I heard some shouts and went out onto the balcony to see what the noise was all about.
A crowd had gathered at the crossroad to my right. In 'my' street, like in every street in Phnom Penh, it's normal for people to just hang around, but now more neighbors than usual were loitering at that crossroad.
A man, holding the lifeless body of a child in his arms, ran to and fro, his pain, panic and utter helplessness clearly visible.
He was the only one moving!
The few onlookers, silently standing a few feet away, were basically living at that corner. Some live in apartments, some in lean-tos made from undulated metal, found on or 'borrowed' from a nearby building site, some rent small spaces or sections of the ground floor garages which are meant to be shops, others just live in their Tuk-tuks.
They were all silent now!
No ambulance came rushing along, no police car siren was heard. Those services are available only to the wealthy.
Within a few minutes all was back to normal. Cars and motorbikes drove by and people rushed about their business again. All that's left is a bit of a cardboard box, hiding a small pool of blood marking the spot where a life was ended.
Next day I asked what had happened.
'Some car drove too fast, baby ran into the street. Now baby dead!' I didn't expect such a short and frigid answer.
'What happens now?'
'What you mean? Nothing. Car paid!'
I had to interview a few more people to understand the situation.
The parents of the child are poor people, 'recycling' beer cans (i.e. collecting and stomping them flat) and therefore their baby's life isn't worth much. However, if you're driving a car you are rich and therefore they easiest solution to this unpleasant event is to give the father some money. This has nothing to do with culpability. Maybe the child ran into the road without looking or maybe the car drove too fast. It doesn't matter.
How much was paid? Well, that depends on who you ask. Foreigners (who lived here for decades) reckon 2000 dollars would be sufficient, but the locals know, life is cheap and therefore (they think) $1000 is good enough to 'make the family shut up', as they call it.