29 October, 2012

The Gentleman's Daughter

On some days Shura was ordered to clear the courtyards, other times she was made to haul logs, draw water, or to hew wood for kindling and stack them uniform as soldiers; and if the logs were not hearty, the water not clear enough, the wood not placed sufficiently in tight, symmetrical piles, she was ordered (in a tone colder than the temperatures she endured) to do it again.

Shura worked. Slogged. Waited.
Waiting was another hell of the convict.
It had its many depths.

Recently, however, Shura had been turning in her hard labor and working many a late night in The Gentleman’s office.


Shura knelt scrubbing mold from the lavatory basins when The Gentleman approached her from behind.
    “Hello” he said, in his distinctive, quiet voice.
    "Good day, Sir."
He was holding a pamphlet he shook lightly as he declared,
    “The guards say your Russian has become quite impressive, Shura.”
    “I have always had a talent for language, Sir.”
Shura saw language like a puzzle to be put together, her instincts always leading her to the absolutely correct next piece as it locked into place.     
    “—And that you do not merely speak, but read and write. Is that so?”
    “I do not think that my husband," she smiled, "would have it any other way.”
It was true, Mikhail made certain Shura could speak, read and write Russian, not merely for her own good, but because he could not have quelled her insatiable questioning if he tried.
The Gentleman stepped closer and handed her the pamphlet,
    “Would you care to demonstrate?”    

She would work while moths, beetles, snow and wind all beat against the November-colored windows as she transcribed, scribbled and translated. The hours were long and loathe at passing, but despite that she was of course quite comfortable in comparison to her prior tasks of drudgery. Besides, The Gentleman always provided her with hot tea, a fire, and, though modest in appearance, a cushioned chair. Yet even as she finished and put away each paper, there always seemed to be something else — just one more task in need of completion.

She shared the tasks with another girl whose name she understood to be called Sarangerel (she learned to be the Mongolian for 'moon-light,') though was always known to everyone simply as, Ana.

Ana always sat beside The Gentleman’s desk at a squat little table of her own; posture determinedly upright as she wrote endlessly on page after page of import and export, entry and discharge documents in handwriting as precise as religion and just as scrupulous. She was small, body rigid, relentless in its productivity, with a manner so reserved she seldom spoke.

Ana was in fact none other than The Gentleman’s daughter.

Perhaps it was due to his overly protective stance that she remained so silent — he kept her close and unvisited, forbidding anyone to speak to her; not only the prisoners but to fellow sentries, guards and keepers; and soon she had managed to learn a life of silence so effective she scarcely seemed fussed by the conversation kept from her by a imperceptible paternal boundary.

Shura had heard whispers that Ana was a mix of local races, and she did indeed possess a composition of features Shura had never seen before in her life, had never known possible! So unusual were her qualities that at times she could not help but stare upon her workmates’ tawny skin tone, her small, flat nose, the height of her cheeks, the prominence and beauty of her bones. Her face was shaped like a heart and clothed in a light headscarf—not as Shura would have worn secured beneath the nape of her neck, but wrapped under and below her chin in what the Russians called the babushka (or "grandmother") style.

The night was dark as tar. And quiet, still as anything. Shura thought she could hear her heart beating beneath her shawl when all at once Ana looked up and nodded silently toward her, unsmiling.

A scrap of blackest hair was swept across her forehead resting like a perfect leaf, as her lean brows framed her completely foreign eyes — not only foreign, but ferocious: articulating a universe of strength and intelligence, and so piercing a blue they betrayed in every way the blood connection to her father...

Oh judicious blood, thought Shura, to select so striking a quality…

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