THE MONGOLIAN GIRL – CHAPTER TWENTY
The director handed Tom a script and told him to sit on a small orange stool and learn it. He then turned his attention to four musicians seated cross-legged on the floor.
The clapperboard snapped shut and an ancient cine-camera, mounted on a tripod, whirred into action. The leader of the group drew his bow across a slender two-stringed instrument which had a carving of a horse's head at the end of the bridge. Another of the players held a bowed three-stringed fiddle, a third plucked the strings of a fat-bodied type of mandolin. They played the same drawn-out melody while a lone flautist played intermittent ascending arpeggios whose notes drifted ever upwards into the descending night air that permeated the tent from the entrance hall. The dancers started to sway in time to the music. Tom sat mesmerized by the scene. The tempo of the music increased, and they took it in turns to squat down and perform solos, holding their arms outwards like exotic birds.
Tom then saw out of the corner of his eye that he director was frantically waving at him to look at the camera. He obliged and was instantly dazzled by the spotlight.
He glanced down at the script, which he'd placed on the floor, then began to speak, hesitantly at first: "Welcome to beautiful
Tom's evident lack of acting experience appeared to have antagonized the director.
"No. No. No. Look at the camera; not at the girls." He was right. Tom was looking at the girls and at one in particular. She was smiling at him conspiratorially. The director was not to be defeated. He would show that he was a true creative artist, with an inspired piece of improvisation. He paused and reflected for a moment before declaring, "O K. Look at that girl." He then said something to her. Everybody laughed.
The new scenario was that Tom would look longingly at the "princess." She would smile back at him, and then he would say his lines.
There then followed a series of statistics about industrial and agricultural production, the highlight of which was the output of the state cashmere factory. Tom wondered what possible use such a film could be put to, but went along with it until finally the director seemed satisfied, even though Tom knew he had got most of the statistics wrong.
As the film crew and extras started to drift off into the night, Tom uttered a request in a strangulated voice: "Please. Please. What is that girl's name and telephone number?" He had guessed rightly that she didn't speak any English. The director, relieved that it was all over and that he hadn't asked for a fee, obliged. After a brief whispered conference, during which she and her two friends glanced at Tom, the director asked, "Do you have a pen and paper?"
He frantically searched his pockets, then his heart sang as he replied, "Oh, yes. Yeess." He returned the paper and Tom excitedly read: "Sarantuya 2518". As he read it, the director said, it means Moon beam.” Tom waved and smiled at Sarantuya as she left with the other dancers and musicians to change into their everyday clothes.
The director drove him back to the hotel in a jeep.
"What did she say?" Tom asked.
The director replied disinterestedly, "Nothing much."
Tom persisted, "Is she married? Does she have a boyfriend?"
"I don't really know her. She's in the State Folk Dance Troupe."
It was ten o' clock when the director dropped Tom off at the hotel. Knowing that he wouldn't be able to sleep, he went to the Axe Hero bar. Gerald and Olof were sitting in the corner. Tom was glad to see them: he needed someone to talk to. They were having a heated debate about the political situation. The news had filtered through from
While Gerald was at the bar buying another round of drinks, Tom started to tell Olof what had happened. Olof listened attentively and advised, "Just don't get too involved. Then nobody gets hurt,"
That was not what Tom wanted to hear. He wanted to get involved - deeply involved.
He tried calling her later that night. A man answered the phone. Tom couldn't really understand what he was saying, but he seemed to respond to the mention of the name Sarantuya. Tom guessed that it was her father saying that she wasn't there. He spent a sleepless night wondering whether he would see her again and what would happen if he did. The next morning he called the number again. A girl answered. It was her. He'd written down what he wanted to say with the aid of his Teach Yourself Mongolian book and a dictionary.
"Meet me tonight at in front of the Sukhe Bator Hotel."
As far as he could tell, she answered in the affirmative. Tom laughed; so did she. He wanted to say more but he didn't know how, so he repeated the Mongolian for "good" and "OK" several times with a questioning tone:
"Sain? Tzaa? Sain? Tzaa?"
"Sain. Tzaa." she replied and giggled.
Tom laughed. So did she, and they said their goodbyes:
Tom wanted to repeat, "Seven o' clock in front of the Sukhe Bator Hotel," one more time, but the scrap of paper he’d written the words on had fallen on the floor, and there wasn't time to pick it up before she put down the phone. The ensuing hours were interminable. He tried to study his Mongolian book. How was he going to talk to her? At he went outside and stood in front of the hotel. It was bitterly cold. He occasionally stamped his feet and rubbed his hands, but most of the time he just paced up and down.
came and went. Tom looked at his watch. The hotel doorman was looking at him, so Tom moved to the corner of the building out of his line of sight. Passers-by turned their heads and stared at the tall foreigner in a big fur hat and raincoat. Nobody stood outside in those temperatures. At Tom went and checked with the doorman that his watch was correct. It was. Then, joy of joys, he saw a small figure walking purposefully in his direction. She was wearing a black coat and black fur hat that exactly matched the colour of her hair. She was only fifty yards away and still walking towards him. He wasn't sure. His heart and mind were racing. She looks different in ordinary clothes. She's rather plain. Is that really her? The girl stopped and stood about fifteen yards to Tom’s right. She didn't look at him.
Maybe she's not sure that it's me. She's waiting for me to say something so she doesn't make a fool of herself, he thought. Tom turned his head to face her and smiled. He started to open his mouth, then saw that it wasn't Sarantuya. Two minutes passed with them both standing like that. To Tom, it seemed more like two hours, but he knew that it was only two minutes because he checked his watch. A man walked up, spoke to the girl and they walked away arm-in-arm. When they were about fifty yards away, he saw them glance back at him.
Tom felt miserable and as he walked sheepishly past the hotel doorman, reflected, that's what it's like being a teenager again. It brings it all back - waiting at the corner for a girl who never comes. Then, he thought about the man who'd answered the phone. But, inside he still hoped.