On the way to the respite just north of the smog a birch tree stands in the snow out of the side of a cliff, tied up its trunk with rows of blue prayer cloths. To get fresh air Mongolians say I am going out to the wind. We practice saying three cows in each language when we see them. We say snow.
Namon is a name that means shy, which suits her. Toya grew up the same way with Namon’s mother, and says her mother is of the same character. The girls are able to play outside in the ice, spinning on the pond, for much longer than I am able to stand it. I do not know when the change happened and I became a grown up who just wants to talk, to lie on the beach sometimes without even swimming. Enkchin whose name means peace gives me a kiss in the late winter sunlight. Her mother looks like she is about to ski in St Moritz—white sweater and scarf, brown Chanel sunglasses.
The two seven year old friends since birth cram into one partition in the revolving door together. My mother is a schoolteacher. I think of her when I am abroad and see things with children that are so universal. Is this why they say if women were world leaders there would be no war? Find two seven year olds who do not want to push around the grocery cart and play. These angel kitties these two girls likely have in their veins the blood of Genghis Khan.
When they come in from the cold they are so quiet Toya is prompted to say you two are so mature now. You used to bring noisiness in with you. Namon and Enkchin sip lots of tea, Enkchin especially, and Toya and I talk, and Enkchin tucks her top lip under and pooches her bottom lip over. I have never seen her so quiet. Did you have a fight? Toya finally asks. She calls her daughter to her. What is that face? She asks. Enkchin is silent. Finally she whispers, mos. Ice. And her mother bursts into giggles that do not abate for ten minutes. Enkchin’s lip is split and there’s a little blood round her gums. She fell onto the ice and tried to hide it from her mother, who had asked her not to roughhouse. We go to Namon’s mothers apartment and there is the one month old with a ferocious head of black hair and blue spots all over her body where they put medicine on the rash babies get from the hot dry air.