Advertisement

'You are a whore.' Soyolerdene punches him in the face

City of Lost Children: Part 3

July 12, 2008|By Kent Treptow

At dawn the next day I walk down Baruun Selbe Street. A light snow betrays the location of water pipes beneath the pavement, which appear as black lines where the snow has melted from the heat of the pipes. They read like maps to inhabited manholes.

The street dead-ends at Liberty Square, a large, open space bounded by an abandoned communist museum and the modern Tengis movie theater. To the left of the theater two holes steam like fumaroles. A filthy puppy dozes beside them. Inside, water pipes criss-cross above a floor of compacted garbage and cardboard.

A single boy sleeps among the pipes. It is Aizam. He awakens, and nods for us to enter, more out of fear than politeness. I step down through the opening to one of the metal pipes. Aizam shakes his head and points to my shoe, which is already melting from the hot metal. I shift to another pipe and wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The chamber is shallow, only 3-4 feet deep, and 10 feet square. Aizam will tell me later that when he first came here, he could stand on the bottom with his hands overhead and not touch the ceiling, but so much trash has accumulated that he now must crouch to clear the roof. Rat feces litter the floor and cockroaches crawl along the walls. Water hisses and drips from the pipes.

Advertisement

We are not the only ones here. On the far side of the chamber, I count seven, eight, then nine other children curled up beside each other like sleeping dogs. Their faces are black with soot from a fire that swept through the hole last week, likely started from a burning cigarette. They are all awake now, looking at us with the same fear we saw in Aizam. All boys, they look like they’re anywhere from 7 to 14 years old. But like the girl in the hospital parking lot, they are probably several years older.

For the next couple of weeks we gravitate toward these kids. New faces come and go, but a core group remains. The biggest is 17-year-old Battulga, a leader not so much for his age as for his toughness and brutality. Aizam is next in line, quiet and gentle with the heart of a poet. Then comes Chinbayar, 16, Sukhbaatar (whose name means “Axe-Hero”) and Adyasuren, both 15. All are from broken homes except Adyasuren, who lived in an orphanage but ran away because the older children beat him.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles
|
|
|