THE MONGOLIAN GIRL – CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
The next morning Tom woke up late. He had gone to the Axe Hero bar, after Daphne dropped him off, in the hope that he might see the Mongolian girl, and ended up drinking too much beer. He rubbed his eyes and coughed. The smoky atmosphere hadn’t agreed with him.
He grabbed his watch from the bedside table. It was already. He leapt out of bed and started to dress hurriedly. Then, as he was pulling on a shoe, he stopped. Why hadn’t the driver called him? Then it struck him, it was Saturday. He looked out of the window to see shining white snow on the ground and a clear blue sky. It was a beautiful day.
After a breakfast of bread, yoghurt, and a glass of black tea, in the empty hotel dining room, Tom headed out of the door and crossed Sukhe Bator square. It was -10 degrees Celsius and Tom knew exactly what he wanted. After a bracing twenty-minute walk, slipping and sliding on the ice, Tom entered State's Big Store. It was the only department store in the country and like no other he had ever seen. Its cavernous halls were full of people, but there was almost nothing on sale: the shelves were 90% empty. Its entire stock, spread over three floors, seemed to consist of a few items of crockery, some saucepans, several rows of plastic shoes, some jars of Russian jam and, surrounded by a seething mass of people, two stout ladies dressed in white selling a few loaves of bread. On the third floor, however, to his great delight, Tom found what he was looking for: two rows of imitation fur hats, one brown and one black. He tried every one, but they were all too small. He sighed and was just about to turn away when he heard a hissing sound.
Tom looked around. Then he heard it again. This time it was louder: "Pssst. Pssst." The sound was issuing from behind the curtains of a photo booth. A gnarled hand appeared from behind the curtains, and its curled fingers beckoned Tom to enter. He started to back away. The hand withdrew into the booth, and then slowly re-emerged, bearing a beautiful fur hat. Tom walked over to the booth and drew back the grey curtain. Inside was an old man dressed in a traditional blue Mongolian deel, with a saffron sash around his waist. He was wearing a big brown fur hat and holding an even larger one.
There wasn't much room in the booth, so negotiations took place with the old black-marketeer sitting on the twirling adjustable seat with Tom jammed in front of him, trying not to fall on his lap. The man gave a toothless grin and signalled the price with his fingers reflected in the glass in front of Tom. God, he stinks, thought Tom, who was not going to prolong the assault on his nostrils by haggling. He held his breath, handed over the ten dollars straight away and left with a pale brown and white steppe fox fur hat on his head. The smell did not go away. Tom looked around, but the old man wasn't following him. It was the hat: the skin hadn't been cured properly. He thought that perhaps some fresh air would blow the smell away, and walked down
It looked from the centre of
Another thirty minutes and he had reached the
The sparkling white
Tom decided it might be the right time to use the little bit of Mongolian he’d learned. He spread out his hands, smiled and said with a shrug of his shoulders, "Be Angelheun (I am an Englishman)." The soldier signalled for Tom to stop by showing him the palm of his hand, than rushed into the hut. Thirty seconds later, just as Tom had started to take a few steps along the road, the soldier came back and pointed a Kalashnikov rifle straight at his chest.