written & illustrated by Chakriya PHOU
'If it is hard to find, make it harder to find.'
I liked to think like this because I never found something I wanted to find.
Like now, I wanted to find key to lock my box. And I forgot where I had put the key.
I left my house to work in Phnom Penh for 3 years. During these years, I did not visit hometown even once. I just came yesterday.
Today, my family all went to attend funeral of the monk. He was the famous monk in my village. He passed away this morning. The villagers mourned him. They all went to pagoda. Only me and Aki, dog, did not attend such big event.
Aki had a date with female widow living next house.
The box was mine. I had left it at house before I had gone to Phnom Penh. It had money. Yes, I saved money in there. I locked it to protect it. Now, I wanted to use that money but I could not open the box. I could break it but I did not dare to do because I liked that box. It was gift from my crush, when I studied at grade 5.
I searched in the house since after lunch till 5PM. I couldn't still find it.
My mother told me, before she had gone to funeral, that all keys she kept in box in wooden cabinet at front room. She said perhaps it fell to under the house because day before I came, my niece and nephew took that box to play.
Actually, I thought it should be under my house, but I was lazy to seek, and I thought I should respect the fate, I should not oppose, the fate assigned me to find everything hardly, so I needed to make it hardly.
It was long time. I thought my life was hard enough, so I decided to go down to check for the key.
It was 6PM now. The sky started to be dark. Furthermore, my village was in remote area, the whole village did not have electricity. Along the way, there was no light. Mostly, we used car battery, but we used for small lamp to brighten in house and television only so outside house and street were dark.
I climbed down the stairs.
My house was built by wood, taller from the ground abut 0.5 meters.
Because it was dark, I used phone light to light up.
Under my house it was muddy because of the big last night.
My grand mother told me that person who did good deeds when they were alive, when they died, there would be rain. Well, perhaps the famous monk died, that's why there was big rain last night, almost flooding my house.
I bent my knee and lighted up towards the mud. For a while, then I found something reflected with the light. It was in middle of the mud. I found a tree branch stick. I used to rake it to me. Yes, it was a key. I wished it was my key box.
When I was raking it from the mud, my edge of eyes met a light in the bush at corner of my house gate.
At first, I did not care about it. I just focused on the key.
When I got the key, I threw stick away. I rubbed the key against my shirt fabric to clean mud from it. When I was rubbing, my edge of eyes met that light again. It seemed floating out from the bush. When I looked at it, it hurriedly moved back into the bush.
I felt about it. The light was blue sky. It was not brightening, it was just low and foggy.
I knew what it was. But I wanted to make sure it was or not.
So, I pretended I did not see. I climbed the stairs to my house, but in fact, I peeked through a hole of my house wooden board background.
The light flied from the bush slowly towards muddy under my house. It arrived where I found my key then it stopped there.
Even though, I could not see thing clearly but I was pretty sure it was it, Arb.
Arb is a myth creature in Cambodian belief. It is believed person who practices incantation wrongly then that person became monster calling Arb in Khmer language. That Arb eats dirty like insect, small frog retained placenta etc. It likes to find food at pile of garbage and place has mud.
And it was reason it came to under my house because it had mud. It came to hunt for food.
While I watching it, my box was in my hand already. I unlocked the box during Arb was eating. I found only fifty thousand Riels in my box.
I wanted to buy new phone. I needed about six hundred USD. I saved salary, I've got three hundred. I thought I could full the amount by taking my saving money from the box. About 10 USD only, money in the box.
Buddha, what should I do? Where could I find money?
When I was upset and broken heart about money, I found an idea suddenly.
I looked at Arb, that was under the house, with an evil smile.
I stood up. I thought for a moment. Then I walked down by making loudly steps.
Arb heard the steps. It flied fast to the bush it had hidden.
I arrived at the ground. I saw the light in that bush. I knew it was still there.
I went into the kitchen that was built next to the front gate. I found a bunch of rattans. My family earned money by making thing from rattan plant. So, my father usually brought them to keep at home. I thought it was remained rattan.
I took it out of the kitchen. I did not use light. I walked in the dark to under the house. I set up the rattans into the mud. After, I went up to house. I peeked from the previous hole and wished Arb would fall into my trap.
Arb stayed longer in the bush. Perhaps it was afraid I would go down. When it was sure I was not going down, it came slowly from the bush. It stayed at the bush for a moment before it flied to the mud place.
I was so glad I saw it flying towards my setting rattan. I said in my mind, 'Hurry up. Hurry up.'
It flied in. Slowly. Slowly.
It was caught in my trap.
