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Chapter One- Flippin eck
I remembered this morning, to lift the lid on the electric kettle and check for ants and yes they were about twenty or thirty, dead ones floating in the tiny bit of water left from last night but even more live ones climbing above the water level around the inside of the kettle. So sensibly I swilled them out, and being an English lady made my first cup of tea of the day.
So now comfortably seated shall we start the story. Actually, not sure about the word story more a sequence of events.
We go back to March this year, the day before I was leaving Amsterdam to go back to Cambodia .I still had so much to do to clear the lovely apartment I rent, which overlooks one of the most beautiful canals in the Jordaan area of the Dam. I love this apartment so much.
It’s very me!
With wooden floors, OK not really wood, that laminated stuff but the wooden beams on the ceiling, yes, they’re authentic, the walls are all painted white and I have doors opening to overlook the canal, a view of houseboats and the occasion heron, and a constant whiff of marijuana in the air.
The building used to be a warehouse and had been tastefully converted into apartments the furniture all from that well know Swedish store, its just great. I really didn’t want to leave but I had no choice and I had a return flight ticket to use up. I was finding it hard to get myself motivated to start the mammoth task of clearing all my things but it had to be done, my flight was scheduled for the following day.
Can you visualize those metal cloths rails that come in four pieces? Well one of them had been lying in bits on my kitchen floor area for about a week now, I just kept stepping over it. Come on lady I said to myself (I’m always talking to myself) get it together move these things to the storeroom downstairs. So reluctantly I started. I divided everything into suitcases and boxes, some to be stored here and others to taken with me. You know what its like just packing for a holiday never mind having to clear the place for tenants who would be arriving the day after I left. Everything personal had to be stored away. Once I got started I was o.k. Actually, I’m a pretty neat packer. By about lunchtime boxes of personal items and suitcases of clothes I didn’t want to take with me were all moved to the storeroom downstairs. Thank goodness there’s an elevator in the building as I am on the third floor! . My suitcase for the flight was almost packed too.
See I can do it when I try!
I decided to take a break for coffee and a cigarette and started to reflect on the telephone conversations Id been having in the past few days with my son Andrew, who lives in England. He was coming out Cambo (that’s what we will call Cambodia from now on, its easier) to join me in a few days. He was in a real state over his Khmer girlfriend Srey. They had known each other for three years now, but obviously a long distance relationship as they lived not just in different countries but different continents, and she was going to be waiting for him in Phnom Penh on his arrival. Srey had started to mention in their last few phone calls, their pre arranged engagement party; it seems pre arranged by herself and her sister. Andrew hadn’t be aware previously of these plans, as only being told a few days ago, he wasn’t a happy in fact he was in a terrible state and on the verge of canceling his holiday. He’s such a lovely person, yes well I’m bound to say aren’t I he’s my son but it’s true and he didn’t want to upset Srey, but marriage definitely wasn’t on his list of ‘things I want to do right now’. Or forever come to that!
What do you say when you’re a parent only what you think is right, but you try not to interfere I mean you just want your children to be happy don’t you
“Look Andrew.” I had said to him the last time we had spoken.
”Go out to Cambo meet Srey and talk to her and see how you feel when you're with her again.”
It had about six months since they had last been together when Srey had been over to England. And actually I don’t know whether that went entirely well! I’m not sure if you know this but it is a very difficult process for Khmer people to get visas to the UK. Lots of paperwork involved and they need a UK sponsor, the last time Srey had applied for a visa a couple of months ago it had been refused. This makes me realize how lucky I am to been have been born in England with a passport and can travel basically wherever I want.
Well I was pleased with myself now, I feeling a bit more relaxed the apartment only needed a clean and my friend would do that for me when I had left tomorrow, prior to the tenants arriving. All I had to do was put the things I needed into my handbag, all the those girlie bits to take with me on the journey plus the essentials like passport, tickets, driving license, money.
