Sunday, February 22, 2009

6 The House of Friendly Relations


"So, what exactly is it that you want from me?"

The elegant interpreter rephrased the question for Mr Enkhbold, who exchanged a look, laden with dark secrets, with Batbold, before looking at a space somewhere between Tom and the interpreter, and replying in his soft, droning Mongolian. The interpreter turned to Tom and started to open her mouth, but before she could utter a word, Tom asked, "By the way, what is your name?" She seemed surprised that anyone would want to know and Tom had half anticipated her answer, "Why?"

"Just wanted to know. That's all."

Mr Enkhbold turned to her. He was clearly not a man used to being ignored by anyone. The interpreter seemed flustered and Tom felt a pang of guilt for causing her this moment of anxiety.

She addressed Tom once more, "We want…we want…friendly relations." Then she added almost as an afterthought, "And my name is Olga Shevchenko." A Russian name, Tom thought to himself. Yes, she did look different. Her eyes were Asiatic, but her delicate features reminded Tom of a famous Georgian ballerina he had once seen in London. In fact, he started to say, "You look like..," but then thought better of it.

"Friendly relations with who?"

Mr Enkhbold exchanged another look with Batbold.

"With everyone", Olga explained, before adding, "Would you like some tea?"

There was another, much louder thud from the ceiling above, accompanied by what sounded like a muffled cry. This time she couldn't stop herself looking up. In fact, they all looked up, except Mr Enkhbold, who snapped something at her in Mongolian.

"For example?" Tom interjected quickly.

Olga considered her interpretation of Mr Enkhbold's reply carefully, "With some groups of people the House of Friendly Relations finds unsympathetic to their cause."

"And what exactly is their cause?"

It sounded to Tom as though something heavy had fallen on the floor in the room above.

This time they all looked up: even Mr Enkhbold. Then there was a louder noise, much closer. Tom jumped. Something outside had banged against the window. Perhaps a bird had flown into it.

The door opened, and a young man in a grubby white tunic brought in their tea.

“How would you like your tea, Mr Rawlinson? With milk and sugar?” Olga enquired.

“It’s all right, you can call me Tom. A little milk, but no sugar, please.”

After they had all sipped some tea, the meeting resumed.

“Well, their, I mean our cause is the social welfare of the Mongolian people” Olga interpreted.

“I see. And what type of people would be unsympathetic to that?” Tom asked, genuinely surprised.

There followed a short discussion between Olga, Mr Enkbold and Batbold, the meaning of which Tom could only guess at.

“We have decided that you must be very tired after your long trip. A driver will take you back to your hotel. Tomorrow will be a big day for you. We will show you your office and you will meet your assistant.”

“My assistant?”

“Yes, your assistant.”

At that, Mr Enkhbold and Batbold stood up. The meeting was over.

Olga accompanied Tom downstairs to the exit and watched him step out onto Brezhnev Street, which was still eerily deserted. Tom looked back up at the second floor and thought he caught a glimpse of Mr Enkbold and Batbold staring down at him from one of the windows. Then he noticed again the black birds flying overhead. Were they crows? Ravens perhaps? Why so many?

The chauffeur opened the rear door of the black limousine and Tom stepped in. It appeared the driver, who clearly hadn’t shaven that morning and stank of stale cigarettes, spoke no English, as he merely grunted disapprovingly when Tom tried to engage him in conversation.

They swept away down Brezhnev Street, passing two policemen who seemed to be involved in a heated argument with some people at a bus stop. Tom thought of home, familiar places, friends, family….all gone now.

As he crossed the hotel lobby, the receptionist called out to him, “Mr Rawlinson, there was a Mr Gerald here to see you.”

“Mr Gerald?” Tom knew nobody of that name.

“Did he leave a message?

“No, but he said he will come back.”


The receptionist shrugged and resumed reading his newspaper. At least this one speaks English, Tom thought, as he mounted the stairs and walked back down the long corridor to Room 315.

Mr Gerald? Who on earth could he be?


  1. hi ian,
    very nice use of dialogue here! and i LOVED monkey story you left on my blog - thanks!!!

  2. Hello Ian, grateful for the comments. Unfortunately I did not tell you what, in English, the name of the movie "Quem quer ser um milionário." In Brazil, some time ago, there was a program on TV called "Show do Milhão", where people cut answer all questions received certain value. I think the movie is based on this type of program, but has nothing to do with the Brazilian program.


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