Cambodian Wellness Center

A middle-aged Cambodian man and his son emigrated to the US.  The man had been a prisoner in a notorious camp under the Pol Pot government, where he had suffered at the hand of one Major Liu. “They torture me every other day,” he said to his son, holding up the black and white photo of the young Major Liu in civilian clothes.  He had somehow obtained this snapshot, which showed a smiling young man, dressed for tennis.  “if you ever see this man,” he said to his son, “you kill him.”

Whenever he noticed his son unusually quiet, lost in thought, he would reassure him; “we start a new life.  We are strong.  They didn’t realize all the time they torture me, they make me strong.”
They settled in a midwestern city.  The father got a job driving a cab.  Whenever he picked up an Asian passenger he would show them the battered photograph; “have you seen this man?” he would ask them.  He and the son lived poor and saved the money that he made so that one day they could carry out his plan.  The father had been a traditional Cambodian healer, and he had a dream that he and his son would set up a practice together in their new country.  “You are 17 now,” he told his son, “by the time we have enough money, you will be ready.  But you have to work and prepare yourself. Americans are very concerned about credentials and degrees, paperwork.  You need to have a degree.”  The son was to learn Chiropractic, which would only take two years and seemed closer to eastern medicine than some of the other medical specialties.
And so the son did this, and before long they had their own small clinic, in a storefront, in a shopping center; the Cambodian Wellness Center they called it.  They soon had a good number of patients, not only Cambodians but westerners in search of alternative therapies. To every Cambodian patient, the father showed the photograph.  He kept it in his desk drawer.
Their clinic did well over the years.  The son got married and had children.  And then his father, who’s health had been damaged by the years in captivity, died suddenly, leaving the son to manage on his own.  The son couldn’t bear to clean out his father’s office, and so it stayed just the way it was, with the photograph of Major Liu in the main drawer of his father’s desk.
One day, a new patient was brought in to the son, an old Cambodian man who could hardly walk.  Long ago, during the time of troubles, he had stepped on a land mine which although it was more or less a dud, and had not taken his foot, had left him with nerve damage that caused painful cramping and clubbing of the foot.    The son examined the old man’s foot, but found it hard to concentrate because he felt that he knew this man. “Excuse me for a moment,” he said, and slipped out to his father’s office.  He opened the drawer and took out the old photo.  Sure enough, it was the same man.  There was no doubt.  Despite the difference in age, he was sure the man in the examination room was Major Liu.  And just as certainly he knew what he was going to do.
There was a different look on his face when he reentered the examination room and closed the door behind him.  He almost sneered at the old man.   “Well!” he thought, “Things are different now, aren’t they.  You aren’t the Major any more, you’re just a pathetic old man.  And now I’m in charge.  We’ll see how it goes for you now.”
“I can treat your condition,” he said, “but it is a painful treatment and very expensive.  You must be certain in your resolve.”
The old man nodded.
“you will have to come in three times a week for treatment.”
“OK,” the old man said.  “We start now.”  He set his face in a severe expression that suggested he was ready for the worst.
“lie down on the table,” the son commanded.  When the old man was settled, the son began to fasten restraints.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said to the old man, “it is necessary that I restrain you so that you can’t interfere with the treatment.”
And then he went to work, with all of the painful manipulations of the chiropractic taken to extremes, just short of actual injury.  The stretching of tendons, the deep probing of muscle groups, sometimes using specialized devices known only to his profession.  The old man was stoic, hardly emitting more than a groan now and then, or writhing in that ancient reflexive motion that is know even by flat worms.  The son thought it was all pretty appropriate;  hadn’t it been a kind of diabolical chiropractic that they had used on his father, after all, with their ropes and chains?
And so this continued, for weeks and months, on Monday Wednesday and Friday, with the old man showing up exactly on time and clearly dreading the treatment.   The son didn’t encourage conversation, but the old man said things, now and then, and the son began to learn things about his life, such as that he had left Cambodia with nothing but a little money.  “I’ll soon relieve you of that!” the son thought.  Major Liu had lost his wife, his son, and his whole family in the time of troubles.  He had no one.
After a while, the son became irritable.  He began to not like what he was doing.  Liu was now just an old man.  It was wrong to cause pain, and he could lose his license and all that his father had worked for in the new country.  He decided that he would give the old man one more good shot and then be finished with the affair, forever.
On his next visit, the Major was put through the wringer.  The son tried extra hard to make him cry out, to make him acknowledge that his suffering was more than he could bear.  And in this he succeeded, a little.  The old man did cry out, in a brief animal noise, and then wept.  The son turned away.  “that’s enough for today,” he said.  He didn’t reckon the old man would be coming back for more of that, and he was right.
Two weeks went by with no sign of the patient.   And then a letter came;  it was from the old man.  It said:
“I am writing to thank you.  My condition is so much better.  The pain is almost gone and I feel that now I can get on with my life.  I knew that you could cure me.”