Oh my god where did I put that brown envelope, we’re talking not a few hundred dollars but a good few thousand and not mine, flipping eck my stomach churned I couldn’t remember where id put it I started to hunt all the drawers, cupboards, shelves, inside the oven, fridge, under the sofa you know everywhere I could possible check. My mind was in turmoil.
I can’t go to Cambo!
I’ve got to go to Cambo!
I have tenants coming in, where’s the fucking money It was that desperate feeling you have when you’re looking for that white packet with those few lines left of Charlie, absolute panic and no idea where you’ve hidden it.
OK, be logical I thought, the moneys not here in the apartment I must have packed it by mistake in one of the suitcases in the store room so I ran to the elevator and went downstairs and frantically started to undo the neatly packed suitcases throwing clothes everywhere.
I was just in the process, of doing this and still not finding the money when heard the sound of a male voice behind me saying
I turned my head and there was my friend Jan standing behind me
“Oh Good morning Jan,” I said.
Feeling right stupid with a touch of guilt but not wanting him to know what I was really doing, I muttered,
“I’m just packing my things away,”
I mean did it really look like I was packing! The storeroom was in absolute chaos.
“Jan” I said “ you go up to my apartment, Ill be with you in a few minutes’”
“Ok” he said, “no problem,”
And off he went
Phew, I was shaking now.
I stuffed all the things back into the cases as quickly as I could locked the storeroom door and went upstairs to talk to Jan.
I made some coffee and we sat down at the table. Concentrating on our conversation was difficult, my mind was all over the place but I tried to focus on what Jan had come round for and this was regarding my tenants. He was helping me while I was away to let the apartment. Well big disappointment, he told me, the second lot of tenants had canceled, shit, now I was a few hundred euro down, what was I going to do, I needed the place to fully booked to cover my rent here while I’m away. Jan said maybe he would be able find someone else but time was short. Well there was nothing I could do, but hope things would work out and he’d get another booking. We chatted and sorted out various things he needed to know while I would be way. He’s lovely and I could rely on him to do his best. You know when you come across good people in your life. He was one of them. I was lucky to have met him.
Well we said our goodbyes and he left. I hoped he hadn’t seen how agitated I was.
So now, two problems! The money and the lack of tenants!
Number one solved
Realization came into my head, I knew where the money was, Id put on the top of the kitchen cabinet, I remember now, I went and ran my hands over the top of the cabinet and thank goodness I almost laughed with relief there it was the brown envelope with the flipping money So I put it safely into my handbag ready for the next day.
No, I didn’t bother to repack the cases downstairs.
What the heck!
Well that evening I went out to dinner to a restaurant on the Harlemastratt, which is in my neighbourhood, with some lovely new friends Id made in the last few months. It was a sort of goodbye for now dinner.
After good nights sleep, I had time the next morning to pop and see Jean my hairdresser and let him wash and blow dry my hair I wanted to feel good for the journey and to say my goodbyes to him too. On the way home I met my friend Mohammed who started asking me if I would bring back from Cambo for him thirty or forty packets of Viagra.
Can you believe this?
Honestly I thought, this is just not a good idea, but I smiled as I couldn’t be bothered to argue and said I would see him in around a couple of months time when I got back.
Back home and then taxi time, and I went off to the airport with very mixed feelings!
Oh let me just tell you this, last weekend Id just arrived back to Amsterdam on flight from England and Id left a woolly scarf on the plane, anyway after much kerfuffle it had been traced and I was to pick it up today. Well guess what, when I went to the airline desk I was told the scarf had been sent back to England on a flight. Honesty I could just picture it sitting in its seat enjoying the flight, hope I don’t get charged for it!
By the time I got to check in for my flight to Cambo I was the last passenger to do this so I was allocated a seat in the middle of the plane.
Ten hours of discomfort I thought, and it was. I couldn’t sleep all the way to Bangkok even thought Id popped a sleeping pill. My neighboring passengers weren’t over friendly, so no riveting conversation, a really boring journey. The film, I mean how many times can you bear to watch Mr. Bean?
