In the Shadows (2)

Sal crouched under the tiled worktop in the kitchen. Her wet face smeared the cool plaster wall as she pressed her body into it. She heard the creak and grind of the metal doors as they came together to close, the two sections adjoining with a dull clunk and the rattle of glass, announcing Guy’s departure and punctuated with the click and slide of the key turning, being withdrawn. She sat a while longer, part crying part humming, beginning to move her legs away from their limpet like position at the wall and out into the wider area of the room. Her hands crept down from their blocking position over her ears. She was vaguely aware of a monotonous drone somewhere in the room but entirely oblivious that the noise was coming from her. Her hands felt for the cool floor, fingers fanned out and started to feel their way over the floor, moving her from her refuge. Distress remained palpable in the room and as her head turned slowly, her hair plastered wetly to her neck and face, her fingers encountered the sticky, congealing wetness on the tiles; kicked back like the recoil on a rifle. The feel of it made her finally open her eyes. Butterfly pools of red flitted over the floor, glistening, patterning the white and turning brown in the grouted channels. Dull red shrieked down the far wall and a metallic tang hung in the silence that now boomed in her ears after the onslaught. She felt defeated and the sight before her just brought it all back. She slumped onto the kitchen floor amongst the mess and the filth and slept. Continue reading

In the Shadows


Sal stood on the tiled balcony an arm draped casually around the chalky pink column. Her other hand rested on the damp balustrade, fingers flicking at a rotting papaya leaf that had been swept there by the afternoon rains. The post rain breeze carried a pungent waft of leaves, moist and decaying in the ditches beside the road, and cleansed away the fumes of the traffic below. Petrol and oil would soon resurface as the traffic geared up again and would mingle with the symphony of smells that told her she was home: the neighbour’s drifting incense, the steaming food carts, the open drains.

She gazed at the scene laid out below and thought about leaving; distracted herself by counting. No radio, no television, this was her favourite game: people watching, people counting. The most people on a motorbike (seven), most on a bicycle (four adults but they quickly fell off), biggest family in a cyclo (seven again), largest load on a bike (a fridge freezer), most cops on a motorbike (five), weirdest thing on a cyclo (a motorbike? A curb side petrol station?) She’d even tried counting tourists (one looking lost). The balcony was her window into another world. The sun’s descent had left an earthy glow on this side of the city, the daylight not yet gone but the cool moving in. Tuol Sleng stood a street away surrounded by green grass and palms, trimmed with barbed wire. The shady confines were tinted red. She shivered at the sight and as she scanned the street below she felt simultaneously removed from it and a part of it. The exertion of the afternoon had shined her face and arms and sapped her remaining energy as she moved back into the house.

Guy lay on the bed. Sweat glistened along the coarse, wiry blonde hairs that coated his arms and chest, shone in the dark hollows beneath his eyes and slicked his upper lip. Continue reading

Phnom Penh via Battambang

The clamour as the boat docks brings me back to reality. After the tranquillity of open water I’m reluctant to throw myself back into the hustle of town life. I hang back, until the eager crowd of motodops see me. They’re hoping for a big fare and start pulling at me, shouting out their prices. I’m having difficulty understanding what they are saying but manage to latch onto a man who speaks a little English. With a broad grin he quotes his fare to Poipet, the border town about four hours ride away. I only want to get into town but he’s already helping me with my pack,

‘Dteh, dteh,’ I shout above the bartering cacophony, almost exhausting my knowledge of the Khmer language.

‘Uh, uh, dtow nar? Where you go?’

‘Battambang!’

At this brief exchange he cracks a huge smile and laughs. Moments later I’m on his motorbike making my way into the city to stay at The Chhaya. Continue reading