Larry entered our lives on a cool spring evening as sun fell to dusk and the warmth from lounge rooms and scent of burning fireplaces blew across the neighbourhood like snug blankets. We strolled across a small bike trail cordoned off by backyard fence pickets and taut hedges, my grandparents’ indefatigable Dalmatian, Basil straining at the leash.

Larry appeared in the distance from the entrance at the other end of the track, crouching to pat Basil’s proud head, his tail wagging with vehemence and gratitude at the chance meeting of a new human admirer.

He had jet-black hair middle-parted to his shoulders, a swarthy, round face and deep, percipient eyes. He drummed up congenial conversation with my grandparents over Basil’s inexhaustible energy, the curiosity and humble introspection into each other’s lives a mutual fascination.

Mellow, soft-hearted, genuine and friendly; we learned a lot about him in just one brief neighbourly interaction that my young impressionable mind would never forget.

“I am very lucky to be here”, Larry commented.

My grandparents agreed that it was a lovely area. Safe, cosy and friendly - a good place to raise kids and walk the dog.

“…A much nicer place than where I from”, he reflected as his arm motioned to the dusking sky.

“…Cambodia - very different to Australia”, he inclined to his roots, his amiable face nodding softly, belying a wounded past.

“…I am very lucky to have made it to where I am”.

Larry had no idea how old he was or when he was born. He had no parents and he wasn’t sure what happened to the rest of his family, with the exception of a few cousins that joined him on the long journey to his new Australian life. He was positive, however, that most of them were not alive.

I came to see the burden of Larry’s predicament some years later travelling through the city Phnom Penh, the capital of his bloodstained homeland, at a similar age to his, when I met him years back on that unassuming Spring night.

Between 1975 and 1979 two out of seven million Cambodians were slaughtered through forced labor, starvation and execution. As dictator Pol Pot came to power, Khmer revolutionaries – largely impoverished teenagers - were trained to re-educate the revolution ‘enemies’. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of city dwelling middle class citizens were systematically tortured and shipped off to the outskirts of the city, murdered en masse and buried in muddy fields.

A genocide memorial Stupa greets tourists at the entrance of the haunting Cheong Ek killing fields, situated 15km outside Phnom Penh. Layers of human skulls line the glass walls of the monument, recovered from muddy swimming pool sized potholes littered about the acreage.

Here time stands still, the air dense and moist. Static of deafening silence lingers, echoes of screaming and visions of cruelty on chilling mid-70’s afternoons filter through my imagination. A sign on one pothole reads: ‘This mass grave was where the children were buried.’

Most of the people who were buried here were prisoners of the notorious ‘Tuol Sleng’ interrogation centre. Its dank cells now house photographic exhibits of the victim’s faces – men and women, young and old, the elderly, the disabled. Faces of tiny girls and boys with pools of terror in their eyes.

Back in the bustling streets of Phnom Penh, shirtless, smoking men hammer nails and ride motos; women cook, attend their stalls; wily young boys and girls, play around and laugh cheekily with each other.

Little separated the faces of the present with the ones that stared back menacingly from the past.

Somewhere in between the stark memorials and the busy streets of Phnom Penh are the faces of Larry and his family.

I envision him patting Basil one last time as we waved him on into the cool night, his jacket swaying, shoulder-length hair stranding in the breeze.

Larry in leather and loneliness wandering a windswept bike trail of a foreign city, pensive and alone.

Larry, the man without a birthday.

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