The earth was cool underneath the cracked bamboo mat he was lying on but it did little to dispel the heat that hung heavy in the air. The morning light shone through the straw roof and dappled his papery skin as he untangled his bony arms and legs and rolled over with quite some difficulty. They were packed shoulder to shoulder like fish in a can.
He coughed and grasped his protruding ribs, his face creased and worn by pain. In the distance he heard the drone of Japanese aeroplanes taking off from the island’s airstrip and the measured stomp of troops in morning formation.
The morning ritual started as shouts rang out across the camp. They were kicked one by one in the side by heavy boots as a wooden bowl of rice was dropped at each of their feet in turn. Low moans and coughs filled the space with dreadful resonance. He sat slowly and leant forward to pick up his bowl. The rice was alive with maggots but he greedily scooped it up with his hands and stuffed it into his mouth. He’d long since given up hope of a meal that didn’t move by itself.
After he was done he placed the bowl back on the floor and, like a puppet with its strings suddenly cut, crumpled down onto the mat in a heap. The sun shone through a gap in the roof and lit the tall faded grass by the edge of the hut. He felt his eyelids hang heavy. They shut and blinked open through the haze. Sunlight caught specks of dust as it poured through the open window, dancing over the hills of the English countryside. The flowers on the bedside table staggered him with their beauty as his eyes adjusted to the light. He stared into the spectacular green pool of his wife’s irises. She was holding his hand and squeezing it hard. But how she’d aged, she was old and worn but still magnificent. He whispered out her name and she smiled in a way that made his heart leap with joy. There was another woman, beautiful with flowing auburn hair. He knew her face. It was his daughter, he recognised her then but couldn’t understand how it could be, she wasn’t born yet. He felt a warmth like he’d seen her grow, seen her marry and have children of her own.
“Oh my beautiful girl, grown to a woman,” he breathed.
Her words caught in her chest as she made to speak. His eyelids felt heavy and dropped low.
“Dad … Dad can you hear me? Please stay, please don’t leave us,” she managed, her eyes brimming with tears.
He coughed and the cage of his lungs rattled his body into fits. He calmed but couldn’t form the words as he desperately tried to stop his eyes from closing. His vision blurred and the flowers withered into burnt grass, caught in the glow of the rising Japanese sun.