The sound of the tuk-tuk changes as they begin climbing the bridge,
growing more laboured and then
more sick and angry
as the driver down-shifts.
Today, Jack’s sinuses ache,
and the exhaust burns in his nose,
and a twenty-year-old Toyota sedan that passes
fills him with useless rage.
He says nothing, glances to the left,
with a young girl on the back of a little moto
as her boyfriend swerves to overtake.
He looks forward,
glances at his knock-off Tissot watch,
It is eleven-thirty-three
and they are meeting the buyer at twelve.
Sam thinks they will be in time.
They crest the hill, and the Phnom Penh skyline stretches out.
It is undignified, Jack thinks,
a pathetic tangle of concrete buildings rendered in every colour,
trying to pretend there aren’t still slums all around and between them.
Trying to pretend this is a world city.
Trying to pretend the builders didn’t just leave
the iron support rods jutting from the prefabricated sides
like abandoned umbilical chords,
instead of cutting them neatly like civilised people would.
One modern skyscraper on the horizon,
lost in the clutter,
only serves to highlight the mess.
Then his eyes are caught by the clouds,
towering thunderheads rising over the city
like cathedral domes
or like the Alps looking over an Austrian town.
They are a part of the place too,
and have a dignity
that catches him unprepared.
“As long as there’s no traffic jam at the toll road intersection,
we’ll have plenty of time,”
Sam says into noise of the snarling, suffering tuk-tuk.
They begin to descend
and the clouds are obscured by a dilapidated clinic
and Jack notices four shirtless boys sitting at the side of the road
eating rice out of styrofoam boxes,
and the tuk-tuk driver changes up again.