When I am found dead in a Phnom Penh guesthouse, I have one request.
Please don’t read a report on my demise, on one forum or another, and leave a comment below the line.
For starters, someone out there will have a very strong inclination to write: “Another one?”
Or: “And the old men continue to drop like flies…”
As if it’s somehow a surprise that so many decrepit piss-pots from the western world keep meeting their demise in this city.
I suppose there’s a chance I won’t be found in my pokey little 10-dollar room. I might fall out of a tuk-tuk. That would conveniently divert comments away from me being a ‘deathpat’ to tuk-tuks being ‘death-traps’… sweet result, if so.
It’s also not beyond the realms of plausibility that I will just keel over in a sunbaked street at midday. In that case, some tentative verdicts on the message boards might be somewhat forgiving. “Don’t forget to keep hydrating, kids. R.I.P.”
Others might be more irreverent: “Who let grandpa wander outside in the midday sun?”
There’s also a chance that I will be found at the bottom of a staircase in my guesthouse.
If that happens, someone below the line will want to (gleefully) raise the possibility of foul play: “Why do these old guys always fall down the stairs… seems a little bit too common, no?”
“No way he was alone,” an already convinced keyboard warrior would then reply.
As if degenerates with dodgy hips never make a misstep.
On noting that some dutiful monks have taken my body to a pagoda, as sure as night follows day, someone will write: “May his soul fly to Buddha… ” and add the praying hands emoji.
But I’d hardly come to Phnom Penh and live in a shitty guest-house if I believed in an afterlife, would I?
If I am indeed found in my room, the ‘report’ will list my apparent possessions at the time of death. Some dollars, an old phone, a passport; [unspecified] pills, a couple of bananas, and an apple.
Someone will want to make a joke about an apple a day failing to work its magic. Or slipping on a banana skin.
Others will zero in on the pills.
Kampot_Kurtz will write: “Too much ‘bad’ medicine.”
CheapCharly69 would concur: “Chinese Benzos and fake opioids, most probably.”
There might also be a picture of my body, wrapped from head-to-toe in a thick sheet, like a grim installation.
It (the former me) will be left (without ceremony) outside my guesthouse on a numbered street while police, medics, the guest-house owner, and staff (all looking a little grumpy at the inconvenience I have caused them – I will if possible, try to die looking apologetic) figure out what to do with a foreign corpse.
I can probably forgive someone looking at this ignominious spectacle and wanting to write: “Fuck me – when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil, I hope I’m not left to lie on the side of a road for all to gawp at…”
I mean, that would be human of you.
But do your best to resist even that.
It’s also quite possible that at the time of death I will owe somebody, somewhere money. They might want to go ‘below the line’ and express a certain amount of indignation. I get that. I mean, nobody likes to get… stiffed.
But hand on my creaking heart, it will be just bad timing. Nothing personal.
For those who don’t know me from Adam, I think you don’t need any details to form a picture of me in your head. You will have guessed correctly that I am old, white, and western; not exactly a picture of health. Pickled. Haggard. Broken.
Creatures like us, we’re all in Phnom Penh for many different reasons, but all of those reasons can be boiled down to this one reason: we’re done with everywhere else.
Home, wherever that is, there’s no going back there; Bangkok (ah, I loved it once — naturally, I was there in its heyday before it went to pot); every other relatively-developed Asian city (getting too expensive; too hard to get visas).
Now, while details of my life story are not important, let me tell you when I wound up in Phnom Penh, I did so with a certain sense of relief — why? Because, judging by the number of ghouls staggering around each numbered street, I knew was in the right place. Let’s call it the end of the line.
Me and my ilk, we’re all queuing up to kick the bucket. Just before I sat down to write this, I saw one degenerate who seemed more than ready to meet his maker. He was sucking down a can of 50-cent Klang beer beside some bespectacled teenage school kids, who were sipping from bottled yoghurt drinks outside a mini-mart.
At one stage, the degenerate tried to speak to the kids but he was utterly incoherent — not even his own mother, if she could magically materialise, could have understood what this pitiable wretch was babbling about.
The kids smiled awkwardly, then shared a nervous glance with one another while instinctively shifting the position of their feet – so they could edge away without looking as if they were edging away.
Watching him, I found myself wishing that he would scuttle back to his guesthouse room — if he could find it — and just stay there. Then nobody would notice him as he bit the dust.
But nowadays, there are no secretive or anonymous exits. No death can evade the online obituary or the obligatory below-the-line ‘tributes’ and hot takes.
That’s why I sat down to write this. It’s a plea to be spared.
Very, very old friends/ acquaintances back home, when they hear news of my death, I know I can’t stop them from turning my life into a cautionary tale in their heads, or quietly whispering where it all went wrong, all those years ago – the abusive parent(s). The addictions that blighted the family. The first bad decision I made that led to a lifetime of even worse choices. The way that woman broke my heart. The death of a child that left me without a purpose.
Those conversations will occur and then they will be lost to the wind — just the way I like it.
But, maddeningly, the comments below-the-line stick around (possibly forever). With all the guile of school kids writing on a toilet door, a legion of strange and terrible men will all try to get the last word on my death.
It doesn’t make for much of a tombstone, does it?
So, if they do start digging in below the line, and take turns to stamp the virtual dirt down, then I have one favour to ask, if you, yes you, are willing and able – please forget everything I have said above and leave a comment.
Tell those fuckers: “Death never takes a wise man by surprise.”
Then post this in full.
The Year of Living Haruki-Murakamily by Connla Stokes
The Wedding by Maryam Abdul Wahab
Embracing The Fall by A.K. Tolentino
Cover image by Sovannkiry Sim / Unsplash. The copyright of ‘Posthumously Yours in Phnom Penh’ belongs to Connla Stokes.
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