Monday, October 13, 2008
Phnom Penh Part 5 - Regrets and Apologies
My motorcycle was running along this wide avenue in the heart of the city when I spotted the colonial façade of the Post Office. I tapped my driver Tei’s shoulder and told him I wanted to mail a post card. He parked beside a Volvo delivery truck. As I stepped in, I noticed a tiny half naked figure sitting on the floor, just beside the door.
It was a Khmer child, almost stuporous and oblivious to the goings on. He was hardly moving. There weren’t a lot of people inside. Just me and some 3 others. After mailing my card, I started to leave when I noticed the child moving ever so slow. I was at the last step of the stair outside when something prodded me to get right back in. So I went back and stood over the child. I said, “hello”. He raised his gaze on me. I saw the saddest pair of eyes silently pleading for something. Was he hungry? Or hurt? I don’t know. At the back of my mind, I was a little scared to approach him, as there were warnings about children being used by hoodlums to snag tourists; some syndicates maybe. But what kind of world is this where grown-ups are scared of helpless children?
I sat on my knees and handed him money. He wasn’t even begging, coz if he was, he wouldn’t stay where there are hardly any tourists - or even locals. I told him to buy food, moving my hands like I was eating. He took the money and held it with his right hand; his face never wavered from that pleading gaze that shall haunt me in days. It just broke my heart. But I was a stupid tourist with fanciful dreams and places to go… and I left.
As I sit back in front of my computer, looking at the photo of the child’s face, I am awash with regrets. I could have done a little more; maybe buy the food myself and watch him eat; maybe get him a shirt or a pair of slippers. But I did not. I chose to fraternize with other globetrotting brats who didn’t have a care in the world, except moving on to our next destination. And I regret that with all my heart. His image would intermittently cross my mind, and I couldn’t help but wish for a better world where children can smile instead.
And I am sorry that this world isn’t.
This is the Eye in the Sky!