“Black Cover” is a book containing seven stories of the society and of love. The book was published in 2008 by the Cambodia-Sweden Literature Association. The stories in the book were centred on the prevalence of HIV-AIDS.
One of the short stories that captured my attention is “A Taste of Love Before Marriage” – a story about the complications of HIV and the stereotypes used against women losing their purity before getting married.
In the Cambodian society, virginity has remained a common topic for debates, especially among the young. Women are always told to uphold their purity and follow the traditions. Women have to be “pure” before they get married to a man. This was even specifically mentioned in a poem written by Cambodia’s late king.
Written by Sok Thou, the short story tells the story of a young couple – Polin and Any – who have been blinded by too much emotions. The high school lovers go to Siem Reap for a short vacation. Any, whose parents are naturally strict, lies to her family and says she will be spending the night with a friend.
In Siem Reap, Polin and Any enjoy visiting temples and watching the sunset together – feeling the intense love they have for each other.
With the independence they have away from their parents and their great admiration for each other, Polin and Any do something they are not allowed to do just yet – make love. It is discouraged by the conservative society for young couples to be intimate unless they’re married. But Any and Polin, as in love as they can be, set aside this norm.
Any feels a twinge of guilt inside her, but that eventually vanishes after Polin promises to marry her when they graduate.
However, things change when they go back to the city. Polin starts to make many excuses to not see Any. And when she discovers that she’s pregnant, Any becomes desperate. She asks Polin to marry her and save her and her family from disgrace. But her boyfriend refuses. Any does not want to destroy her family’s reputation and decides to get her child aborted.
And though her pregnancy is no longer an issue, Any refuses to accept marriage proposals because she knows that it is a big deal for men to know that she is no longer the “pure” girl they think she is. Any decides to not marry at all.
But just after Any decides to build her self again, she discovers that Polin is about to marry her cousin. Any screams out, leading people to think that she has gone insane.
But Any only wants to tell Polin that he has infected her with HIV, and beg for him to not destroy her cousin’s life. It is revealed that Polin has had sex with many girls before Any, but he has never done any HIV test.
Any vows to never forgive Polin until her last breath.
The story aims to educate readers, especially the young, to not let too much love rule over their lives and let them forget their values. “A Taste of Love Before Marriage” is a direct message to the youth to always think of their future, and to always consider the negative impacts of unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases as they may damage their lives forever.