He was one of the displaced after the war, I think.
Just one of thousands forced to flee along the river bank, pushed on by the stink of burning and blood, outpaced by the corpses floating downstream.
I don’t know why he stopped here. Perhaps he finally felt safe. Or he just couldn’t walk anymore.
Did he imagine getting old like this, sleeping on a palette bed by the river, earning a few riel carrying sacks of rice and bales of cane, arthritic joints growing gnarly as kapok tree roots? Nothing to his name other than one set of clothes, a string hammock, a battered water carrier.
As I take his wrist, check for a pulse I won’t find, I think how at peace he looks, how the young man he was still peeks from behind that old man’s death mask.
Perhaps he finally made it home.
Cambodia has had a traumatic past, years of war followed by atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. To learn more about the war, see here and see here to read about the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.