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I didn’t catch his name.

Maybe it was because the blanket-thick heat deafened me. Or maybe it was because he said it so quickly, tumbling words obscured by the eager manner of his speech. Or maybe, probably, it was because I was in an unknown country, and everything was unrecognisable to me.

I turned my face against the clinging humidity towards the direction in which his hand enthusiastically pointed, eyes arriving at a tattered vehicle parked askew down a sun-trodden street. The motorbike, he explained – more by way of gesture than words – was the engine. The woeful cart attached loosely by rust-eaten chains was to be my carriage.
Had I been cooler, or familiar with the roads, I would have abruptly denied the smiling man his fare. But exhaustion held me in its worn reins, and my aching desire to get There dampened my streetwise inhibitions.

I accepted a ride from the stranger.

“Oh frabjous day!! Callooh! Callay!” he suddenly sang, steadying the rickshaw as I clambered aboard. Bewildered by this shoeless Cambodian man’s grasp of The Jabberwocky, I reflexively returned his apeish grin. One commanding kick and the motor awoke sharply, a throbbing pulse signalling life. With trained obedience it responded to my guide’s enthusiastic battle cry, the ensuing burst of speed pushing me back in my seat as a wave of sodden heat pinned me against molten leather.

My guide’s relentless chatter eased any lone-traveller anxieties, and I eased my head back onto tasselled cushions. Chin tilted towards the first glimpse of morning sun, I watched the towering 5 star hotels give way to canopies of green as we slid out of the city.
Tourist-laden elephants were the first sign that we were nearing It. Ambling alongside the throng of cars and rickshaws I watched as monkeys danced around their feet, revelling in the attention of the parade. My guide saw me react, eyes-wide, mouth agog, and a deep belly laugh erupted from his mouth.

Then we stopped.

I had been so captured by the menagerie that I’d failed to notice our arrival. I took my guide’s eagerly outstretched hand, and as sandals touched dusty floor, turned to face Angkor Wat. Standing still with eyes transfixed, my breathing slowed as beads of sweat traversed unnoticed across my brow. The crowds slipped away, ceased to exist. I was alone, silently rejoicing at the beauty of It.

Hours passed in that minute. Only when a cold hand touched my sun-torched arm was my trance shattered. My t-shirt clung to me, my mouth dry, lips cracked. I panicked, frantically searching for a sliver of shade in the open temple grounds. Then I found some, directly overhead. Looking up, I saw my smiling guide hold a parasol high, its protective wings blocking the blazing rays. He pressed a chilled bottle of water into my hand and belly laughed at my thirsty gulps.

I never caught his name.

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