Dear Joconde,

It’s Mikhail, the boy you used to chase with a Chinese paper dragon, when we were kids. I write to you now – two years after me and Ivan went to war. One year has come to an end since he died.
Tomorrow, our division will be dropped for the seventh time behind enemy lines. This battle seems to never end. But I think the colonel has become desperate. We are out of ammo and out of clean water. If we don’t break through, we’ll be overrun. So, he told us, for the first time since I can’t remember, to write to someone dear and say what we need to say. And I write to you. Because I love you.

It happened the day we went into the fields, by the Volga, in school. You were running free as a wild bird – and I almost couldn’t move. I was illuminated. But then you sat on a bench with Ivan and read a book, and wrote into your notebook – and you drew a picture of the trees by the river. You were always so smart – I couldn’t reach you there, on that bench, it was so far. And slowly my legs could move again and the illumination stopped. You were not for me. But you were mine to dream of.
Then you and Ivan went to the University and I went to the tank factory of Novgorod. You cannot imagine how proud I was to work there, how incredibly proud. I became master chief in less then a year and when the war started I was made lieutenant and they gave me a brand new tank to command, one of my own making. You remember how often I fixed your bicycle when you were little? Well, I fixed that tank just like that, except you weren’t there to smile, when it was finished. I lost 15 tanks in the first three months of war, but I killed 143 enemy tanks, I got decorated for that. In the end, we ran out of tanks. So, the top tank crews where attached to paratrooper units and dropped near the enemy tank depots to commandeer their own tanks and make them bleed. Especially those who knew some mechanics, like me. But lately the enemy has run out of tanks also, so there’s nothing to commandeer. Still, we remained with the paratroopers, in charge of the heavy guns.
I never had any hesitation about fighting here, with my heavy guns. But when Ivan died, a new war started, just as big and bloody as the one out there. How could I be the one who let you know? How could I tell you that there were two men in this war who loved you, and only one of them died?
I need to go. I’m not sure if you still have that book, „Mikhail, the circus dog” by Jack London that I gave you when I last saw you. If you do, hide this letter in there. I liked that book.

Mikhail Borodin, your loving engineer chased by Chinese paper dragons –
To Joconde Abraham, June 26

P.S. You need not answer and besides, there is little time before we embark. If I write to you again, we will have won!