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Page 41
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<< 40. My Lai. UN School. (cartoon)42. in transit (poem) >>

Kingdom of Cambodia

By Marc Levy

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Each morning outside the Capital Hotel, a cement block building located in Phnom Penh, a sizable group of young eager Cambodians wait to ferry backpackers on their Honda Cubs. I always pick Elephant Man. Burliest of the lot, he speaks English, charges fifty cents a ride. I hop on his feisty scooter and put my arms around his waist.

"Where to?" he asked.

"Ministry of Information."

"Why you need?" he asks as we dart through traffic.

Years ago the Khmer Rouge had killed his family.

"Hey,why you need?"

I tell him a small bribe obtains a Media Pass.

"To stay longer at Angkor Wat."

"Oh...OK..." says Elephant Man, pulling up to an office once used by the French. I hopped off the Cub. "See you tomorrow." Elephant Man disappeared in a roar of blue smoke.

The MOI clerk, a gaunt man whose angular skull inhabits his broad Khmer face, whose threadbare white shirt hangs from his body like a wind blown leaf, whose thinning hair reveals traces of something near fatal, said, in purposeful voice, "You passport, please." I offered him the document, a 2x2 ID photo, and a counterfeit resume composed the day before on computer at the Foreign Correspondents Club. He inspected each item with deliberate care. "One hour," he said, pocketing the money. We shook hands. "One hour, s'il vous plaÎt."

To pass the time and to avoid the oppressive sweltering sun, I walked the beautiful narrow side streets. The faded stucco walls of the low buildings, once bright red or solid blue, recalled sections of Paris. I entered a half dozen dry good stores, peeked into classrooms where students chalked graceful Khmer script on ancient slate blackboards. Inside a former French post office, the lone chandelier long past its glory, I bought exquisite stamps, tissue thin aerograms, a laminate phone card made in Australia. When I returned to the office even the clerk was sweating.

"It is here," he said, extending the coveted pass.

I took it, and give him another few dollars.

"Merci, monsieur. Merci beaucoup."

He closed his eyes, then opened them, and bowed slightly. His raised palms pressed together, his lips gathered to shape a smile. A survivor's smile. Then he was gone.

Marc Levy was a medic with Delta 1-7 Cav in 1970. His war poetry and prose have been widely published online and in print. His website is Medic in the Green Time.

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