Time, it seems, has a funny way of imprinting itself on your memories.
The grey land of Nerchinsk, with its worn muddy roads, its forests, fences, and horizons laced with countless metallurgical operations, the silver, lead and iron ore, the salt and coal mines, all of it had altered.
Or perhaps it hadn’t. Perhaps it was merely their perception, altered.
The sky, once leaden was now a luminescent blue, heavy as eyelids fighting sleep. Clouds of smoke came wafting up from little chimneys in great billows where once there had been only threads, fading into night, and the barrack sheds and village shacks once only smudges of blackened wood, now betrayed shocks of color—- window shutters, painted doors and makeshift murals. Silence had been pumiced by the sounds of hammers, hushed voices, creaking gates, cows and chickens, silverware and screeches. Above all, the wailing whistle of the train as it approached down the parallel tracks of The ever-growing Great Railway. Eastern winds that once wafted smells from Mongolia and China now revealed only minerals from the ever-expanding mines; the sour sickness of sulfur, the sharpness of silver, and the harshly cleansing scorch of salt that burned the nostrils as you searched to define it further.
Her memories, shadows and friends alike— they had been worn down, and lay there damp and raw, like scraps of glass washed up upon the shores by the frigid waters of the Nercha. One could see what could never have been seen before: that Nerchinsk indeed held good men, and dark ones, and those so torn apart they scarcely knew goodness from darkness any longer. Time leached all that was impure from the companions until all that remained was the essential—the world-weariness, the churlish tempers, the intricate psychological scaffolds could not be kept up or down under the pummeling of days.
It was these little things.
Yes, the passage of time is experienced in many ways. But nothing can compare to the first moment one realizes that time has more than simply “passed,” but indeed, that things are older.
And they were.
Days passed and grew to weeks, weeks grew to months, which succeeded each other one after the other, and those months swiftly grew to years, and they were nearer to ash, to dust, to eternity, than they had ever been before.