Was it a memory that tormented them? Most of "them" were probably over 75 and old enough to remember. They stood still and stared, but their faces were blank - no fear, no joy, nothing at all. Were these blank faces a sign to keep the strangers at a distance or was there something else there - fear perhaps? But what was there to be afraid of in that sport studio? The three young men who stood in the spotlight were not doing any harm. They were working on their pectoral muscles - not unusual in a gym. They were a little noisy, it is true, but they were young and youth is not a bad thing. The onlookers were old but age is not a bad thing either, is it?
Perhaps it was language that marked these young men out. This language was not strange to me. After all, I had worked in their land and I associated the language with the breakup of empire, beggars in the streets of St Petersburg and a short-lived relationship, pinched in the bud when I discovered the existence of a husband and a family! Making my way towards the floor mats, I estimated that the German onlookers in the gym had all been born around 1937. For them, the sound of the Russian language possibly evoked fear of the Russian hordes, of rape, of mass shootings and of things to them ever present. To the young Russians, of course, these things were called History.
Enough of this, Robert! Get a grip. You are making assumptions. You have nothing but your imagination and flimsy evidence to go on. You dare to reinforce prejudices of your own, project them on to others and call it truth?
I hang my head in shame, but a loud voice in my head is shouting: "But this is where inspiration comes from. This is the what-if moment."
In both literature and film, the breaking down of prejudice to arrive at the "truth" has been used to dramatic effect. Think of Agatha Christie, of "To Kill a Mockingbird," and think of that wonderful film noir, "Twelve Angry Men."
So - next time you get carried away by your own imagination, let yourself be taken and "go with the flow." You could use your thoughts as the basis for a good story with interesting themes. And here is a title: "The secret World of Walter Mitty."
Oh, but that has already been done, hasn't it?