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