Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hey Mr. Mr. -- Many Gay in Cambodia. No Trouble.

July 22, 2008- Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I saw the boy without any limbs again today. His young buddy rolled his wheelchair right up to me as I strolled by the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Yesterday I pretended not to hear his 'Hey, Mr. Mr. - Where you from?' and walked resolutely on. Later that day he rolled up to me while I was having lunch at a corner cafe where the Tonle Sap River meets the Mekong -- 'Hey, Mr. Mr. what you eating? You have dolla for me?' I quickly looked down as did all the other tourists around me who suddenly took a heightened interest in studying every last detail of the menu. Today when he reappeared I surrendered.

'Hey Mr. Mr. you buys us a coke?' I complied and ordered a bottle of water for myself. I stood, they sat, in the shade of a tree outside the palace gates. Both young faces smiled at me. 'Mr. like palace? Many pretty.' 'Yes' I said, 'very pretty--beautiful.' 'Where you go now?' -- he said. His friend held the coke for him, he sipped and then grinned with pleasure. His eyes seemed to sparkle. 'I am going walking for awhile--alone,' I added quickly. 'I show you way to market,' he offered just as quickly. 'No thank you,' I added firmly. 'Too bad -- I know shortcut,' he tried again, then sighed and let this fact dangle in the silent space that followed.

He spotted my gold ring. 'You married Mr?' Dare I even answer that question I thought? What the hell? 'Yes-- but to a man.' A pause. I waited for the look of shock and confusion on his face. His friend just kept nodding and smiling at everything being said so I knew he had absolutely no idea what was going on. Wheelchair boy tossed his head back and let loose a joyous howl -- his thick black hair fluttered in the breeze coming off the river and from the vibrations of laughter coming from his gut. I blushed as passing tourists exiting the palace gawked at the strange trio beneath a tree.

'I liking boys too -- they not liking me -- I broken,' he said, laughing even harder. Ok, what are the chances? I meet a well adjusted -- yet disabled by an old Khmer Rouge land mine -- gay kid. Where is my tape recorder?! Why did I leave the camera in my hotel room? Dumb.

'Mr. Mr. -- many gay in Cambodia. No trouble.' With that he offered a reassuring nod and then winked at me. Is this limbless teenager trying to seduce me? Probably, if he sees another few bucks in it. I am sure the money he gets from working the streets must make it home to help support a large family -- which he does not seem to want to talk about when I inquire. I hear that these kids may even be the primary bread winners for their clans. Playing on the sympathies of pushovers like me.

With our drinks almost gone and conversation waning mostly due to limited English on his part and non-existent Cambodian on my part -- I fork over a $5 bill for him and one for his friend. A small price to pay for this next lesson along the way. I can't help wonder about the fate of our meeting and this strange exchange of gay kinship.

After our goodbyes, they head off happily in the direction of the river no doubt to look for the next financial opportunity. I rush off in the opposite direction to the internet cafe to chronicle the encounter while it is still fresh in my mind. As I walk, I play the event over in my head and marvel at its serendipity. In my thoughts I am cursing the fact I left the camera in the hotel room and that I forgot to ask their names. I hope I see them again tomorrow.