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Short Story: First Steps

Shayna Hunt

Her name was Irina. When I first met her she was ten years old, spoke flawless English while sporting a Russian accent, and saw the world through the most beautiful hazel eyes I had ever seen.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

My husband and I had been married just over four years, our oldest daughter, now twenty, had recently turned three, and I was expecting my second child. We lived in a beautiful third-floor apartment in Chicago with no elevator, and each month our apartment seemed higher up. Never more so than when I returned from shopping and had to schlep bags of groceries to the third floor with a kvetchy toddler in tow.

At the time, Chicago received a large influx of Russian Jews, determined to have a better, freer life. We frum Jews primarily kept to ourselves. While I was fascinated with the changes, I had many close friends in my building, and felt no need or desire to take time to get to know anyone else on my block. Instead, I quietly observed the groups of Russians from a distance.

Summer rolled around and I noticed a large group of Russian children around ten- to twelve-years old pretty much left to fend for themselves during the long, hot days. When I took my daughter outside to play each day, I sat on my stoop and watched her — sometimes with my friends from the building, sometimes alone — and kept an eye on that large group of ragtag children.

By the middle of summer, though I’d never said more than a quick “hello,” flashing a quiet smile toward them, I knew quite a lot about them. Irina, though she was by far not the oldest of the group, was clearly the leader, making up for her youth with her clever ideas and bold demeanor. I also knew that just as fascinated as I was by them, they — Irina especially — were equally fascinated by me. I realized that I must have been one of the first frum people they’d ever seen up close.

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