Most of our communications were pointed tools or hand gestures. By the time the final piece was laid, we had exchanged at the most 1,000 words. When we did talk, it was desultory and brief.
More often than not, we would savor these usually one-sided conversations. These interruptions were mini oases between the barren repetitions of laying brick and mortar and the haunting, silent faces that we observed with grim regard as they shuffled by.
“Need more,” I would grunt while pointing with a gritty hand thrust forward. My companion would stop and look. Then we would both stand and stare at an empty trough of mortar, hoping against hope that we would truly be out, but the guards always brought more. We mixed as slowly as we could without risking their ire and punishment of impression into the never-ending column.
My first companion quit.
When we completed what we thought were garbage incinerators, we both stood proudly admiring our handiwork. The Schutzhaftlagerführer slapped us on the back and commended us for our handiwork as he handed us the plans for our next task. We were all smiles until the ovens were lit and to our horror, the first “waste” was thrown in. It was a naked girl of maybe six with a shaven head.
The next day, he stabbed himself in the neck with a trowel after reporting for work, and I watched as his body was loaded onto a cart and delivered to his previous toils.
I never asked my new companion’s name.
It didn’t matter.
There was nothing to talk about.