Disobeying Angkar's Viney (Cont.)
With a tattered blanket covering my whole body, I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep so that my anxiety would disappear. But my attempt was in vain. It appeared that when one was overcome by worry and fear, nothing could calm the mind. The image of Met being kicked by Chay was still fresh in my memory. And Met’s infraction was only talking back to a cadre. What about me? I had disobeyed Angkar’s Viney and, on top of that, I disobeyed a cadre’s order not to run away from the camp, a serious infraction which warranted the worst punishment imaginable. As I quietly tossed and turned under the blanket, I began to imagine myself being beaten like a piñata by a group of Khmer Rouge’s cadres to punish me for my undisciplined behavior. The thought of being beaten scared me to death. My nerve was on the brink of breaking down. At that moment, I wanted to tell my mother what had happened when I was sneaking out of the camp and the predicament that I was in. But I somehow stopped short of doing so, after thinking of my father’s words, who had told me before he died, that I should act responsibly and must always be responsible for my own action. The reminder of my father’s admonition seemed to bring some courage back into my soul when I started thinking about the cost and benefit of sharing my predicament with my mother. There seemed to be nothing my mother could do to help alleviate my anxiety except for sharing the worry with me. Hence, I remained quiet. To help calm down my worried thinking, I closed my eyes and silently prayed for divine intervention to help guide me through this frightful situation I was in.
My prayer might have been answered as I fell asleep rather soundly. The next thing I knew was that my mother had woken me up because it was time for me to return to the camp. I saw Teav was already waiting for me at the door. Thus, without a moment delay, I grabbed my checkered scarf, the krama, and said goodbye to my mother. Teav and I quietly walked out of the village. It was about two o’clock in the morning. Fortunately for us, the sky was clear. With a full moon and all the stars shining down upon us, we could see our path fairly well. However, to get back to the camp, we had to walk across the vast expanse of a rice field with many small bushes along the way. Despite illumination from the moon and the stars, the night was eerily quiet. We occasionally stumbled upon nocturnal creatures, including birds, which startled us as they flew off into the sky. Both Teav and I were scared, especially of ghosts, but in order to keep our sanity in check we said nothing. We looked straight ahead as we walked. It took us about an hour and a half to make our way back into the camp. Breathing a sigh of relief, we surreptitiously sneaked back into our hut and lay down in our designated sleeping spots. Everyone was still soundly asleep.
As morning arrived, Teav and I got up along with everyone else and went to work as if we had not been away from the camp at all. However, even though our team mates said nothing about our overnight absence, it was hard for us to hide the fact. At about noon time, while we were returning to our base camp to collect our meals, I saw Khoeun intercepting Teav to ask him some questions. I sensed Khoeun must be inquiring about our flight home yesterday evening. Hence, I walked up just close enough to eavesdrop on their conversation. Sure enough, Khoeun was asking Teav why he was running home yesterday evening and demanded to know who was running along with him. Teav told Khoeun that he went home last night to have his mother mend his torn shirt, and on the subject of who was running along with him, he tried his best to evade the question. At that point, I knew I was in trouble. Whether this trouble would be big or small depend very much on Teav’s ability to help me. Filled with anxiety, I decided to stop eavesdropping on their conversation and resigned myself to my fate.
After eating lunch, we returned to the worksite to continue our afternoon shift. I noticed that Teav was at the worksite as well—a sign that he might be able to talk himself out of trouble. I wanted to ask him about the details of Khoeun’s inquiry but decided against the idea. If Teav had told Khoeun that I was the person who was running home with him and Khoeun learned that I had preempted his inquiry by talking to Teav, my trouble would be compounded. Thus, for the rest of the afternoon, I worked quietly and anxiously anticipating Khoeun’s coming up to me to inquire about my running home last night. But Khoeun somehow did not come to visit the worksite that afternoon. As evening arrived, we returned to our base camp. I walked in the middle of our group so that if Khoeun were to look for me on my way to base camp, he would not spot me easily. The walk to base camp seemed to take a very long time for me. Even though we arrived in base camp and prepared to get our evening meal, my mind was still smothered with anxiety. It was only when I saw Khoeun relaxing with other cadres in the dining hut did my anxiety start to dissipate a little bit.
Khoeun was one of the nicer cadres under whose supervision I worked. Though he strictly followed the Khmer Rouge’s disciplines, he was not as zealously cruel as Chay. Hence, Teav and I were fortunate that he was the one who spotted us running home. If it were Chay, Teav and I would have been punished to the fullest extent. For the next few days, I was still feeling edgy despite the fact that Khoeun did not approach me to inquire about my running home. It was until a couple of weeks later when we were relocated back to our main camp in the village of Bonteay Staung, where the sub-district headquarter was located, did my anxiety begin to subside.
(To be continued)