As Namjil came 200 meters to the finish line, Byambaa’s heart was racing with her. In the dirt dappled snow track at the end of the valley, his horse, with trimmed mane and chestnut coat, was steaming ahead of all 900 three-year-olds, save for the thoroughbreds: Craycorp CEO’s buckskin and the pinto of Minister of Mining.
This race could finally solve all his problems, Byambaa thought. This bet could reverse the spiraling string of debts; his Lexus, his apartment in Zaisan, and his wife and kids he’d get to keep. Well, I’ll be damned, he thought.
The leading horses galloped in unison like Muybridge’s animation and huffed out mist like the one that swallowed the mountain in backdrop.
The last 160 meters. Other trainers were hollering and waving for the trio, but Byambaa stayed quiet. It was time to use the last trick up his sleeve. “Come on, jockey boy! Now!” he mumbled. A red-cheeked boy in dayglo vest, who was bringing down his wrist-whip left and right, stopped, leaned forward, hugged the neck of the locomotive muscle machine – and howled like a wolf. Namjil jerked forward.
120 meters. The jockey boy, who’s actually four years old, almost lost grip as Namjil caught up with the pinto. It was common for jockeys to lie about their age, the younger and lighter they were the faster the horses. The boy on the pinto—lashes and scarf buried in frost—stared at the chestnut torpedo. Byambaa threw a side glance at a big fat man in sunglasses – the owner, the Minister. The pinto was an Arabian-Khotgoid mix said to be injected with “vitamins” daily.
90 meters. Namjil was ahead of the pinto and tailed the Craycorp’s buckskin. Namjil’s jockey boy sat up and fumbled with the rein when the pinto bounded beside them like a fox, with a colorless jet from behind its saddle.
60 meters. Namjil was third again. The cloudy sky darkened more for Byambaa. Snowflakes dragged in the air and he saw the ugly faces of the cheering crowd in slow motion. He drew a strong breath and shouted, “Again! Howl again!”
The boy was floating half bent on the saddle, in the middle of throwing a burst of breath sound and bringing down the whip. He wasn’t fast enough. Byambaa was going to lose his car, his crib and his wife was going to take the kids and marry some rich guy and he would be alone and die homeless.
He couldn’t take it, so… he howled… from the grandstand. Namjil knew his voice. More than anyone else’s. It bucked forward and upward, lifting off from the ground and leaving a long trail of muddy dirt. But the boy had lost his grip.
30 meters. Namjil was gliding above the buckskin and the pinto. The crowd roared, cameras flashed and the commentator’s inaudible voice went higher. Namjil was airborne, its big black eyes glazed at Byambaa… as the boy flew in behind, head thrown out and his thin robes inflating awkwardly in the air.
Finish line. Namjil landed just before the checkered strip on crossed the line with one leap, but Byambaa stared blank at something else. The crowd whooped and hollered as Byambaa leaped over the spectator’s fence and ran for the boy.
The boy’s father smiling at him trustfully flashed through his mind. He chanted “No, No, No” piously as he picked up the mud caked, unconscious boy and turned around when he felt the weight of this boy – he felt so light.
Agony echoed inside him, but he couldn’t utter a single sound, only tears came out.
Manzushir Darganar was born in Lhasa, Tibet, lives in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and writes for SoWhyMongolia.com
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