9pm so I give him a good stare down, check the eyes for red and glaze and drunkenness. I watch the way he walks to the tuk-tuk, parked a few feet away from where we’ve haggled the fare. He walks straight enough to drive straight, so I sigh and start to climb in.
“Ok,” he says, sitting down on the bike, “7000.”
I pause, my foot on step. “No, 6000,” repeating the fare we agreed to.
A grin. “Ok, ok, 6000.”
I sit and he sits. He throws a look back at me.
“You want to smoke weed?”
“I don’t want to.”
“You no smoke weed?”
I smile and play it coy, “No, I’m a good girl.”
“Oh. I thought you were mafia.”
“I see your tattoo, I thought you mafia.”
“No,” shake my head, “not mafia.”
He throws his helmet on. He doesn’t clip the chin strap.
We take off and turn the corner and it’s the usual questions: where did I make my tattoos? (USA) Is that where I’m from? (Yes) How many? (I don’t know) How much it cost? (A lot. But it should, it lasts forever.) Do I like them? (which is not a usual question and I smile: Yes.)
“But you no smoke weed?”
“You no want to be happy?”
“I’m already happy.”
“But you be more happy.”
“Not if I smoke weed.”
“Oh, you smoke weed before?”
“Long time ago. When I was young. But I’m old now.” (Coy again, and I think how, broken language aside, it’s not so different from conversations I have with backpackers or college kids or, fuck it, my own peers, in bars or at shows—not entirely atypical.)
He speaks pretty good English and he’s driving straight enough and even knows where we’re going, so all things said, he’s a damn good tuk-tuk driver. We move through the pitted streets, slowly settling from their daily buzz—meat smoke thinning, piles of trash waiting for pick-up.
More questions, his eyes in the side mirrors more than on the road: How long will I be in Cambodia? (One year) What do I do for work? (smile: I’m a writer) I live in a guesthouse or apartment? (bigger smile: Guesthouse tonight, but tomorrow I move to an apartment) You live with roommate or alone? (another smile: Alone) Why alone? (I want to) I come live with you? (No) Why? (I want to live alone)
We approach the Orussey Market: lights and umbrellas and neon plastic stools and buses parked and smoke, still plenty of smoke billowing and twisting and rising into the night. I tell him the name of my guesthouse.
“Oh, you stay there alone?”
“I come stay with you?”
“I don’t want you to.”
“You no like boys?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You like girls?”
“I didn’t say that either.”
We pull up in front, parked motorbikes in the glow of the reception desk, long shadows of security guards sitting listless in plastic chairs. I pull out the bills and step out of the tuk-tuk, hand them to him.
He takes off his helmet. “Goodnight, madam.”