I ran down quickly.
When I arrived at ground, I lighted up my phone light towards it.
I opened mouth.
It was my first time to see Arb with my own eyes. I have been heard about it long time ago. It was just a myth. Now, I saw it. I felt excited to see the real Khmer monster.
It was a lady, long black hair. It was like in movie, with things inside our abdomen. I did not dare to light up to those things for I would throw out if I saw.
I lighted up towards her face. She tried to escape face from me.
I walked slowly towards her.
She tried to take out her intestine that was trapped with the rattan thorn.
When I reached under the edge of my house background, I bent my knees in order to sit.
Unexpectedly, Arb escaped from the rattan thorn. She flied quickly from under house to the gate.
I cried out.
Hearing my voice, she increased her fly speeding.
I ran fast, in purpose to close the door, but she was faster than me. She was out of the gate before I reached it.
No, no. I could not let my well of gold away.
I chased her.
Arb did fly high like in movie. She flied higher from the ground about half meters only. But she flied fast. Rapid.
I chased her by yelling out, 'Stop. Don't run. Stop.'
There was no one in the village. They all gathered at pagoda, about 5 kilometer away. No one heard me. No, there was one hearing my shouting, but it was not villager, it was Aki. He came out of one house. If I remembered not wrong, that house was five houses away from my house.
What the heck he was doing here? He should be at next house.
Aki came out. He stood watching Arb flying passed him. Then he looked at me running after Arb.
I called him, 'Aki, catch her. Catch Arb for me.'
He heard my calling, he ran after her. He ran so fast. He was ahead me. He almost caught up her.
That's my boy.
I smiled in mind.
But my hope was like flying cloud.
A dog came out from the house he had came out. Look at its body, it should be female dog.
The dog cried in sorrow voice.
Just heard her voice, Aki stopped chasing Arb. He turned to run back to that dog.
'What are you doing?'
Aki did not care about me. He reached the female dog, they touched noses of each other then they went together back into house.
OK. You choose woman over friendship. Remember what you do today.
I chased Arb alone. By myself. Without help from anybody or any animal.
Arb flied. I ran after her with calling, 'Stop. Stop.'
She did not listen to my word. She raised her speed.
Seeing that I raised my running speed too.
I did not know where I was running to. I just followed my target. She went straight. I ran straight. She turned right. I turned right. She turned left. I turned left too.
I did not how long I and Arb did running.
I did not where we were going to.
I just realized we stopped at a small hill of hay. There was a big near the hay hill.
Arb stopped at the hay hill. I stopped at the tree.
I placed my hand on the tree trunk and took fast breath. She did also.
'Freeze.' I tried to express sound.
'I freeze now.' said Arb with low voice.
Both of were grasping.
We rest for a while.
When we were better, I stepped slowly towards her. She tried to fly to stay at the top of hill of hay.
'I am human. I run. So I am exhausted. But you fly, why you're also exhausted?' I spoke to Arb.
She claimed to me, 'Flying uses strength too.' Then she continued, 'Are you crazy to chasing Arb?'
'I need your help,' said I.
'If you need help, why don't you ask?' said Arb.
'If I ask you, would you help me?'
'At least, you should try. Use rattan thorn to catch me. You know it hurts.'
'If I knew Arb was kind, I would not use trap.'
'You are insane. You make me hurt. You make me exhausted.'
'OK. Don't talk non-sense. I go to the point. I want money.'
'Crazy human. Do you think I have money?'
'Who tell you?'
'My grand mother told me.'
'Is your grand mother mother of Arb? Why she knows Arb has money?' said Arb angrily.
'My grand mother told me when I was young that Arb is rich. She said if person catches Arb, they can ask money or jewelry from Arb. So, that's why I set trap to catch you. Come one. Help me. I want to buy new phone. My money is not enough. Give me money to buy the phone, please.'
'You chase me for this reason?'
'Yes. Give me money. If not, give me ring. I take it to sell to get money.'
Arb rolled her eyes then stated, 'Use your brain. If I were such rich, I would not go to eat mud under your house. I would use my money to make mud at my house to eat.'
'Don't lie me. Everyone say Arb is rich. All human says like that. If you don't give me, I will after you forever.'
'I want to clarify that I am not rich. If about other Arbs, I don't know. But me, I am poor. No money. No jewelry. Nothing with me. Only things inside abdomen.'
'You mean it?'
'Yes, I can swear.'
'Oh my Buddha.'
I wanted to cry when I heard her words.
I put a lot of effort. I hoped strongly. Now, everything was vanished like salt melt in water.
