She lay there the rest of the day and into the night, listening to the boxes around her shift and groan. She felt useless, purposeless. She had no idea what to do. And her only clue to where they were going was a word that Rotfeld had spoken. America. It might mean anything.
The next morning, the ship awoke to warmer weather and a welcome sight: a thin line of gray between ocean and sky. Passengers drifted to the deck, watching westward as the line thickened and stretched. It meant all their wishes granted, their fears forgotten, if only for the moment; and down in the hold the Golem felt an unexpected and blissful relief.
The constant thrum of the ship's propellers quieted to a purr. The ship slowed. And then, the distant sound of voices, yelling and cheering. Curiosity made the Golem rise at last from her crate, and she emerged onto the foredeck, into the noonday sun.
The deck was crowded with people, and at first the Golem didn't see what they were waving at. But then, there she was: a gray-green woman standing in the middle of the water, holding a tablet and bearing aloft a torch. Her gaze was unblinking, and she stood so still: was it another golem? Then the distance became clear, and she realized how far away the woman was, and how gigantic. Not alive, then; but the blank, smooth eyes nevertheless held a hint of understanding. And those on deck were waving and shouting at her with jubilation, crying even as they smiled. This, too, the Golem thought, was a constructed woman. Whatever she meant to the others, she was loved and respected for it. For the first time since Rotfeld's death, the Golem felt something like hope.
The ship's horn sounded, making the air vibrate. The Golem turned to go back down to the hold, and only then did she glimpse the city. It rose, enormous, at the edge of an island. The tall, square buildings seemed to move between each other, dancing in rows as the ship drew closer. She glimpsed trees, piers, a harbor alive with smaller craft, tugs and sailboats that skimmed the water like insects. There was a long gray bridge that hung in a net of lines, stretching east to another shore. She wondered if they would go under it; but instead the great ship turned westward and pulled in closer to the docks. The sea became a narrow river.
Men in uniform walked up and down the foredeck, shouting. Go collect your belongings, they said. We'll dock soon at New York, and you'll be taken to Ellis Island by ferry. Your belongings in the hold will be delivered to you there. Not until she'd heard these messages repeated half a dozen times did the Golem realize that the men were speaking in different languages, and that she understood every single one of them.
Within minutes the deck had been cleared of passengers. She moved into the shadow of the wheelhouse, and tried to think. She had no possessions save the coat she'd been given; its dark wool was growing warm in the sunlight. She felt inside the pocket and found the little leather satchel. There was that, at least.
A trickle of passengers re-emerged from the stairway, and then a general flood, all dressed for travel and carrying their satchels and suitcases. The uniformed men began to shout again: Form an orderly line. Be ready to give us your name and nationality. No pushing. No crowding. Mind your children. The Golem stood apart, unsure. Should she join them? Find somewhere to hide? Their minds clamored at her, all wanting only a speedy trip through Ellis Island, and a clean bill of health from the inspectors.
One of the uniformed men saw the Golem standing alone and hesitant, and walked toward her. A passenger intercepted him, put a hand to his shoulder, and began to talk in his ear. It was the doctor from steerage. The ship's man was carrying a sheaf of papers, and he flipped through them, searching. He frowned and stepped away from the doctor, who melted back into line.
Excerpted from The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Copyright © 2013 by Helene Wecker. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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