“Did you know Buddhist monks aren’t allowed to touch women?” Jerry yelled even though his mouth was right next to Liz’s ear. His bony fingers wrapped around her waist, squeezing her rib cage from behind. Liz’s eyes narrowed, fastened to the road; partly to resist the urge to snuggle her cheek into Jerry’s beard, partly because she hoped if she stared long enough, the road they were supposed to be on would become obvious. Neither of them remembered to bring a map. Liz’s left hand was on her head holding a floppy straw hat in place. Her long lens camera swung wildly around her neck. The other hand worked to steady the motorcycle.
“What?” she yelled back.
“I said, Buddhist monks can’t touch women!” he yelled, louder this time. “Not even mothers and sisters. Unless they’re sick- then touching is okay. I wonder why.”
Jerry read an ‘All You Need to Know About Cambodia’ pamphlet on the plane and spouted random trivia whenever there was a lull in the conversation, which was more often than not. Liz thought for a while, taking in the bamboo forest around them. She made a right in front of a hut on wooden stilts, an old woman tended a pile of flaming trash behind it. Half dressed children laughed, chasing a small dog around the fire. Why were they up so early? The path was straight, painted sky opened up, shades of orange and pink. Some might have found this place romantic. Liz turned to see Jerry’s face up close, purring in the sexiest voice she could muster.
“Maybe it’s got something to do with desire. It comes naturally between a man and a woman.”
“What? Speak up!”
“DESIRE. IT’S NATURAL.” She could only sound so sexy yelling at the top of her lungs.
Jerry nodded slowly, wrinkled his brow. “Are you saying they’d go as far as incest? That kind of stuff is probably frowned upon in a monastery.”
“No, I’m not saying that.”
“I mean, I could see it. Not being near a woman for that long. If that were me I’d likely rape the first woman I saw.”
The group of children stopped chasing the dog and were screaming after the motorcycle. Was he coming onto her? Liz waited for his grip to tighten around her waist, to feel him hard and pressed up behind her. She waited a little longer, holding her breath to sense any subtle sign he might give. Nothing. Her heart sank. She checked her watch, thirty minutes until sunrise. Liz was losing faith that there would be enough time to reach Angkor Wat, buy tickets to get in, set up their tripods amongst a sea of other tourists, and take photographs for the article. The week would be full of photographing travel spots in Siem Reap, part of a budget travel segment Liz proposed but Jerry was ultimately chosen to produce, while she tagged along playing assistant. Leading up to the trip, Jerry wore mandala printed pants with slouchy crotches and leather bound slippers around the office, sporting a rust colored pre-tan – something Liz was unaware existed until then. It would dissolve any barriers between him and the local Cambodians, Jerry said, handing Liz a pair of her own slouchy crotch pants. Jerry was always a well of information, that’s what she loved about him.
Jerry told Liz to pull over, he recognized the area from a description in the pamphlet, the temple was not far. The sky was blue now, but the sun was not up. Heat stayed pent up in the trees, turning the air thick. They could see everything in this false daytime. Being outside between night and day, just the two of them surrounded by walls of tall bamboo and foreign smells was like a lucid dream. As if they were the only ones that knew this place existed, or they were the only people that existed within it. As if this space would only exist as long as they were there. They climbed off the motorcycle, as good a time as any to stretch their legs.
“Nature calls. And when it calls, I answer.”
Jerry walked towards the trees, already pulling down his slouchy crotch pants. His back was turned but he remained insight, resting his forehead on a tree, his legs in a wider than necessary stance. Liz decided to go a little deeper in the woods, but still, if Jerry turned around he would see her head and knees bobbing behind a small bush. When she pulled down the slouchy crotch pants Jerry had given her (yet had said they made her bottom half look a lot like a potato, when she asked what he thought of them) she rolled the excess crotch in her hands so it wouldn’t sit on the ground while she urinated.
Squatting out in nature with a breeze at her backside, skillfully hovering a few inches off the ground, Liz felt primal. Did nature always have this effect on people? She smiled, eyes closed, face towards the sky. Nature’s simplicity forced itself on them, skewing social norms. There it was perfectly fine for two colleagues of opposite genders to relieve themselves in full view of each other. Liz wondered what else nature could turn on it’s ear. She watched a trail grow from between her legs and go downhill towards a small clearing where there was a pile of burned trash. An old pair of sneakers sat on top. Something shiny was in the waste, at the base of the mound. Liz got up, looking around her. Jerry was still insight, now on the bike reading his pamphlet – probably still thinking about incestuous monks. The sky was yellow now. Liz walked towards the clearing, unsettling dirt around her. She had never been somewhere so still yet all encompassing. The shiny thing lost it’s shine the closer Liz got to the trash pile. Finally she stood over it and saw it was only cheap aluminium, wrapped around a bloated wrist.
Liz did not know how long she was staring at the body. The dead man was at her feet, his eyes wide open, the underside of his chin visible from inside his open mouth. The corpse was naked except for a wristwatch that was stuck at 5:38. Liz’s mouth opened, nothing came out. Useless, just like the dead man’s. She could not tell if she was making any noise. Her ears only gave way to the sound of her heart thumping against her chest. Her eyes stayed fixed to the corpse; partly because she was scared it would rear up and kill her, partly because she had never seen anything like it. Her fingers came down around her neck, reaching for her camera. She held the camera up to her eye and took in everything nature had to show her. The sky’s yellow was deepening. Jerry called from the motorcycle, waving his tripod in the air. The sun was rising.
I’m still working on my titles, but I’m not too bothered about this one at the moment. This is a very first draft of a story I’ll be handing in to my creative writing professor so if you have any constructive criticism, feedback, opinions, or questions of any sort, they will be appreciated!