I knelt down. I was so hopeless.
Perhaps she pitied me. She said to me with good voice, 'Well, see that you don't have intention to hurt me, I will help you once.'
Heard like this, I smiled. I got up and said, 'Really? You truly help me?'
'Yes,' nodded Arb, 'but you have to keep your promise or I will make your belly hurt until you die.'
I nodded my head with smiling big.
I felt excited to hear that she helped me. It was incredible.
'I don't have money, but I know there is a place has buried treasure. I bring you to. When you got the treasure, you have to share me half.'
'Keep your word. I say truly. If you don't keep your word, I will make you got stomach ache for your whole life. Until you get old and die.'
'I swear,' I raised my hand up.
'Then follow me.'
Arb flied leading way. I walked after her.
With her, I felt I was walking with dwarf.
In movie, it showed Arb flying so high, but in reality, it flied short.
I could not see her face clearly. I did not feel her scary. I felt like I was with human.
Walking like this, I felt bored so I tried to make conversation with her.
'Why you don't fly high?'
'Don't you see I carry a lot of things? They are heavy. And I have only one head. How can I fly high?' Arb replied me. Her speech voice was hard, not soft.
'How many the treasure?'
'I don't know. I just know the place, but I don't know number of it or what kind it is.'
'Why don't you take it yourself?'
'I cannot go there at daytime. People will spot. At night, you see my condition. How can I take it?'
'How do you know that place?'
'It is secret.'
'I see.' I nodded head.
We went into the jungle.
As I remembered, it was where graveyard of Chinese located.
'We are going to graveyard?' asked I.
'Yes,' Arb replied. 'Are you afraid?'
The last question she asked it was like teasing question to me.
'No, I'm not,' said I.
She gave a low laughing voice. I did not answer. In fact, I was scared of ghost, but I could not show my weakness for I was afraid she would laugh at me and I wanted the treasure.
We went nearly the graveyard.
More closer we were more cold I felt.
It was quiet place. So quiet. And it was cold. Especially, it was night so the coldness was added.
The top of graves could be seen from where I was walking. All of them were white.
Could you imagine the white colors appeared in the darkness? Could you imagine my feeling when I saw white grave top, some short, some tall?
My hairs all stood up.
I walked adjacently to Arb.
My eyes moved around. I was afraid something that I scared would come up. If that happened, I would run for sure.
When I was thinking about scary image, Arb shouted at once, 'Oooh.'
Her voice surprised me. I thought it was ghost so I yelled, 'Ghostttttttt...' and ran backwards. At that time, my foot ran over my another foot so I fell down on the ground.
Arb was laughing at me.
Immediately, I realized it was her trick.
I looked at her. She laughed strongly and happily.
I was so embarrassed.
I was trying to get up.
Instantly, a died small branch fell behind her. She shouted and flied to close to me, 'Help, ghost.'
It was my turn to laugh.
Arb was scared of ghost.
Ha ha ha.
I laughed strongly. I patted my hand on the ground and pointed her.
She was angry with me.
It was not my fault. She was the one who started first.
We paid each other already.
I got up and cleaned dirt from my dress then we continued to the graveyard.
Before reach the grave yard, there was a small hill. It was smaller and shorter than the hay hill. Arb told me to dig the base of hill.
'Dig?' I asked her.
'I don't know.'
'We need hoe or spade to dig it. I go back to my house to take it.'
'If you go and back, it is morning already. People will arrest you.'
'Then we can come tomorrow night.'
'No way.' Arb shook her head. 'I won't see you anymore.'
'Well, I can come tomorrow by myself.'
'Do you remember the way?'
Arb asked me. Her question mocked me. Yes, she got me. I did not remember the way.
'Don't waste time. Dig it now.' Arb commanded.
'How? Use hands?'
'It's up to you.'
I raised my hands up and looked at them. I did not think my hands useful for digging ground. I could not use them.
'I don't use hand. I will use stick.' said I, put my hands down.
'It's your business.'
I looked around.
'It is dark. I cannot see. Use your light to help me. Come one.'
Arb gave unpleasing sound.
She flied close to me to light up the ground for me.
'Light up this location.'
I told her.
She flied to left to right according to my order.
At last, I found a thing to dig the hill. It was metal stick, about 0.2 meters. It was not big, but at least, it was better than using hand.
I dig hill's base.
Arb was staying little far. I called her, 'Come to light up. It is dark.'
'You give a lot of orders.' She said with angry voice.
'I dig the ground, I don't say any word. I just asked you to light up, you say back to me. We are partner, OK? We have to share working.'
She did not say for I was right.
