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visit to the killing fields, phnom penh, cambodia

March, 2018

did you see that man peeking out from behind the wire fence? his face so round and dark, barely visible behind the thick layers of jungle leaves. i spotted him as i rounded the corner.

we stood together in the killing fields, a memorial for his relatives who perished half a century ago at the hands of their countrymen.

we locked eyes, yet all i could hear were the screams and moans of the fields that surrounded us.

i could see him smile and step out towards the fence. he raised his hand to take off his hat and offer its empty cavity for me to fill with the spare riel crumpled up in my dress pocket.

i imagined that time had frozen him there upon that hill just outside the fence. refusing to permit him to enter or leave, he was resigned to man the boundary between past and present. he had been condemned to this life of haunting the jungle floor upon which his relatives were slaughtered, writhing and moaning until they reached their resting place. his hand quivered slightly as he held his hat out to me. the loss of thousands drove deep into his bones so that no part of him could ever be still. the small trembles and cries of his body were his relatives calling out from within. he had a manic, gaping grin and wore the robes of his country’s poverty. his presence was so loud in that moment that my eyes began to water.

i tore my gaze away and stared straight onto the path, continuing my walk forward. and just like that, i further condemned him to disappear into the thick mass of jungle. i willed myself not to turn back, as if never looking back could protect me from his haunting.

yet outside the killing fields, he will remain, perched on a tree stump, peering eagerly at passersby. i wonder if they too will scorn him and turn their backs to his begging hands. i wonder if they too will feel an aching hollowness - one symptomatic of every day’s crass dehumanization - when they do.

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