THE MONGOLIAN GIRL – CHAPTER NINETEEN
“Caw, caw, caw.” A hooded crow flew up from the frozen river bed. The soldier looked around momentarily. Tom stepped back, keeping his hands outstretched in front of him, palms down, and said slowly, from the depths of his throat, “Whoa there.” The soldier jabbed his rifle forwards. His brow started to furrow and Tom looked down to see a bent finger tapping the trigger of the Kalashnikov.
The soldier hesitated for a moment, which seemed like an eternity, then snapped,“Proboski?”
Tom desperately wanted to give the right answer, but he didn’t understand the question. The soldier grabbed the gun with his right hand, and then very deliberately closed and opened his left hand several times in front of Tom’s face.
Tom searched for some meaning and racked his brain for any Mongolian word that might help. He muttered “Sain.” Then said it again more clearly. It was the Mongolian for ‘good.’
The soldier tapped Tom’s right coat pocket with his free hand. Does he want money? Tom wondered, and started to reach for the inside pocket where he kept his wallet. The soldier immediately took his gun in both hands and pointed it at Tom again. Their heavy breathing met as a cloud in the frozen air between them.
Tom attempted a smile and said “Sain” again, as he drew out his black leather wallet. The soldier dropped one hand from the rifle, reached out and took the wallet. He flicked it open with one hand, nodded his head, and then shouted a short sentence at Tom. The only word he could pick out was, “Proboski,” but he still didn’t know what it meant.
Then the soldier reached down to Tom’s coat packet and placed the wallet in it. without taking anything. His hand returned to the barrel of the Kalashnikov and he raised it once more, but for a brief moment he seemed to look straight past Tom at something farther down the road. A car was coming.
A few seconds later, Tom heard the car just behind him and a screech of brakes as it stopped. Tom strained his neck to look round without appearing to turn away from the soldier. He saw two men sitting in the front of a black Zil limousine. The passenger door swung open and out stepped Shishmishig. He said something to the soldier who grunted back.
Tom glanced at the gun, which was now pointing downwards to the road. He turned around nervously and started to walk towards the car. He expected at any moment to hear a shout... or worse. But, there was just the sound of crows cawing in the frosty air.
Shishmishig walked toward him. He seemed annoyed.
"Why did you come here? You must go to hotel now. Important people waiting for you. "
Tom’s usual driver was inside the car. He smelled of vodka and cigarettes as usual, but as he sat in the back seat, Tom found the stale interior of the car reassuring. He leaned forward, touched Shishmishig on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for coming.”
He reluctantly replied, “OK.”
“How did you know I was here?”
The driver did a clumsy three point turn on the narrow road, and then headed back towards the city.
Shishmishig, turned round, “Mr Batbold has a job for you today.”
“Propaganda work. Your work. You will see.”
With that he turned back round and started to chat with the driver.Tom sensed he wasn’t going to get much more out of Shishmishig. He wanted to ask him what‘proboski’ meant, but thought he’d better save it for another time.
When they reached the hotel, there was a crowd waiting in the reception area. Some of them looked impatient, as if they had been kept waiting too long. Suddenly, a small man in a black beret and leather trousers stepped out of the crowd, and said, "You're here at last."
He put his right arm across the small of Tom’s back, pushed him slightly, then said, "Come this way."
He led Tom outside. The others followed. There were about fifteen of them altogether. They got into three jeeps that had been waiting under the shadow of Lenin's statue, then drove out onto
The small man in leather trousers, the apparent leader of the group, broke the silence: "You like
"Yes," Tom replied.
The man seemed reassured. "Good.”
They stopped outside a nondescript building and entered a large hall. Spotlights stood on black tripods in the four corners. They were all pointing at a large yurt which was standing enigmatically in the middle of the room.
"Please go inside," said the man, who it now dawned on Tom was dressed remarkably like a 1930s film director, with his leather trousers tucked into black leather boots.
Tom acquiesced. Inside the yurt he was initially dazzled by more bright lights. Once his eyes had adjusted, he beheld a heart stopping sight: she was there, standing in front of him, with two other Mongolian girls. Tom instantly recognised her hauntingly beautiful face. What struck him more than anything, however, was the strange way that she and the other people inside the yurt were dressed: they were all attired in long flowing silk robes of every hue. These were the traditional costumes of the pre-revolutionary Mongolian nobility.
Tom’s Mongolian girl was dressed like a princess. She wore a high blue velvet hat, at the centre of which was a conical silver crown. Her black tresses had been teased out and lacquered in a fantastic way; they curved out, like two rainbows, from either side of her head. Two gold hair clips, studded with rubies and sapphires, had been placed over each of these ebony arches of glossy hair; at the end of the rainbows dangled long silver cylinders, like miniature royal maces.
Her face was that of a precious china doll, with a vermilion spot about the size of a small strawberry, painted on each of her cheeks. Her blue damask coat was embroidered with a thick border depicting clusters of yellow and white Mongolian spring flowers, while its long sleeves had been turned back to reveal pale turquoise cuffs.
Suddenly she raised her arms to adjust her hair. Her floor-length coat opened at the front. Tom 's eyes travelled downwards and he noticed that her thin blue silk blouse was rendered slightly transluscent by the artificial light. He could see her small breasts moving up and down as she breathed rapidly under the heat of the spotlights.
Then he realized that she was watching him intently. He turned his head to one side with an involuntary jolt, and flushed.