They met again for the first time in over three years at a wedding in late 1972. Her name was Socheat and she came from a wealthy family of Chinese origin. His name was Dara and he had recently come back from studying in France.
Old memories resurfaced as they exchanged glances and joined each other for a dance after the formalities were over.
Socheat entranced him with movements that were as smooth and fluid as water, while he was able to impress her with his fluency in French.
Afterwards, they entertained each other with stories of their respective travels and when the time came for everyone to leave, it took quite some effort on the part of their families to break them apart.
Their love only grew stronger as they dated all throughout 1973. Dara was a big fan of Bruce Lee and he dragged Socheat along with him to see The Way of the Dragon more than once; she reluctantly complied just so that she could get a glimpse of her ancestors' culture.
Other than that, they also enjoyed going out to dance to popular music or dine in fine restaurants. Neither of them thought much about the civil war occurring outside Phnom Penh and even when they did, it seemed unlikely to them that the state of things would get any worse.
Dara proposed to Socheat with a diamond ring in the middle of 1974 and she was overwhelmed with joy when they married later that year, before moving into an apartment to escape the prying eyes of their parents.
Socheat was busy hanging out laundry to dry on the morning of April 17, shortly after the new year had begun and five days since the Americans had evacuated the city. It was a rather hot day as usual and as a result, she expected the clothes to dry by afternoon.
Dara had left for work an hour earlier despite her begging him to stay so that they could be together during such a tense time. Now, she was left to do housework on her own and the humdrum of married life made her regret accepting his proposal so quickly.
The hours passed and she turned on the radio to add some excitement to her day, while thinking about how her menstrual cycle hadn't arrived for a while. It was a likely sign that she was with child, yet she wasn't ready to accept it, let alone tell Dara of her suspicions.
It seemed like nothing interesting was being broadcast at this time of day, so she switched off the radio after twenty minutes and headed out on to the balcony to observe people as they walked past.
She could soon hear the sound of roaring engines in the distance and craned her neck to find out the source of the noise. The residents of Phnom Penh going about their daily lives down below quickly began to disperse to make way for military trucks that rolled through the street.
The back of each truck was filled with young soldiers raising their fists and cheering loudly, despite their tired eyes and faded uniforms. Socheat realized what was going on and overcome with relief, she too smiled before waving one hand in the air to show her jubilation.
They eventually disappeared from her view and feeling as if her energy had been renewed, Socheat returned to the kitchen to hurriedly cook lunch for when Dara came back home.
Sure enough, he rushed in through the door at approximately the same time he always did, although his expression was rather panicked and his clothes were soaked with sweat.
"Socheat!" He cried out while charging straight forward and roughly seizing her by the arm. "They're going to bomb the city! We need to leave now!"
She couldn't believe his words and stared back in shock as she tried to pull herself free.
"Have you gone mad? Where did you hear such a thing?"
"The soldiers." He replied with intense urgency in his voice. "They have megaphones and will shoot anyone who doesn't comply."
"What?" Socheat could only utter quietly, unsure about whether some disaster was really about to occur or if his behavior was all part of an elaborate joke.
Unfortunately, the way in which Dara grabbed a pot from the stove at random and ordered her to fetch a bag was clear evidence of the former. She had never seen him in such an unsettled mood and overcome by fear, she ran off to do his bidding.
It took one frantic hour to gather all of the clothes, food and other necessities it seemed they would need over the next few days, while gunshots rang outside and the soldiers continued urging all citizens to evacuate.
They eventually hurried out of the apartment without locking the door and as they rushed downstairs alongside their neighbors, Socheat's mind drifted to the clothes still hanging on the balcony.
The two of them trudged along one of the highways leading out of the city, carrying their bags with great difficulty and holding hands to prevent themselves from drifting apart in the sea of people around them.
Every now and then, the Khmer Rouge soldiers would urge people to move faster and push those who strayed behind in any way.
Socheat saw an elderly man being knocked to the ground and although she wanted to help, Dara tightened his grip and reminded her to stay close.
She nodded meekly and a while later, came to a confronting realization.
"Where do we go from here?"
Dara gave her a look of complete uncertainty.
"I don't know..."
It became clear on the second day of walking that they hadn't packed enough to eat and would need to start foraging. They wandered off the road and traveled a mile to reach the nearest village, where they were able to acquire some more food as well as find shelter for the night.
Dara overheard some peasants talking about how the Khmer Rouge were targeting the wealthy and educated. Such a revelation filled him with terror and he knew that from this point on, they needed to do everything possible to keep their pasts a secret.
