Time, it seems, has a funny way of imprinting itself on your memories. The grey land of Nerchinsk, with its worn roads, its forests, fences, and horizons laced with countless metallurgical operations—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 belching up from little chimneys in great billows, where once there had been only threads, fading into night. The already stark landscape of the taiga with its muddy hills and lonely trees, obliterated into swamp and shrub and an undergrowth of rubble. The barrack sheds and village shacks once only smudges of blackened wood, now betrayed faded shocks of color—window shutters, painted doors and makeshift murals. Silence had been pumiced by sounds of picks and carts and heavy hammers, creaking gates, cows and chickens, silverware and screeches. Above all, the wailing whistle as the train approached from the parallel tracks of the ever-growing Great Railway.
Eastern winds that once wafted smells from deepest Asia, now blew 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.
Not to be forgotten, was all of them—memories, shadows and friends alike. They had been rubbed down, they lay worn 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 by madness they scarcely knew themselves. Time leached all that was impure from the companions until all that remained was the world-weariness, the churlish tempers, and the intricate psychological scaffoldings, which could not be kept up or down under the pummeling of Siberian days.
It was these little things.
Nothing can compare to the first moments 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 swiftly grew to years.
They were nearer to ash, to dust, to eternity, than they have ever been before.