A Soldierly Thing To Do

Ezra Azra


Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra

British Indian Soldier. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
British Indian Soldier. 
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The year is 1817. India is part of a flourishing British Empire, the first ever military empire so vast over the world that at any minute in a 24-hour period it is daytime somewhere in the Empire. This fact is the basis of the proverbial declaration that the sun never sets on the British Empire.

Moonsamy is about thirteen years old in the territory of Kerala in India. Severe undernourishment makes him look half his age. He timidly and fearfully offers his services as a menial helper to Captain William Goldstone, the White European Captain of the British garrison in the City of Kottayam.

Moonsamy expects to work for scraps of food. Captain Goldstone employs him on the spot for one penny a day, and all the scraps he can eat. Moonsamy accepts. His joy is boundless.

Moonsamy is Veddoid. The Veddoid people are a race of native Indians, blackest in complexion among all the black races on Earth.

In Moonsamy's time, there are only three ethnicities native to India: the Aryans, the Dravidians, and the Veddoids. The Veddoids are the oldest, and the only race indigenous to India, from their beginning. The Aryans and the Dravidians originated outside of India. Although the Aryans and the Dravidians tolerate each other, neither freely allows Veddoids into their company.

Nonetheless, now that Moonsamy is in the paid employ of a White European person, Moonsamy's fellow native Indians are obliged to share road-space with him in public, and to permit him to fill his bucket with water from the same communal well as they drink.

Veddoid Moonsamy's racist native nationals have the last snigger against him, though. To his face they snidely dub him "Moonsamy Goldstone." Since he has never known what his true Veddoid family name is, and more since William Goldstone is the first person in Moonsamy's memory to have shown him kindness and respect, Moonsamy readily and happily accepts "Moonsamy Goldstone," with pride.

For the next 39 years Moonsamy will serve as menial servant, and sometimes in emergencies as an armed fighting soldier in the British army in India, Australia, Canada, China, and South Africa.

Throughout these times, Moonsamy will show no aptitude to be more than barely literate. Most, perhaps everyone in the army who know Moonsamy more than casually, suspect his virtual illiteracy is feigned.

In the year 1856, British army records in Durban, Natal, South Africa, show Moonsamy Goldstone is 52 years old. He looks half his age because he is under weight and skinny; because he yet has all his straight Veddoid shiny black hair on his head; because his posture is that of a fighting-trim soldier of the British Empire.

Moonsamy is standing at attention in the office of Major Maynard Melnin, in Durban, Natal, South Africa. Melnin is seated at his desk, casually turning pages in Moonsamy's official records.

"At ease, Goldstone. Be seated, please." Moonsamy sits in a chair at the desk. "Good news, Moonsamy Goldstone. You are about twenty years overdue for retirement and pension. Because you are not officially employed as a soldier or other worker in a recognized category, nobody has been keeping track of your service. The British army owes you a lot of money. From my calculations, your annual pension will be more than your present annual pay. You will be discharged from the army eight weeks from today."

Moonsamy is alarmed and sad. Neither his face nor any other part of him shows it. "Will I have to return to India, sir." "You may retire to any territory in the British Empire, Moonsamy Goldstone. Anywhere outside, too, if you wish." "I would like to retire to The Bad Lands in this part of the Empire, sir."

The promptness of the request and the request itself takes the Major by surprise. "The Bad Lands, Moonsamy?" "Yes, sir." "Our Bad Lands? Here in Natal?" "Yes, sir."

"Moonsamy, that is suicide. If the violent weather extremes don't kill you, the poisonous snakes and vegetation will. Nobody lives there. Native Zulu criminals fleeing from their King Shaka never tried. For centuries, every tribe in these parts has avoided those Bad Lands as cursed. The land-hungry European Afrikaners, too, who do everything to isolate themselves from us, gave up on The Bad lands. After our first two attempts, we can't get anyone to explore the place for official records."

Moonsamy's next words stun the Major. "Major, sir, I will forfeit all my pension forever in payment for The Bad Lands."
One day eight weeks later, Moonsamy is sitting on the ground. The sun has set. He is tired. He is about to stretch out on the ground to sleep. He looks at the wall of forest on the other side of the deep ravine. Tomorrow he will climb down through the trees on the wall on this side of the ravine, until the decline takes him close enough to swing his grappling hook.

