‘The Box’…..and some haunting thoughts.
Skies are a fascination and wherever you go in the world they are never the same. This particular sky greets me every day, and the sky at night is just as interesting with a mass of stars, brilliant and awe inspiring, devoid of the city neon lights that spoil the spectacle.
The road here is both the start and the end of a 40 mile forest that surrounds the town. A forest that is inhabited by beautiful red squirrel, wild horse, wild boar, deer, moose, the occasional wolf and all the other ingredients of a Hansel and Gretel story. I say that because superstition and folklore abound here.
This road was constructed by the Russian army during the war. It is as straight as a Roman road, and if followed to the end would lead you to Kiev.
Along it, thundering and puffing exhaust fumes into the chilled forest air, I can imagine, the whole Soviet army like a Roman legion, one purpose, one destination, one goal.
To reach here, a journey I take every year, the train slowly follows a six hour thickly forested border with remnants of the past.
Barbed wire, barbed-wire are what you see first. They are still and quiet, rusting yet have something to say. They are saying: Be careful, you are crossing the border into a different world. You will not escape from here; you will not get away. It is a world of deadly seriousness, orders and obedience. Learn to listen, learn humility, learn to occupy the least amount of space possible. Best mind your own business. Best be silent. Best not ask questions. The barbed wire tends to instruct you the whole time the train is rolling; it imprints on your mind everything which you should now on remember, but after all it is for your own good that it pounds into your head the long litany of limitations, prohibitions, and instructions.
This wire is of a distant past but my thoughts go to the regime that instructed such borders that stretched for thousands of miles across parts of Europe, China, Siberia……and the cost of such a construction in terms of metal. No wonder people in Moscow could never buy a spoon.
My thoughts begin again……The train stops, then come the dogs. German shepherds, furious, trembling, frenzied; the train has barely stopped when they throw themselves under the cars, barking, baying. What are they looking for…. drugs? Surely nobody could be under the carriage after travelling all day.
The sight of the ferreting dogs is so absorbing that for a while one doesn’t notice the next image- soldiers have sprung up as if from beneath the earth and have instantaneously lined up on both sides of the train. They stand in such a way that the train cars are under total surveillance. The total surveillance clearly plays the same persuasive role as those one-story- high, thick billows of rusting barbed wire I passed minutes before: it is simply a silent but emphatic warning, lest some preposterous idea accidentally enter your head!
The ticket inspector arrives. Power is seriousness: in an encounter with power, a smile is tactless, it demonstrates a lack of respect. Similarly, one must not stare too long at someone who has power.
These days have long gone now, but the thoughts in peoples minds are as real as yesterday.
Yesterday, the JCB arrived to clear some building debris and uncovered a box in the soil. Investigation lead to the neighbour telling me a II World War story.
It happened that when the Germans arrived in the then village, everybody hid their prized possession’s in the ground.
‘The Box’ of course caused a certain amount of interest from all in the town. Local press arrived, the local school showed an interest and a time and place was set to open the ‘Box’…. the time capsule.
On the day, all were eager to view the ‘box’ as it was lifted from deep below the ground. What treasure lay in store for us?.
After a few moments the box was in front of all, and the owner prised the casket lid off with a sharp chisel. The lid broke free and inside could be seen, what was, a wad of bank notes, and several leather books all wet and soggy. Under all this, a few silver roubles appeared with the Tsar’s head and a large, heavy, silver crucifix…..with a few small silver chalices… the prize!
The next day, all was in the local press and the hoard was believed to have originated from a Jewish household that was fleeing persecution when 1,500 were massacred over the local hillside in November 1942.