When I was an explorer, you were like a hidden continent spread out before me. I traversed your lowlands, studied your fables, and pitched my canvas tent beside your hidden rivers. I breathed deep into my lungs the spices of your ancient trade routes and drew maps describing all of your wonders in elaborate pen and ink symbols. There were puff-cheeked winds howling across previously uncharted waters. There were vast sweeping plains and delicate archipelagoes. My act of capturing your geography was the work of a true cartographical craftsman, abstract and assured, with coral and indigo dyes rendered from only the rarest of shellfish.
Once my position within your borders became firmly established, I began to see myself as a missionary. A devout purveyor of essential truth, charged with a message. Bewildered and repulsed by your heathen ways, I burned all your fetishes and denounced your rituals. My soul was the servant of a greater good; my body an instrument of holy progress. Tormented by visions, I wandered naked across your deserts. In my darkest hours, I was haunted by the mythological creatures of your savage legends. I sat alone in my monastic cell, hardly sleeping, illuminating hymnbooks with a goose quill pen.
The time came, of course, when I needed to assert my authority. There were shows of force and acts of subterfuge, necessary tools for the establishment of a regime. There were uprisings and skirmishes. There were secret allegiances and midnight meetings. I played clever little games of expedience and betrayal.
I don’t feel safe in your part of the world these days. There are too many places filled with danger. In the night market, there is the flash of a blade. Fields and valleys, once beautiful, are littered with land mines and shallow graves. There are blind alleys, darkened windows, and whispers of revolution.
Nothing is the way it used to be. Once upon a time, when the monsoons came, we would dance and sing in the streets. There was Friday night fish fries and torchlight parades. On holidays, we drank rum from pineapple shells. You held me tight and we would spin and laugh. Now there are too many drunken tourists, travelling with guidebooks and visas. They’re all searching for you or the promise of you. They’re all searching for that half-remembered place they’ve never been, that legendary paradise I once stumbled upon and left in ruins.
In the time-honoured style of pathetic, disillusioned romantics, I’ve taken up a new mission. I’ve taken up drinking myself to death in some intriguing little hotel bar, embalming my soul in mescal. Up on the red-lit stage, a band is dressed in velvet suits, playing all the songs we used to know. A dancer named Salome moves with snake-like grace. She dances backwards into the future, attracting veiled intentions. Any time now, they’ll be dimming the lights. Last call before closing. Outside in the streets, the graveyard dogs are howling.