Six million faces in my head
I see the car waiting at the corner and I panic, turning up my coat collar hoping they won’t see me inside.
I am an old man now – different from the man I was when I was young – but they won’t care that I only followed orders.
I slow my pace to avoid the headlights of another passing car.
The store window is filled with naked mannequins, each face as pale as death, hovering over me as I hobble along the sidewalk.
The car’s reflection shows in the glass, and I wonder what these men think, and if it is possible for me to explain the mistake I made as a soldier, a mistake I have regretted my whole life since.
I AM a different man now.
I WAS only following orders.
My children would never understand or even believe what I did if they learned about it.
I have kept my silence all these years since.
Why do these shadows in this car want to ruin their lives just to get back at me?
I still see the faces in my head, and the lives of people walking inch by inch, step by step, into that chamber, heads shaven, bodies shorn of clothes, bars of soap clutches between their shivering fingers as they move through the door.
“Breathe deep,” I tell them, then bolt the door when the last of them is in.
I still hear the echo of their voices before the pellets drop, the nervous chatter before the air goes sour and they start to scream.
It is always the same scene, though never the same faces as if I am sentenced to have all six million faces pass through my mind before I can be free of them, knowing that when they have all expired their parade will start again from the first, the screams my screams, their pounding on the door echoed by the pounding of my heart, the scent of their burning bodies constant in my nostrils day and night.
I am half way down the block when the car starts, head lights popping on like search lights, locking me in its beam, growing brighter and more steady as the car grows near.
I clutch my cane.
I cannot flee any more than the six million could, so I cringe and wait for the hands to grab me and yank me inside.
I want to beg for mercy. I want to ask them for another chance. I pray and plead to these faces as the other faces did back then.
But there is nobody to beg, just the ghosts of the dead marching in their endless stream of striped shirts, stripped from them before they are sentenced to death.
The car goes buy, leaving me in the shadow, but I am not relieved. There will always be another car, and another moment, until they actually come, and down deep, I can’t wait for it to happen, if only to relieve me from seeing the six million faces in my head.