So what was I doing over Christmas? I spurned all the invites to parties as I hadn’t heard from my poor phoneless waif and I was so worried about her; I suspected – rightly – that she was too weak to get out of bed to call me from a public phone.
I couldn’t understand what was happening within myself; the lads have taken to calling me ‘Casanova’ but that is utterly inaccurate – for one I never go chasing ladies and more significantly I’d really never engaged my heart. Yes, I like the girls I have spent a little quality time with a lot but no more and I really can’t tell whether or not my motivation is a kind of misguided compassion without attachment.
But what was happening was that I was suddenly thinking about this girl all the time and I wanted her to be with me all the time – not for the expected reason that it’s love or anything but because I feared for her physical and mental health so much and I really wanted to protect her while she was so vulnerable.
Christmas Eve came along and I – or I should say we went shopping in Cambodia’s only two malls – I had a great time! In the current cold snap with temperatures dipping below twenty for the first time in many years most locals are suffering but it was a serious problem for someone whose illness has stripped her of every ounce of fat so I deemed it necessary to buy her a warm jacket. It took all day to find one. I also got her another phone and ensured that she ate properly. This was all completely out of character for me but I could see her visibly improving by the hour.
As the afternoon progressed I even forgot about feeling pity for her as she impressed me with her dealings with Khmers – she’s a really canny haggler and extraordinarily diplomatic. She’s very un-Khmer in having a very sharp business brain – due in all likelihood to having Chinese/Vietnamese blood. She is actually the most well-liked and respected person I’ve met in Cambodia so far and as her spirits rose I could see she was close to firing on all cylinders. The next day she was in great shape and there was no hint of her previous death-wish mentality. As her state of mind had changed so did mine and I found myself amending my prior position; yet another great Christmas present fell into my lap as she assented when I declared that I’d like her to be my girlfriend. I was so surprised that she agreed that I held her hand – just for a moment.
I have to accept myself as I am and that is pretty damn challenging sometimes, especially when I veer from saintliness to rank bastard and back again more easily than I change my socks. After seeing my new girlfriend off on Christmas Eve I didn’t hear from her all through Christmas Day. Apparently she had tried to call me but I was teaching and by the time I’d finished she was unable to do so again for reasons I will come to.
As the evening wore on I was caught in a dilemma whether to stay alone by the phone or go out for a wee Christmas drink. By nine o’clock I was sure she wouldn’t be coming round to see me and since I could take my phone with me I thought I’d combine the two.
I began convincing myself that she was probably avoiding me because she didn’t really want to be my girlfriend and I’d pressurised her, an interpretation that was aided by a couple of glasses of beer. Also, it’s been that long I’d forgotten what a movie star a barang bloke on his own is in Cambodia.
It began innocently enough with a decent and legitimate massage applied by a sweet water buffalo of a girl, enlivened by the sound of gunfire in the street outside (a crazy Westerner shooting off a motodop’s ear) but then I hit a bar or two and I was mobbed by festively friendly beauties. I fought them off in the first couple of places but after two or three more beers, surrounded by babes in the notorious Heart of Darkness I was getting overwhelmed; I just couldn’t keep my defences up and ended up with a couple on my arms.
The next morning she called and came over. I soon forgot my hangover as she told me what had happened to her on Christmas Day while I was frolicking about. The hapless soul had had a serious haemorrhage and would have died if her sister hadn’t been at home to carry her, blood dripping, to a clinic and thence on to hospital.
She needed an operation but she couldn’t afford it so they just patched her up. She should have had the op, picked up the tab and given it to me but she was concerned that I might be reluctant to pay the $200 dollars.
It turned out that she been carrying this very serious problem for four years and it was largely responsible for her recent illness. Every day at work she has to coo approvingly as her hooker colleagues brandish the latest phones after indulgent punters wire them hundreds of dollars (through her) and all the time she concealed the fact that part of one of those windfalls would cure her of a life-threatening illness.
After persuading her to overcome her fear of an operation and shyness of male doctors I spent the day with her in hospital. Needless to say she was very grateful; for my part I felt a mixture of self-revulsion and pity for her but at the same time even in the circumstances I was really enjoying her company.
The next day, post-op, she was looking so much better. She came over to help me pack and relocate to my new apartment. That actually required her to come into my room which another big step for a girl who won’t even share a motorbike for fear that people might ‘think something’. We had a really nice conversation; I explained to her that whilst I’d never lied to her I understood that it might take some time for her to fully trust me and she nuzzled her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes thus not seeing the momentary look of panic in my eyes as I noticed a scrunched up corner of a condom packet on the floor by the bin.
Whilst she is a girl who is so careful to reveal nothing of her true feelings either verbally or non-verbally to anyone, I was able to ascertain with certainty that her feelings for me were not influenced by my material assistance and that the feelings I had for her were mutual.