THE MONGOLIAN GIRL - CHAPTER TWO
Tom paced around building for an hour, flapping his arms to keep warm. He moved backwards and forwards between the chilly entrance hall and an austere waiting room full of stony-faced Russians in military uniforms. A few people talked in hushed tones; most just chain-smoked and stamped their feet occasionally, leaving little pools of melting snow and mud on the tiled floor. Then, suddenly, everybody, except Tom, stampeded towards the stairs and disappeared. Tom hesitated, then followed their muddy tracks, nearly falling on the slippery steps to the upper floor. Before he reached the top, he came to the end of a queue, which trailed halfway down the stairs. Tom tried to talk to the man in front. He had a problem: he didn’t have a Russian visa.
The young Mongolian in front turned round to look at him. He had a large, weather beaten face, with two permanent red patches on his cheekbones, where the freezing Central Asian winds had caused the most damage. Tom caught the sound "nee opinymy". He was to hear those words many more times. They were the Russian for "don't understand". The man two steps above in the line turned to enquire of Tom, "Amerikaheun?" They both looked at him. "English" he replied. The one in front turned to the next up the line and said, "Angelheun". The young
Tom handed it to him, feeling more than a little nervous about his lack of a visa. The policeman looked at his battered, blue passport from a variety of angles, before uttering the dreaded word:
Tom shrugged his shoulder and, mumbled "um". That's when the young Mongolian spoke again.
To Tom’s relief and surprise, this one word seemed enough to satisfy the man behind the grille, who waved Tom away. He turned and walked hurriedly back across the frozen runway to the MIAT Tupolev. He said goodbye and thank you to the young Mongolian. He was to see him again, many more times, in the months to come.
The passengers, bundled in their heavy winter clothes, huddled together for warmth as they boarded the plane. Tom returned to the first class section, but he was still puzzled why he had been placed there, as he only had an economy class ticket. The simple truth was the stewardess, who only ever saw Mongolians and Russians on her flights, had felt sorry for and even somewhat intrigued by this exotic-looking foreigner, who was clearly lonely, lost and confused.
Tom, who had never been outiside
The plane was, at last, flying into the awesome vastness of the People's Republic of
Tom’s tensed as his fitful sleep was interrupted by an alarming, strained whine from the plummeting Tupolev. He peered anxiously out of the window, looking for any signs of fire or smoke. Instead, he saw for the first time the yurt suburbs of