He started to remove the bindings from his feet. He wondered where he would be able to find more strips of cloth such as these. He no longer had access to the old linen store. It had been closed a few months ago. The guards had been reprimanded for losing some of the stock. Had they taken the required bribes and passed them up the chain of command all might have been well. Now some over-zealous pen-pusher had disrupted the system and everyone would suffer.
From now on the guards would also be spending extended holidays in the frozen beauty of the Siberian tundra. Enjoying shared holiday cabins in the resort known as the Gulag. He felt no sympathy for them. No-one could empathise with those who had once had the power of life and death over such as he. In fact the thought made him smile in satisfaction. Though that did not offer physical warmth, only a warm mental glow.
Warmth had been in short supply for the past few days as Autumn was coming to an end. Today had been the first taste of the long Winter to come. Noticeable changes, a glistening sheet of ice inside the windows in the morning. A cool mist that seeped through the holes in the greatcoat. The leaden, overcast skies, clouds building and lingering, slowly but perceptibly, and now the first snowfall.
Instead of fur-lined boots, prison issue hobnails stuffed with linen strips were now the latest fashion, although not by choice, beloved by all, guaranteed to last two Winters with careful usage. Andrei would have no need to replace them. He would be due for release in his second year. It remained a goal to be cherished. Nobody liked to think that most sentences were invariably extended. Two years often becoming three, that was reasonable, seldom more than four.
He finished unwrapping his feet. He stopped and looked about him, reflecting on the silence. Like the forest now that the snow had arrived. Fifty people, yet no conversation; like himself, each lost in their own thoughts and too tired to waste time in conversation with neighbours. Friendships were not made, too easily broken in their hand to mouth existence.
The white skin on his feet, calloused and flaking was already beginning to turn red in the cold air. He rubbed at them furiously with his woollen-gloved hands. He bent his head to examine them more closely, a cloud of steam spreading over each foot with every breath. No signs of frostbite yet. He smiled, surprised at how the smallest thing was able to give him pleasure. He stretched his toes, massaging some heat back into them. He thought he would leave washing them for this one day as there was no guarantee the water would not be freezing cold from the tap. Slowly, savouring the feel of the soft linen he started to rebind each ankle and sole. If the bindings stayed in place his boots would keep the heat in until it was time to go out to the yard for the last roll-call before lights out at ten. He leaned back on his wooden palette and closed his eyes. There were no holes in his mittens or breeches that needed mending, that left two hours respite from the toil of the day. A small luxury to be enjoyed in the best possible way he could think of.