As a service to our readers, Khmer Times is pleased to publish the full version of Ek Tha’s latest book Long Love, Short Life. The book will be published in sections every Friday. Below is the third portion of the series. This week, Duongchan and Dara declare their love under the moonlight.
Check out the Second portion here: https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50782622/a-broken-chain-finds-love-part-ii/
As Duongchan spoke to Dara he sat motionless on the rattan chair, being fed on by the mosquitoes since he is a stranger and the insects like this new and fresh blood. Duongchan’s mum is also sitting there and nodding her head as a sign of agreement with her daughter’s thoughts.
In those days the country had no electronic communication, and the only way they could communicate across any distance was by sending a letter. There was no point in Dara sending a letter to his mother for an overnight stay as he would arrive home before the letter. But an urgent task he had to do was to report to the local authority about his stay in the villager as a stranger and to assure them that he was not a Khmer Rouge agent. Duongchan went to her village chief and told him that she had her classmate Dara staying with her family tonight.
As Duongchan talked to the village chief, Dara looked at the wooden signboard hung on the gate of the village chief which read: “Don’t listen to the enemy, do not believe or hide the enemies, but report them to the authority.”
Dara looked at the surroundings and took a long deep breath, telling himself that maybe it is not such a bad idea to stay overnight at Duongchan’s house. But then he looked around the house and saw that there is little apart from Duongchan’s small bedroom. The walls are made of bamboo shoots and covered with coconut branches. Her mum’s room is next to Duongchan’s. He glanced around and spotted an old hammock he could sleep in. So he responded positively
to Duongchan, saying, “O.K. I can sleep in the hammock here and I will leave after sunrise in the morning.”
The rain had washed away all the dust and grey grass from the roof of Duongchan’s house, and
the coconut and palm trees around the house all looked clean. The moon shone on
the tree leaves, reflecting the light, and looking very beautiful to Dara.
The windy evening carried the noises of animals such as crickets and toads from behind Duongchan’s house, making Dara feel like he is spending the night on another planet. He felt tired but he could not sleep in such a threadbare hammock. He walked around inside the house which only measured about 4 metres by 8 metres and he looked through the gap in the wall of the house to see the trees and rice fields.
Duongchan heard Dara’s footsteps as she peeped through her room wall and saw all of Dara’s activities. Duongchan’s mother was sleeping like a baby and snoring loudly like a tired cow after a long day ploughing the rice field. Duongchan came out of her room and stood like a zombie in the dark.
Dara was surprised and asked, “Why did not you go to bed, why have you come out?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I saw all your activities, Dara. I am sorry that my house is not suitable for you and that is why you cannot sleep.”
“Do not mention it. It is ok. Please your return to your bed,” said Dara.
“As long as you are not sleeping, I can sit and chat with you until the sun rises,” Duongchan spoke to Dara in a soft voice like the voice of a ghost spirit from the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge asking for love.
Shortly after Dara heard Duongchan’s sweet voice and she sits beside him, Dara loses his self-control as she moves closer to him. Dara starts to say his first loving thoughts to her.
“You are poor. But you are so beautiful in so many ways, Duongchan. Whichever guy will marry you is the luckiest guy on this whole earth.”
“You are right, maybe… and maybe not… Whoever will marry me could be an unlucky man instead because I am poor and live in this small house,” said Duongchan. “You saw
my mother has to work on the farm, planting rice and harvesting the crops to support my living and school costs. But you have parents who have several businesses and can easily support your studies.”
On that dark and quiet night, Dara and Duongchan first admitted to themselves that they are falling in love after hiding their feelings for many months. But there were many reasons why they could not show these feelings in public; school regulations, the traditional way of life as Khmer people, and the different economic statuses of their families.
It was now 2am but they both kept talking. At one point, Dara admitted to Duongchan,
“Hey, I saw you when you walked in the class and you know what? I knew I liked you more than any other girl in the class”.
“You like me in which ways?” Duongchan asked.
“Firstly, you are 100 percent girl,” Dara said, “Number 2, you are just so beautiful in many ways…you name it; your face, your eyes, hair, lips, your brown soft skin, and your soft voice… I cannot describe them all.”
“So, you like me in many ways. But you do not love me, do you?” she asked.
“I do love you, Duongchan. But I am shy and have not yet found an appropriate time to tell you this till now.”
“Thank you for all that. I love you, too. I have the same problem. But now I admit it. I have been falling in love with you for about six months but told no one.”
“The falling rain and the broken chain, the poor house, and the fear of the Khmer Rouge have all contributed to us revealing our secret love. It is not bad, is it?”
“No,” said Duongchan as she bent her body towards him.
They talked quietly in the dark and each heard only the other’s voice. They were like two ghosts talking in the still of the night. At that time, Cambodian families in the countryside had no access to any real infrastructures; no electricity, no good toilet/latrine, and no clean running water. But there were things the Cambodian villagers did have; rice, fish, and good hearts. They had little complaints as they had survived the genocide and the starvation of the Pol Pot regime.
The quiet night continued, both teasing and chuckling with each other in low voices.
“Our love could have been hidden for months or years to come, given we
had our own reasons for remaining quiet. I must again thank your broken bicycle chain for bringing us together,” Dara said.
“I saw you from a distance and I broke my bicycle chain,” Duongchan joked.
Both giggled in the dark at this. It was now 4am. The roosters in the village had already begun to crow, heralding that dawn was a mere two hours away. Still, Duongchan and Dara did not sleep. They instead spend time hugging, kissing, and experiencing the first-ever feelings of love in their lives.
Though they are both falling in love, the boy and girl still respect their traditions that despite being in love they will not have sex until after they are married. Such a difficult situation to withstand at that age.
Duongchan’s mother had slept like a dead woman in her rattan bed and did not wake until a bad palm fruit fell from the palm tree hitting the house roof and then landing onto Duongchan’s rattan bed with a bang. It was like an alarm clock for her. About half an hour later Duongchan returned to her room, leaving Dara tired and falling asleep in the hammock like a fallen combatant returned from the frontline.
Her mother seems aware that her daughter is falling in love with Dara. But for now, she says nothing as this will only hurt Duongchan and her family’s reputation as Khmers.
The views and expressions in the said novel Long Love, Short Life are entirely a work of fiction, and it is the personal work of the author.