G.Mend-Ooyo
Дэлхий ээж тандаа би хайртай
World Poetry Days in Mongolia
Prose

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QUICKWIT THE CAMEL

1
There fell from the sky into the narrow sandy gorge of a mountain pass a single huge blue stone.  But to look at it, we would see not a stone, but only a camel lying down.  As the sky traced out its path overhead, the skin on his two erect humps sagged down, weak and emaciated.  He stood with his legs apart and slapped at the swarms of black flies with his tail, but even the grasses irritated him.  Tears flowed from his eyes, like pearls of spring water and, in his watery eyes, the sky stretched a deep blue to its furthest edges and there rose a pale blue mountain, which seemed to him to be in the way.  Behind this mountain ran a great red-colored pass, where soil tumbled down and where the water was sucked dry.  In the skirts of the fine sand, he practiced walking ten paces at a time and, with the sun’s help, he crept forward, meter after meter.  And the further he moved, the more the place lost its sting and grew attractive to him.
On the silken sands, fine as hot ashes, his intestines became strained and perforated and his two hocks ached with stress, so much so that he could barely move a few centimeters at a time.  There was a well behind him, full of cool, clear water.  His rider had taken a bucket and filled three wooden troughs to the brim, each one to the depth of a meter, and the camel gulped the water down disdainfully.  The water dribbled down and splashed the flies on his humps, terrifying them.  He twisted his long neck round and looked behind him at what was happening.  He gazed in thought towards the edges of the sky and
remained happily where he stood.
The midday heat gave way to coolness and he took pleasure in gobbling down the red calidum flowers, which sucked the liquid at the edge of the saltmarshes.  The time sped like the wind, the darkness fell in a haze of ancient dreams.  His body became tired and the colors of the world gradually faded.  The quick-witted camel’s final desire, his breath continually rising and falling, was to have the red calidum of the Gobi in his mouth, in his warm body, as he took his last breath.  And with the passing of every second, his entire body withered, he felt his desire for the river dry up like a padding in his hoof, and he saw the light blue mountain as a cloth tent at the edge of the sky.  His body longed for dampness, he wondered from where it might come, and the tears dropped from his black eyes in watery cascades.

2
In this sandy pass, the quick-witted camel developed at the rate of knots.  The late spring arrived with damp snow.  Taking no notice of the undulating landscape, the camel ran over two valleys towards a bright, shining star in the south.  The wind howled, the feathergrass and the flowers caressed the soles of his feet, and his speed gradually made his body as light as a feather.  Though the weight on his back was not distributed particularly evenly, it didn’t trouble him.  His rider would occasionally lash out at his rump, and he would hurry forwards.  Since there was no moon, it was pitch black.  From time to time, the drowsy birds at the bottom of the carigana tree and on the branches of elms and poplars flew upwards with a start while the rider, though quaking inside, remained calm in his body and kept himself focused on the path ahead.  The sweat dripped from the camel’s body, and he rested while dawn lightened the morning gloom.  He ran and ran.  The land went up and down, the land rose and fell, he was almost flying, he was almost in flight.  Such was the power granted to his four sinewy legs.  In fact, only the heavenly Buddha knew why it was he was in such a hurry.  In the bright light, a filminess had descended upon the arid Gobi, it was as if the desert had no limits.  And, as the camel pushed on, he paid no attention to his body, he could only feel his own sinewy power as he crossed the Gobi.
At midday, during the middle month of autumn, the body of the quick-witted camel was bright yellow, like hills of rippling feathergrass, his loose beard fluttered like tassels on a standard.  The more he galloped, imposing and majestic, the more he was like a mighty dragon, twisting through clouds.

3
Time passed.  The quick-witted camel felt his whole energy drain away.  Somehow, in the eye of the shining sun, he crossed the narrow sandy pass.  Like hemp wilting amidst stubby feathergrass, he briefly rested his fine neck.  The scent of wormwood melded into rafters of feathergrass, but he felt no desire to bite it.  If he only had his legs, he would stir himself.  If he only had hooves, he would gallop away.  Black clouds moved across the setting sun, casting shadows over the cloth tents of blue and red, and the birds of night took wing.  The last of the day’s strength snapped and, finally, it was night.  Not a breath of wind.  The movement of birds stirred a gentle breeze and those darkling birds who were not acquainted with the melody of the wind flew circling upwards, coming to rest in the branches of a nearby elm.  But they had no strength left to go look at him, they moved only as much as he did.  The curvature of the full moon, like a new three-ply bowstring, cast light upon the gloomy path and a deep darkness descended.

