The history of Cambodia has been told again and again in various ways. The wars we’ve been through took so many lives. There were many Cambodians who bravely fought against the oppressors, but their efforts and devotion to the country have never been valued by today’s generation.
The aftermath of war is explained in the short story called, “Samnol Chet” written by author Khem Chan So Akhaing. The story was published recently as part of the collection of short stories which were written by an organisation of local writers called Prey Rumduol. The publication is a tribute to one of the legendary writers of Cambodia, Oum Suphany, who passed away a few months ago.
The author starts the story by showing one visible change in the society – how beer gardens are gradually growing and getting popular among middle-class people. Sitting comfortably in a beer garden, Pheakdey (main character) joyfully waits for his bottles of beer. Unfortunately, his joy is suddenly interrupted by a call from someone asking him for help in buying a can of crickets.
As he pays for the can of cricket he just bought, Pheakdey talks to the 15-year-old vendor. The young lady tells Pheakdy that she has to sell crickets to help her family. She also shares that she is scholar of one organisation.
Pheakdey’s heart is torn apart upon hearing the girl’s story. He learns that the girl’s mother works as a cleaner while her disabled father sells flowers on the streets. The cricket vendor shares that her father became disabled after he volunteered to fight for the nation during and after the war. Her father helped demine some provinces. But his work led to catastrophe when the mine he was trying to remove blew off and affected his eye and leg.
And as if that tragedy wasn’t enough for the girl’s family, they were asked to leave their home in Pailin after they were told that were settling in someone else’s land. That land was immediately claimed by people after it was cleared by mines.
To overcome starvation, her family now does different things. All of them do different jobs just to put food on the table.
After telling her story, the girl goes away to sell more crickets to other people, leaving Pheakdey feeling surprised and sad over the fate of those who have sacrificed their lives to save the nation.
However, instead of having people share the same sympathy over the misfortune of the cricket seller and her family, Pheakdey is mocked by his friends for easily believing the girl’s story.
He is then told that the story is a lie and he is just being trapped so he’d buy more cans of crickets.
Pheakdey is torn between believing the story he has just heard and the possibility that it was just pure lie for the cricket girl to earn.
If you were in Pheakdey’s shoes, would you also sympathise the victims of the war who have been living in dire conditions instead of getting honoured for their sacrifice and courage? Or, would you also doubt their stories and situations? Read this story and 19 other thought-provoking narratives from Prey Rumduol book.
Author: Khem Chan So Akhaing
Publication: Khmer Books Publishing, 2018