The Importance of Being Peter

Foreword: There are at least four people in my circle of friends here named Peter, after you add me that’s five. So when Peter J. gave me this story to post I had to laugh at the title. It goes without saying—“all characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

The Importance of Being Peter

By Peter J.

Capt. Ratana was a gentle-hearted soul, well liked throughout his songat. It was only a songkat and the Capt. had long given up hope of having his own province but he was happy with it. Being popular with Barang, and therefore plagued with prostitution, drugs and all the other crime they drag along in their wake like the blood dripping chains of all white ghosts, it kept him busy and he ran it with a strict paternalism that earned him the respect of most and the fear of only the truly evil. It was almost unheard of for him to lose his temper but on this dark pre-rain Phnom Penh September afternoon a number of factors were conspiring against his normal good nature. Firstly, the heat, his air-conditioner had coughed, clicked twice and surrendered in despair over an hour earlier leaving only the ancient fan, hurriedly brought in by his loyal sergeant, to stir the thick air but provide no cooling effect at all.

Secondly his small office was crowded, the Capt. loved the privacy and escape of his cubbyhole and to have it crammed with six others, four of whom were malodorous Berang, made him feel impinged upon, squeezed almost beyond bearing into the small patch behind his cluttered desk that he was defending against all comers.

It was also Saturday and after 1.30. He was late for his lunch, his weekend and his regular date with his much prized TV and adored son’s favorite football team. They both treasured their father/son Saturday afternoons.

The major factor in his rapidly deteriorating mood, however, were the aforementioned stinking round-eyes confronting him across the rampart of his desk. The stench of stale alcohol and sweat pouring off them was enough to make any decent Cambodian gag and in the confines of the tiny office it was beyond the endurance of Buddha himself. A night in the cell behind his sergeant’s tiny table may have sobered them somewhat but had done nothing to make them less disgusting or more presentable. Nor understandable.

“Start again” he said, pointing at the large, slightly less stupid looking one sitting in the middle.

“Well” said Peter, in his Dublin accent, ruined by an over long stay in New York. “As I explained before”.

This possible slur on his intelligence did not go unnoticed by the good Captain.

“My friends and I were celebrating Peter’s return to Cambodia” he said. Nodding towards the elder, and even more disheveled reprobate on his right. “Peter and I met Peter and Peter, here he indicated the two remaining members of the gang, at The Irish Place and we all decided to go on to Peter’s place. We went by tuk-tuk and there was no problem until that idiot Peter hit the driver. The Capt. pointed at each in turn. “You”, “You”, “You”, “You” and from each received a shaken head and a confident “No”

Holding on to what little was left of his famed tolerance for the crazy white devils, the Capt. asked quietly “So who, exactly, hit the driver?”

Perhaps it was the heat, the long sleepless night in the oven of a cell, the vicious hangovers, the many repetitions of the question, or perhaps just suicidal acceptance of their fate. We’ll never know, but the next seconds massacred all chance of the early release they had hoped for only five hours earlier.

All in one voice. Each with just a touch too much volume. They all said “Peter” The cumulative effect was that of a shout. And it was fatal. “Lock them up” hissed the Captain to his men, as his face confounded science by turning an even darker red.

The Peters knew the fault was theirs, they attached no blame to the Captain. They comforted each other with the intricate methods of torture they would use on the body of their newest mortal enemy, Peter, and returned stoically to their now familiar cell.

Capt. Ratana, wrapped his last remaining shreds of dignity about himself clapped his cap on his head and started for his motorbike and home. He almost made it.

“I hear you corrupt bloody heathens are holding my friends. Release them you damned native blighters before I call the bloody dips”. A pathetic sunken chested little man had staggered in and now stood leaning towards the wall for support. He missed the wall by a good metre but a quick stumble corrected the situation and wavering alarmingly he remained upright. “Chop, chop. Chaps, can’t you understand the bloody Queen’s?”

With great good luck for the stranger, which he certainly did not deserve, an appalling antipodean, mock English accent and a drunken slur augmented by a too rapid delivery had convinced the stunned police that this was no language they were familiar with. If they had been able to interpret these insults the stranger would have shortly been praying for death. The stranger held an obviously swollen right hand, wrapped in a filthy bandage, against his slightly protruding stomach. He seemed to consider it through unfocused eyes while he waited for an answer.

The sergeant spoke very slowly. “What….. do ……you….. want?”

“Emancipation for the incarcerated innocents, goes without bloody saying my good over-weight nig-nog constable chappie……Liberation.” The little man shouted through his few remaining teeth. Fortunately, at this point he burst out singing the Marseilles and this, the unintelligible language and the stench that assailed them, convinced the police he was just a harmless French drug addict looking for a bed.

“What……. Is…… your….. name?” the sergeant asked even more slowly.

“Peter” The suspected Frenchman slurred out. “Pe………” He got no further.

All those linguists who claim that Khmer has no truly obscene words in its vocabulary would have burnt their doctorates and taken up knitting if they could have heard Capt. Ratana as he barged in an atypically violent manner out the door. Sergeant Vatanak, with a smile normally only seen on the faces of hangmen as they slip the noose over a victim’s head, whispered “Throw him in with the others”. But, he couldn’t help laughing out loud as Peter was dragged, screaming for an “Embassada”, away.

Buddha was kind. Oh yes Buddha was very kind indeed.

Even the most loyal NCOs, occasionally, love to see an officer defeated and fleeing. The screams and other blood-curdling noises that soon erupted from his little cell just made him laugh harder.