dark was on us but the two riders used their combined lights to shine
the way. Buzzing along side by side the potholes were better discernable
though I was more worried about encountering something like the beaten
up wooden bridges we'd crossed today. Ret and Rat seemed confident enough
so I tried to keep focused on keeping by back straight and chin tucked
in to avoid another painful whiplash.
As the air
cooled down, settlers had taken to their plots and the burning resumed
in earnest. We came to what could have been taken for a plane crash.
The scene was something I'd viewed on TV in another context; a long
wide strip of flattened forest with multiple fires and debris hanging
from the trees, toiling faces lit by the flames. It was a disturbing
carnage and I wondered how long the forest could sustain this daily
onslaught. The urgency caught my breath.
On the dark
road the dust added another veil to unlit figures, bicycles and vehicles
that dived out from nowhere. Dogs had a death wish. The riders seemed
to have developed a night sight, weaving and ducking the apparitions,
occasionally stabbing at the brakes. We stormed through another surreal
dream as our lights sent rays into a fog of powdered earth. The settlements
were behind us and the jungle once again defined the road. Rat and Sena
had dropped behind us in single file as the road surface broke up making
side-by-side riding impossible. Up ahead, trees had been used to block
the road and a figure stood in a guarding posture. Rat was not preparing
to stop. I didn't like the look of it and I thought it would be better
not to be recognised as a westerner so I pulled up my facemask; I was
dusty and scruffy enough to pass for a Khmer in the dark I reckoned.
In an impressive slalom action we weaved through the barricade as the
guard made a lunge for us. We stopped about a hundred yards up the road
to see that Ret and Sena had been caught. Rat said something to me in
Khmer, he sounded worried and I hoped it was not about to go bad.