Brezhneva for safekeeping in April.

Siranoush is the 5-year-old daughter of Inna’s old orphanage friend Ohanna, who also defected to Persia. She and Velira have become good friends, in spite of not sharing a language yet. I’ve slightly edited this to fit 8 sentences.

***

The two cooks who were relocated with the orphanage are only versed in basic Russian and Ukrainian fare like pirogi, stuffed cabbage, dumpling soup, mushroom barley soup, and borshcht, so Ínna has enlisted Maral and their new neighbor Firuza’s cook to make something a little more exciting for Velira’s third birthday.  Though Velira doesn’t understand very well just what a birthday is, she understands that her age is changing, and that she’s going to get presents and fancy food.  She’s most excited by the idea of having a cake, a delicacy she never got at home.

Velira is propped up with several fat cushions on the special birthday chair, so she can reach the table and see everyone.  She delightedly takes in the feast Maral and Firuza made for her juvenile palette and small stomach—nan-e dushabi; a sampling of date, pomegranate, apricot, apple, and peach jams; baklava; date khoresh; rice with rosewater and orange peel; walnut-stuffed lamb; her new favorite soup, noodles with vegetables and chickpeas; and a covered cake off to the side, being saved for later.

“I made you a little book,” Siranoush says proudly, while Izabella translates. “My older friend Zavik lent me colored pencils, and gave me yarn to hold the pages together.  I drew pictures of us, and lots of cute little animals.”

***

Of interest to fellow name nerds: Velira isn’t a traditional Russian name, but one of the invented Soviet names most popular from about 1917-40. It’s an amalgamation of the phrase “great worker,” and one of the ones that sounds most like a real name.

World Building Excerpt

World Building

Today, the final day of the World Building Blogfest, participants are posting excerpts of a thousand words or under, demonstrating worldbuilding. This is May 1937 in Yerevan. Alina has taken 5-year-old Siranoush on a walk around the neighborhood and to the fairly new Yerevan Botanical Garden, each teaching the other words in their respective native languages, while Ohanna is preparing the Armenian version of a modest birthday celebration for Alina.

Before she left Georgia, Alina found a birthday present her husband Amiran got for her before his arrest, but hasn’t had the heart to open it.

*****************************************************************************************

Siranoush makes a beeline for the water closet the moment they get back to the apartment while Alína has a seat on the davenport and looks through the Russian-language newspaper.  Ohanna has an atlas open on the coffeetable, displaying the pages with Persia and Transcaucasia.

“I can’t decide which route is safest for us,” Ohanna says. “I’d prefer to go through the mountains instead of along a water route like the Araks River.  I just think it’s a little safer and more reliable to go through land.  At least we’ll be better-hidden on the mountains, if we know which route to go through.  For a river or the sea, we’d have to find a trustworthy sailor or a ship to smuggle aboard, and then find a way to get off the ship in Persia, if we’re not supposed to be on the ship.  And I’m not such a strong swimmer to make a river crossing alone.”

“What if we planned to take a ship during a storm?  The authorities might believe we got lost or died at sea.”

“That’s too risky.  I hope we don’t have to go through another republic to get to the best mountains, though if we wait a little longer, till June, people might be more inclined to believe we’re going on some long summer holiday with so many suitcases.”

Siranoush scampers back into the living room and has a seat next to Alína. She points to Alína’s abdomen and then points towards Ohanna.

“What word does she want?  I don’t even look pregnant at this point, though I don’t mind if you told her I’m expecting a baby.”

Ohanna speaks with Siranoush and smiles. “She wants to know what your baby’s name will be.”

“Oh, I have no idea.  It seems kind of superstitious to announce a name so far ahead of time, though I do have some names I’d really like to use.  Amiran and I always wanted to named our children after heroes of Georgian history, like Queen Tamar and King Davit the Builder.  I couldn’t give my baby a Russian name, even if my own name was borrowed from Russian.  Only native Georgian names, so long as they’re not too obscure.”

“Tamar and Davit are nice names.  It helps that they’re also Biblical.  It gives them a more universal feel.  I don’t think my name has an equivalent in any other languages.”

Alína puts down the paper and looks through the Russian-language atlas. “I’m not familiar with Armenian geography, but I know some of these names sound more Russian than Armenian.  I know Leninakan definitely isn’t a traditional Armenian city name.”

“A lot of the streets have Russian names too, as you probably noticed.  They’re forcing themselves on us after our brief glorious moment of independence.  This was supposed to be a homecoming, not a short-lived time of happiness and freedom.”

Alína tries to enjoy the lunch Ohanna prepares for her, though she still feels a bit guilty for eating well when Amiran is forced to eat prison food.  The food from the bazaar can only last so long, and he can’t eat like a king even with the most succulent fruits, freshest bread and cheese, and crunchiest nuts.  That’s not a filling, full-course supra.

When Izabella and Maral come home in the late afternoon, Alína is taking a bath, at Ohanna’s insistence, while smells of the birthday dinner waft through the apartment.  By the time she dries herself and emerges in fresh clothes, several parcels, including Amiran’s, are sitting on the table, and the modest table is groaning under the weight of the lavish birthday supper Ohanna has prepared.  Chechil, topig, lebaneh, mint tea, paklava, fruit salad made of pomegranates, figs, dates, persimmons, and plums, chicken in walnut sauce, stuffed mushrooms, pistachios, bozbash, matnakash, pilaf, fried cabbage, and a cake made with pomegranate molasses, currants, cranberries, dates, apricots, and figs.

“I hope you like it, even if it’s not the type of banquet fit for a sultan’s table,” Ohanna says. “At any rate, it sure beats those awful rations Mrs. Brézhneva used to swear were gourmet cooking.”

“It’s very nice,” Alína says. “Thank you so much for thinking about me.”

“Next year on your birthday, we’ll be celebrating in freedom and safety.  And there will be two new people at the table by next May, which will be even more special to celebrate.”

Alína reaches for the parcel with Izabella’s name on it, which she recognizes from when Ohanna taught her how to read Armenian back at the orphanage.  She unwraps a lace headscarf along with a little birthday note.  From Ohanna and Siranoush she unwraps a red cloth with am embroidered geometric motif, and from Maral she unwraps a wall tapestry embroidered with flowers and tiny animals.  She decides to leave Amiran’s parcel alone until after she’s finished eating.

After the dinner, Alína timidly picks up Amiran’s parcel and slowly pulls off the thick paper wrapping.  Inside the box, she finds a green, purple, and yellow felt bag, a large jewelry box depicting several scenes in miniature from the Vani Gospels, with lines calligraphed in the old Nuskhuri alphabet used in that beautiful old illuminated manuscript, and a golden necklace with a teardrop-shaped emerald pendant ringed by tiny onyxes.  At the bottom of the box is a handwritten note in the more familiar, modern Mkhedruli script.