Dinner was served on the hotel terrace overlooking a small garden. The moist air was a soft, heavy blanket, laced with the scents of jasmine and mosquito coils. Two dim bulbs lit the scene with a golden glow. Our group sat together at a long table, consuming spicy fish, garlicky vegetables, and mounds of rice. I sat at the far end, nearest the garden, listening to the multi-lingual chatter, the clink of silverware, the droning of the insects in the trees. I had never felt so alone.
All at once, he was there, settling his loose-limbed frame into the chair across from me. He plunked an amber bottle misted with condensation down in front of me. "You look like you could use this."
He took a swig from his own beer. Not knowing what to say, I did the same. The icy liquid slid down my throat.
I nodded and drank again before turning the bottle to examine the label. "Angkor Beer?" I laughed.
"Why not? One of our leading exports." He tilted the bottle back. I watched his brown throat move as he swallowed. "Possibly the only thing most people know about our country."
"Really?" It was difficult to talk to him, difficult not to stare at his mobile, expressive face. Fortunately, the beer offered a convenient alternative to conversation.
We drank for a while in silence. I wondered how I could politely excuse myself.
He replaced his bottle on the table. "You really miss her, don't you?"
My eyes filled with tears. Somehow, though, it was a relief to admit it to someone, even to him. "Yes. Yes, I do."
"Is she your lover?" I'd read Cambodia was a conservative country, but Che didn't seem shocked by the idea at all.
"Was. She broke it off just before we were supposed to leave on this trip."
"Why?" The question was completely inappropriate, but I could see he wanted to know.
I buried my face in my hands. What could I say? How could he ever understand?
I heard the scrape of his chair as he rose. His hand rested briefly on my bare shoulder. "Whatever the reason," he murmured, "I think she was crazy."
By the time I looked up, he had returned to his seat at the other end of the table. "Make it an early night," he told the group. "We've got to be up at five tomorrow." He did not look at me again, but still the imprint of his fingers lingered on my flesh.