THE MONGOLIAN GIRL – CHAPTER FOURTEEN
The driver grabbed the gear lever with his leather-gloved right hand, quickly put the black ZIL limousine into first and started to pull away. Tom had one foot still trailing out of the big angular car. The leather sole of his shoe scraped along the street for a few seconds until he pulled it in and the car’s forward momentum caused the door to slam shut on him and Tom to fall across the rear seat. The driver did a hasty u-turn and put his foot down hard. The gears screeched from first to third. Tom pushed himself upright and turned his head to look back through the misted up windscreen. He saw a blur of movement and thought he heard the ‘crack’ of a shot.
He stared at the narrow pair of eyes blinking in the driver’s mirror and breathed his nervous body odour. “What was that?” He stammered.
The driver muttered something in Mongolian and gripped the steering wheel tightly. The ZIL’s square headlights picked out the snow falling in the dark streets as they swept through them at high speed. There was almost no street lighting, just the lights from the windows of the rows of grim apartment blocks and the red single-decker buses, packed with standing passengers in thick brown and grey coats and fur hats.
The car braked so hard when they reached the Sukhe Bator Hotel that Tom was pitched forward, pushing his nose against the driver’s coat collar and filling his nostrils with the smell of stale cigarettes.
He sat back in his seat and as he opened the rear passenger door he said with genuine emotion, “Thanks, err, spaseeba.” The driver turned to look at him and smiled. Tom watched him drive around snow-covered
He went directly to the hotel dining hall. He still couldn’t think of it as a restaurant. Its plain white, windowless walls and high ceiling made it look very much like a school canteen, which could also be used as a basketball court or theatre. There was a cluster of Mongolian men in suits at the far end, laughing and joking as they drank their glasses of black tea. Tom slid into his usual place in the foreigners' section. The Russian couple weren’t there yet. He waited optimistically for five minutes for the blue uniform and frilly white apron to appear. It did. Inside was a fearsome looking woman who looked as though she was coming to start a fight with him.
"Yamar?" she grunted. He knew that this must be the Mongolian for "What?"
He pointed at the first item on the menu. She looked before pronouncing triumphantly, "Nieto" - the Russian for "No!"
He then pointed hesitantly to the second item, and smiled wanly at her.
"Nieto," she said with a definite sneer.
The third and fourth items brought forth the same response, each "nieto" uttered with increasing relish.
"Yamar?" he asked in desperation.
"Shashlik," she replied. His spirits rose. That, he knew, was a famous Turkish dish. It sounded delicious.
When she reappeared fifteen minutes later, he looked expectantly at the steam rising from the white porcelain bowl she’d just slid off her battered aluminium tray. As he peered into it, his hopes were dashed: a few lumps of fatty Mongolian mutton swimming in a sea of oily brown water. She placed a small plate, with three slices of white bread, next to it, gave him a proud glance, then turned and headed back to the kitchen, with the empty tray dangling at her side.
The young Russian couple arrived just as he was finishing the last slice of bread. They were relaxed and smiling. Perhaps, Tom thought, this is their honeymoon. Then suddenly his jaw dropped open and he gasped. With all that had happened that day, he’d almost forgotten the Mongolian girl.