S.S. Brighter Day
America, here we come! Stepping up the gangplank onto the S.S Brighter Day, Thor and I grasp each other's hands. Hundreds of voices in different languages drift through the air. Tears of joy and sorrow fall down many a persons' face. The ship itself is painted a lovely shade of blue, slightly darker than the sea. Hurrying along, we reach a narrow staircase.
"Our room is down there?" I wonder.
"Just follow the crowd," Thor tells me.
Descending the stairs while trying not to trip is a challenge. The large room below is filled with berths. The first thing I notice is the smell. The room smells like death. "Well, this is nice," I remark. Doing what everybody else is doing, Thor and I place our belongings on a bed. Eager to escape the horrible stench, I rush up the stairs towards the deck. Slowly, the ship starts to move. "Adjo!" I cry to the crowd. "Goodbye!"
Thor stands next to me waving to the large gathering of people. As our vessel chugs along, the crowd grows smaller. Stepping back from the railing, I accidentally bump into another woman. Turning around, I have a better view of the stranger. She is wearing a long faired green dress that flatters her figure. Two young girls, whom I take to be her children, hover behind her.
"I'm sorry," I mumble in Swedish. A puzzled expression spreads across her face, so I repeat myself in English. Surprisingly, she speaks back.
"It's quite all right," she assures me. "My name is Josephine LaRouce. This is Alice and Artemis." The two girls move back to their mother.
Smiling, I say, "My name is Arnino Sorenson."
"What a lovely name," she replies. Without even knowing it, we are fast becoming friends. "Would you like to go inside? I'm a little chilled."
Nodding, I reply, "Let me find my husband first. I know he would love to meet you." Scanning the deck for Thor, I walk along. I find him standing at the bow, his blond hair a mess. Reaching for his hand, I start to pull. "Come, Thor! There's a lady I would like you to meet." Thor follows me to the place I left Josephine. Noticing my approach, she calls for her children. I let Josephine take the lead inside. The first-class area is beautiful. Soft carpets cover the floor. Gorgeous paintings hang on the wall.
"Here is the lounge," Josephine points out.
"This is beautiful," I murmur, taking in my surroundings.
"Please, take a seat," Josephine orders politely.
We sit down. The seats are nice and soft to the touch. "This is Thor," I introduce my husband. "Where's yours?" A pained look covers her features.
"Our mommy doesn't like to talk about that," Alice remarks.
"Now I will," Josephine states. "Back in Greece, my husband and I operated a candy store. One day, a masked man came into our store. In a flash, he shot my Plato. The closest thing I have to a husband now is Alexandros."
How sad, I think.
She begins to speak again. "All I've talked about is I. How about you? Why did you leave? What will you name your children?" she inquires.
"Okay, let's see. I left because… well… Thor murdered our neighbor."
"Why, that's ghastly!" Josephine exclaims.
"I know. For my children, if it's a boy I'll name him Loki. I haven't decided if it's a girl. Maybe Katinka? That sounds nice," I finish answering her questions.
"Oh, look at the time!" Josephine suddenly cries out. "I have to meet someone in a few minutes."
Thor and I exit the room after saying goodbye and go outside. Outside, the sun is setting. The ship turns from brown to pink, purple, and orange. "Sunset already?" I wonder. "We must have spent more time with Josephine than I thought. By the way, how did you like Josephine, Thor?"
He takes a moment to think. "She seems like a nice enough person," he responds. "Maybe a bit lonely."
"Well, what do you expect? Her husband was murdered," I shame him. "I just hope she sees something in that person she mentioned, Alexandros."
During this whole conversation we are strolling across the deck. Just then, an officer calls out to us. "What are you doing up here?" the man inquires. "You're supposed to be having supper right now." The officer leads us back into steerage and into the room with everybody else. He leaves for a moment, then comes back with two bowls. "Here you are," he says, then goes back upstairs.
"What is this?" I ask while poking it with my finger.
"I don't know," Thor replies.
Since I am starving, I eat every last drop. Suddenly, I make a face. Recognizing the signs, Thor leads me to a corner of the room. The horrible food and the rocking of the ship do not go well together. My face turning greener by the second, I start to heave, crouching down as far as I can. When I peek up a minute or two later, I spot Thor smiling sheepishly while waving off curious onlookers. When I am done, Thor assists me back to our bed. A few women ask if I am all right. After many replies of, "I'm fine," I crawl into bed. With all of what has happened today, I quickly fall asleep.
The next morning I wake up with half my body draped over Thor. Still feeling queasy, I try to move as slowly as possible.
