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Christmas is when?

a Christmas over 65 years ago, but still vivid in my mind. This is a true story.

This morning I am happy. I am happy because I can sit in the sun. It feels good to see the sun after so many dreary, dark days. The snow has melted away and the ground is now dry. I take off my shirt and lay it in my lap, I am ready. My friend Peter sits on my left, he is a bit faster than me and has already started. It is cool this morning but not really cold.

Peter and I are not alone. There are many other prisoners who also have ventured forth. I pick up my shirt and soon hear the first crackling sound. It is a satisfying sound. I hear it whenever my thumbnails meet. It takes just a little pressure to hear that sound again.

I had heard of body lice before but they lived on other people, people in the slums or under bridges. But now they also live in the seams of my shirt and my pants. Twice I had thought I had gotten them all. But I was wrong. They returned to torture me some more. Peter, sitting next to me makes small ' ha' sounds every time he cracks one between his two thumbnails.

It does not take very much these days to make me happy. I remember I was happy two days ago. I found a little stub of a pencil. I put it into that little bag that used to hold Bull Durham tobacco. That's where I keep my treasures except for the piece of wood. There is the razor blade I had found and also a nail for cleaning my fingernails.

The glass and the wood lay next to each other when I found them. I am sure they are friends. I am glad I picked up both. They help me keep my sanity when I walk the circle. One hour each day they make us walk the circle. Round and round we stumble. There must be about 100 of us. I like to walk behind big Otto if I can manage to get behind him. They say he is the strongest man in our compound.

I stumble along behind big Otto and I scrape. I'm making a spoon. There is a small depression now where the bowl will be. I think I will finish soon. Maybe in 10 days from now. And then my mind wanders. If this is December there should be a Christmas somewhere. How long have I been here? Will they tell us when it is Christmas? There are rumors that we might get hot soup for Christmas.

Maybe Christmas was here already. Maybe I missed it. It could even be next year already; I wouldn't know. I think I'm confused. I drag myself along behind Otto. I try to think, when did I get here? I know this is not Hell. There I’ve been already. This could be purgatory. No, I think I’m still on earth. But where?. And why? Maybe Peter knows. I will ask him. And then suddenly there is a memory. Not the one I want, a different one. The one I want to forget.

Back at the tent I ask Peter. "Peter," I say. “I think we missed Christmas."

"No," he says, shaking his head "you are just confused."

As I turn away it flashes up again. I am the company commander. There should be 80 men. But now there are 16. And I am sure that there is a sandbox somewhere. Out of reach of bullets. There are little flags stuck in the sand. One of them says company B, that’s us. I turned back to Peter.

Somehow Peter knows. “Let go," he says." Not your fault." I see it in my mind's eye. There is that Col. looking at the sandbox. He moves a little flag and that moves us to a different sector. And now we don't have to kill anymore.

The next day I walk the circle again. I think Peter is right. I tell my mind to let go. I march one more time, the last time. The 16 of us arrive at the little X on the map. Our new precision. And now we are here. And I march behind big Otto. I hold a piece of wood in one hand and a sharp shard of glass in the other. I want to finish my spoon. Because it will tell me when it is Christmas.

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