4
The gorge was covered in pebbles of various sizes, smooth and round like animal droppings.  On the honeycomb of land beyond grew wild cotoneaster, and a warm wind had permanently settled upon the hollow to the rear of the blue mountain.
The camel was barely able to balance himself on his four legs, like twigs of cotoneaster.  Barely able to raise his straggly neck, he could see, for the first time, in the rays of the full white sphere of the moon, the ghostly shadow of the foursided blue mountain, rising up like a cotton tent.  Soon he was tethered outside the grey ger, from which smoke rose in plumes.  He kept his eye on where he had come from, following the mountain as he circled the peg that held him fast.  He missed the Gobi, missed heading into the wind with the herd.  He was desperate to reach the eternal mountain, everything else had fallen away.  As he trotted out, the eternal mountain bounced up and down and, when he lay down in the hot sand, it seemed peaceful and dignified.  The days and months passed and he grew used to this mountain, this celestial tethering post.  The four seasons came and went, his fluffy beard floated like the rays of the sun and moon, his two humps stood erect like bridle-studs.  As the herd traveled beyond the mountain, he was in the vanguard, his lovely long neck an ornament, and his rider named him Quickwit.  He crossed five narrow passes, looking down as his hooves, with their velvety black hair, stepped on wild leeks.  In his bouncing gait he was like a celestial mount, his fluffy beard fluttered, and riding him was like riding upon an utterly undisturbed flying carpet.
When his rider rode out from a similar group nearby, flying threads between the edges of the blue sky, he felt his stretched sinews relaxing, his velvety hooves itched, his whole body had a lightness, like warm feathers.  But the fact that he would not be heading out on distant paths, that he would just be twisting and turning in this same pasture, saddened him to the core.  There would be no-one to ride Quickwit over the winter and spring.
But his straight and elegant back and his long legs had nothing to do, and he thought of what he might do in such a miserable situation.  One evening in the middle of spring, when the wet snows had fallen, and when the wind blew in squalls, a man came up from the pastures and, attaching a leading rein to the camel’s nose-ring, placed a load of weapons evenly on his back.  How could he understand why he was being prepared so hurriedly like this, without being tethered and deprived of water for even one day?

5
Quickwit wanted only to creep and crawl and steal away.  In the middle of the night, he opened his mouth like a lion and, from the dark, a bird screeched and a cold shiver ran through his whole body.  Off in the shadows, like an ancient evil, the old black bird turned on its perch;  nearby the glorious moon seemed to come close, sitting there like a red guard, shifting its eyes from side to side.  The screeching song of the bird had been a bad omen.  The earth and ovoo came closer.  He saw, indistinctly, how the tent of the blue mountain seemed to tower overhead.  The network of cattle paths gave him comfort.  To have lost so much power was a bad thing.  After a short rest, he crept forward….

6
The yellow Gobi, covered in tamarisk, was a perfect land of Shambhala to which the Enshцц clan had become accustomed.  It was blessed by Heaven with thrones like carved sandalwood, placed atop precious red camels.  Others were jolted by the voice of Heaven and crawled, seemingly unthreatened, from their miserable lair.  And so, one night, robbers entered a hole opened by darkness in the clouds and, snatching their booty – along with girls and women, screaming alarm - they ran away.  The Enshцц were well enough armed to give chase and, for many days, they pursued the robbers to exhaustion deep into their country.  Their weapons were blunted, their bullets spent, and they were sent into exile.  An order was sent out that Quickwit was to be loaded up with the weapons and bullets and dispatched.  At first, Quickwit went some way north, and he did not feel tired.  He sailed past a couple of valleys, some brightly colored hillocks, the rubble of a steep cliff, saxaul and poplar trees, and, from time to time, he would speed past a herd of cattle who would take notice only of the weapons.  As one half of his load slipped from his back onto the road, he would occasionally come upon the stinking remains of a dead camel.  And this was a bad omen.
The robbers turned their strength to fighting back, and proceeded still deeper into the country.  Another night passed, but they gave their legs no rest and kept galloping on.  The following evening, they came to where there seemed to be ravines at every step.  Then, suddenly, at dusk, they saw what they thought was a familiar-looking camel loaded with weapons.  They had reduced their speed, and had no time to regain their energy to match his legs, and he roared past. 
His rider gave a sudden tug and, though the peg had almost split the camel’s septum, they had nonetheless already left the ravine, where some of the robbers remained.  Now, a quite different, quite dazzling country stood out among the regular landscape and a sound like whistling cut the sky.  The camel’s right foreleg screamed with a burning heat.  One bullet fell short, but another bullet whizzed past and Quickwit felt his rider fall to the ground.  As much as he tried, he couldn’t pull himself up.  His left foreleg was also burning.  He was moving under his own steam, he was riding himself.
As he twisted and turned, gently and deliberately slowing up, Quickwit’s misted eyes could vaguely make out, among the cliffs and ravines scattered all around, riding saddles on the backs of many camels just like him.  As he hobbled along, a man flashed by and grasped his leading rein which was brushing the ground.  As he was slowly pulled to a stop his energy grew slack, and his four feet came up short as though he had been pegged to the ground.  He only had just enough strength to keep himself from falling over.  Although the man pulled down on his wounded nose and shouted at him to lie down, however much Quickwit tried, his four stiff legs wouldn’t bend.  The warm blood flowing in his two front legs stopped him moving forward:  how could he even know his own name right now?  The universal river had brought him among those similar to him and he found himself in very pleasant surroundings.  Oh, who is the soldier who has peace of mind?  Though his back sagged and his body, forever shouldering weight, had grown light, his two front legs had grown heavier.  And just then, there was a loud commotion, fire glowed in the twilight, bullets shot through the air and uproar reigned.
The fighting had started again.  In the darkness, members of the Enshцц clan, bearing arms, came riding into battle on their camels. Quickwit alone remained in the ravine.  The sound of the fighting grew further and further away, and he was immediately overwhelmed by a terrifying silence.  But of course, all silences that come after a great commotion are terrifying.
After a quarter of an hour, his two front legs could not bear the weight of his body and this ship of heaven collapsed, lying down with his two humps like a pair of stupas.  The sound of battle was far off and his ears, stuck as they were to the ground, heard it only vaguely.

