Manoa 12.2 (2000) 96-113
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The Glory of the Wind Horse
Ugyen walked into the camp: forty or fifty tents squeezed together on a stretch of ground that looked like a garbage dump. It had just rained. The blazing sunlight heated the steaming odors inside the tents and drew them out: human piss and shit; dog piss and shit; damp, moldy leather; horse dung; the musty stench of damp sheepskin; the sour smells of fermenting beer and human sweat; gasoline and plastic; dog carcasses; the rotten breath of death from old people's bodies; cheap perfume; rotting leftovers. The camp made Ugyen feel sad.
Something flashed above him and he looked up. An airplane soared over the city, leaving behind it a gigantic roar. Then, as if the roar of the plane had sucked up every other sound, the entire earth was marvelously still. There was not a soul's breath. On the ground lay the body of a dog covered thickly with flies. The empty, lifeless, dirty, ramshackle camp was no ideal hiding place. At this very moment, someone could be watching him, peering out through a slit or hole in a tent. He paused beside a waterlogged hollow. In the back of his mind, something rang like a bell. It was a premonition. A boy scurried out from someplace and walked up to him. The boy's head was wrapped in a filthy towel. Over his shoulders he had draped a grown-man's coat, which fell past his knees. Ugyen could see the boy's stomach was covered in mud. The boy had a cigarette in his mouth and a red firecracker in his hand, which he raised to the cigarette. He walked up to Ugyen. Ugyen saw the hissing, smoking firecracker fly toward his face. With a sweep of his hand, he snatched it as if he were catching a fly. The twisting, burning fuse prickled his palm like a fly beating its wings. Before he had time to open his fingers, the firecracker exploded and Ugyen ran in circles, waving his hand like crazy. He felt something wet in his palm. He thought it was blood. A clear yellow liquid smeared his fingers. He sniffed it. It was urine. He pressed his burning hand to his trouser leg and ran after the boy, searching here and there, but the kid must have ducked into one of the tents.
Holding up the tents were vast networks of criss-crossed cords fastened to wooden stakes and metal pegs driven into the ground. It had just rained, so the ground was a quagmire and some of the pegs and stakes had been [End Page 96] loosened, cords had gone slack, and sides of tents had collapsed. Ugyen began pushing stakes back into the ground with his foot, but this was futile. Still damp and slack, the cords couldn't hold up the tents. He raised the door flap of one tent after another, but found no one inside. Finally, he found an old woman sitting cross-legged, her back bent. She leaned over some ancient coins. When she heard Ugyen at the door, she plunged her head between her knees and froze as if she'd been caught doing something shameful. In another tent, someone lay with head covered, asleep. In another, a girl lay on a cowhide rug playing with a dirty, ragged pack of cards.
"Hey there, kind man," he heard a voice say from inside a tent. Ugyen went over and raised the burlap bag that was its door flap.
An emaciated woman lay on a bed cushion, her hair in disarray. Her sunken eye sockets created dark rings around her eyes. Her body was covered in various scraps of old clothes. A swaddled child lay beside her. A strange, powerful odor--like the stench of some weird, monstrous beast--suffocated Ugyen.
"Brother, I'm thirsty," said the woman, pointing. Outside the door a pot stood propped on three rocks--some tea at the bottom of it.
"It's cold," he said.