THE MONGOLIAN GIRL - CHAPTER NINE
“Welcome to the House of Friendly Relations, Mr Rawlinson.” The young man in the ill-fitting black suit, yellow polyester tie and dark brown plastic shoes, thrust out his hand. Tom grabbed it. It was, like his own, icy cold. A shiver passed through them.
"Nice to meet you again. Thank you so much for helping me at
“My name is Shishmishig. We’ll be working together on this important project and I am honoured to be your assistant.” His cheeks were even rosier than they had been when Tom first met him in the immigration queue in
As Mrs Jargal, the Heroine of the State, scowled at him and took his beige Burberry raincoat, Tom made a mental note: Thingamajig could be a friend. He also noted that he had the same dark rings under his eyes, unusual for someone his age, as Olga Shevchenko, the interpreter. They must work very long hours here, he thought.
Shishmishig, battling with a hacking smoker’s cough aggravated by the sub-zero temperatures, led him through a dark corridor with peeling yellow paint to their new office, on the ground floor, behind the cloakroom. It too had yellow paint, was small, windowless, and smelled of disinfectant. There were two poorly varnished, dark brown desks, one big; one small, and two orange-painted chairs. In one corner, next to an old, cream-painted radiator, was a red plastic bucket.
The only decoration was a framed photo of an unsmiling, slightly-balding Mongolian man, with a chest full of medals, hanging slightly askew on one of the yellow walls. Such an unpleasant yellow, Tom thought. “Our president”, Shishmishig added helpfully.
Tom waited, just to be sure, until Shishmishig seated himself behind the smaller of the two desks, before placing his expensive, brown, Italian leather briefcase (a birthday present from Jane) on the biggest desk, and sat down.
“Perhaps you could tell me a bit more about what our job is here?”
Shishmishig half-smiled, in an embarrassed way, “Sorry?”
“Well what have Enkhbold and Batbold told you about our, our, errm, project?”
“Mr Enkhbold and Mr Batbold," he added pointedly, "have told me that I am your assistant, Mr Rawlinson.”
The silence was deafening. No thudding noises or screams here Tom noted with cold comfort as the yellow room, with its overpowering smell of disinfectant, seemed to close in on him inch by inch.
“Scrape, scrape.” Shishmishig had taken out a blue pencil and placed it in the heavy metal sharpener which was screwed to one corner of his desk. He brushed the shavings onto the bare concrete floor with a sweep of his left hand. As he did so, Tom heard the scrape of the ring on his wedding finger.
“Are you married?”
“No. Are you, Mr Rawlinson?”
This, for Tom, was a difficult question. His answer might affect how he was expected to behave for the rest of his time in
He picked up the red pencil that had been lying across the blank sheet of paper on his desk, looked directly into his new assistant’s narrow eyes, and said rather too rapidly:
“No, I’m not either.”
Shishmishig, who at the age of twenty-four already had a wife and two children, but who had been instructed by Batbold not to tell the foreigner the truth about ANYTHING, gave Tom a deliberate grin to cover up the slight look of disapproval that had started to appear on his face.
Tom, sensing that he was already in danger of losing any authority he had over his ‘assistant’, stood up, took two paces across the claustrophobic room, placed the red pencil in the sharpener, and started to grind. Their eyes locked, but they were both momentarily distracted when a large bubble inside the radiator burst with a metallic ‘clunk’. The room was just beginning to heat up.