It seems like everything I’ve been writing lately has been about fucking and loving. That’s all I’ve been doing. It makes sense. In a place like South-East Asia, that’s all there is to do—party and play around with the opposite sex. Sometimes, though, sometimes amidst the fog of banging, there arises a drum that resonates. Such was the case with this girl. Her name was Lucky. I kept thinking the whole time that she must be scared. The look in her eyes at times told me so. But now I don’t know. I think maybe the sacredness I saw was a reflection of some kind.
We met one night amidst the partying at a meat-stand, where those Cambodians will cook anything greasy for a couple US dollars. She was sitting close by next to her older sister. The first thing I saw was her funny overalls. They were drooping over the front of her, like they were two sizes too big for her chest. Under the overalls, she wore a red wife-beater. She was skinny. Her smile hit me like a freight-train hits a cow and nearly killed me. It was big and happy as hell. She had so many teeth in that mouth that you could’ve mistaken her for a shark. Don’t get me wrong though. She was gorgeous. If the smile didn’t get you, the eyes sure as hell would. They did. I stared at her big brown eyes. She caught me, but I kept staring, so she jirked her head back like an all-enquiring puppy-dog and asked me straight up why I stared at her. I just laughed and stared.
It’s a funny difference in these countries, staring. In America, or so I had always thought, staring for a long time was either creepy or seedy. Well, it’s not the case so much here. I’ve learned to stare and mean it. Most of the time, when it works, I can see it in their smile and the way they blush. It’s the lust. This time was different. That’s how I knew I wanted to chase. She was crazy-honest I thought. And by God did I hit it on the head then and there. She was. I won’t use the present tense because like all things written in earnest, it’s an earnest to forget and not to remember.
As I was saying, she was honest and pretty, and crazy. I am a fan of all three, and manage to hit at least one characteristic every time … but never three. Three is a lot to handle.
We talked for a while and I got steered in deep to her aura. I laughed when she danced, and talked, and did anything really. She was a real character, and I like to laugh at such people. People like her are in the world to be laughed with and at. That’s their purpose. They help to get out the good laughs when one is able. Gotta take advantage of a good thing.
She was goofy, and didn’t mind making a fool out of herself. I find that I can relate to such people. However, such off-the-wall gregariousness in public says a lot about a person’s fears. When a man is not afraid to make a fool out of himself, it’s because he doesn’t care. Whether that’s do to self-esteem or abandonment issues is the question worth considering.
Well, in all her goofiness, she was a shy girl. And I am a gentleman, so we decided to meet the next day. We kissed goodbye, and I sat in a pool hole for an hour waiting for my friend to ball her sister and then went to bed.
The next day was interesting and taught me everything about Cambodian culture. Basically, I learned that security is everything. On the surface, this need for security makes Cambodian women sound like gold-diggers. On the contrary, however, I can tell you that such is found in all of us to an extent. The search for comfort is the root. I seek comfort for my loins and my heart. Lucky, I began to see, sought the same-same, but different. She was born into poverty with eight other sisters and one brother. Her father is dead. Her mother left for a time after, and now she calls her sister Mom.
I am American. I can do anything. For a long time, I used to think blindly that everyone came from the same blank slate. Cambodia wizens one up quickly. Overall, I just try not to judge anything at all.
D-Day did make me wary all the same. We met by the bar and I did not stamp my foot in decisiveness. Bad idea I found out, though I cannot for the life of me change the fact that I am a man under no directive path. I don’t care where I land during the day so long as my face is not drooping at sunset. She chose “Shanghai Bar,” a dark den filled with dark hair and dark old and broken European hearts. Like most in Pnom Penh, it is over-staffed, under-payed, and filled to the brim with entrepreneurial women seeking money and attention with the freedom to say no, though most, if not all can’t. The girl on my shoulder worked there in her younger days, as I later found out. She is a talking girl, and knew every girl there. It was a gregarious situation amongst the ladies, and I was on the outskirts.
So we left that mother fucker straight-away and went to the seaside, and the lair was behind us, but not without casualties, for she had brought a gimp onto the boarding boat—her best friend, who couldn’t speak English. Indeed, as one can tell, it was frustrating to say the least. My mind could not escape the turmoil, and so like many men in similar situations, my gaze for a time hung to the wall and I tried to think my way out of the ditch that blindsided my view and punctured my front tire.
It got worse before it got better. I had to pay for everything. This included the friend’s appetite. I felt like a sucker. I am not monetarily carefree, especially when travelling, so my principle-minded heart was on fire as I picked up the check and walked out with them. But my philosophy is glass-half-full, and by god did I death-grip it and walk out the door with a smile.
