Friday, September 3, 2010
New York City
Never did I think to feel the firm land under my feet again. For twelve days, my stomach tossed with the ocean. We were packed below decks like pickles in a jar, just as tight and just as stinky. There were families from many shtetls – Slonim, Motol, Pinsk – but none from Hrodna. I listened to their stories and their dreams, especially the young girls. They saw themselves in jewels and furs, married to rich Americans. But I kept my dream to myself. Jozéf is here, I know he is. Just as I know I must find him.
At last we left the ocean behind and followed the shoreline of skyscrapers, so tall that they make your neck ache just looking up at them. The ship docked to let the first and second class passengers disembark, but not us below decks. Us they put on a smaller boat, and ferried us past the Lady Liberty (she is magnificent) to Ellis Island. I will not dwell on the indignities I suffered there, for I have sworn never to look back. Only forwards. After two days, they declared me fit to begin my new life in America.
I soon discover that the people back home were wrong about one thing: the streets of New York are not paved with gold. They are crowded and noisy, with a hundred different languages that make my poor ears ring. Everyone is in a hurry to make it big, too busy to notice a poor girl like me – unless it is an oafish flirt who thinks that because my English is poor, I am too stupid to see through his charming lies.
I find a bed to share with another girl in the small apartment of a family from Gdansk. For this honour I pay them ten dollars a month, and even so they treat me like a servant. I bite my tongue and keep to myself, taking comfort from my dream of finding Jozéf. As I fall asleep at night, I try to imagine the expression on his face when he sees me.
It takes many days, but at last I find Sergei Nikitich Lazinsky, Jozéf’s brother, in Brooklyn. I walk there across a beautiful bridge that is very famous. But I find out that Jozéf exaggerated when he told us of Sergei’s success. He is living with his wife and children in a rundown tenement building, no better than the one in which I have found a shared bed in the city. I suppose that life here has hardened him, for he is suspicious and ill-tempered, and does not believe me when I tell him that I am Jozéf’s betrothed. But I am not so easily put off, and refuse to leave without an address for Jozéf. At last Sergei tells me he is working for a man in North Dakota.
I am happy, until I go to the big library and discover that North Dakota is 1500 miles from New York City. Back home, we never imagined how big America is. I do not know how I will travel there, but I will not stop. I must find Jozéf. My life is bound to his.
From the books in the library, I have drawn a map to guide my way to North Dakota. I have found work stitching hems and have saved as much money as I can – except for what I spent on new shoes. As I set out on this journey across this strange land, all I know for certain is that I will need sturdy shoes.
Labels: Travel blog