***I've been traveling a bit. Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia. I was going to do a story in Cambodia... about a girl I've never met. Two weeks after my return, her image refuses to leave my mind. Her name is Savon.
To see the photo story, click here .
***When she asked me not to leave, I thought what she really meant to say was not to leave her behind...
***Savon was raped by her father when she was thirteen. She is now eighteen years old and lives with her mother and four siblings in the floating village in Siem Reap. Her father is now in jail.
***We would sit together by the river for hours together, Savon cutting and preparing the snakes for her mother's business, Me, awaiting that elusive shot Ive been waiting for days to happen.. We didn't speak each other's language. She would occasionally look up at me. I keep thinking she wants to tell me something. She smiles at me, looks towards the horizon and goes back to work.
*** I go with her to school. She doesn't have many friends. She is painfully learning a few words in English.
***One day, I find pretty pictures of a younger Savon in their little floating house. I try to tell her that she looks very pretty in the picture. She smiles. I plan to gift her with a grand portrait on the last day of my shoot. The very next day, Savon gives me her precious picture with the pretty dress. From me, to you. She gestured. I did not know what to say.
"Tommorrow evening is our big day... Lots of people will see your story. You must come." I make a lot of action with my hands. She laughs and nodds her head vigourously. The interpreter I had brought along from the NGO I was working with had translated everything I said in full detail. And so it was arranged. I was to come and pick Savon and her mother the following evening for the party at Siem Reap. She will be there when her story was being screened amidst hundreds of people. She was going to wear her best dress. The one with the golden embroidery.
***"When are you going back?" She has been repeating the same question for the last couple of days. "On Sunday morning. " My answer hasn't changed. "My family lives in India. I have a job there. I have to go back..." I don't know how to make her understand.
On Saturday morning I receive a call from my interpreter from the NGO. Savon had called to say that she won't be able to make it to the show. She has work to do. She has to help her mother. I try to reason with her, her mother, through my interpreter. I meet a dead end.
Half an hour before my show, my mobile rings.
"Savon" She knew it was my big day. She says something in Khmer language. The only word I understood was 'India'. I try to tell her that I will not forget her even after i go back home. I dont know if she understood. After a short pause, slowly, but deliberately, she carefully utters these words. " I - meeisss - you. "
There is a lot of shouting, whistling and people talking, clapping, drinking... The lights were back on. The show was over. Someone I met in the party tells me, "You know, pictures don't move me anymore." I swallowed hard.
***I remembered the last words I heard from Savon. I knew I have a friend who lives by the river.