Wednesday, February 18, 2009

1 The Mongolian Girl


An old man attired in a long brown buttonless tunic, wrapped at the waist with a saffron sash, hurried by. His brown fur hat and felt boots, with their turned up toes, had a home-made look about them. He disappeared under the staircase. Tom picked up his bags and followed. There was a little cluster of similarly attired people - Mongolians.

MIAT's only routes were to Moscow and Beijing. The entrance to their terminal at Moscow Airport was hidden away underneath a staircase. Tom sat apart from the other passengers at the end of one of the rows of grey plastic chairs.

When they got up, he followed a little behind and trudged through the light snow to the plane: it was a Tupolev. It looked old. I am lucky, he thought. There can't be more than fifteen passengers here. Nobody talked. They boarded. The plane was full. Tom was left standing in the aisle. The stewardesses pleaded with some of the passengers in Russian. They'd barricaded themselves in their seats with their cardboard suitcases and plastic bags. Grudgingly, they made space for him, and he found himself squeezed next to a grey-faced Russian. Tom's long legs were always caused problem on planes. The passenger in front turned round with a look of annoyance as the points of Tom's knees dug into the back of his seat. Grey Face started to rebuild his barricade. Lucky I'm in a good mood, Tom thought. That's when he first noticed the Mongolian passengers staring at him. It's not so surprising really. At 6ft 2in he was about a foot taller than most of them, and he looked strange: reddish hair; green eyes; pink skin. There had never been a Mongolian like that. Actually, it was the brand names on his clothes and baggage that they were staring at. They'd seen plenty of Russians before, but not many wore Levi jeans and Timberland boots.

"You first class."

Tom shifted nervously in his seat. "Who me?"

The midnight-blue-uniformed stewardesses on Mongolian Airlines were as one would have expected: Mongolian; the planes and the uniforms were Russian.


Yes, she did mean him. Tom started to rise.

She beckoned. He followed. The other passengers turned to watch him pass. She led him from the cramped confines of Economy class, with its inflight cold sardines on stale bread, through a grey curtain. Tom hesitated, then entered the small first class section. It seemed to be full of men in grey suits. She ushered him into an empty seat and gave him a bronze-coloured plastic Buddha and a small bottle of Chinggis Khan vodka.

Tom was in seat 1a, gripping his miniature vodka and plastic Buddha tightly, as the plane came in for a bumpy landing in Irkutsk. It was -27 degrees Celsius and there was a layer of grey ice on the runway. Tom's head ached with the intense cold. He had heard that if you spent too long outside without wearing a hat in those temperatures, you would suffer irreparable brain damage. Tom didn't have a hat. He'd never needed one in Henley-on-Thames. He shivered the two hundred yards to the small, grey, concrete airport building. It wasn't all pale greyness. On one side of the building there were two dark grey trees, and perched on one of them was a scarlet-breasted bullfinch. Tom wondered if it was brain damaged. It probably was. What sane bullfinch would have chosen to perch on a leafless tree at a desolate airport in the middle of Siberia in January?


  1. is this the beginning of a novel? it's a novel idea, you know, do a novel on a blog - love it!
    and thanks for your comment
    (i'm the seaside girl)

  2. Found via webfictionguide. Interesting start; I was in Russia, Mongolia & China last September! Will read more :)

  3. I love the details here: the bullfinch, the Chingis Khan Vodka. I feel like I'm really there (I travel a fair amount myself and if you haven't spent some time in Mongolia, you do an uncannily fabulous job convincing me that you have).

    I'd look for things like, "Little did he realise what a significant role Chinggis Khan vodka was about to play in his life." It's sort of cliched, especially compared to all the other great, precise detail. I skimmed a couple other more recently posted chapters and saw some stuff like this as well.

    Who knows if you'll see this comment so far back in the blog, but I'm definitely interested in reading more.

  4. Yes, I saw it and I've rewritten that part now. I always welcome editorial advice. Thanks, Lisa.