Please note that this is the last in the Phnom Penh Traffic Series, so it’s a bit spoiler-y if you haven’t read anything else here before. If you do want to read the series, Part One can be found here, while the central Phnom Penh Traffic Page is here.
Sam hadn’t taken it well.
“Now? We’re just hitting it big!
You’re in pretty deep.
And you think Narith is the kinda guy you can just fuck around with?”
“I booked my flight already.
I’m out this afternoon.”
Sam stared at him without blinking,
arms at his sides,
colour coming back to his cheeks,
and Jack firmed his grip on his beer bottle
But then Sam turned
and walked out without a word.
Now the tuk-tuk is clearing the intersection onto Russian Federation Boulevard
and joining a new traffic jam.
In front of them is another tuk-tuk
with a poster-ad on the back
for a Christian NGO,
sporting bible verses
and a photograph of a smiling soulful Cambodian child
in a white cotton shirt with a starched and folded collar.
They trundle slowly along the wide road,
passing minivans and SUVs on the left,
while streams of motos on the right pass them in turn.
A small boy on the back of one looks at Jack as he passes,
and Jack feels like he is being measured
and made to fit into the boy’s world.
A few adults glance his way
but he sees their eyes
to the suitcase on the seat by his side
and dismiss him.
They pass petrol stations and road-side shops
filled with bottled drinks
and an old woman
sitting by two big orange ice-boxes
and a display stand
hung with plastic raincoats.
A low breeze runs through the tuk-tuk
and he lifts his arms from his sides to let the air pass through his shirt.
Then they pull to a stop
at a red light
beneath a rotating billboard
worth six months of a Cambodian wage.
In the intersection, a police-officer stands
and waves his baton importantly,
directing traffic to go where it will go
whether he waves or not.
Jack realises there is someone standing by the tuk-tuk
It is a girl,
perhaps six years old,
or four. Or eight.
Who can tell?
Her yellow blouse is faded but
Her palms are pressed together
and she murmurs,
inaudible beneath the growl and sputter of engines.
Jack stares at her
You’re better not giving to beggars,
they told him.
They have to give it to their bosses anyway.
After a moment she turns away.
“Wait a second,” he says suddenly, surprising himself,
and she is there again.
He hurriedly digs for his wallet
and pulls out the first note he finds,
Her eyes go wide as he pushes it at her
but she plucks it from his fingers
and is gone.
Jack glances up and sees the driver’s dark eyes on him in the mirror.
After a moment, he looks away.
The lights change,
and the traffic rolls ahead.
Jack wonders if she will keep the money
or lose it
or just buy glue.
The child with the white starched collar
stares at him from the tuk-tuk ahead,