Chapter 3. At The Dinner Table and Afterward
Entering the dining room, I immediately noticed that each chair had a small folded towel. “To sit on,” whispered Ivanka. The family placed themselves about the table in their seating arrangement, thus showing me where my place at the table would be for the year.
I was to be to Poppa’s left as he sat at the head of the table. Momma sat at the foot, with one of the twins on either side of her. To Poppa’s right sat Ivanka then sat Kivar. There was an empty chair between me and the twins; I supposed this was to keep the symmetry.
Kaleen questioned the American guest as the family finished the traditional prayer of thanks for the food on the table. “You said, Amen, when we prayed, , we do not say that,” Kaleen rattled off. Her father, Ivan, corrected the child with, “Our guest is hungry, let her eat in peace,” and gave the girl a significant look.
“With your permission, Papa Siminov, I feel I can both eat this delicious meal and answer questions. I know what it is like to have curious younger siblings. I would like all of you to know I wish to have no secrets between us as to myself.”
I finished with a twirl of my noodles on a fork and popped the mouthful to chew. Done, I looked at my hostess and said, “I trust you will give me this recipe to take home with me. I would like to spend time at your side learning to prepare it while I am here.”
Ursula Siminova beamed at that. It was the type of response a girl would give to a boyfriend’s parents when the relationship was becoming enough to consider an engagement sign the American truly wished to become a family member. I had chosen my words well. “Now, Kaleen,” I began, after polishing off another mouthful of food from my plate, “I am not of your faith, and if I ask forgiveness. ‘Amen’ is an old Hebrew word, ‘so let it be. It is what my people say when they agree that a person is leading a prayer.”
“Oh.” Kaleen accepted the answer and realized she would be treated as an equal by this new entry into the family circle. Martina shot, “Are those white patches on your skin also a religious thing?”
Momma looked at the girl with the look only a mother can give an errant child and responded, “In my country, we lack the comfort of the Danubian way; and not all of the people are as happy with the way their bodies are.
“So, Martina, when I went to enjoy the sun and the lakeside, I was not as fortunate as you and had to cover those areas up. The sun could not get through the cloth so I was left with these lines on my skin.” Martina suddenly smiled and thought to herself, Momma and Poppa would have to give Kaleen and me time to lie about in the sun. Maybe having this American stranger in our house could work out after all.
Kivar whispered something to his sisters as I took a piece of the dense black bread from a plate in the middle of the table to sop up the vegetable juices left on my plate.
His mother was about to cite him for rudeness, but Ivanka wagged a finger indicating she had the one under control. “Kivar is also curious about things, but, being a boy, he is afraid to ask you directly,” Ivanka offered. “This is the reason for his whispering in my ear.”
I smiled, “If the question needs asking, Kivar, ask it. I have nothing to hide from you or your family, so ask away. Nothing you could say or do would embarrass me. I have brothers and am well over being embarrassed by them.” Kivar looked at his mother for permission, then began,” You have no hair.” with that, he faltered and turned bright red. “So, it is not I who is embarrassed by your question, if that is what that was, is it?”
I laughed lightly. “No, I do not have hair on my body. As in many others, those who compete in sports shave off their body hair since injuries and wounds are easier to treat without it. Also, in my case, the drag of the water on the body is lessened when swimming. Realizing I was good enough to compete at national and international levels in my sport, my parents took me to a doctor who used a special laser to remove all the hair below the neck.
“American women use various haircuts and styles, they even change the color of their hair, but here women do not. So again, with your sisters and mother helping me I will be letting my hair grow out,”
Seeing Ivanka rolling her eyes toward Kivar and then looking back to me, Marcia got the hint offered softly. Kivar brought home girlfriends who would spend the night or the weekend, but would get a little excited and embarrassed at seeing a new girl in the house.
An hour of conversation allowed Marcia to learn the crime Ivanka had committed was considered an offense which in the states may have only resulted in a university fine or a suspended grade of incomplete.
Ivanka knew of the strict interpretation of Danubian plagiarism rules when she turned in her final paper to the professor. Her professor spoke before the classroom, “Ivanka Siminov, do you attest that all the work herein is your work unless properly attributed?”
She had answered yes and left the classroom. Upon opening the main compartment of her backpack, she realized that she had turned in her paper without annotated footnotes and a bibliography of citations. Rushing back to the professor to give her the correct paper, she was too late. That left Ivanka open to criminal-level charges of lying to a public official, as the Danubians called it, and plagiarism.
Her Spokesman, during her trial, argued that the matter was a simple mistake, exhibited the correct paper, and expressed that when Ivanka swore the work was her own, she believed the content of the package was the final and not the draft.
The judge could have sentenced Ivanka to ten years in the collar on the charges and allowed for the mitigation of an error on Ivanka’s part. He disallowed the plagiarism charges but allowed the false swearing to stand.
The sentence imposed was the one-year suspension of university attendance, loss of her exchange student status to the university in Chicago, and corporal punishment equivalent to that within the university rules.
Total of one hundred twenty-five lashes with the switch, twenty-five to be administered at the end of this court session. Next year, Ivanka would receive punishment on the first and last day of each school semester.
She could return to school on the first day of the following semester. The year she would have spent overseas in America would be spent instead working as a waitress in an outdoor coffee shop in the center of Danubia City.
I could not comprehend the punishment fitting the crime. The Simonov family had not only accepted it but was using it as a teaching tool for the younger children. Every action within Danubian society carried with it consequences farther reaching than just the individual.
In this case, the family taking on public penance showed that the entire family accepted responsibility for Ivanka’s act of carelessness. We are expected to learn to take care in our work and to assure that what they attested to was indeed the truth. Ivanka’s parents drew the knowledge that one can presume one’s child, can act like an adult and be ready to take on those responsibilities, yet, that child will still need the attention of a parent to a child when it comes to fundamental aspects of living.
The family was very impressed with the American girl who came to the country of Danubia, with the Danubian sense of honor and honesty already in place. I answered every question and every action from my arrival in the home had been more Danubian than their children. To have this girl in their home could only add honor to the Siminov family name.
In the room, a quiet gabfest was ongoing as well. “The twins will be your shadows for at least the rest of the summer until their school reopens,” Ivanka whispered. “They are in awe of you. You are what they would like to be as women, strong, intelligent, athletic, and independent, yet, respectful of tradition.”
I quietly laughed and noted, “Yeah, they both seemed to light up when I mentioned needing their help and wanting to even out my tan. I guess Momma keeps them busy most days.”
“She feels happy keeping them occupied about the house and indoors. I suppose she feels they will become too happy and comfortable in their nudity and do something stupid before school starts to remain that way,” Ivanka answered.
“And your brother? We shall have to see about him, although I feel he will become to you as he is to me. A pain in the rear end when you’re around him, yet, a fiercely loyal protector when non-family is concerned. You have not seen his altogether moody brat attitude yet. It will show up at some point. That will be the test of our family’s acceptance of you.” Ivanka whispered. Ivanka never realized I had fallen asleep; I was so exhausted from the events of the long day.