The time was three when the airbus cut through the wispy clouds; leaving silky white traces as it imprinted its smooth tyres on the dry, desolate tarmac. It was a steamy, humid, December afternoon. I was glad the long flight from the UK was over; six foot eight men are not designed for economy travel I thought to myself. An abrupt halt caused me to shoot cold beer through my nose (which was pressed against the opposite seat) making my eyes water. The young Italian man next to me laughed. I wanted to punch him in the face as he glared at me with his bushy black hair and square glasses; chewing his peanuts like a cement mixer. At least I was at my destination though, (Siem Reap) – here to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years; by the name of Zeb.
‘Mr Dewey, enjoy your stay’ said the smirking immigration officer, as he stamped my passport and let me through security. The arrivals gate was hot and hectic, like a Bangkok market; passenger name signs flashed erratically and strange voices called out to me ‘taxi, taxi’ – making me feel dizzy. I was sure everyone was staring at me; being tall and slender seemed to arouse the onlookers; never mind the fact that I was fresh from the UK winter, feeling rather sun-starved and pale.
‘Dewey, Dewey’ I heard from a distant voice among the crowd; the voice became louder, more lucid – it sounded English, with a slight Jamaican hint. A short, stout man, wearing a stars and stripes bandana, appeared. He had bulbous white eyes distending from his portly pink face as he looked at me and grinned. ‘Alright man!’ he shrieked. Before he had time to finish, I stretched my arms around his waist and lifted him, nearly slipping a disc; I was so excited though – I didn’t care. I had found Zeb – my dearest friend from the UK.
We exchanged a few kind words and stepped outside for a cigarette. The Cambodian air felt like a Sauna; sweat dripped through my Nirvana t-shirt like a leaking tap, making me feel clammy and dehydrated. Zeb told me he had travelled on the overnight bus from Sihanoukville, where he had a couple of friends I could meet sometime. ‘Cool, cool’ I announced, followed by – ‘fancy a beer?’ Zeb looked a little miffed; he said – ‘I’ve arranged a night market tour with a dude I met on the bus, who’s also meeting his friend today’. I re-joined – ‘I’m pretty whacked out – I just want to relax with a beer’. ‘Besides – I don’t know these guys’; ‘Dewey – there are no strangers – just friends you haven’t met yet’ was Zeb’s reply.
As I got on the back on Zeb’s moped, I can honestly say that I thought about using his bandana to carry out a mafia-style execution on him; squeezing the clichés from his fat throat. I guess it was just the tiredness though, so I tried my best to relax and enjoy the moment.
Zeb drove us to the hostel where we were staying – a sordid little backpacker hangout – with 70s style yellow couches, coffin-sized bunk beds, and Tracy Chapman tunes blasting out. I spent the next hour freshening up and downing as many beers as I could – around six – I think. I felt better, more jovial, and ready to hit the night market.
The evening was still early when we met Zeb’s friend Nik (from the night bus) and the friend he had brought along. They were sat by a street food cart, deep in conversation. My heart sank when the friend greeted me with – ‘Hey I’m Lorenzo’; it was the bushy-haired, Italian man from the plane. He had now replaced his peanuts with fried rice and gouged away like a ravenous hog. We laughed about the flight, and I no longer wanted to punch him. ‘Double date it is then’ exclaimed Zeb; Nick laughed nervously as he flicked his light blonde surfer hair to the side of his face and re-joined with ‘let’s rock n roll!’ in his strong Australian accent.
The night market was buzzing; many people from many different nations – all absorbing the atmosphere into their skin and permeating their minds with unforgettable memories. We walked past giant woks, sizzling the air and tantalizing my nostrils with the smells of lemongrass, garlic, and spiced chicken. The colours were incredible; the array of fresh exotic vegetables; deep-fried crispy bugs, and unknown wildlife on sticks; all overwhelming my senses and sending a shiver down my spine. I can still smell it to this day when I shut my eyes and imagine it.
It was around eleven when we decided to rest our legs and have a beer; I almost felt bad for showing any animosity towards Lorenzo, as I now found him quite tolerable. ‘Cheers guys’ I announced to the table when our beers came over, all three of them retorted with ‘Salute!’ Zeb then stood up and clinked his beer glass with the back of a teaspoon and followed with – ‘I just want to say – there truly are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet.’ Nik smiled nervously and Lorenzo grinned as he gnawed on a prawn; I couldn’t help what I did.
Pouncing up, a paroxysm of rage overcame me, my arms were spinning wildly, like a broken windmill. ‘Stick your clichés up your ass!’ I scoffed venomously at Zeb, as I drove my right fist into his right thigh, causing him to squeal like a pig and shout ‘ah maaaaan!!’. Zeb then sat down looking impassive as he downed a full beer and stared at the floor; I guess he was ok. I got up and left, I was still furious and didn’t want to cause any more of a scene.
Maybe the tiredness was too much, but whatever caused my outburst, I needed to go and cool off. Walking towards the hostel I heard a voice shout – ‘eyy Dewey!’; it was Lorenzo. We found a bar with chill-out music and orange coloured futons where we continued to drink ice cold beer until the early hours. The conversation jumped between subjects including the meaning of life, and whether we can time travel. One thing was for certain though – I had found a true friend in Lorenzo.
A.T Hawthorn – 31.7.19