A girl came up to me.
What do you want? You want a good time?
C’mon, come have a good time.
Nah, it’s ok.
I shrugged - I have no cash on me at all, I gave it all to me mate.
She smiled at me and nodded - You have cigarettes?
I offered her one but she shook her head - I suck for cigarettes.
I think I laughed. I’m really not sure. I was half drunk and sleepy. The sentence sounded musical, almost poetic.
C’mon, come with me.
I shook my head and turned away.
Wait - She put her hand on my arm - I suck for one cigarette.
I had a brief moment of believing I must look pretty damn dapper and hell, maybe she really did think I was cute at 2am on the empty road leading back to my villa. I held the cigarettes out to her again.
No worries, you can just have a cigarette.
She shook her head and frowned at me - Suck and then we both smoke. She was pulling me toward an alley. I glanced up at the right time to see two figures step back in the shadows. She saw me notice them and took her hand from my arm. She smiled as though I’d stumbled upon nothing more than a comedy prank rather than an attempted mugging. She took a cigarette from my pack, shrugged and walked away.
A year later a colleague said he was going to Malaysia with a mate and asked if I wanted to come. Being in my twenties and having a disposable income for once I booked a ticket. My colleague had given me his e mail address, which I had written down incorrectly, and his flight number. At Kualar Lumpar airport I failed to find them. I stood for 4 hours waiting at Arrivals and they hadn’t appeared. Eventually I had no choice but to head into the city and find a place to sleep. It turned out my friends were metres from me at a bar waiting for me to appear but I didn’t know that until I found them 3 days later, by which time they had reported me missing to the British Embassy.
For those 3 days I’d eaten boiled chicken sausage and not liked it. I couldn’t fathom how to order anything else, I tried mime and pointed to other plates but I always ended up with another plate of white sausage.
I finally tracked my friends down and we arranged to meet through a mutual friend in England by e mail. I told them my hotel and they knew it and said they’d be there. The hotel was across the street from the café I was in so I crossed the road and thought I’d sit on the steps and wait for them. I couldn’t miss them; they would have to walk right past me to get to the bar. What I didn’t know was they had been in the café next to mine, were already in the hotel and already at the bar. I sat, and I waited, and I waited.
A cab pulled up and the driver leant out of his window - Young man young lady?
I really don’t know why, but I thought he was asking my gender. It didn’t occur to me that I had a goatee beard and a grade 2 hair cut. I thought he was a confused cab driver who had pulled over with no more intention than asking what sex I was. So I shouted back in moderate annoyance YOUNG MAN OF COURSE.
He looked delighted and sped off. I carried on scanning the street for my friends, who were at the bar scanning the lobby for me and on their third beer. Moments later the cab reappeared and pulled up and the back door opened. Inside was a young man. He was wearing only a t shirt which he lifted to show me his penis. He was gesturing to me with one hand and with the other he was caressing himself. My jaw fell as the jigsaw in my head fell into place and I realised what was transpiring.
Young man young man, you come now. Come come quickly. I stood and backed up, saying No repeatedly. The young man was still smiling at me, still stroking himself, still beckoning me. I stumbled for the door of the hotel and saw my friend at the bar. I sprinted inside and heard the cab screech away.
Where the fuck have you been? they asked as I sat down. I tried to figure in my head how I would explain I had just accidentally hired a male prostitute but the words wouldn’t come. On that same trip I took a photograph of the air traffic control tower as I thought it was a temple and left my passport in a toilet.
Years later in Phnom Penh, while my wife was at Kampong Cham, I was walking to the Western Union to get money. I was a single western male so I expected a certain attention and wasn’t surprised when a moto driver pulled up beside me.
You want girl?
You want boy?
No thanks. I was proud of myself for that one. I wasn’t falling into the nude young man trap again.
You want smoke smoke?
You want……. – he smacked his arm repeatedly as though raising a vein.
You want shoot gun?
You want throw grenade?
You want fire rocket? – he made a whooshing sound – Blow up cow?
He stopped the bike and blocked my path.
What do you want?
What do you want? He asked me again after allowing me time for internal reflection.
I want to buy my wife some dumplings and go home. He waved me off and swerved back into traffic as another driver shouted at me. Mister, mister you look like Beckham. You have big nose. You big nose Beckham. I waved my thanks for his astute observation, got money, bought dumplings, and took my Beckham good looks back to Kampong Cham.
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