THE MONGOLIAN GIRL – CHAPTER ELEVEN
As he felt himself begin to fall, Tom just managed to grab the banister and regained his footing , then turned and hurried back down the stairs to the second floor, where he ran into the corridor and tried the brass handle to the first door he saw. His heart was beating even faster now. He leaned his right shoulder into it, but it was locked. “Damn.”
He almost didn’t want to look back, because if there was somebody there, he wasn’t sure that he wanted to see his face. But, as he ran to the second door on the left, he risked a glance over his shoulder. There was nobody else in the corridor yet. He turned the handle, almost flew into the neon-lit room, closed the door behind him and leaned back against it. In front of him, under the glare of two strip lights, were two tables piled high with stacks of yellowing papers and green cardboard files. Behind them was a row of four grey filing cabinets. At one end of the room was a large notice board, covered with black-and-white passport photos of Mongolians of both sexes and all ages, and at the other end was another door.
He could hear footsteps in the corridor now. Someone was coming. His arms froze in mid-air and he gasped, when the other door opened. As he walked forward, pulled his jacket down and straightened his tie, the door behind him also started to open. Tom’s eyes flashed from one door to the other. He thought about hiding under one of the tables, but he realized it was too late, as Mr Enkhbold had already entered from the door to his right.
Tom smiled wanly: “Sorry, got a bit lost, looking for Miss Shevchenko.” Mr Enkhbold, who didn’t understand a word the foreigner was saying, shouted something in Mongolian, and then Tom heard the door behind him flung wide open. He swung round and bumped into a startled Olga Shevchenko. For a brief moment, her breasts touched his ribs, her bobbed black hair brushed his chin and he breathed a whiff of her surprisingly decadent, musky perfume, a gift from Batbold, which she'd dabbed on as an afterthought at her small apartment on Marx Avenue earlier that morning.
They bent down and almost bumped heads as they started to collect the file full of papers she’d been carrying, which now lay scattered across the floor. Mr Enkhbold approached. For some reason, at that moment, he reminded Tom of the Chinese funeral director who’d been called in after the tragic death of his younger brother Christopher. He half-expected to see a coffin behind him.
Enkhbold stopped, clasped his small hands in front of him, almost as if he were praying, looked down at Tom and Olga, with his yellowing eyes, and spoke again in Mongolian, this time more quietly. His smelled of cigar smoke and hair oil.
Tom stood up and handed Olga the papers he’d collected. As she carefully placed them back in the green file, Tom, who’d already registered that they had photos, like the ones on the wall, attached to them with paper clips, now noticed that one of them was his! How on earth did they get that? He wondered. He'd only submitted colour photos to the Mongolian embassy in London.
As Olga started to interpret what Enkhbold had said, Tom’s eyes were drawn first to the cameo brooch that pinned the neck of her cream satin blouse, then to those sad, soulful eyes.
Her eyes flickered. She was beginning to feel some sympathy for this innocent-looking foreigner, especially as from her ten years working at the House of Friendly Relations she had some idea of what lay ahead of him. “Mr Enkhbold wants to know what you are doing here?” She didn’t add that he’d also reprimanded her for leaving the door unlocked.
"Well, actually," Tom replied, gaining in confidence, "I was looking for you."
"Me? She raised here neatly-shaped eyebrows, "Why?"