Tony’s StoryJanuary 9, 2005
Tony was a tall, angry British guy, tentatively holding Irish citizenship via his Dublin born parents.
Nevertheless, he reeked of London and brash, big city competitiveness.
Tony liked to win, I first met him screaming and shouting during a darts match at the Pink Elephant, a bar amongst the strip of foreigner joints along the Tonle Bassac River. He was furious because people weren’t taking the game seriously, not seriously enough for him anyway.
I remember him shouting and remonstrating, I didn’t like him. He won. Tony liked to win.
Tony had a wild tempestuous four year old daughter, Kelly or Kel; the result of a disastrous relationship with Srey Mom, a rough and feral bargirl. They made the scruffiest, angriest couple, always fighting and screaming in the most public of places. This was no mismatch and they both parried hard, slugging it out like a pair of prize fighters.
One day, he came into the Capitol, a cheap guesthouse/cafe in the O Russei district of the city. He looked like nothing on earth. Covered in dirty bandages like the ‘Mummy’ in a 1950″s B movie, his skin scraped clean off, his face a mask of dried blood and scratches. His hands were so badly injured he couldn’t even pick up a knife and fork.
He’d come off his bike on the way to Kompong Som; run off the road by a couple of trucks, Kelly and Mom were on the back, but Tony had bounced across the gravel for a hundred yards or so. He looked like it. Kelly was uninjured, Mom had a few scratches; Tony, however smelt of death.
“Where”s Mom and Kelly?” someone asked.
“Dunno, I”ve left ”em. I”m looking for a prostitute to wash me,” he announced, giving a dead pan glare to the eruption of barely smothered guffaws around him. He didn’t leave them, not then anyway.
But Tony wanted out and I couldn”t blame him. He’d had enough and Phnom Penh was taking its toll and beginning to destroy him. I could see it.
He began to make the necessary arrangements to get Mom and Kelly out. The plan was to marry Mom, get all the papers in order and take the pair of them to Ireland where a relative would provide accommodation and work for him on a construction site.
It was a flawed idea, doomed from its very inception.
Tony hatched a plan for Srey Mom to work as his maid, that way she would be close to Kelly. He didn’t love Mom, she was a mistake; Kelly, with her at least, was also a mistake. Although he loved Kelly and I always admired him as a good father, the relationship he was involved in was proving to be as destructive to him as he believed Phnom Penh itself was.
Mom was a sex worker, one of many bar girls who struck up with English Teachers in Phnom Penh and found themselves in a relationship of parasitic dependence, which was fine until somebody decided to quit the deal.
What made this relationship different was Kelly, of course.
One day he arranged to meet and came into the Capitol anxious and angry, asking about a certain word in Khmer; a word he kept pronouncing incorrectly. Peckdai, my Khmer partner, didn’t understand him.
He slammed his fist on the bar, his eyes glared and he screamed at Peckdai frightening her. Then looking up at me, he calmed and sat down. “Do you want to know what this is about?” he almost pleaded. I nodded and reaching into his pocket, he started to pull out a white piece of paper. I thought it was him.
“Put that away, I know what it is” I told him. He burst into tears, his head on the bar, sobbing and oblivious to the stares of backpackers and his peers.
An Aids test is compulsory in Cambodia for those wishing to marry.
Both he and his daughter were fine.
He decided to take his daughter and leave Srey Mom; leave her to die alone.
I didn’t blame him, not at all, I’d do the same.
Mom fought him all the way; she screamed the street down and threatened to kill herself and Kelly. He employed a lawyer, fought for sole custody and paid bribes.She involved human rights groups. They stood by Srey Mom, and a HIV sex worker”s right to keep her child, opposing the wealthy selfish western man stealing her daughter. The case was an NGO’s wet dream
Several times he came home to find them gone; she usually stole off to Koh Kong for several days, leaving him feeling anxious and distressed. On one occasion, following a particularly violent outburst, she fled again. He was really concerned for their safety and I helped him. I phoned a policeman friend, they made a deal and she came back. She always came back despite the threats.
Tony did the only thing he could do. He abandoned Srey Mom and left with his daughter.
Srey Mom is still here and the last thing Tony ever said to me was “Dave, this city is absolutely poisonous.”