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Rifle cartridges and handkerchiefs (Part XI)

The front cover of ‘Long Love, Short Life’. KT/Pann Rachana

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 is published in sections every Friday. Below is the twelfth portion of the series. Last week, Dara’s girlfriend broke the Mr 7th January code name as the liberation day when Vietnamese troops supported the Khmer Rouge defectors to oust Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from power. This week, Dara uses his military training as an opportunity to reach frontline troops.

Part 11

Check out the Tenth portion here: https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50803922/nothing-in-this-world-is-sweeter-than-your-love-for-me-part-x/


By now it was 1.30am. Duongchan ate while Dara kept chatting. It was a Sunday morning so there was no class. But Dara needed to take his mom to Vietnam early that morning. Dara wanted to leave for home but he found it so difficult to leave his girlfriend alone in such a situation. They both talked till the sun rose. Then Dara hugged and kissed her before stepping out the hut.

Dara returned home and took his mom to Vietnam for her motorcycle business. At one point the sleepy Dara drove his scooter into a Vietnamese checkpoint and hit the Vietnamese cop sleeping in a hammock, waking him suddenly and causing him to grab his AK rifle hanging on the tree beside him.

Dara apologised to the Vietnamese cop with his broken Vietnamese. Dara told himself this was something good that had come from Cambodia’s school introducing military training.

Back to the military training at the school, the first week of sessions included lessons on how to handle a rifle, how to load it, and how to remove the cartridge. One day Dara made a big mistake when he pulled the trigger by accident and the rifle fired.

Luckily the bullet missed his classmates but hit the palm tree and destroyed the bottles that contained the palm juice.

Mr. 7th January approached Dara and asked, “What the fuck you doing?”

They found out that there was a bullet which had been inserted by another student and somehow the bullet was still in there due to the poor condition of the old gun. So when Dara pulled the trigger, the bullet fired and hit the palm tree.

The second week of the sessions covered how to throw grenades, how to use the bayonet to kill the enemy, and the last session was how to plant anti-personnel landmines at the frontline. For the first session, Mr. 7th January brought a real grenade from which the explosive had been removed.

But after Dara’s incident with the rifle, he changed his mind and got students to bring fruits such as pomegranates, custard apples, and small pineapples to use as grenades instead. Dara brought bunches of fruits – as many as 50 – and he gave some to his girlfriend and distributed some to friends for breakfast and he kept the rest for training.

Dara liked that many other high school students had to attend this training for the last three years from 1987 to 1989. He was happy with the first session but then he got mad with the sessions which followed.

But he had no choice other than to join basic military training on how to use the AK rifle, remove the cartridges, and crawling on the ground with his gun with tree branches on his back and head as camouflage to avoid being spotted by the enemy Khmer Rouge.

Female students were exempt from the training, but they were asked to make handkerchiefs instead, as well as drawing flowers on them and sending the items to the soldiers stationed on the frontline, a move that was designed to encourage Cambodia’s armed forces to be brave and willing to sacrifice their lives to save the beautiful Cambodian ladies in the country.

Dara encouraged Duongchan and gave her some payment to make more handkerchiefs and also to spray perfume on them as this would send a powerful message to the communist forces that back home there are millions of Cambodian friends in the country thinking of them stationed on the battlefields which were mostly near the Thai border.

Although the drawings of the flowers on the handkerchiefs were not as nice as those made by Khmer ancestors from the Angkor era, they would at least send the powerful smell of the perfume from Cambodian school girls and Cambodian soldiers could use them to cover their noses or clean their faces under the hot sun in the dusty battlefields surrounded by anti-tank mine explosions, the exchange of rifle fire, and mortar rounds.

Dara, however, approached and instructed his girlfriend to make 22 special products of handkerchiefs by using her needle and thread to get messages across on the handkerchiefs, which read: ‘Drop your gun, and see your enemy as friends since we all are Khmers.’

He told her that, ‘We don’t need war, we need love’. He got Duongchan to hide these products by inserting them into other bundles of handkerchiefs that were then sent to the fighters on the frontline. They could have been jailed if the authorities found out that they had sent such messages to the Cambodian soldiers urging them to desert.

At the military exercises, Duongchan would watch Dara exercise behind the school and marching up and down and turning left and right. She and her classmates laughed when they saw Dara and some of his friends make mistakes by turning left when the trainer told them to turn right.

Dara confused himself and he was furious and embarrassed and his face turned red when he saw that his classmates laughed at him.

One day in the late morning after training, Dara made a joke and surprised his classmates. He walked behind the classroom and instead of coming through the front door as he usually did, he instead jumped through the window, pretending he was a communist soldier arriving late after the villagers had survived a Khmer Rouge attack.

“How is everyone?” Dara said. “I am sorry I am late but I was looking for my rifle cartridges as I misplaced them last night when I got back from my friend’s party. It took me about one hour to get my AK rifle working.”

Duongchan and the class burst out laughing, and one classmate said, “Hey, Mr. Soldier, have you come to save us or do we need to protect you, given that your features are so like a Vietnamese soldier.”

Duongchan pretended to be a villager who had survived the Khmer Rouge attack, saying, “Last night, the Khmer rouge rebels—after they attacked and stole food from us also asked the villagers if there were any Vietnamese soldiers working in this area? The Khmer Rouge wants to take and kill all Vietnamese soldiers who invaded Cambodia in December 1978.”

“You are quite right, Duongchan. I look like a Vietnamese solider, but my heart is always with a Cambodian girl like you,” Dara replied, laughing out loud.


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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