Alright so, one may think at this moment, why didn’t this sap just bounce. Well, that god-damned smile kept me smiling, and made me think she wasn’t just trying to take me. Okay, I knew that a free date is great for a poor Cambodian girl, and as Cambodian dating is concerned, men do pay for the girl, but it wasn’t that. It was her eyes. She told me that she wasn’t smiling at the dish on her plate, but at the one to her side, me.
So I punched the clutch and tried to gun it out of the hole. But for swearing, someone drank from the god-damned glass, I stalled out completely and we ended up back at the female watering hole another time. My mind started to run, and I began to think that all was lost. I could not call my friend to bolster my heart, and I was sitting forlornly by her side for a long time watching her chat to everyone but me, and counting the checks that slipped slowly closer and closer toward the hole in my wallet. But her sister threw me a road flare and informed me that my two friends were coming. This made me smile, and I awaited the troops.
They showed up and I got some breathing room from my date. We talked seldomly as my Brazilian friend Marcos
and I played pool with the bar-girls. Now and again, Lucky would turn and come over to me to mingle. We would chat and tickle each other and fight Tom-and-Jerry style. Our eyes held the same implacably suggestive gaze. But for the life of me I couldn’t understand why my attempts to kiss her were fought to the tooth. I could not make a dent on what seemed like an adamantine exterior. I was stuck.
For the sake of explaining, I am a confident man when the troops wave the flag, but morale-deprived when the troops scurry away. I do not thrive on the down-and-out. So as I mused and watched her play on her i-phone, I counted the cards and threw the deck in the air. Fuck it, I thought as I played pool with Marcos.
He saw my frustration, and listened patiently. Then he spoke from somewhere within, and held a coy eye the entire time. “Cambodian women are subservient. They will do what you say. Just say it.” His words haunted me. All my life, the term subservience has held nothing but woe, and brought nothing but heartache. I didn’t want to believe, and felt even more hopeless at the thought. But he saw my silence as a green light, and took it upon himself to do something. He looked at me, turned, and walked over and whispered something in her ear. The next thing I knew, she shouted at me with a smile and beckoned me over. I didn’t know what to think, but trudged over nonetheless. She spoke in simple words. There was no small-talk. She did not play. She asked me if I was tired, and said she was as well. “Let’s go,” she said to me. I looked at her, cocked my head to the side, and looked back at Marcos. What the fuck did he say?- I thought.
I asked her, “Do you want to?”
She replied, “If you want.”
I cringed. Ya, I thought, ya I want, God did I ever, but what the fuck! God damn was this a curveball. Moments before, she was touchin’ shit on her phone, now she wanted to fuck.
“I want,” I said so matter-of-factly I nearly laughed, “but I don’t understand. Why the turn-around? What did Marcos say to you? Why now, all of a sudden, you just want to go?”
She smiled for a long time and didn’t answer. So I thought worse.
Finally, she lead. “We go,” she said and got up out of the bar-stool. As she grabbed her bag, I made a run at Marcos. I spoke so seriously to him that he cowered to the wall and my finger felt like an anvil. At that moment, all I could think was that he had proved his words and I wanted to kill him for it.
“Marcos,” I smote, “What the hell did you say to her?”
“I didn’t say anything, man. Don’t worry.”
I felt my face get hot. I pointed at him. “Hey, man. Don’t ever talk to my girl like you did. I don’t care what you said. It’s not your place. Mind your own god-damned business.”
I stopped talking and shook my head. I felt like I didn’t care what he thought or said, or even had said. That wasn’t what frustrated me. Her words, “If you want,” frustrated me, and at the time, said everything, explained everything, meant everything. In Cambodia, the man wants, and he gets, and the girl takes it and gets scraps in return.
As he shook his hands to calm me, I looked into his eyes and felt guilt. Here was a man I saw as a friend, a man I grew fond of quickly, and I was yelling at him over something he said to my girl, something I didn’t even know. I felt like a bully. He walked over to the other side of the bar, and we walked out toward my hotel. I stopped and walked back to get the key. As I grabbed it from my friend, Marcos apologized again and I accepted it as best I could and told him not to worry, seeing in his eyes finally good-will.
As her and I walked to the hotel, I spoke of Marcos and asked her what he said. As it turned out, he had merely informed her that I was bored and he felt she was ignoring me. I felt ridiculous, but I shrugged it off as best I could so as to look forward to the night ahead. We went up to my room and lay next to each other on the bed for a long time. We discussed Cambodia and America, dating, our situation together, and then we made love. It was nice, and a moment during the intensity explained everything. As we breathed heavy and hard, I asked her plain-and-simple “Do you like it?” and those big brown glazed-over eyes opened wide and she answered, “As you want.”
Now I have a handle on what Marcos said about Cambodian women. It’s not altruism, slavery, or even panning for gold. It is fair-trade. She is safe in my arms and I in her gaze. A touch of Capitalism, Cambodia-style.
-This one’s for you Tom. I’ll always be your Jerry.