7
Who knows how many days or nights had passed?  Drifting in and out of consciousness, he had stayed there, lying low among shrubby bushes, away from the noise of the fighting and with only a few grey birds for company.  Poor Quickwit had remained there, all alone in the world of humans.  He lay, barely able to raise himself on his knees, he turned his black eyes, bulging with tears, and looked for a while towards his own world.  And then, without a moment’s delay, he crept forward.  How could the cameleers who devoted themselves to great battles know what he was doing?  One man, exhausted by many days’ fighting, came to the ravine where Quickwit had been left behind, but found nothing.  The poor suffering camel didn’t even know that he had left the field of this wonderful battle.  Autumn came, and it seemed that the summer months had drifted to a close.

8
Quickwit the camel rested a while and then crept forward.  His poor belly had been cut by shards of stone and by rubbing up against caragana plants along the path.  The journey home had been nothing special.  To look at the sky, it would seem that dawn was breaking, that light was appearing in the east.  The earth was a rich place.  Now though, how could his feet take even a step?  If only his legs would work!  He stood up.  If only his hooves would work!  He wanted to gallop.  In the dawn light, he could just make out that same ill-starred black bird sitting on a rock near his head.  How long had this bird been following him?  This shouldn’t be happening.
Don’t look at where you are unless you know how you got there!  His poor neck had grown thin as string, and it pained him to lift his head, whose color was of sandalwood.  Only his black eyes remained as they were before.  But still he crawled forward.  And so he came to a market on the salty marshes of the Gobi, all covered in tamarisk, and his entire body felt shattered.  Who knows how long it had taken?  Lifting his neck for a final time, his black eyes looked upon the place of his birth and saw there the light blue mountain, like a cloth tent.

He perceived the universe as more clearly blue than it had been before.  Over the hundred hollows of the light blue mountain, over the whole world, he saw the sun rise, shimmering.  And, towards the west, inexplicably, he saw rise up a curtain of red dust.  A few men of the Enshцц clan were returning from war, they had chased the robbers and had retrieved the stolen booty, their women and their girls.  Quickwit looked in their direction.  From the center of the dust a man on a camel emerged and he saw this one approaching as another dragon.  The sun grew brighter, filled his eyes with the new morning.  The bird of eternal misfortune flew up from his perch on the camel’s rear hump and alighted on his fore hump.  And now he is sitting on my head.  Trying not to look, I close my eyes to the incomparable clarity, to the deep blue of the sky, to the gilded yellow of the sun, to a herd of camels and to the absolute power of the light blue, tentlike mountain.

But there is no darkness.  I see the great iridescence of the world sink into my body.  The muffled sound of people talking sinks into my ears.  And at this very moment, Quickwit the camel, as though greedily gulping down the blue atmosphere of the Gobi, covered in red tamarisk, with its light blue, tentlike mountain, in the breadth and serenity of springtime, takes his final breath.


translated by Simon Wickhamsmith
Prose