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As they entered the building and turned down a dark corridor all Naomi could think was, now what will I do? The man pointed to a chair in a stark office. Steeling her resolve, she entered, sat down, and clutched the old, brown, leather suitcase to her chest. Seeing an official take a man into a room, she heard his interview begin. The door shut. Her mind raced, now what…what now, demanding an answer. She closed her eyes, and tried to think of one but there were none. No answers for immigration, and she had known there would be none even before she ran away from home in the middle of the night without a goodbye or a note explaining. Aware that running away from the reality of being a Jew in a country that allowed only those of one faith, and that one not hers, to live there, she had planned to find her uncle once she was allowed into America and help him bring their family here. Tears formed. She blinked them back, certain that if she cried, she would never be allowed to enter America.
Seeking oblivion she closed her eyes, hoping that when she opened them, she would find this was a horrid nightmare. Her mind brought her back to the moment fear had taken control of her life once more. She heard herself screaming, “Abuela Sosa, please do not be dead!” Her arm’s training took over because she heard her say, mi hija, think of something else. She tried, but as if things could not get any worse, the image of the old woman’s daughter-in-law packing her meager belongings into her suitcase flashed before her, and she heard herself demand, “You have no need of me anymore? I gave you a year of my life! Your esposo…your husband promised he would help me enter America and search for my uncle if I took care of his madre!”
Aware that the kindhearted old woman had treated her as if she were her very own kin, her sorrow increased. Yet knowing that her daughter-in-law had never visited the old woman during their voyage, and was only there now because it was necessary, Naomi was not surprised that this woman appeared unfazed by her charge’s death as she dispassionately closed the lid to the teenager’s suitcase and stared at her. Instead of demanding that the woman fetch a doctor, as Naomi had insisted an hour ago when she fetched the woman, all she could think of was, what do I do, now what do I do? Then she corrected herself, Naomi, it is not what do you do…it is what can I do to convince them to let me stay? She watched the woman eyeing her and wondered why is she in a hurry to rid herself of me before the doctor examines Abuela Sosa and declares her dead? Only then did she remember the woman’s secretive responses to an odd phone call that came moments after she followed Naomi into the stateroom. Maybe the family discovered the last name I gave was not…she felt a knot in her stomach, and knew her worst fears were going to come true.
Opening her eyes to see who was sitting beside her, Naomi was not surprised to find no one there, for fear, she had learned, does funny tricks to one’s mind. She closed her eyes again, certain that at one point there had been an official sitting next to her. At least that is what she… Her mind drifted back to the moment they had met, that is if being taken off the grand ship awaiting entry to New York harbor by an immigration official could be called a meeting. Reliving the moment that culminated when she sat where she was, Naomi knew it was all true. She was on Ellis Island and would be deported. She knew that because it being her first time sailing, she had listened to the other servants talking among themselves and learned many things…among them, the fact that no immigrants had disembarked at Ellis Island since the end of World War I unless… When she questioned those who spoke, she learned that immigration would remove a passenger from a ship because of a problem with their paperwork, though when she sat where the man pointed, she refused to believe her situation was as dire as it appeared. However, her heart told her otherwise.
Trying to convince herself that her situation was not as bad as it seemed, she told herself, This is a mistake! My entry into America should have been easy. I took care of everything at the American Consulate before we left Spain. My documents, medical history… I filled each paper out very carefully!
Agitated, she opened her eyes. She was alone. Aware of the stories of the chosen few allowed to enter the country; she tried to think of anything but the future she feared. Now what? Now what? Her mind repeated, demanding an immediate answer. Think of something else, her arm had often told her when she worried too much. And now just as she had when her mother told her what to do, Naomi nodded and whispered, “Sí, mi arm.” Scanning the room, she remembered reading that a fire had reduced the original buildings to cinders and nonflammable materials were used when the facility was rebuilt. It must have been an awful fire…still…
She heard the door to the office open, looked at the wall clock, and realized an hour had passed. An official took the man they had interviewed away. The door was left open at another man’s request. She leaned forward in her chair hoping to hear the men she assumed would decide her fate.
“Sad that the grandmother died,” the large man said, his voice filled with what she prayed was sympathy for her plight.
The smaller man nodded. “And just before the boat she was on was to enter the harbor.”
“The girl has no sponsor. We must send her back to Spain.”
“But she says she has no people,” replied a man she could not see.
“Sad yes, very sad….but it’s not our—”
Naomi thought it odd when the small man stepped between the two who were speaking and blurted, “I tried to call the lady but was told she was out!”
The large man waited while the man she had not seen left the office. Then he turned to his associate. “I told you not to speak about that!”
“It doesn’t make any difference. I left a message, but there’s no one to help the girl.” He looked at his watch. “It’s already five thirty. The office should have closed half an hour ago.” The large man sighed. “We can’t wait any longer. Ask her to come in.”
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