Powder

I am writing this letter in forlorn hope. It has not been my habit to communicate my innermost thoughts to others; not merely because I have learned, as one must, that this is weakness, but for the truer reason that to reveal such savage and despicable fancies as do perpetually arise in every hour of my waking would do nothing but diminish me in others’ eyes into a thuggish cretin. Across the past three months those thoughts too long denied a voice have been revenged upon their gaoler. I am not sure how many men in my command have died. Nor how many shall return home to the brutal twilight of beggary in England. Six local women’s ghosts gnaw at my conscience. Yet I claim to write in hope. I hope that setting down these thoughts will release them in some manner that I cannot yet imagine. I hope this letter is never read. I hope that I am not remembered. Would that everyone who ever knew me could be heaped upon a pyre, their memories burned out of them, rising like the oily soot that still chokes our encampment. Flakes settle like the souls of flies upon this page. They’re silting up the untouched bowl of rice that’s by my side. As I write I imagine each word abandoning my mind forever, reducing thought down to a pinpoint void - as if language was a finite thing, as if each word could be used but once and when dispatched would leave the writer be, never return. This is my hope.

The war was efficient, soon over. My role was brief and officially unrecognised. I have been dead to the world for some time now and my afterlife has been a restless thing of patriotic subterfuge, perilously close to villainy. Sometimes I wonder if I really did die, and my unquiet shade lives in a state of obstinate refusal and all my actions since the interview with the governor have been the damned’s equivalent of nightmare. But my hands ache from when I beat against the god-king’s floor. My dysentery is real enough and I am sure that of the horrors that a hell may contain, loose bowels in a poisonous jungle are minor. These are human, temporal troubles. I am alive.

Gatherers of covert news informed the governor that out in the provinces there was a secret army gathering. Any conversation with the natives here is of force conducted through a sweet, confusing cloud of opiate obfuscation; we agents speak with them knowing we will be deceived, in large or minor ways depending on the fee or on the precise degree of hate lodged in each informant’s breast.