(First published on Pen There )
What did you think, Nastya, when you looked into the courtyard? Were you surprised to see that the promise of Spring had matured into Summer? Did your heart lift at the sight of the wide sky and birds far above the rooftops, or did your darkest thoughts return when you saw the decrepit wooden door which guards the way to the basement?
You had to open the window to see out, because the glass has been painted over to keep you hidden. You could not bear it because your spirit is not to be confined. It strives against the arbitrary tyranny of rules.
When a nervous young soldier fired at you because you had defied your captors and dared to look out at the summer sunshine, did you guess then what was waiting for you in that underground room?
There are no chandeliers here, no fine china or sparkling crystal. The drab uniforms which surround you cannot be compared to the finery of the young officers who vied to be your escort such a short time ago.
This is no light and airy palace, yet, until the garrison was changed, you could laugh and play here. Do you remember when you fell off the swing and rolled across the ground, and found it so amusing that you told the story again and again for days?
Can you remember, or is your mind fixed now on the future, a time when the commander who has been so courteous to you will lead you down the steps into the dim and dusty place where your family will be annihilated, with the din of machine guns echoing around the walls?
Should we grieve for you Nastya? Is it of any consequence that your privileged young life is to be extinguished just as it trembles at the dawn of adulthood? What will your death be, compared to the thousands who have suffered and died through the incompetent choices of your father?
Can it be said in your defence that you had no part in his decisions, when your people, whose influence is even less, must daily bear the pain of their ruler’s errors?
Your parents’ deaths will come swiftly. Yours will not. It will be delivered by a bayonet as you crouch, alone and shaking with terror, at the furthermost point of that foul and oppressive room.
Should this concern us, when many thousands will be hunted down and killed simply for showing loyalty to your family?
Perhaps not, but there may be a reason that we should not discard your memory, after all.
When we hear of the massacre of thousands, millions, we cannot comprehend it. We feel no connection to numbers. A number cannot stare defiantly back at us from a fading photograph.
We cannot know thousands, but we do know you, Nastya, we know how you will suffer and we can weep for you, and through you we will mourn every one of the others.