I arrived in Bangkok at seven fifteen in the morning and my friendly travel agent had booked me on two flights out to Cambo the first one being at seven forty five I couldn’t make that. So it appeared I had an eleven hour wait for the next flight. Don’t you just hate hanging around at airports? I thought maybe I could change airlines and leave three hours earlier but this seemed too difficult for the airline staff to cope with as my baggage was in transit. So I just had to wait, After wandering around the shops I found a massage parlor and had a couple of relaxing massages and I ate and drank and ate and drank spending stupid amounts of money just to fill in the time. I was so tired. You now what it’s like trying to sleep on those upright plastic chairs clutching your computer bag and hand luggage, pretty impossible, I couldn’t do it. And I was having to be extra vigilant because of that brown envelope!
Eventually the time came to check in for my next flight. Yippee. I got to the desk and found I wasn’t on the passenger list, I was on for the following week.. Yer have to laugh! I wasn’t worried I’m sure it would be sorted out. It was, the staff were great. I boarded the plane, and had a much better seat this time and it was just a short journey to Cambo. I made sure Id filled out all immigration forms on the plane ready for landing so I would get through the bureaucracy quickly when I arrived, which I did.
How efficient of me was that!
Coming out of Phnom Penh airport I was hit by the intense heat, but lack of air, and the cries of taxi, taxi, moto, moto (a moto is a motorcycle taxi, not really sensible using one those with all my luggage!) anyway good, no problem finding a taxi so after getting into one and with my luggage safely in the boot we set off towards my Hotel. As we were driving along I noticed more apartment blocks were being built since Id last been here. The road was busy with the usual glut of motorbikes, and many cars too. We passed shops and the mobile roadside stalls selling all sorts of things like food, petrol, clothes and household goods. There were still piles of rubbish around and that same look of poverty everywhere. I tried to phone Em my daughter who lives in Phnom Penh but neither of my Cambo sim cards seemed to work. I asked the taxi driver to stop at the next roadside telephone stall so I could buy some credit for my phone. The stallholder told me I must buy a new sim card as mine had expired. Fair enough I did that, got back in the taxi and we drove off. Then I realized I had lost my plastic envelope the one I keep all my other sim cards in, the ones for Spain, Morocco, Holland and England. I must have dropped it near the phone stall. So the poor taxi driver who thank goodness spoke a little English had to turn the car around and we went back to where we had stopped before and we both started hunting around on the roadside, and luckily for me we found it. . Thank goodness. So, on our way again.
We arrived at the hotel which is situated across the road from the Tonle Sap River which adjoins the Mekong River, I love the name of the Mekong it sounds so magical to me, the staff at the hotel were pleased to see me again and their faces beamed with smiles, After my luggage was put in my room and Id had a little chat with the staff I decided to go next door to the café for a drink. It was a little late by this time to phone Em, she would be sleeping, as she had to rise at five thirty in the morning to go to her teaching job so I decided to wait until later the next morning. The tables and chairs were set out at the front of the café, the pavement was busy with passes bye, the locals, tourist, some landmine victims asking for money, and the usual street vendors selling books, newspapers, hammocks, sunglasses etc a lot of these vendors remembered me and were all pleased to see me again, it felt almost as if I had never been away. So I sat there sipping my drink and feeling just a little nostalgic for Amsterdam when an Aussie girl I knew came up to my table
“Oh Lisa, so lovely to see you ” I said, tongue in cheek!
“Sarah you’re back, how are you?
Before I could actually answer she sat down at my table went into full spiel about her work and her ex boyfriend, on and on she went.
Honesty she could bore for Australia.
Gotta go, gotta go, I thought, knowing exactly now why I used to avoid her before, I mean she’s a nice girl.
So I made the excuse that I was really tired after my flight. And you’d had done the same. Believe me.
Well come on, I was tired.
She started to mutter about meeting up in a few days time with Em and I for dinner, and said she would phone Em to arrange a date.
Quickly as I could I went next door to my hotel.
And yes, I slept.
Copyright 2008 Emily Sheppard
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