Sunday, February 7, 2010

That Perfect Gift: Part 2

[If this is your first visit to my blog, you need to go back to my Jan 31 posting to start the story that is being continued in the present posting. Have fun!....]

The little bit of light in the store came from a ceiling fixture over a counter opposite the front door. Behind the counter sat an old man—you know, about your age—with a round bald head and undersized circular bifocals, and his fat face plunged in a small greasy bowl of rice. He shoveled the grain into his mouth as if he hadn’t eaten in a week; maybe he hadn’t; his little business didn’t look like much of a money maker. The man finally looked up from his meal after I slammed the door to get it to close. Oh, Daddy, what an interesting character—like right out of an oriental version of Dickens. To help you understand just what I mean, as well as explain the bizarre object you now have before you, I will try to relate our encounter verbatim to you.
Initially he seemed disinterested, but soon a large broad grin, complete with some missing teeth, filled his shiny face. Nearly dropping his bowl on the counter, he said, “American, American, hello American! Rich American, come in please. Have many nice things; rich American find many nice things, here—all cheap!”
I told this jocund portly fellow of my dilemma and he slapped his hands together and said, “Yes, yes, yes, understand rich American. Truly, it has been spoken, ‘rich father have very poor daughter.’ Follow me, please--just right thing for rich American. Come, Mister Chen show rich American very great thing—very rare. You see, Mister Chen never wrong; you see, make rich American very happy. This way, please.”
I followed Mr. Chen through a beaded doorway into a disheveled workshop and on to another door and down a long curved stone stairway. A small lantern he had plucked off a cluttered workbench lighted the way.
“Careful, please: very dark until we get to basement,” he said as we descended down the cool, dank and decaying passage. I, of course, felt somewhat disconcerted following this strange man into the catacombs, but, hey, that’s what adventures are all about, right?
When we got to the cellar, Mr. Chen pulled a string attached to a single light bulb in the center of the room. Nothing happened, so he tapped the bulb lightly with his finger until the light reluctantly came on.
“Very tricky, very tricky,” he said. “Must treat like small baby—electrical not so good in Ulaanbaatar.”
“Indeed,” I thought to myself.
“Hold lantern, please,” he said handing me the lamp. Then he left the light and started searching for something by throwing stuff around willy-nilly. I heard the tinkling of glass when some of the boxes hit the stone floor. I wondered how he could afford to be so careless; I reasoned that it might be his way of antiquing. Finally, after things settled into a new state of disorganization, and, I’m afraid, disrepair, he reappeared in the light carrying a medium sized lacquered black box. Gingerly he placed the box on a wooden table and asked me to set the lantern next to it. He wiped away the dust with a handkerchief. The shiny ebony box gleamed in the dim light. Lovingly he twisted the brass latch and opened the box to reveal a lumpy purple velvet bag cinched by a small gold cord. His breathing increased with excitement as he untied the sack and despoiled it of its contents. With a deep sigh of satisfaction, Mr. Chen held up the object for me to see.
It appeared to be a stuffed animal of some kind. The creature had long reddish brown hair, large clumps of which were braided with red, green, and clear jewels hung on the ends. I thought, “What an interesting way to display jewelry.”
“Huh,” I said after examining it for a few moments, “a toy animal.”
“Not toy, no, no, not toy, real animal, not toy!” he said.
“That’s a real animal?” I said.
“Real animal, yes, and very rare,” he replied. “Only in Hangayn Mountains find pigmy musk ox.”
“Pygmy musk ox?” I said taking a closer look.
Sure enough, it had tiny dull dark gray horns, shiny coal black eyes like marbles surrounded by long lashes, a black nose and four little hooves—all in perfect miniature. Honestly, Daddy, I hadn’t seen anything like it since the specimens of Royal antelope at the Field Museum in Chicago.
“Did you shrink it or what?” I asked.
“No shrink, no shrink, as big as gets,” he said. “Hangayn ox very small—even as adult—also very shy; that’s why so rare. You buy ox? Rich American pleased with gift for honorable father?”
“Well,” I cleared my throat, “it is really nice and, well, nice, but you see my father is a kind of a straight arrow type. I’m not sure he would really appreciate such an…ah…unique--”
“Yes, I know. My father, too, what you say…rod in wet ground,” he said.
I told him I didn’t understand.
“Rod in ground, rod in ground,” Mr. Chen repeated as he motioned sticking something into the floor.
“Oh, you mean a stick in the mud!” I said.
“Yes, stick in mud,” he said.
“Well, that’s not exactly what I meant,” I stammered. “I just meant he’s sort of conservative, you know? A two feet on the ground type…ah….”
Mr. Chen didn’t seem to understand me, or, at least, believe me. So what could I do? Really, Daddy, I couldn’t have some perfect stranger half way around the world thinking my father is some kind of an old fuddy-duddy, now could I? So, well, Happy Birthday, Daddy!! Now you know the story behind what you are undoubtedly looking at with great bewilderment, and can now appreciate, and I use the word loosely, its novelty. I hope you and mom like it. Be sure to comb the little darling once a month.
I love you both. See you guys in about seven weeks. You can bet I’ll keep my eyes pealed for a glimpse of the rare Hangayn pigmy musk ox when I return to the digs. And don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine—really. Love, Missy.


That Perfect Gift Copyright © 2010 by Bruce Jerome Kokko

[Next Week (on Feb.15) meet a quintessential narcissist in the dark story The Second Death.]