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 thirteenth portion of the series. Last week, Dara used his military training as an opportunity to reach frontline troops. This week, Dara offers to give Duongchan a lift home from visiting her mother who is 35 kilometres away on the weekend.
Check out the Eleventh portion here: https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50806209/rifle-cartridges-and-handkerchiefs-part-xi/
Duongchan was annoyed with Dara and asked: “What have you learned from the military training today?
“I learned how to steal the gun from an enemy who is asleep,” he replied.
Again, the classmates laughed, some so hard that they were crying, as Dara pretended that he was a real soldier on the ground. The loud laughing disturbed the classroom next door and Dara knew that the nasty lady teacher next door would come through and give him trouble. Dara made his way out quickly through the window before the teacher came in then walked all the way behind the school building and came through the front door as if nothing had happened.
The female teacher asked: “What makes you all laugh so loudly?” No one dared to give the answer as Dara had signalled everyone to stay quiet. Shortly after, the nasty female teacher returned back to her class next door. Dara turned to the class and said, “I am sorry everyone. I didn’t mean to disturb other students next door, but I just wanted to practice my military training. I want to make sure that in the event that the real thing happens then I know what to do.”
Dara’s apology justified his actions. The rest of the class left for home except for Dara and Duongchan who looked at each other like they were on a date and drinking palm juice till dawn. He moved closer to her and spoke softly. “I am so thrilled to have you join the class with me. I would be unhappy if you were not with me and would be crazy. I love you more than I can say. My love for you is larger than the universe and is greater than anything on this beautiful planet.”
Dara’s words touched Duongchan who looked into his eyes and smiled. As he reached out she placed her hands on his shoulder and head, her left hand gently playing with Dara’s hair, making him feel like an ancient Khmer King of Angkor feeling the loving touches from his future wife.
They both sat comfortably in the silence after class.
Duongchan finally spoke. “Let us leave for home now. I need to cook my lunch. You are lucky that once you arrive home your lunch will be waiting for you at the table. I have to do everything on my own.”
“I am sorry for that. But this will all change when we marry in the future. By then your hard times will be over and will be replaced by honey,” he replied. “I love you, Duongchan.”
“I love you more than I can say,” she said as they released hands and headed for their respective homes, Dara on his scooter to his home near the market, and his girlfriend cycling to her hut near the school campus surrounded by rice fields.
It was 9am and a school guard used an old broken AK rifle to hit the school bell, which was made of the unexploded ordnance of a bombshell from the Vietnam War era that had been picked from a rice field near the Vietnam border. The one-legged school guard, in his 40s, was a former Cambodian fighter who fought alongside America in the 1970s. He hit the shell three rounds and sending a sound as loud as Big Ben in London. Such a sound can reach to Duongchan’s hut and residents and farmers who lived and worked near the foot of the mountain. So they did not have to wear a watch. The first morning class session finished. It was time for a break before continued the next three sessions till 11am. Dara, at the time of the class break, approached Duongchan who sat on a wooden bench under cashew trees and read a history book about the Khmer Rouge. He approached her from the back and tickled her and said, “hey, what is your plan this weekend?”
“I have no place to go like you, Dara,” she replied, “only visiting my mom who will wait for me this weekend. I need to pick some dry salted fish, eggs, and some items from her. What about you?”
“I do not have any plan either since I love you. Can I give you a lift this weekend when you visit your mom? I mean I will take you home with my scooter. You do not have to cycle all the way of 35 km home this time and it is also rainy season on the other hand.”
Shortly after she heard him saying that, Duongchan closed her book and gave a big smile to Dara with her soft brown eyes wide open like a hungry American eagle spotting a fat rat lost in the middle of the desert, along with a surprised statemen, “You are not kidding, are you?”
“Of course I am not kidding. I used to give lifts to an old egg-headed man and sometimes the toothless nun, even the hungry Buddhist monk who failed to collect food from villagers… on a number of occasions, so why not for the cute school girl like you, Duongchan?
“That is very kind of you, Dara,” she replied with her soft speaking voice.
When the weekend arrived, Duongchan woke up before dawn and packed up her personal items and waited for Dara to pick her up from where she lived in the hut built from bamboo, coconut leaf, and covered with thatch, located behind the school campus about 300 meters away. Such was her hut that the shape and size looked like Khmer Rouge’s or Viet Cong’s mobile shelters during the gun battles with American troops in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the Vietnam War/second Indo-China War. Her hut could be swept away by any storm from the Gulf of Thailand.
Dara arrived at his girlfriend’s hut just before sunrise on Saturday as promised. “Are you ready?” he looked at Duongchan’s basket made of rattan and all he saw was one bra, one comb made of buffalo horn, one old tooth brush, tooth paste, one piece of fishy Russian donated soap made of cow fat and fish oil, and one black underpants like the Khmer Rouge’s black clad uniform. Is this all you have?”
“Yes. Why? These are all my personal belongings. I am a poor loser girl,” she replied as he held the basket with two hands before her.
“I am just asking. But, you are a powerful loving girl,” said Dara, added that, “that is good then so that I have some space to put my gun.”
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.