The older it was, the more liquid and clear the fat had become: twenty-five-year old bear fat was like spring water. The Tuvans were accomplished hunters as well as herders, but strangely enough, very few knew that the fat of wild animals was medicinal. Whatever was brought in from the outside during those days, in exchange for horse sweat and pleas, would have been available in almost any yurt in our own ail. But since it was not at hand, people approached the novelty with awe, and so it came about that I was soon floating in fat. Yet nothing--nothing seemed to help. The naked creature I had become--my torso was almost completely skinned--continued to scream long after having grown hoarse and having run out of tears. I shook and trembled and showed signs of the most terrible suffering. The only skin left undamaged was toward the outer ends of my limbs, on my face, my neck, and a small area around my navel. Given the circumstances, I was lucky that my hands and feet had been spared so that people were able to stand me on my feet and hold me by my hands.
Two days later, toward evening, the last horseman returned. It was Dambi, who was related to Mother and thus a daaj to me. He brought something we had never seen before, something we had never even heard of: a hardened light mass that melted and liquified when it was heated. It was called dawyyrgaj, which meant nothing to us at the time. But later, when I was well travelled in the world of languages, I realized it was a variant of the Mongolian word for resin. The dawyyrgaj was the resin of a certain tree and did indeed possess magic power. Barely had it been brushed onto my skinless, greased, and shiny flesh when I, the suffering child, stopped screaming and trembling, and soon after went to sleep. I slept for a long, long time. But my sleep was arduous because it was impossible to put me into a comfortable sleeping position, and so people had to keep holding me just as they had before. A cape that surrounded both me and the person helping me to remain standing protected me from the cold and the draft and from idle glances--glances from which Tuvan children since time immemorial have been protected when they fall ill.
It was hard on whoever held me, whoever crouched in front of me and pulled me up by my wrists, always anxious not to let my slippery, limp body slide from his hands. It didnt take long for his forearms to tingle and then to burn and eventually for his arms to lose all sensation and turn numb, while helplessly he watched his charge slip from his hands, millimetre by millimetre. Then he needed to be replaced, there was no other way. Father and Mother took turns. Whoever had just been replaced had to take care of life inside the yurt. Neighbors took care of everything outside.
When I woke up, I started to scream again, but now it was different. I no longer screamed in alarm, and no longer screamed to fight for a life that was about to be cut short.
One day, a third pair of hands came to support me, Grandmas. Oh yes, Grandma: All those days and nights she had crouched in silence in front of the stove, and all day and night she had kept the fire going, which had been the only assistance she had dared, and been allowed, to provide.
She had returned the very next day after she had ridden away. By then, word of the disaster had crisscrossed the country but, strangely enough, it had not reached Grandma. She came back with all her remaining possessions. Once she was back in the yurt, she learned what had happened. Mother received her not with the joyful greeting she must have anticipated but with an admonition: See? So thats why you were so hell-bent on taking off. It was the evil spirit that possessed your damn beasts and called for you!
Grandma slumped, dropped to her knees, and remained crouching, mute and motionless. Only her gaze flitted about. Her eyes were dry and shiny and, in a way, spoke--screamed.
Galsan Tschinag, The Blue Sky, translated by Katharina Rout. (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2006). Copyright © 2006 translation by Katharina Rout. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions, www.milkweed.org. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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