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Patience

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Neither Chava nor Fyedka had a very clear idea of what it took to get a man out of a Siberian prison settlement, but with courage and determination they felt prepared for any danger they might face.

In fact it turned out to take four years, a great deal of patience, and all the money they possessed – as well as some they didn't – in bureaucratic bribes. They were not as well prepared for this, but they did their best with what they had. Over the course of these years, Fyedka became well versed in the slow workings of government, Chava learned the difference between a Bolshevik and a Menshevik, and Perchik managed not to die.

The letters meanwhile went back and forth. Chava didn't know what their parents had written to Hodel of her marriage. She hadn't planned to keep it a secret, as if she were ashamed. But in her first letter to Hodel, she had found herself writing “to Kiev with my husband” – not “my husband Fyedka” – and Hodel had said nothing of it at all when she wrote back. So as time stretched on, absurdly, Fyedka remained “my husband,” though of course, when Chava wrote of spending patient hours in the offices of the court, of Fyedka buying rounds for the secretaries of important men, Hodel must have suspected that he was no Jew.

But they didn't speak of it. Chava wrote of Kiev, of how big the world was and how it frightened and exhilarated her both at once, but more often she wrote about books. Sometimes a whole letter would extend into a lengthy description of a novel she had read, and then she would find that her paper had run out. She didn't think Hodel could mind that too much. They could not, after all, have many books in Siberia.

Hodel's letters were far shorter than Chava's, but this was understandable. Paper was also scarcer in Siberia, and much dearer. She managed to fit a story that made Chava laugh into every single letter, though, no matter how short – a talent which Chava envied fiercely the more she began to recognize it. Other than Fyedka, Chava had never been able to tell anybody of what she saw in a way that would make them care about it, no matter how earnestly she tried. If she had been Hodel or Tzeitel – if she had inherited that spark of their father's, that talent that turned every tragedy into a funny fireside tale – then perhaps she would have been able to talk her parents around, the way Hodel and Tzeitel had. Everything might have been different.

Hodel's stories only grew funnier as the years went by; Siberia seemed to hone her wit like a stone set to a knife. So even though Chava was growing to know, from the other stories she sought out, more truths about the prison settlements than Hodel chose to share, it came as a hard shock when Perchik and Hodel stepped off the train in Kiev and she finally saw how little was really left of her young and pretty sister.