As my sweetheart set off for her homeland on New Year’s Day to deliver the final payment to the bent cops who were threatening to evict her parents, she instructed me to visit her workplace to find out the current situation. I followed orders and discovered that she’d both lost her job to a right useless slapper and that there were a lot of very attractive and friendly new ladies.
The second day of the year was quite intense with my girlfriend returning and coming to terms with the loss of her employment. She accepted that it would give her the opportunity she needed to rest and regain her full strength whilst making a home of my apartment. I can’t begin to relate to you the extent to which she’d been thrust through a series of paradigm shifts.
For a person who never reveals her true feelings to anyone, she was declaring her love for me and expressing her desire to marry me as soon as possible together with relating her dream of starting a little business so that she has status as a woman and isn’t economically dependent on me – which I initially thought would be a great use of her abilities.
I then dug out her family history – or as much as I could since the older members share the national trait of 100% memory repression. Her mother is Vietnamese; the Khmer Rouge killed most of the Vietnamese they came across and went to war against their enemies, prompting Vietnam to invade and overthrow the KR in 1979, but what her parents and older siblings must have gone through she doesn’t know since no one has ever talked about those times.
What she did tell me was that her parents had been very wealthy until a business partner cheated her father and then they were defrauded by a traditional Cambodian rural informal banking scheme which left them utterly destitute to the extent that these days her parents regularly have to rely on neighbours to give them their daily rice. You can begin to see why many Cambodians cannot see any virtue in saving money.
Then, with what I can best describe as brutal tenderness and amidst many tears I prized out the skeletons (again common to probably all Khmers of her generation) in her closet, and I found myself feeling more and more compassion not only for her but for her family as I came to see even more firmly than when I wrote last time that they really do represent the deep and lingering traumas that this nation bears.
To be completely honest, I had been becoming gradually increasingly concerned that I might be the biggest mug in Asia. She’d been insistent that no one – not even her closest friends – know anything about her misfortunes and I now know why.
She explained to me how her family had been one of the first to return to Phnom Penh after the demise of the Khmer Rouge who had forcibly evacuated the city and sent everyone into the countryside.
As their wealth increased they were significant players in those days but when they were cheated and fell on misfortune everyone gloated and looked down on them and they lost so much face they had to leave the city.
That explains a lot about her reticence and obsession with what strangers think about her, but before I knew this it did occur to me that had I told any colleagues about our situation they’d have cynically retorted that she was the smartest hooker in the city, spurning cheap tricks and playing the unattainable game to extract a fortune from a love-struck fool.
I was the only one who saw the state she was in and I believed that I knew her better than anyone outside her family, but I could have been wrong given that the rapid succession of expensive disasters were getting more and more extraordinary and her health issue aside, I only had her word about the family downfalls. I can now say with absolute certainty that she was never playing games and that I was right to trust her.
It was sometime after I’d settled on that conclusion that she despatched me to her former place of employment again to see if she’d be welcome back once her health was restored.
Now it’s under the direct control of the mamasan, the environment has turned pretty nasty but I was still shocked at what awaited me.
Said viper took me aside and regaled me with a long account of how my girl is a notorious thief, liar and gambler; she frequents casinos and had blown all the money I’d given her on cards with her boyfriend. My interpretation of that is that she wasn’t intending to make problems for my girlfriend but only for me, or at least to send me scurrying away leaving the coast clear for various good customers (i.e. alcoholic sex pests who’ve been trying to track my lass down) to court her.
My assumption is that the mamasan thought that I was responsible for preventing her most valued employee from returning to work so my disappearance would herald her return. I never asked my girlfriend not to go back although I always hated the idea of her working there (even though she was perfectly well-behaved) because of the unsavoury environment; now her ex-boss’s malice has slammed the door, she can close that mixed-metaphorical book.
I didn’t deserve her trust, but she gave it to me. Until now I never understood that East Asian belief that if you save somebody’s life you are indebted to them for the rest of your days, but suddenly that makes sense.
I wasn’t really trying to do anything other than being me but I was aware that as a result of working my ‘killer charms’, I opened her up and caused her to be more trusting and closer to a person than she’d ever imagined possible. What’s more for someone who’d never touched a guy before, she was suddenly overflowing with affection and I have to admit to really enjoying that. Despite being someone who’s learnt to operate slowly and cautiously before committing himself, the extreme nature of her circumstances and her emotional state led me to saying a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise have said.
I am also aware that I have an ability to communicate in a way that convinces where others don’t, even if I’m not convinced myself. In short (1) I declared my love to her and pledged myself to marrying the girl (and I did mean those things more than I didn’t) and (2) she’d become so dependent upon me that if I did renege it would hit her harder than any previous disaster; having saved her I was in a position to destroy her and I could do that with the slightest display of anger or displeasure.
Therefore I knew I bore full responsibility for her welfare and her future. For a while there I astonished myself with my behaviour – I was more patient, tolerant and mature than I ever thought possible and in return I had a pre-wife whom I thought couldn’t do enough for me.