Noticing I have awakened, Thor cries out, "Good morning, my love!" Everyone else is starting to wake up. Of course Thor is an early riser. "Let's go up to the deck. Maybe you'll feel better with some fresh air."
I agree with his logic. The morning air is crisp and cool. The deck is almost empty, with a few couples as the exception. I feel serene, in a way. Before long, a whistle pierces the morning silence. The whistle means breakfast time. Time for more garbage. This time, though, it is bad coffee and fruit with bread. Barely forcing it down, I crawl back into bed. Taking a short nap might help the seasickness.
That afternoon, I visit Josephine at her cabin. I knock on her door and step over the threshold. Alice and Artemis are playing with some toys. Josephine is sitting on her bed with a man. They seem to be in deep conversation. Embarrassed, I mutter, "Oh, I don't mean to intrude. I'll come back later."
"It's fine. I was just about to set off looking for you. I have a favor to ask of you." The look of annoyance disappears. "Can you look after Alice and Artemis tonight?"
"Of course. But who might this be?" I gesture to the man.
"Where are my manners?" she scolds herself. "This is Alexandros." Alexandros gives his greeting.
Josephine tells me to come over at 8:00 as I leave. Today's meal tastes just as bad as yesterdays. I go up to the deck and lean over the railing. After the seasickness passes, I wander off to Josephine's cabin. Inside the first-class area, a few people peer at me with dirty looks. They probably are not thinking very pleasant thoughts. I try to ignore them. In her room, Josephine is putting on a beautiful jewel necklace. "Knock knock," I joke.
"Good, you're here," she states. "Alice! Artemis! Come here!" They skip into her bedroom. "Mommy's leaving now," Josephine tells her children. "Be good for Arnino! Just make sure they don't go to bed too late," she orders me. With that, Josephine leaves for her date.
Alice and Artemis lead me to their room. They show me their favorite dolls. I sit down on a chair and watch them happily play with their toys. When I come back from the bathroom an hour later, I pass a clock and see the time.
"Okay, you two, time for bed," I tell them. Grumbling a little, they change into their nightclothes.
"Can you read us a story?" Artemis, the youngest, asks.
"Sure," I reply. I select a book off the shelf at random. Hoping they will not notice, I make up a story instead of reading the words from the book. "Once upon a time there lived a handsome prince," I begin.
"His father wanted to prepare him so he could rule his kingdom with grace. The prince left for a far away land where a gorgeous princess was said to have lived. His journey lasted many days and many nights. When he finally reached his destination, only one thing stopped him from meeting and marrying his princess. That thing was the princess's evil father. The only glimpse the prince saw of the princess was her walking through the garden. All the rumors were true. She had long red hair, green eyes, and a perfect face." I happen to look at the girls. They are snoring softly. Standing up, a sudden wave of tiredness takes over every corner of my brain. Hoping Josephine will not mind, I climb into her freshly cleaned bed. I cannot even marvel at the fact I am sleeping in a real bed for the first time in weeks. What seems like just a second ago I put my head down on the pillow, a bright light wakes me up. Barely able to keep my eyes open, I pick my head off the bed to find Josephine staring at me.
Starting up, I cry out, "Oh, you're back! I'll go back to steerage now."
"No, stay there. I'm sure that bed is nicer than where you sleep."
"It sure is," I laugh. "But where will you sleep?"
"On the floor. It'll be a change of pace."
Before she leaves the room, I fall back asleep. The next day dawns dim and drizzly.
"Good morning Arnino!" Josephine says with a bright and cheery smile as she strolls into the room.
"Good morning to you too!" I respond.
"How about going to breakfast with me? It has to be better than what they serve you down there." She points down towards steerage.
"I would be delighted. Anything is better than that garbage."
Josephine gathers her children and leaves with me. The café where breakfast is served has plush chairs set up around circle tables of different sizes. "What would you ladies like today?" The waiter takes our orders.
"Tea for us and orange juice for the little ones."
"And for your meal?"
Josephine wants fruit salad, Alice wants oatmeal, and Artemis and I want pancakes.
"Right away," the waiter takes off. Our waiter comes out with four plates of food several moments later.
"Yum!" I exclaim in delight. "I haven't had food this good since I escaped!" When I finish I excuse myself so I can throw up in private. When I come back, the LaRouce family clears out and goes their separate ways. I wander off to find Thor. Towards the stern, hiding behind a pile of ropes, two men and a woman crouch. Since her back is facing me, I do not see the state of her clothes. I notice as she turns around the whole top front of her dress is in shreds. When I see that, it becomes apparent that the men are raping her.
