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A New State of Life
The boat rocked back and forth, back and forth against the waves. I held Artur in my arms as he slept sucking on his thumb, for the waves have rocked him to sleep. I, however, felt sick. My pale face disturbed my siblings and so did the smell of vomit and urine in the steerage part of the boat. Steerage was a lot cheaper than any part of the ship, but it still took a lot of money from our savings. Mother lay sleeping on the floor, covered by a quilt my grandmother had made her. Beside her, lay Ivan and Yulia, too sick to move. We had been on the steam ship for sixty five days and still my loved ones continue to cough and vomit. " Calm down Yulia." I said to my sister, who was now trembling.
The next morning, I heard the ship blow it's horn. Artur jumped with fright and mother woke up rubbing her eyes. " ?? ??????? ??? ??? " ( Have we arrived? ) I glanced up at her soft pretty face, now covered with black dust and dirt.
" ??? mama. " ( No mother.) Shockingly I stood up because everyone started fighting to look through the single porthole. I pushed my way forward. Then I saw her! Lady Liberty was right there in front of me. Oh the joy!
" ???? ?? - ?????! " ( Mother, we are here! ) We quickly packed our canned food, our rags, and grandmother's quilt. Since we were steerage class passengers, we were the last to be let off of the ship. It took a lot of effort to get through everyone, especially with mother and I carrying poor sick Ivan.
Nervously, we walked off the ship. The solid ground nibbled on my feet. Yulia turned around and shouted, " ???aaaa! " ( Hooray! ) No one was as much excited as she was. All of us gathered in a circle, and checked our papers. Nothing was missing or damaged. We entered through the gates to the Ellis Island Receiving Station to find that a great lot of people from Northern Europe, were already standing in line. As soon as we got closer to the front, a woman tapped me on the shoulder. " Documents please." I handed her all of our documents, one by one. " Please tell me your first and last name, as well as your age. " I was the first one to go.
" Ekaterina Abramovna, 14 "
" Yulia Abramovna and I am six. " my sister said holding up four fingers.
" Ivan Abramov, 9. "
" Artur, and I am 4." My mother was the last one to get interviewed.
"Svetlana Abramovna, 34." The doctor pulled my mother's eyelids up. He examined our skin, and checked our hair. The woman let us pass, and before we knew it, we were on our way to another boat, to be taken to Manhattan. It only took 20 minutes to get there, but a very long walk to Brooklyn.
Four hours passed and we were right in front of our new home. A mattress was hung out to dry on one balcony, sheets and rags on another and 2 pairs of worn out shoes by the doorstep. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was a bunk bed right in the hallway. Then we heard a man cough. A baby cried and the lack of ventilation made it difficult to breathe. I looked up at my mother and saw tears fill up her eyes. I wrapped my arms around her and held on for a long time.
We walked step by step examining the rooms. Two windows were broken in one room and a door was ripped out of the wall in another. The last room was ours. One bunk bed, two tables, a stove, sink, and couch. I didn't want to mention the bucket. Before laying down, we placed the sheets from Russia onto the beds and found some pillows in the closet. I took over the top bunk with Yulia, and Artur and Ivan took the bottom half. Mother quickly fell asleep on the couch, without even having made us dinner. I took my siblings to the hallway to have a look around. But they were frightened by the odor and the different languages they heard. They ran to the tenement room upstairs and hid behind the couch and their eyes were filled with tears.
As I looked around, I thought to myself, Is this really the right place for us? Is America the country of opportunity we were hoping for? In my mind, a place like this is where dreams are crushed. Where no hopes lie. Where nothing is ever accomplished.
There weren't many things to do in the tenements. So, most of my time, I spent going outside in front of our 'home' and watched out for my siblings. Other times, when my mom had time, I taught her English. As new immigrants, it was mandatory to learn the American language.
After a few weeks, mother found a job. She worked in a sweat shop, a work place in which you worked for long hours in unhealthy conditions. Each day she would come home tired. Too tired , that she soon stopped speaking. I was the one to always make some kind of food preparations. I was the one to go buy groceries. But one day, when I walked to the shop, an Irish man pushed me out of his way. I stopped to stare as he murmured, " You filthy Russian!" I couldn't help it. But my face felt warm. Tears swelled up in my eyes and I yelled,
" Well at least we Russians are no drunks! " I however, knew that it didn't matter who you were. Being a drunk didn't mean that you were Irish, but that's what I told him. He spun around. Anger flashed in his eyes and he rapidly walked towards me.
" You had no right to say that young lady!" he yelled.
" The same as you had no right to say filthy Russian!" There was a pause and his face was redder than a tomato. That's when I reminded myself of what my grandmother had told me, " Respect your elders Ekaterina. Never raise your voice to anyone, nor a fist. But also , don't forget to never talk back to anyone!" I stared at the man. Tears in my eyes and said, " I'm sorry sir. So sorry." and walked away.
When I got home, I ran in and huddled on my bed crying my eyes out. No one appreciated Russians here. This was no place for us. How I wished I could go back to Russia. To know that my grandmother would be with me. To know that she cared. And yet I was here.
A couple of minutes later, Ivan, Yulia, and Artur came home. Artur ran into my arms and hugged me.
" What's wrong ?" he asked me. I shook my head , and wiped my tears. For the first time I smiled since we got here. I knew now that, someone did care, even if that person was the youngest one in the family. With a smile, he giggled sweetly.
Within four months of living in America, things had gotten better. We had enough money to buy food and also enough money left over to buy a pair of shoes for all of us. I got fur boots with a brown bow on the side. They were the color of charcoal. A dark brownish- gray color. My sister got similar boots except they were red. Both my brothers got matching warm shoes. My mother bought furry slippers and gloves, for when she worked in the sweatshop.
After living there a short period of time, our life wasn't the worse, until Artur fell terribly ill. We took him to a benevolent society for sickness. He coughed and cried. The only thing I did was hold him close in my heart. I held him in my arms. He continued coughing. I slept with him and he sneezed. After four weeks of trying to cure him, I didn't want to let him go. Mother worked extra hours trying to save money for Doctors, but he only got worse. We prayed to God. Hoping for the best. Until one day, I held him and remembered how he asked, " What's wrong?" and how he was the only one who cared about why I was sad. He coughed four times and silently fell asleep. I placed him on the bed, and walked away. I looked out the window. Mother was coming home. She came in and kissed all of us except Artur. She didn't want to wake him. That night, Artur didn't cough. It was a relief. But in the morning, he was laying the same way I had placed him the other night. I shook him, he didn't wake up. I continued shaking him but still no answer nor motion. And so I knew he was gone. I fell to my knees and wept, wondering who would ask me " What's wrong?" now. Mother woke up and looked at him. How could I have not known he had died in my arms? Why didn't I know?
We buried him. We loved him so much. He understood when I was upset and knew how I felt even though he was small. I ran outside to look for Ivan and Yulia. I wandered through the gloomy streets. Stray dogs barked at children. The alleys were dark. Pitch black. I bumped into a man, wearing all black . "Excuse me young lady. " I looked up at him with the saddest of eyes and saw the Irish man who despised Russians. I quickly walked away. He knew something was wrong.
When Yulia and Ivan got inside, they too cried. Now there would be no more laughter in the house.
That evening, the Irish man stopped by with his wife and children. He had four kids. Patrick, 7, Aileen, 14, Cleona, 4 and Davin, 9. They brought mashed potatoes, bread, potato salad and juice. We put in some canned ham and Russia's famous soup called, " borsch". We quietly talked and finally we had a laugh. At last we had a good time in America with friends. I thought I heard Artur giggle and I knew that he was with us no matter how far away he was.