A Smile

What do I remember? I remember a smile.

I think it was March. It was still really cold outside, about minus twenty-five. But days were getting longer. The sun was shining. The sky was blue.

There were about twenty of us inside the bus. Children on a school trip. Loudly chatting and playing games.

Everybody was wearing winter coats and fur hats. The bus had some heat coming from the working engine. It was not warm enough to take the coats off. But it was enough to keep the windows clear from the frost.

We were on one of the unpaved frozen roads just outside the town when the bus had suddenly stopped. Everybody became quiet and looked out of the windows. There was a black moving mass of people marching towards our bus.

As they came close we saw men dressed in the same black jackets stuffed with cotton wool, black saggy pants and black boots, black military style hats.

It was a long column and it took awhile to pass us. As the front of the column disappeared around the curve on the road, the end of the column was still not in sight. The black mass of people was marching on and on. It felt like it would never end.

On both sides of the column there were lines of guards dressed in dark khaki with AK-47 guns and German shepherd dogs on a short leash. The people in black were prisoners from the hard labor camp nearby.

They were looking down as they marched along our stopped bus. All they could do is to glance at us glued to the windows. One of the guys looked up, smiled and tried to wave at us but he immediately got yelled at by the guards and the dogs started to bark.

The column finally passed us and the bus drove forward. It was really quiet inside. Nobody was chatting or playing anymore.

To this day I don’t remember what that trip was about, where did we go and why. But I do remember black mass of prisoners marching in a column of four, the guards, their AK-47s and the guard dogs.

And I remember the smile.