It was unfair that human worked and Arb was staying happily.
After digging for long time, my metal stick touched with something.
Both I an Arb were exciting. I hurried dig it.
A brown cloth was seen in the ground.
I removed the ground and took it out.
It was a packed bag.
I unfolded it.
I and Arb opened eyes big.
They were rings with gems above.
'Count them,' said Arb.
I counted. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
'Four for you. Four for me.' said Arb.
It was lucky. If they were odd, we would argue with each other.
The gems were dark color. I could not see their color clearly. There was one with red gem.
'I want the red gem,' said Arb. She was quick for she was afraid I would take it.
'OK. I give it to you.'
I chose four rings.
'You take your rings and keep my rings inside the packed bag. Then take the bag to bury under the milky tree at front of village. I will come to take it in the morning.'
'What if someone sees it?' I asked worriedly.
'Don't care. It is mine. It loses or not, I won't count on you.'
I followed her instruction.
I put rings into my pocket and brought the packed bag back to village. I buried it in where she suggested. Then I and her separated to house.
I walked home happily. It was amazing. It was incredible. I smiled like insane along the way.
When I reached home, no one arrived yet.
I went up and went into my room, locked the door, opened the lamp and checked my treasure. I hold them in hands and laid down on bed. I laughed. I rolled my body to right and to left. I laughed. I was so glad.
I shouted, 'Victory. I am rich now. I can buy phone now. Ha. Ha. Ha.'
Well, I did not take shower or changed cloth. I smiled until I fell in sleep.
Next day, I got up in early morning. I came out of room.
My mother was cooking. My sisters helped mother.
Father went to pagoda already with my brothers-in-law.
My nieces and nephews were still in sleeping.
I came down. I took shower. I dressed up. I did not forget taking rings from last night pants and put them into new pants' pocket.
Then I took motorbike of my sister. I called my mother, 'Mum, I use sister's motor for a moment.'
'Where you go?' said mother.
'I go to market. I come back at noon time.'
I drove motor out after I finished my word.
I felt still excited.
I drove directly to market.
It was little bit far from village.
I went into a jewelry shop. I took the rings out of my pocket and showed to the owner of shop.
'You want to do what with these rings?' said the owner.
'I want to sell them,' exclaimed I. 'How much I got?'
'Let me see first that it is real or fake.'
Hearing that, I started feeling nervous. I did not think about it.
Last night, I did not see them clearly. Now, under the brightening sun I looked detail at the rings.
Their bands were in yellow color. Gems were put on head. I got two brown gems, one light purple gem, and one dark brown gem. The gems were in rectangle shapes. They were not so big. I could not measure the size of the gem. The colors were dull.
The owner looked too long.
I felt afraid. I was nervous. If they were fake, what should I do?
'Where do you got them?'
The owner asked me made me more nervous. I tried to calm down my feeling and replied, 'My grand mother gave me. What's matter?'
'Nothing. I just wanted to know,' said the owner. He checked the gems again with his materials.
It took long time for him to check.
I was so furious.
After enough checking, he said to me, 'They are real gems.'
Hearing that, I was released. I had thought that Arb lied to me. Now, I believed she did not cheat me.
'You want to sell them all?' asked the owner.
'Yes. How many I got?' said I.
'One ring you got 30 USD.'
You kidding me? I thought at least I got one thousand USD for one ring.
'You said the gem is real.'
'Yes, the gem is real. All are real. But they are not good quality gems.'
'What's about the band?'
'They are platinum. Also, low quality platinum.'
I shook my head. I did not believe my own ears. One was 30, so four rings were only 120 USD. And I needed 300 USD.
'You sell or not?' said the owner.
'Increase the price.'
The owner shook his head.
'Let me discuss with my sister first. Then I come to you later.'
I took the rings and went out.
I went to other shops. They said the same. They gave lower price than the first shop.
I did not satisfy. I tried my best to find good price.
No one gave me the price I planned in my mind.
At last, I had to go back to the first shop.
I got money. I stood at motor and looked at money in my hand.
I sighed. Well, at least, I got some. It was better than get nothing.
I drove motor back to village.
When I approached the village, I thought of remained rings I hid under the milky tree. I drove motor there.
In my opinion, if Arb did not take it yet, I would take it.
When I reached the tree, I spot it was messy. I parked motor and ran to check. The packed bag was gone. It meant she took it. Or someone else took it. Majority, it should be her.
I took a deep breath.
I could not defeat the fate. The fate assigned me to get phone not easily, so I shouldn't oppose.
I went back to motor. I climbed on it and left.