In the morning, the sun was shining through the dirty window, and even Maria seemed to have her spirits lifted. She smiled as Vasili hugged and kissed Nadya and once again promised to be home as soon as possible.
“I should be home by the end of October,” Vasili promised. “Please be brave Nadya. I know that you can make it on your own for a little while.”
Nadya nodded her head without saying anything. She held her arm out and handed Maria the large-brimmed hat she had saved so long to purchase. “Take this hat,” Nadya offered, “It will help hide your face from others.”
Maria, surprised at the change she could see in Nadya, wrapped her in the tightest hug her now-frail body could provide.
“Goodbye Nadya. I shall never forget your kindness,” said Maria.
“Goodbye Maria. I have only done God’s will.” returned Nadya. She turned to Vasili with tears shining in her green eyes. “I love you Vasili Mihalyos. I will wait for you, but I will miss you every moment.”
Vasili, choked up at the emotion in Nadya’s voice said, “Whatever I have to do to return to you, I will do it. I will do anything to look at you and kiss you again.” He took Nadya in his arms and kissed her for a very long time. Finally, he held her at arms length and said, “This is how I will remember you while I am on my journey.”
Vasili took both cases and Maria held is arm as they went through the apartment door, leaving Nadya with a look of longing.
It was a short walk to the train station, but it was almost too much for Maria. She leaned more and more on Vasili, but Vasili was determined that she would appear as well as she could. He knew that if anyone suspected her illness, they would never make it on the train or on the ship.
As Vasili purchased the train tickets, Maria leaned against the wall and pulled the hat down as far as she could. She was shaking as Vasili turned with the tickets in his hand.
“Are you alright?” asked a passerby with obvious concern.
Neither Maria nor Vasili could speak the strangers language, but they understood his gesture. Vasili nodded to the man and rushed off with Maria toward the train platform. The man turned and walked away without another word.
Vasili led Maria to a bench on the platform. “We have only five minutes until the train arrives,” Vasili said, trying to reassure Maria that she could make it through this. “Then we can relax in our seats until we get to New York.”
A slight smile appeared on Maria’s face and she said, “Hopefully we can relax more than we did on our trip out of Hungary.”
“That is my little sister!” exclaimed Vasili, “You are still in there I see.” He peered under the brim of the hat and then took Maria’s hand in his.
When the train arrived, Vasili threw his bags into the car, then as subtly as he could, he carried Maria up the steep rail car steps. He found their seats and place her against the window, as far from the eyes of strangers as he could. He only hoped that the Laudanum would control the coughing while they were on the train ride, and that it would last through the voyage. For now, Maria quickly fell asleep and slept until they arrived in New York.
As the train pulled into the station, Vasili gently shook Maria’s arm and whispered, “We are here.”
Maria, apparently in the midst of a dream, shouted “Father!”
Everyone in the train turned and looked at the frail girl in the car, but Vasili smiled and shrugged his shoulders, a gesture he had learned from his Rusyn friends in the mill. It seemed to work because the other passengers then went about their business getting ready to leave the train.
Vasili helped Maria down the steps and held her closely as they found a trolley station. Vasili recognized the name of the stop they needed at the piers and they managed to board the trolley without a problem. As they exited, the conductor said something that Vasili could not understand, but from the look on the conductor’s face, he feared they would be stopped. The conductor, realizing they were immigrants, just spat on the ground and went back into the trolley.
Vasili bought two tickets to Bremen on the SS Kronprinzessin Cecille. They were both exhausted, and slept for eight hours, sitting on the pier’s benches, with Maria resting her head on her brother’s shoulder.
When it came time to board, Vasili helped Maria up the walkway and onto the deck. He handed both of their tickets to the sailor at the top. The officer held out an arm and looked at Maria for what seemed like minutes. Finally, seemingly satisfied or at least tired of the grumbling of the passengers behind Vasili, he put down his arm and and allowed them to board.
They found a bed in steerage, put their suitcases under, and laid down to rest. The ship got underway after an hour or so, and Vasili and Maria finally got to sleep in something besides a bench.
They were awakened by the ship violently tossing from side to side. They could barely keep themselves from falling out of the bed. Passengers everywhere were getting sick; the smell of vomit permeated the deck. Maria began to heave but Vasili was able to calm her down with more Laudanum. He was afraid that anything that upset her were start her coughing, and they would be found out.
Even in the bowels of the ship they could hear the wind howling and the waves striking at the hull, as if at any moment it could come crashing into them. The thunder resounded through the metal hull.
As the ship continued to sway from side to side, a large man appeared beside their bed. He pointed to the bottle of Laudanum, then to his mouth. Vasili grasped the bottle tightly and shook his head. The man yelled something at Vasili and grabbed for the bottle. Vasili deftly pulled it away, at which the man became enraged. He slammed his fist into the side of Vasili’s head. Maria huddled into a corner of the bed as Vasili began to rise to his feet; but the man pounded him once again. But Vasili was quick—he took the punch and rammed his head into the man’s stomach, causing him to reel backwards into another bed. He came at Vasili one more time, but as Vasili tried to avoid the next punch, the ship lurched to the side and Vasili lost his grip on the bottle. It crashed to the deck, splintered glass spreading like an explosion, and the precious Laudanum mixing with the shards and under the bed.
Vasili now lost his temper and yelled, “You bastard!” His fist flew at the man’s nose and connected with a violent collision, causing his nose to crack. Maria screamed, which caused her to begin coughing. As she coughed, she could feel the blood splashing on her fingers. The man fell to the deck, but when he saw Maria, his eyes grew wide and he scrambled away yelling “Lunger! Lunger!” Vasili did not know the words, but knew their meaning. Everyone moved away and stayed away for the rest of the voyage. Vasili and Maria were lucky the crew was so occupied with the storm and its aftermath that no-one bothered to investigate.
