The colonial-style houses, like the tattered edges of an old novel thats collected dust on a shelf, line the streets of Kampot amongst rusty tuk-tuks and motorbikes. A blue wooden door, battered from the rain, slowly creaks open back and forth in the gentle breeze.
I walk along the street next to peach and lime green walls and houses with pink and blue roofs. An old woman stands on one of the cloudy gray and white balconies and holds a matted green blanket out towards the sun. She smiles into the distance as she furrows her eyebrows. She drapes the blanket over the side and turns to walk through an open door.
One building stands out in particular. It has royal blue bars that line the window. In between the bars are golden swirls like the crested part of an ocean wave that makes it look like a bedazzled jail cell.
A Khmer man sits on the steps of the building smoking a cigarette. He blows circles of smoke into the air that spin around like a carousel at an amusement park and eventually fade. He puts the cigarette onto the steps and spins it around. It leaves a smudge of black ash on the step. The man gazes up at the sky and watches two birds dance in the air to their own rhythm, a melody that can only be heard by them.
I continue to walk along the streets of Kampot. Plants in colorful pots line the sidewalk, their leaves twisting and turning skyward towards the sun.
The hole-in-the-wall cafes blend into the street, going virtually unnoticed between boarded up houses and tiny Khmer stalls selling noodle soup and fried rice. The only sign that they exist is the wicker furniture that sits outside with blue cushions that have a permanent indent in the center of them, welcoming anyone to plop down and sip on a drink.
An old man relaxes outside one of the cafes and reads a book. His cappuccino sits next to him untouched; the cappuccino swirls still intact. The sun kisses his wrinkled skin, marked with tiny brown spots from years of being outdoors like a poppy seed bagel. His eyes turn to slits as he carefully turns one of the pages of the book as if he does not believe what he has just read.
He picks up his cappuccino, raises it to his lips, pauses, and carefully sets it back down without taking a sip. The novel has not moved from his hands. His eyes are frozen on the words he reads. I want to know what he is reading, want to know what fantasy world has captivated him so much.
I walk towards the river, one of the symbols of Kampot that make it the sleepy town it’s known to be. The sweet, tangy aroma of barbeque ribs wafts into the air carried by a breeze. The savory, warm scent of coffee blends in with the ribs and creates a sense of camaraderie that mingles with the tranquility that already floats in the air.
The river runs through the quiet town. A boat glides along the river at a pace no faster than a droplet of water sliding down a windowpane.
A Khmer child runs alongside the river. Her dress bobs up and down with each step she takes. Her bubbly laughter floats through the air and I involuntarily smile at her innocence. She stops to watch the boat as it moves along the river, and stares at it with the immense curiosity of a child.
Tuk-tuks hungrily drive around Kampot in search for interested customers to take them from point A to point B. Motorbikes zoom along the street as kids on bicycles pedal along the shoulder of the road. They sing cheerfully to one another with toothless smiles and not a care in the world.
The sun slowly sinks towards the horizon and stains the city in magenta and lavender. The colonial buildings look more striking, the worn brick and faded stone now blanketed in a bright red light. The mountains in the distance are nothing but a silhouette; mere bumps in the horizon that slowly melt away into the darkening sky.