It was a lovely evening... and standing across the road from the Independence Monument, he wished it had not been.
He had hoped for lousy weather... anything that Nature could and often had thrown at him, from broiling 40 degree heat & sapping humidity to a bone-drenching torrential downpour. Anything except what it was now... late evening sun painting the sky golden and a gentle breeze that wafted in from the Bassac River on the horizon. Unbearable weather would have made leaving bearable, but the Fates were being their usual sadistic self.
Rivulets of cars, motorbikes and cycle-rickshaws made their way past him toward Sisowath Quay and the Riverside. He became hypnotized by their monotonous rhythm, became one with the bikes weaving through the line of Lexus' & Toyotas, barely shaving past them. He'd been here 5 months, a drop in the the ocean, but it felt like a lifetime. His thougths wandered back to a similar evening in April, in another city, on another continent. In another world, it seemed.
He was meeting with his Graduate Adviser and the mostly one-sided conversation concerned a decision he'd need to make very soon. He ranted about destiny, forks in the road, choices & consequences and every other damn-all metaphor and simile he could think of. Beating around the bush and making a hash of it. His adviser's chair faced the window and she pensively watched the the early evening bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling on University Boulevard toward the interstate. He went on... he wanted sympathy. He needed help. He needed advice.
He needed the decision made for him.
She interrupted his diatribe with one sentence. "Trust your instincts". Three simple words that he needed to hear but not what he wanted to. He shrugged... he was out of words. She was right; it was his choice alone. His eyes met his adviser's and he smiled because the decision was made. It had been made for quite a while.
A blaring horn snapped him out of his reverie. 10 minutes had slipped by. Independence Monument was now lit up for the night and for the nth time he absently muttered something about the striking effect of plain white light on blood-red stone. To no one in particular, of course. That had been the price he'd paid for being who he was, where he was... alone in a very real sense for the first time in his life. Although he'd fought it for a while, the vicious combination of insomnia and silence had eventually forced him to stop running and face his demons. For too long he'd manage to evade them with the help of a 'birds of a feather...' attitude, booze and false bonhomie.
The city had stripped him of company and the beginning of a double chin had curbed his drinking somewhat. Bonhomie had not really stood a chance. He'd begun to ask questions of himself... hard questions that he was unable to answer to his own satisfaction. He accepted that. It was better than living lies. Disappointingly perhaps, there was no dramatic change because of his self-dissection. No epiphany. That sort of thing was for the movies, accompanied no doubt, by a rousing and soul-stirring musical score. No such convenience in his life, real life, where the only music was contributed by the selection on his laptop. 'Dil dhoondta hai, phir wahi, fursat ke raat-din' was a very moving song and all that but it did not have any sort of ridiculous galvanizing effect. He'd continue to live but he would try to make changes. Before it was too late.
As he made his way on to Rue Pasteur from Sihanouk Boulevard, a man walking past him gave a smile of recognition. For an instant it left him nonplussed and then he smiled back and waved. The wave was returned and they moved on. The idea that his barber had recognized him on the street made him smile.
No longer a tourist.
He was one of a million. Chuckling to himself whenever he saw firangs being ripped off by the taxi-drivers... bargaining in rudimentary Khmer over the price of fruit... knowing that even the daily rains kept to a schedule.
He lived here. He belonged.
And he was leaving.
Song for the moment: Lily was here - Dave Steward feat. Candy Dulfer