In Bremen, Maria got much sicker. When Vasili went to purchase train tickets, the ticket seller chased him off after seeing Maria.
Maria told Vasili, “I am scared. We are so close, but now I think I will never see Father again. I will die before we get home.”
“I will find a way,” reassured Vasili, but he felt anything but confident about his statement.
Vasili had noticed that there were boxcars being loaded with hay. He waited until dark and saw that the workers had left the doors open to keep the hay from building up the fine dust that could cause an explosion. When darkness came, Vasili carried Maria to one of the open doors and laid her down on the floor of the car. He threw in their bags and jumped up and in.
“Vasili,” Maria said, “I am very afraid. What if the train workers come around and find us. We will end up in prison for sure.”
“Vasili said, “This will work. If we move a few of these hay bales and sit behind them, they will never see us from the door, and they have no reason to look inside.”
Maria nodded her head, knowing that her brother would do what was best for them.
They climbed behind to the front of the car and hid behind a couple of stacked bales. They heard one of the workers approaching, then the sound of the door sliding shut. Just as the worker was swing the latch over to lock the door, Maria let out a small cough. Everything stopped as the worker opened the car door again. One of the other workers came over and they spoke together for a minute.
Vasili had placed his hand over Maria’s mouth, and watched the shadows in the car dance from the worker’s lantern. He hopped up into the car and swung the lantern back and forth, and front to back, then stood very still for a moment. Maria was about to let go with another cough, when the worker placed the lantern on the floor and jumped to the ground with a thud. Maria’s eyes were bulging from the strain as the door finally slid closed and the latch was pushed down, locking the door. After a few minutes, Vasili lifted his hand from Maria’s mouth and she wheezed and gasped, then coughed so hard Vasili could feel the blood on his hand near her mouth.
The train slowly started away from the station as Maria and Vasili prayed the rosary for God’s help in getting them home. They prayed with Maria’s rosary that the boxcar would go as far as Čirč and stop there.
Vasili had stashed away some bread and water in his case, and he brought it out now. He ripped the loaf in half and handed half to Maria.
Maria smiled a bit when she grabbed it and said, “I will miss Nadya’s bread and I will miss Nadya.”
“So Nadya is now your friend,” laughed Vasili. “All it took was one loaf of stale bread!”
Maria laughed as Vasili handed her the water jug.
The next night the train came to a stop. They could hear the voices of the workers shouting, the doors opening, and the cars being unloaded.
Vasili looked concerned and asked Maria, “Do you think you can run for a short time?”
Maria answered, “Can we not sneak out, just like we snuck in?”
Vasili whispered, “We were just lucky then. We may not be so lucky now.”
“I do not know. I think I might fall down. They will catch me then.”
Vasili peered out through a crack in the wooden car and could see military men in front of all of the cars.
“Now I see why they were taking hay by train. It is for the cavalry. Those are Hungarian soldiers, so we must be close to home.”
He crept to the opposite side of the car and looked through another small space between the wooden boards of the wall.
“Come on Maria, I think we can open this door quietly and get out before the soldiers find us. There is so much noise here that I am certain they will not hear us.”
Vasili lifted the door latch and slowly opened the door, stopping every few inches to be sure he was not discovered. When he finally opened it enough to fit them through, he lowered Maria to the ground and jumped down. He reached back for the bags when he saw the railman’s lantern at the end of the train.
“Hey, what are you two doing by this train?” the man shouted.
Vasili looked at Maria and said, “Run!”
By now, some of the soldiers had been alerted and were rounding the back of the train.
“Stop!” yelled the railman.
“Maria, please hurry!” pleaded Vasili.
“I cannot run any faster,” shrieked Maria as she lost her footing and fell to the ground with fits of coughing.
Vasili hesitated for only a second, then decided that he needed to leave the bags. He took Nadya’s picture from his case and threw the rest into the woods. He picked up Maria and threw her over his shoulder, then took off running as fast as he could, heading for the trees. He ran until his legs finally gave out. He dropped to his knees, then gently placing Maria on the ground before falling face first to the wet soil.
“I no longer hear them,” he whispered. “We should be safe for now.”
They waited among the trees until the sun had been up for several hours, then Vasili picked Maria up and hiked out of the woods to get his bearings. When he spotted the hazy mountains he knew so well, he laughed loudly, knowing that they only had half of one day to walk.
Maria was coughing uncontrollably now, the exertion of last night being too much for her frail body. “I can walk Vasili, put me down.”
But Vasili was not about to make his sister strain herself anymore on this journey. “No, I can carry you. You are not a burden.”
“Vasily, please take my rosary,” Maria said softly, holding her precious rosary out in front of Vasili.
“No, it is yours. Mother gave it to you as she was dying.”
“Please, it is the last thing I will ask of you,” Maria said.
“If I do, it means you are dying, and I cannot bear that thought,” said Vasili.
“I beg you, take it Vasili.” Maria’s voice was barely audible.
Vasili took the offering and placed the beads in his side coat pocket, then hurried his pace. He stopped only once, when Maria began to moan. He laid her tenderly in the grass and decided to give her last rites as best he could, not being a priest.
When it was complete, Vasili stood, and in the distance he could see Čirč. He broke into a run, though he could not feel much in his legs, and the pain in his back made him wince with every pounding step.
He ignored it all as he approached his family home. He threw open the door and Mikhal rose from the table, his face showing his surprise and joy.
Mikhal took Maria from Vasili and held her face in his hands. “My Maria! You are home.” Tears of joy streamed past his smile. “I am so happy to see you again.”
“Father,” whispered Maria.
Mikhal’s smile was soon erased, and replaced by a look of shock, as he realized that Maria had spoken his name with her last breath.