Hue and Thin came when they heard a rumor that the plans for the boys to leave by boat had collapsed. Hue did not know where to find them, so she walked around the city of Phnom Penh until she happened to see a man that she recognized as the second helper of the group. He was working with Huu to provide the large group’s daily needs. She said it was a pure good luck that she finally could follow him to the building where the boys were being kept. She arrived just in time, for the group was deciding that they had to disband and return to their homes in Vietnam.
The situation in Vietnam was no better, so Hue made plans with a family that she knew. They would take care of the boys until Hue could make another plan. The boys finally had some freedom to go out as long as they did everything they could to avoid Vietnam’s occupation troops. Dressed in the drab worn clothing of common Cambodian peasants, they could blend into the marketplace and the dusty streets. Loose fitting clothes concealed the fact that they were thin, but not as skeletal and exhausted as most of the Cambodians who had survived the Khmer Rouge years. The people who lived around them were relieved and hopeful, and everyone gratefully returned to holding the regular festivals, but they were still wary that something would occur to bring back the unspeakable horrors of the recent years. Few people complained, so the boys waited with the patience of those who knew they were fortunate, and they shared in the joy of a people who were tasting freedom again. They compared their plight with the fates of many who had not survived, whose countless bones were still piled in open pits and as common floating in the river currents as tree branches.
At the southeast edge of Phnom Penh, the boys lived in a simple house. They walked to the market and practiced the Cambodian words they were learning. Hue could speak Cambodian fluently, so when she was there she had no trouble talking to people. The boys fished in the river that flowed near the house. The family welcomed them for a few weeks, because they had known Hue years earlier in Svay Rieng. She paid them what she could to take care of them, while she returned home to take care of business and consult with her people in Vietnam. Soon that family grew tired of sharing their small space and food with the three boys. Long heard their loud complaints, “How long will we have these boys underfoot? They will eat us out of house and home!” Long knew enough Cambodian to understand when they were swearing at them.
When Hue returned, she found how quickly the welcome to her boys had worn out and immediately made arrangements with another family, her cousins, to take the boys in. Their house sat in the center of the ruins of other houses and shops at the outskirts of Phnom Penh. It belonged to the brother of the cousin whom they called Aunt Phai, who was working on plans to take people across Cambodia to escape through the border with Thailand. The boys watched and waited at a bridge over the Mekong River, along Highway 1 as it headed back toward Svay Rieng. Trees, flowers and bamboo lined the Mekong River shores, but no boats came to pick them up and take them back toward the South China Sea.