"Socheat..." He whispered as he approached her resting form in the darkness and nudged her shoulder. "Get up. We're in trouble..."
She sat up with some effort before blinking at him.
"It's too dangerous for us to stay here. We have to leave now."
Socheat immediately hurried to her feet upon hearing his words and they wasted no time in departing the village with their remaining belongings. Dara found the courage to share what he had just learned.
"They...they're coming after people like us. It's best if we pretend to be poor laborers..."
"But it's been more than two days. Won't we be going home tomorrow?"
Dara briefly stopped to take her by the hand, knowing that he also needed to tell her of his growing suspicions.
"I don't think we can anymore. Not if we want to keep ourselves safe..."
Socheat lowered her head in grief and let out a quiet sob. She didn't want to believe that their life would never be the same again, especially when she'd been under the impression that all of their hardships were only temporary.
Dara sensed her emotional pain and sought to comfort her with his embrace.
"Darling, it's going to be alright. We'll work hard and get used to our new lives, I promise..." He whispered while stroking her hair gently.
"I hope so..."
"But we need to start now. Are you still wearing the ring that I gave you?"
"We have to get rid of it. They'll know who we are, if they see it on your finger."
Socheat pulled away before tearfully removing the token of their marriage. She gave it to him so that he could get down on his knees and bury it alongside his prized watch.
They reached a military checkpoint four days after leaving Phnom Penh. Their hair had become quite greasy and the stench of their own unwashed bodies was intolerable, particularly for Socheat.
She licked her parched lips in a futile attempt to moisten them and did all she could to swat away the countless buzzing flies. Her legs had never felt so sore and she leaned against Dara for support as they stepped into line.
When the time came for them to be questioned, they tentatively stated their false professions. Dara claimed to be a construction worker, while Socheat said that she helped support her husband by mending clothes for money.
The soldier stared at them for a while in doubt, then demanded to search their bags. They handed them over without question so that he could rummage carelessly through everything.
Nothing of suspicion was found, so they were cleared and allowed to go. They passed the checkpoint feeling the most relieved they had since evacuating their apartment, although it remained a mystery where they would make their future home.
Nevertheless, the two of them were able to sleep slightly better that evening in spite of the still sweltering heat and presence of other displaced people.
They were rounded up with several other former city dwellers the next day and taken to a labor camp where they would spend long hours farming rice for the regime.
The act of cutting her once beautiful hair left Socheat deeply distraught and the work took an especially heavy toll on her health. It became increasingly clear that she was pregnant as her belly swelled and because of that, Dara tried his best to convince their supervisors to be more lenient on her.
They dismissed his plea and accused him of being disloyal to the regime, which frightened him into giving up. He tried to care for Socheat by himself from that point on, until one day in early 1976 when she was overwhelmed by intense contractions and could no longer manage to work.
A pair of so-called medics soon came and took her away for treatment with the promise that all would be well. However, neither them nor Socheat ever returned and Dara found that he could not be a productive enough worker if he didn't know his wife's whereabouts.
After two months without any news, the arrival of two soldiers outside his hut gave him some hope. They entered and asked specifically for his presence, to which he complied by following them outside.
They told him that he had a special purpose to fulfill for the Angkar, yet were unwilling to answer any of his questions. Still, Dara felt afraid to defy their authority and allowed them to escort him toward a large truck.
He was made to climb into the back of the vehicle and once inside, saw that he wasn't alone. At least twenty other people were already huddled together, all of whom looked as exhausted and confused as he was. A few of them raised their heads to stare blankly in his direction.
In hesitation, he found some spare room to sit down as the truck's engines roared to life, then turned to the person beside him.
"Where are they taking us?"
"I don't know..." They replied flatly without making eye contact. "...but they say we might see our families again."
The journey to wherever they were headed seemed to be quite rough and winding, judging by the frequent bumps and sharp turns that made Dara feel nauseous.
He had long since lost track of time when the truck finally came to a halt and the door was opened. Soldiers armed with rifles gathered around to force him and the others out one by one.
A hand pressed against his back and pushed him roughly forward.
"All of you, hurry up! Angkar needs you!"
Dara stumbled along through the darkness until he found himself at the edge of a deep pit. He blinked and was able to make out the shapes of several bodies lying together in a row, each of which had once been a person as terrified as he was now.
His eyes grew wide in horror right before something slammed into the back of his head and he fell forward to land in the soon-to-be mass grave.