Monday, April 6, 2009

21 The Biggest Mistake of His Life?


As they drove through the city centre, Tom noticed that there were soldiers posted at every corner. The black Zil limousine stopped in front of the House of Friendly Relations and Tom got out. As he entered the door, he practised saying hello in Mongolian: "Sain bain yy." Mrs Jargal didn't reply, but put down her knitting and held her nose when Tom handed her his fur hat and coat. He headed down the corridor to his prison of an office and opened the door to have his senses assaulted by the smell of disinfectant and the glare of the yellow room. Shishmishig was reading a newspaper. The only thing on his desk was a brown paper bag. On Tom's own desk there was something new: a large Russian typewriter.

Tom sat down. The typewriter occupied most of the desk. Shishmishig noticed him looking at it.

"Mr Enkhbold wants you to write your report."

Tom examined the typewriter. It looked like something from the 1950s and had raised circular keys with Cyrillic letters on.

"But, I can't use this. It's Russian."

Shishmishig looked over his newspaper at Tom. "You tell me in English and I'll write it in Mongolian. Mr Enkhbold wants your report today." He put down the newspaper, walked over to Tom's desk, lifted up the heavy black typewriter and carried it back to his own desk.

He sat down and looked at Tom: "So?"

Tom placed his elbows on his desk and interlocked his fingers tightly, so his knuckles touched his mouth and nose, and his thumbs supported his chin. But after a few seconds he let his hands drop, reached down to his right, took a folded paper and his copy of the Modern History of Mongolia out of his briefcase and said, "Right, let's begin." He wondered whether he should put his brilliant idea in the conclusion or leave it as a surprise for the meeting. He decided on the latter.

The sound of Shishmishig's fingers hammering the heavy metal keys filled the room. At one point he stopped, looked at Tom fixedly and said, "Are you sure you want me to include that?"

Tom thought for a moment. His life was in tatters. What did he have to lose?

"Yes, I want you to write that."

Shishmishig resumed tapping the keys. When he'd finished, he sighed, placed the final page on his desk, then opened the brown paper bag and drew out a square parcel wrapped in newspaper. Tom watched as he opened it. It appeared to be a block of feta cheese.

Shishmishig broke a piece off and popped it in his mouth. He chewed it for a while and gulped it down. Then he picked up the block and offered it to Tom: "Aruul?"

Tom walked over, took it and returned to his desk. He examined the hard white object between his thumb and forefinger. It wasn't feta cheese. He placed it in his mouth. It was very dry and tasted sour.

Shishmishig watched his reaction. "Aruul good?"

Tom nodded as he tried to gulp down a chunk of dried curd.

Shishmishig narrowed his eyes slightly. "You seem to know quite a lot about our country and our problems."

Tom smiled.

That afternoon, Batbold appeared at the door. "Report ready?"

Tom walked across to Shishmishig's desk and picked up the three sheets of paper covered with Cyrillic script.


"Good. Follow me."

As they climbed the stairs, Batbold turned to Tom. "You good work did make film. You help me. I help you."

Tom tapped the door before opening it. Enkhbold looked up at them. Tom wrinkled his nose. A thin line of smoke was rising from the big Havana cigar burning in the glass ashtray on the desk. Olga Shevchenko was sitting to Enkhbold's right, with a notepad on her lap. She was wearing a grey skirt, plain black cardigan and a white blouse of which Tom noticed the top two buttons were undone. She looked tense, but smiled genuinely at Tom. He bowed his head towards her and smiled back.

Mr Enkhbold, raised his eyebrows and said something to Olga. She scribbled on her notepad with a green pencil, which Tom could see was chewed at one end.

She looked up. "Good afternoon Tom. Please sit down."

Tom pulled up a chair. Batbold was already seated.

Olga spoke very quietly. "I hope you had a nice weekend." Her musky perfume blended with the cigar smoke.

Enkhbold clenched his fists and he snapped at her again.

"Mr Enkhbold wants your recommendations."

Enkhbold unclenched his fists and spoke again. Olga hesitated for a while before interpreting his words. "He.." She made a slight kissing sound with her lips as she searched for the right word. "He needs your sorcery?"

Tom stood up, placed the three sheets of paper next to the ashtray on the desk, and returned to his seat. Enkhbold picked up the first sheet and started to read.

As he did so, Tom looked up at the framed photograph of Enkhbold shaking the president's hand, and started to feel anxious.

Olga got up and left through the side door. Enkhbold handed the first page to Batbold, and then picked up the second from his desk. They read silently. Tom could here the sound of his own breathing. The cigar smoke was making him feel nauseous. He loosened his collar and glanced up at the picture of Enkhbold and the president again. Had he just made the biggest mistake of his life?


  1. hi, you are great. i am sallute on you.

  2. Leaves me wondering and craving for the rest, nice work! Old stuff are a good work to put into print, all people likes them.

    pleasant days and good nights

  3. you just love to leave us in suspense!

  4. Great story telling. I can picture the place and people. Your comment about not knowing about tribal art surprised me. You certainly must be exposed to tribal cultures in your travels. And tribal art is nothing but a reflection of the culture. I recommend you dig into it a little bit. You have an opportunity that few have to 'be there and do that'.

  5. My kind of writing, but I shall have to catch up on the back story!

  6. Thanks Dave. I don't know how easy new readers find this site to navigate, but he best way to read The Mongolian Girl from the beginning is to go to the archives and then click the newer post link at the bottom left of each post.


In Bruges