This is a story about a boy and a girl who once upon a time were dear friends.
Mr. Saroun sits on the stone wall at the riverside. He is 49 years old. He does not trust anyone.
There comes Mrs Sophear with her little ananas car. She is also 49 years old.
Do I know you?
You look familiar.
No, I never met you.
We were driving through Phnom Penh on the same truck and we were together for a month in the same unit. Remember now?
No, I don’t know you. What do you want?
It is nice to see you again. You had a funny face and a big smile.
Are you crazy?
We sang and we danced. You were the best dancer.
Sure. Watch and listen and you will remember.
We walk up to the front and stand facing the crowd.
We are wearing beautiful black shirts and pants, shiny and new, with bright red scarves around our waists.
We wear red ribbons across our foreheads with red fake flowers made of dyed straw.
We are children, we love Angka with no limits.
Because of Angka we can survive and have a prosperous and happy life.
Before the revolution we were so poor and had such a hard time.
We lived like animals. Nobody cared about us, we were abandoned.
We were just skin and bone, day and night we lived in fear.
We had nothing to eat except for what we begged from each other.
Now we are healthy and strong because of the support of our great Angka.
We are the children of the Angka.
We are fearless.
We are the future.
We learn how to fight.
And this is the rifle.
The rifle is easy to shoot.
A child can shoot it.
You know something. I liked the rifle.
I liked that boys and girls were treated the same. I liked the singing and the dancing. I liked that we were together like a family.
Yes. They were great times.
We were going to make a better world.
Angka said: You are the future. You are the children of Angka. From now on Angka is your real and only family.
Angka relies on you to make the revolution a success.
It was serious business.
They said: Always be on guard.
There are many enemies.
The city dwellers with their soft hands, do not trust them.
From now on they will do real work, honest work to make our glorious country into one plentiful rice field, giving food to everyone.
If they are lazy or sick they are useless and Angka will have to get rid of them.
They said the wheel of history is turning. Anyone who dares to stop the wheel will be destroyed. It was serious business.
We were the wheel of history.
You still believe all that?
I did then, of course. I have never again felt as important as then. Yes, sure, I did believe them.
We did a lot of terrible things.
But this was war, you remember. It was the revolution. Obey or die. Who wants to die?
Why are you so angry?
I’m not angry. I just have a headache. This splitting headache.
It is the year 1975.
You are a boy of 15 years.
You spot a little girl with some fruit. She goes to put it in her mouth, but you, the boy of 15 years beats the girl to death.
You scream: “All fruit belongs to Angka. You are stealing from Angka. You are the enemy.”
You look pale.
Do you want a drink?
Let’s talk a bit.
How is your life now?
Are you married?
What work do you do?
What do I do?
Nothing and everything. I sell books in the street.
What kind of books?
Books about those days.
I am a widow and I have three children.
I sell drinks and pineapple.
My children went to school. They can read. I cannot read and now I am too old for that. Otherwise I would have read your books.
Have you read them?
Who wants to read them? They are just for the tourists, they love all of that. If I sell one of those books a day, I can have a meal. That’s what books are good for.
Anyway, why are you asking all these questions?
I’m just curious.
Tell me, how did you loose your happy smile?
How come you are still alive?
Why don’t you say anything?
I have a headache. This splitting headache.
It is the year 1976.
Three young soldiers come to the hut of Chea. You are one of them.
You are a boy of 16 years.
The three soldiers drag Chea into the woods. Chea screams.
The three soldiers rape Chea. You are one of them.
It was all for Angka. We would make a better world.
Yes, that is what they said, but I did terrible things.
I was frightened day and night, so I did terrible things to please them.
What do you mean by terrible things?
We had to sacrifice ourselves.
I did as I was told and that was hard enough.
When I came back to my village I found out that my parents were killed by angry villagers. And the neighbour hit my head with an axe because I was Khmer Rouge.
My younger brother is alive, but he doesn’t want to see me. Why, what does he know, he was only 2 years old at that time.
Yes, maybe they were hard times, but today is hard as well.
We were all wasted.
May I please tell you something? It is important for me to say this.
One day so much happened: It was 1977. I was 15 years old. I betrayed a woman because I overheard her when she was singing an ancient lullaby to her child. She was taken for reeducation right away and never came back. That same afternoon our section had to destroy the Buddha statues in the temple.
That night I had this terrible dream.
I heard a voice call out to me:
Don’t forget about the bodiless witches.
At night when the witches go to sleep their heads separate from their bodies.
The heads fly so fast with their intestines dangling behind.
Their tongues lick blood and puss.
They eat flesh of dead bodies.
When I woke up I knew that the dream meant that I had landed in a land of Bad Karma.
But today I know that that terrible nightmare saved a tiny part of my soul.
Please stop talking. I wish you would stop. I don’t want to hear. I want nothing. I don’t want my headaches anymore.
No, now I cannot stop anymore.
I have to put one question to you and I want you to listen.
You know what the Buddha says: never join the fight, but don’t hide from.
That is why I go every year to Tuol Sleng so as not to hide from the past, and tomorrow is that day.
Before I go I always feel frightened as I do now.
When I am there and I see all those faces, the little children, I think that I should be dead instead of them.
Then I feel miserable.
I ask forgiveness from their spirits and I make offerings.
And the next day I am sad.
But I do not have my terrible nightmare anymore.
Maybe you want to come with me tomorrow.
Maybe it will bring an end to your headaches.
Do you have the courage to come with me?
Will you come?
Maybe I’ll go.
I’ll be here at 11 o’clock.