This is a story about a little girl who wanted to say sorry but could not.
Here comes Mrs. Sophorn.
She is 38 years old.
Please, Mrs. Sophorn, will you tell us about those days?
It is the year 1976.
I am 7 years old.
We live in a small hut, Ma, my two brothers, my baby sister and me.
One damp night I woke up. I was so hungry.
That day I found a fat juicy earthworm and I wanted to eat it, but when it crawled in my mouth I spit it out and vomited.
So now my stomach is growling.
I think of the jar in which Pa has hidden our very last bit of rice “for when it is really needed” he said. That was before he was taken away for reeducation.
I think of the jar, I think of the tasty rice. I am drawn toward the jar. Nothing can stop me. I get up. I tiptoe over the other sleeping bodies.
My stomach growls loudly. I stop. Have they heard my stomach? No, they continue to sleep. My mother, her arms around my baby sister with her face swollen by hunger.
My fingers can feel the jar. I try not to breath. I slowly lift off the lid.
My hand reaches in and takes out a handful of uncooked rice and quickly shoves it into my hungry mouth. I soften the grains with saliva. When it is soft enough, my teeth ground the rice grains, they have a sweet taste that slides easily down my throat. I want more, more.
The next morning my sister screams
Ma, look, someone was in the container last night!
I glance at the container and I see that the lid lies crooked.
I did not close it properly.
Maybe some rats got into it and stole some. Tonight I will seal it very tight. This rice belongs to all of us.
I want to scream: “It was me, Ma, I stole from the family. Please forgive me.”
But I say nothing.
I am bad and I can see that Ma knows it.
She told us once that children should be good. That doing bad things will create bad Karma and they will come back in the next life as snakes, slugs or worms. But that their bad Karma can be healed when they confess their bad deeds and apologize.
I want to confess. I want to say I’m sorry. But I say nothing. I am silent.
This is the heart of the mother.
Whether near or far,
she always thinks of her child.
and she never minds whether the child is good or bad,
since either good or bad the child still belongs to her.
This is how mother and child are linked to each other.
I am 39 years old now.
Baby Geak died from hunger in 1977 and soon after Ma also. My older brother was taken to a youth group, I never heard of him again.
My life is quite good, I studied and I became a doctor. On damp nights, the guilt always returns. I know I was a child in those days, I know the hunger changed people into animals who would do anything to grab whatever might be edible.
But this guilt stays with me and I wish someone would help me. I wish Ma was there again, so I could confess my sin to her, which I dared not confess when I was only seven years old.
by Ou Sam Oeur
May the boddhitree be free to grow.
May the sugar palm be free from blame.
May the supernatural devils be banished from Cambodia.
My peace be restored to the people of this land.