The seamstress trade school meeting
was crowded with girls and their mothers, all eager to impress the owners and
secure a spot for the following year. By
the end of the evening, both Ilona and Marika were chosen by very nice but
different owners. They would attend the same school but work in different shops
four days a week.
By September both girls were
excited to start in their new school. The first week sped by as they met the
other students and their teachers, and ventured out into the city on their own,
using public transportation to get to school and work.
On Friday morning Marika waved
goodbye to Ilona as they left the streetcar, which they’d ridden together from
home, and headed to their respective buses for the final leg of the trip to
Getting off the bus, Marika walked
along the sidewalk toward the old building where the shop was located on the
fifth floor. At the corner she noticed a woman sitting in front of a pottery
“Good morning,” the woman greeted
with a smile and a wave.
Normally Marika was shy. But she’d
seen her there other days that week, and decided it wouldn’t hurt to be
“Good morning,” she said, stopping
to admire the pots.
“I see you a lot now,” the woman
remarked. “Do you work around here?”
“Yes, in the seamstress shop,” she
said, pointing up the street.
“I know the woman who owns it,”
came the woman’s reply.
“Yes, she’s nice. She doesn’t make
me work on the Sabbath.”
The woman gave her a curious look.
“The Sabbath? Are you Jewish?”
“No, I’m Seventh-day Adventist. I
believe in Jesus, but I go to church on Saturday, the Sabbath.”
Marika worried as soon as the words
were out that this woman would someday use that information against her. She
watched her expression carefully, looking for signs of judgment or disapproval,
but the woman just smiled again and shrugged her shoulders.
“Sounds peculiar,” she said, “but I
don’t suppose there’s any harm in going to church on Saturdays. Me, I go on
Sundays. Always have. But who’s to say which is right? Well, you have yourself
a nice day; stop and visit anytime, I’m always here.”
Marika kept walking until she
reached her building. Entering, she climbed all five flights of steps,
wrinkling her nose at the gassy smell. Despite all that, it felt great, she realized,
to finally be “on her own.”
The next morning the class listened
as their teacher showed them the basics of sewing: threading the sewing
machines, choosing a pattern, cutting the fabric. Everything was new and
interesting, especially to Marika. Mama had taught her to sew by hand at home,
but now she’d discovered that she had a real knack for using the sewing machine
and cutting patterns. No more embarrassingly low grades for her! Mama and Papa
had been right. Seamstress school was the right choice.
As for attending church, it was
held in the afternoon. This Sabbath the girls would be meeting their parents at
The sisters walked to the trolley
stop and waited. But before the trolley arrived, they were careful to tuck
their Bibles and songbooks safely away in their bags where other passengers
wouldn’t see them.
“Here it comes,” Ilona said,
pointing up the street.
The heavy trolley clanged its bell
and squealed to a stop. The girls climbed aboard and showed their monthly pass,
then found seats near the back where fewer people sat. After about 20 minutes
they had to change trolleys. It was such a long trip!
Settled once more on the second
trolley, the girls sat back and sighed.
“Mama said to meet them in the
sanctuary,” Ilona said quietly. “Uncle Oszkár is preaching about prophecy
today. It should be a good service.”
Marika nodded. She could hear the
driver calling out the next stop. Somewhere up front a baby was crying. Marika
looked out through grimy windows and watched the buildings going past, some
still showing damage from Russian bombs and tanks. Despite all that, the city
was beautiful to her. She was proud of her homeland.
Suddenly Ilona gave her a sharp jab
in the arm.
“What?” Marika asked, annoyed.
Ilona made a slight tilt with her
head, directing her eyes toward the aisle. Marika looked and was surprised to
see a man in a dark hat staring at them. He didn’t smile, not even when Marika
looked right at him. She turned to Ilona and tried to whisper inconspicuously.
“Do you think he heard us talking
Ilona shrugged, but pulled her bag
with the Bible a little closer.
Papa had warned them to be extra-careful
riding the trolley on Sabbaths. If they were caught carrying Bibles, there
could be real trouble for the entire family. It wasn’t actually illegal to
carry them or attend church on Saturdays, but the government didn’t like it.
And they had the power to make life hard for anyone they didn’t like.
Marika looked again at the stranger
across the way. His harsh gaze moved downward to her bag, then back up at her
eyes. He blinked once, as if to challenge her, and then turned away. When the
trolley came to a stop, he rose from his seat and got off.
Marika sighed with relief. She
could feel her heart racing. They had only a few more stops, and then they’d be
at the church, safe with their parents.
After boarding the trolley, a young
man who seemed to be in his 20s came down the aisle and accidentally bumped
Marika’s leg. “Excuse me,” he said. He continued standing,
allowing elderly and female passengers to take their seats first. He looked
down at the girls with an inviting smile. The man could be a snitch, an
informant for the Hungarian secret police. They could start a file on the
family to be used against them later.
“It’s all right,” Marika responded,
hoping he’d turn away. Instead, he stared at her bag, just as the older man had
done moments earlier. She pulled the bag closer, wondering how to make it look
“Out for a ride?” the young man
“Yes,” she answered, wishing the
trolley could move faster.
“Looks like you girls have to carry
a lot of books. You must be in school, right?”
Ilona opened her mouth to answer,
but Marika cut her off.
“Sissy, what time are Mama and Papa
meeting us?” she asked, forcing her voice to sound carefree.
Ilona gave her sister a look that
suggested this was a stupid question to be asking. Then she caught on.
“In a few minutes,” she answered.
“Oh, look, Ilona, your hair ribbon
is loose. Here, let me fix it.”
After a few uncomfortable moments,
the man gave up trying to make conversation with them and found a seat. But he
never stopped watching them. Marika felt sure he had guessed what was in their
bags. Would he follow them when they got off the trolley? If he did, would he
grab their bags and make trouble at the church?