"Hey!" I shout at the men. I step closer to them. "Where is your dignity? Leave that woman alone!" I scold the men. They both laugh. I realize they are both drunk. Just then, a shout comes from behind me. It is Thor.
"There you are!" he calls out.
When the men hear Thor, they halt their laughing. One of them flees the scene, but the other stays behind. Before fleeing, the stranger punches me in the eye and knocks me unconscious.
The last thing I hear is Thor yelling, "Arnino!"
I wake up more than a few hours later. A horrid smell, a cross between blood and urine, lingers in the air. Thor sits beside our bed on a trunk. His upper body leans on the bed. His head rests on my chest. I am not tired, so I lay there, staring at the berth on top. Now I have questions about America. How will Thor and I get a job? How will we find a home? Will we make it through Ellis Island? I have heard rumors of people who did not make it into America. Will we make it? By now, morning light creeps down the narrow staircase. I shift my body just a little, and Thor wakes up. He is a light sleeper. "Did you sleep at all last night?" I question him.
Thor shakes his head. "I fell asleep while waiting for you to wake up."
While he is saying that I touch my eye. Sore and swollen to the touch, it probably looks as bad as it feels. When everybody else wakes up, the familiar noise pierces the air. "Oh goody." Sarcasm drips from my voice. "Breakfast time." We do the usual: wait in line for food, eat it on our beds, and clean our bowls and utensils with our water. I run back up to the railing to do what I do after every meal. But then comes something unexpected. Sharp pangs of pain shoot through my stomach. Thor must have followed me, because he runs over when I scream.
"What's wrong?" he asks.
"I think our baby is ready to enter the world," I gasp. Realizing what that means, Thor picks me up. I assume he is carrying me to our bed. Before Thor reaches the passageway to steerage, it starts to pour. Great, I think in disgust. Giving birth in a storm. Descending the stairs, Thor gently places me on the bed. The people nearby move away so we can have some privacy.
A woman comes up to the bed and asks, "Do you need some help? I'm a midwife."
"Yes, please stay," Thor answers for me. Thor moves so the woman can have more space but still squeezes my hand.
"My name is Kalliope. Please, try to do what I say," she instructs me.
For a few hours I do what Kalliope says. The end result of my pain and labor: two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. Loki has black hair, the same shade as mine, and his father's blue eyes. Katinka has my dark eyes and a mixture of black and blond hair. My husband and I stare adoringly at our children. Then the captain barges into the room.
"I hear children have been born," he states. "Where are they?"
A man points at me. The captain comes towards us. "You shall name your son John, after me, and your daughter Day, after the ship," he demands.
Somehow, I find the courage to refuse. "No," I declare. Captain John looks shocked at seeing someone not doing what he says. "You shall not choose the names of my children," I repeat. "There names shall be Loki and Katinka." Thor stares threateningly at the captain.
"Fine. Have it your way," the captain scowls, then stomps off, intimated by Thor.
"I have to go somewhere for a moment," Thor tells me. "I'll be right back!" He runs off. Just a few minutes later, Thor returns with Josephine.
"Aww, there're adorable!" Josephine exclaims. She fusses over me for the next few minutes, then says, "I'll let you have some rest now."
All that work has been exhausting. Even before she leaves the bedside, my eyes close.
The next few days are uneventful. One day I am standing at the bow with Loki and Katinka and a small figure appears in the distance. It is a sign that land is nearby. I run back to steerage and call out to everyone, "You can see America!" All the passengers pour out to catch a glimpse of the land of the free. As we come closer, the figure grows larger. Then we are right in front of it. The figure is a statue of a lady.
"The Statue of Liberty!" someone calls out.
We pass the statue and dock, a small ferry greets us. Coming aboard the S.S. Brighter Day is a group of people in fancy suits. First- and second-class people come out of their cabins. Josephine stands near the end of the line.
"What's happening?" I ask her.
"We are being inspected. I think you have to go through Ellis Island."
"So this is goodbye?" I feel upset. I never truly understood the fact that I will probably never see Josephine again after we leave the ship.
"Now, don't you worry," Josephine assures me. "I'll wait for you so you won't be alone when you make it through Ellis Island."
I notice she does not say if. She says when, like she knows I will make it. "Oh, thank you Josephine!" Our conversation takes up the last of our time together. Now it is our turn. Thor and I grasp hands as we depart the ship, each of us carrying a baby. The vessel we have called home for the last few days' chugs off. No turning back now, I think. Our fears stay behind on the ship. Our hopes and dreams lay in front of us-in America.