1908, Ellis Island, New York
I fidget in a line formed by women and children. My forehead drips with perspiration from climbing several steps up to this enormous hall; my ears brim with snatches of conversations.
I smooth my circle skirt decorated with floral embroidery and inspect my black vest and white blouse for any signs of filth. My black leather boots shine.
When my turn comes, a gray-haired man in a dark uniform stares at my stomach. He asks me something, but I don’t understand. My heartbeat quickens. He grabs a piece of white chalk and marks “X” on my vest. Then he takes me across the hall to a small room that smells of stale sweat.
My breathing is shallow. I’m pregnant and unmarried, so I’m undesirable to them. They are sending me back to Poland. At the thought of traveling another two weeks in the ship’s steerage, a sense of dread rolls through the pit of my stomach. I beg him to let me stay, but he doesn’t understand me, and I don’t understand him. He walks away.
Hours pass, but time seems to slow down. I finger my necklace of coral beads. They surely forgot about me. But the screeching door swings wide open, and a young, fair-haired doctor charges into the room.
“Name and age,” he says in a heavy accented Polish, a mask of reserve seeming to cover his smooth face.
“Bronka Sosnacz.” I keep my voice steady while a spark of hope lingers in my heart. “I’m nineteen.”
After a detailed physical examination, he narrows his eyes and asks, ”Where is your husband, Bronka?”
“I’m not married.” In my head, I curse my parents who instilled truthfulness in me.
He stands up. “I’m sorry, but we can’t let you into this country.”
As adrenaline shoots through my system, I touch my belly. “The father of my baby is from a noble family, and I’m just a peasant girl.” My chin trembles. “His family forbade him from marrying me.”
“You surely don’t talk like a peasant.”
“I take pleasure in reading.”
His blue eyes soften. “Do you have anyone here?”
“My great-aunt offered to help me out.”
He is silent for a moment, his eyes focus on mine. “Welcome to America,” he says. A smile plays about his lips. “We need people as honest and strong as you are.”
Gosia Nealon lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, with her husband and two sons. She graduated from the University of Warmia and Mazury in Poland with a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Her work was recently awarded fourth place in the Genre Short Story category in the Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Her previous work had appeared in Eko Swiat, The Polish Ecological Monthly Magazine.