In his army backpack he has the original title deed to The Bad Lands. The army generously, perhaps facetiously, gratuitously had added "and to his named inheritors in perpetuity." He knows they think he has not read that far down. They are wrong.

He is amused by the addition. There will be no inheritors because he intends to live alone the rest of his life in The Bad Lands. And that won't be for long, if the accounts of treacherous weather, inhospitable earth, and vicious poisonous snakes are true.

Tomorrow he begins a new life as owner of The Bad Lands, about two-hundred miles in East-West extension into the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains, and about thirty miles at its narrowest South-North beginning. All of it within a high-rimmed three-side volcanic crater.

He drifts into sleep under a moonless starry sky. He has done this routinely many, many times on the march in most countries of the British Empire for some thirty-nine years. The hard natural ground at sleep time has ever been a reliable and welcomed companion all his life.

He welcomes a sensation of surrendering to a happy whelming feeling of being on the eve of a new, a momentous beginning. Exactly the same emotion that first time he held in his palms his first month's pay of thirty pennies from Captain William Goldstone in Kottayam, Kerala, India.

He dreams he is lying on his back on warm sand at night. His mouth is open to catch dew. British soldiers did this in the Thar desert in northwest India. The night dew in the Thar floats down slowly in specks as light as air.

He is awake! His soldier's instinct, exquisitely honed, ignites. He has been soldier-trained to awake from sleep but to keep his eyes closed. He is perspiring; he cannot tell just yet if this is because of the warm weather or because of his heightened awareness of imminent danger. His eyes are closed but he knows it is not night anymore. His dream he is drinking dew is not all-dream. He feels drops of moisture on his face. It's heavier than Thar dew. It must be rain. Very light rain because he cannot hear it falling on the ground or on the foliage. He disciplines himself to be motionlessly relaxed on the ground.

"I know you are awake, sir." A child's friendly voice. Moonsamy slowly turns his head in the direction of the voice. He opens his eyes. It is a child. A girl.

She is sitting on the ground a few steps away. She is smiling in full and open wide-eyed innocent excitement of discovery. Her irises shine brightly like polished silver. Her thick yellow hair is neatly combed. It drapes loosely from her head to cover all of her, except her arms. It is unaffected by the rain. Some drops of rain linger delicately clinging to her hair, sparkling like jewels. Others slowly, reluctantly, tumble-roll down.

She is an ethereally beautiful vision. Moonsamy is alarmed because she is White. He sees nothing else about her except her Whiteness that frightens him.

Racism against people of Moonsamy's ethnicity is a polite unwritten basic principle of British imperial creed throughout the Empire. He has been content to live by this founding British belief all his life.

This White girl is too close to him. If an adult White sees this, he will be thrown into prison. He eases himself slowly to a sitting position, keeping his eyes warily on her as he proceeds to inch away.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, for trespassing. I will leave immediately. Please forgive me." "You're not trespassing, sir." He is uncomfortably unfamiliar with being addressed as "sir" by a White person. It's never happened to him throughout the Empire upon which the sun never set. What is she up to? It cannot be good for him.

He stands in preparation to walk away. She, too, promptly stands. Moonsamy's apprehension turns to terror! She is naked down to her shoeless feet! He will be executed for this. Beaten to a breath away from death, and then executed for seeing a White female naked!

He turns and quickly walks away, stumbling as he goes. The rain and wind increase. The White girl follows him.

"Sir, please, let me take you to my family. They will be happy to meet you. I have already told them about you."

Moonsamy stops abruptly. Her family knows! They will search for him! They will use tracking dogs! He will be tortured, flayed, and then lynched!

In his terror, he speaks with difficulty. "Ma'am, I am deeply sorry for being here. I was looking for a convenient place to cross the ravine. But I fell asleep."

"But, sir, you have crossed the ravine. I watched you swing those hooks on a rope. You were very good at it. You hooked a sturdy tree on your first swing."

Moonsamy instantly conjures up the British Empire soldier in him. He runs away from the White child, as fast as he can. In seconds he reaches a speed higher than he ever did anywhere in the Empire, perhaps because here he is not waited down by a heavy uniform; heavy boots; a heavy metal weapon. He is running faster than even when he had to flee those times from a hot-pursuing homicidal enemy on a battlefield.

The child is White. White persons never lie. She says he has already crossed the ravine; then it must be ahead of him. If he keeps running in this direction, he is bound to reach the ravine. He is determined to dive into it; to a soldierly heroic sacrificial death; to his eternal freedom.

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