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 fourth portion of the series. Last week, Duongchan and Dara declared their love under the moonlight. This week, Dara decides to keep his love for Duongchan a secret.
Check out the Third portion here: https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50784780/a-broken-chain-finds-love-part-iii/
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Duongchan’s mother went to the kitchen and made a fire by using a lighter to set fire with charcoal made of wood. She prepared breakfast for her daughter and Dara.
The two high school students did not wake up until it was almost noon. They got up and had lunch together, continually glancing at each other, a sign of hidden love. Duongchan’s mum sees it all. After lunch the young lovers went behind the house and talked about their coming plans.
Duongchan went to her mum and spoke in a broken voice;
“Mum, I love you very much. Every time I leave you and go back to school I miss you and I dream about you. I wish father were still here to stay with you. I wish I could do more than I say to help you. But I cannot do for now. I promise you that I will do my best to complete my studies and find a good job so that I can support you the way you have supported me.”
Dara heard all Duongchan’s words and they moved him deeply.
She returned to him, saying: “I need your help to pick up my bicycle, Dara.”
“I will do that now. Will you come with me?” He asked.
“Why not.” Duongchan replied.
They both raised hands and offered “Sompas” to say goodbye to Duongchan’s mom who took her scarf from her head to dry her eyes which were welling up with tears. Usually when Duongchan visits home at the weekend she would take back a bunch of food, such as dried fish, salt, rice, and seasoning, all of which she will store for one or two-week’s supply at her hut near the high school. But this time is different as Dara told Duongchan’s mom,
“Do not worry, I have plenty food which I can give to Duongchan when we get back to school.”
On their way back, Dara worried about nothing but Duongchan kept asking Dara to speed up so that she can get her bicycle and get it fixed as soon as possible.
When they arrived at the village where they left the bicycle the night before, Dara stopped his scooter and Duongchan ran to the house where her bike was. But when she got there the bicycle was no longer there; A Khmer Rouge bandit had come in the night and stolen it.
Dara was so disappointed and said to her, “I am sorry. Your concern was well placed. You told me to not lose your bicycle, and now it is lost. It is my fault so I will give you my own bicycle, which is at home as I do not use it.”
He drove all the way and dropped her off at her hut near the high school and promised to get a bicycle to replace the stolen one.
Dara then drove home to find his parents crying. He was shocked and asked: “What happened?”
“We were so worried about your safety and security. We thought you could have been arrested and taken away by Khmer Rouge soldiers. You did not know but the Khmer Rouge attacked a village on the other side of the mountain in our district last night and they slaughtered pigs and then took anything they could carry with them. Luckily, no one got killed.” said Dara’s mom.
Dara explained what had happened and where he had been the previous night.
“I am sorry for worrying you and I am thankful for your concern. But I am ok,” he told them.
Dara looked frail. He told no one that he had fallen in love with a poor girl from a village 35 km away from where his parents lived. His hidden love for Duongchan would stay secret till it was discovered by his communist teachers.
In 1988, Dara and Duongchan were in grade 11. Their love went against the cultural values and traditions of their country. But they could also face trouble from the disciplinary office of the school they attended. Under Communism, all school regulations in Cambodia were very strict. Many facets of the students’ social life, such as dating, were totally banned.
Student behaviour had to comply with the communist way of life. Colourful or sexy clothes were not allowed in school…and neither was romance. Students who violated the regulations could be criticised in class and could even be expelled from school. But these regulations could not stop Duongchan and Dara’s love and they secretly exchanged love letters hidden in the covers of their books.
There were not that many books in the library, especially given their school was a rural one, so they often passed the same book back and forth after reading. These exchanges allowed Dara to not only pass love letters but also money to his struggling girlfriend.
The morning class was about to finish. Students would shortly head for home. Farmers leading cows were returning from their rice fields and walked past the schoolyard.
Dara took a book from his Vietnamese-made schoolbag and walked over to Duongchan, telling her to take the book from him quickly.
“Why do you want me to take it so quickly?” Duongchan asked.
“There is something in it.” Dara said and pointed to the book cover. “I wrote you a letter.”
Duongchan reached out her hand to take the book while Dara brushed her hand gently and smiled. Duongchan was a bit shy and giggled and asked, “Oh, my dear, what is the letter about?”
“It’s about you and me.”
“That’s nice, all about us,” she said smiling as she dropped the book in her rough schoolbag made of creeper vines.
The school had banned students from having relationships as the school managers were worried that romance would distract students from learning and studying. But the same managers had many good ideas such as encouraging the students to study in groups and to exchange ideas so that the cleverer students could share knowledge with any who were struggling. This school policy was used by Dara and Duongchan for not just sharing knowledge and learning but also to build their relationship knot of love. They had been a couple for nearly nine months but had told no-one except Duongchan’s mom.
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.
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