An iron door slammed shut behind her. A sign on it read, ‘No visitors. No mail in or out,’ frightening confinement in the Russian Concrete Camp for smuggling. She felt doomed.
Her single cell was 8 by 10, floor, walls and ceiling in cold gray concrete; the bunk a slab, a used mattress thrown over it. An iron faucet above a cement trough provided cold water for drinking and washing, no shower.
No need for a multitude of guards in the Concrete Camp, prisoners never left their cell, unless carried to a doctor or buried. A swinging trap door in the rear wall, the type for a dog, except larger, enabled one to crawl through to her own exercise space, 8 by 12. Its four walls and floor also concrete. The roof, partially covered with a wire fence, allowed one to see the sky. In the summer, in-mates prayed for rain, to shower; winter, no prayers for snow.
A cement outdoor toilet was molded into a corner.
Detainees didn’t march to a cafeteria for meals. A tray with a tin plate and cup were slid through a slot in an iron door, twice a day. Women dispersed rations, some pleasant, told you their name, asked yours. Most were silent. One can’t imagine the hope, the excitement, to hear a voice or see a person. She kneeled and peered through the slot to catch every glimpse.
Yes, inhumane, prisoners not there for rehabilitation, only punishment.
How to cope? One tried not to think or remember life, drove you mad, you paced back and forth like a caged animal. Only one relief, a book; thank God for the kind women who worked in the kitchen. They would discreetly slip one into your cell. She didn’t care what book, read it over and over until given another, wishing she had her balalaika to play and feel alive.
She dare not think of her husband. It would destroy her.
Sitting on a cold slab of concrete she looked about: a grey ceiling, grey walls, grey floor and a grey steel door. Even a mattress, a blanket and her prison garment, grey. Everything grey, except for a patch of tan under the bunk, a suitcase. She placed it on her lap, opened it, and peeked at the flashlight. With an overpowering sick feeling she would be confined a long, long time, removed the two batteries.
It was a year before she realized there was someone to talk to, God, and she could see Him. During the summer He appeared often, an hour or two a day, always outside in the exercise compound. No clouds or a few, He would be there, overhead, the sun; in the winter hardly at all. She followed his light, cast on walls as it slowly moved around and away, stood on her toes to catch the last rays, talking to Him the entire time. Winter, she pleaded with Him to visit her.
The woman’s depression unbearable, she had a cure. Opened her suitcase and looked at her flashlight.
Her birthday, three years in the cell, no party, no cake, no candles, she would perform a ritual. In total darkness, slipped her flashlight out of the suitcase, inserted two batteries into the tube and climbed into her bunk.
Head under a blanket she said a prayer, closed her eyes and flipped the switch. She opened her eyes, same as last time, no beam of light, not even a hint of glow. Now she knew, for sure the batteries were dead, and wished she was dead.
Next day in the depths of despair she crawled out the swinging door on all fours, sat on the cold, clammy, concrete, leaned against a wall, wanted to cry, no tears remained.
Drizzling, she watched shallow pools form on the cement floor under the overhead open fence, rain dripped through it. The patterns mesmerized her. She saw and heard splashes in the water, as if a child were stomping around, a young voice laughing. Tiny wet footprints on the dry cement made their way towards her, stopped. “Sorry, I just had to play in the puddles.”
The woman felt a weight sitting on her lap, dampness on her dress, asked “Who are you?”
“An angel, I’m yours.”
“Why are you here?”
“Be with you always, help you cry.”