Friday, March 6, 2009

14 How Could He Forget?


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 Sukhe Bator Square, then shivered, “Brrrr,” and headed quickly into the hotel. He was starving.

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.


  1. Still here you see. Is Mongolian a dialect of Russian now. Please tell me the hero has warm clothes and a big fur hat, i worry about him. Bob

  2. No, Mongolian is not related to Russian at all, but at that time Mongolia was part of the Soviet bloc, so Russian was taught in all of the schools.

    He will buy a hat evetually, but right now he has more urgent matters to deal with ;)

  3. I found your blog via BlogCatalog and I like your story so far! The only thing that bugs me a bit is the italics... but that's a personal choice I can adjust to. I also studied a bit of Russian in school, and "no" is simply "nyet." The extra -o might be how it sounds but isn't how it's written.

    I also see you visit the WFG! I'm on there too, as "_thelighthouse" with my listing, The Lighthouse Chronicles. :)

  4. Frances, I heard 'nieto' a lot in Mongolia. It's not a simple "no"; it's used a bit like, "there isn't any".

    I would like other readers' opinions about the italics, because I can change that in a matter of seconds. So, any thoughts?

  5. Ian,thanks for leaving comments in my blog. Your blog is awesome,you are a great writer and I like what I see here. Lived in singapore before?

  6. Yes, good point about the italics I think, Frances. Great story! You're really good at creating a picture of something. I can totally see that waitress and that whole exchange you had with her. For what it's worth, my advisors made me get rid of nearly every adjective and adverb. I was surprised how much stronger the verbs became without the adverbs, and same with the nouns when I deleted the adjectives. Weird, huh? Thanks so much Ian for all your nice comments on my blog. I really appreciate it!

  7. OK, italics gone. What do you think? Better?

  8. And could you write it a little faster...

  9. Ian,

    yes, older people say "nieto" alot. but it's pronounce more like "niatu". has a humorous denotation.

    and "Yamar" is actually "What kind of/type of?". What is "Yu". just so you know.

    and "Shashlik" is actually "Shorlog" in Mongolian. We call mutton soup a mutton soup, or "Khoninii makhtai shol". hehe.

    Anyway, deeply addicted to your story! Even enjoyable for Mongolians.


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