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I feel for Battulga. I can see the end in him.

City of Lost Children: Part 4

July 12, 2008|By Kent Treptow

A few nights later the hole is packed with bodies. It’s warm enough for the boys nearest the pipes to lounge without shirts. Summer is a couple of months away. Soon they will leave the holes for the roof of a nearby apartment building, where they will sleep beneath passing thunderstorms.

A candle burns on the wall like a flickering star. The air smells remarkably like citrus fruit, thanks to orange peels laid out on the hot pipes. Two puppies, Johnny and No Name, tussle playfully in Adyasuren’s lap. Battulga is a smiling drunk in the corner. Everyone is singing. The girls sing about a fairy princess. Battulga beat-boxes an improvised rap. Aizam sings “Song for My Mother,” a song he learned in prison:

When I was a baby

I used to crawl to you

Now I have to run away from you

God forgot my destiny

I just want to live like a normal person

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But I have to follow the rule of the world

As he finishes, angry voices rise from the corner. Another boy, Naidan, has dropped into the chamber from an adjoining hole. He is also drunk, and begins wrestling with Battulga. The fight escalates. The candle goes out as it’s knocked to the ground, throwing the hole into darkness. The others stream out as Battulga and Naidan try to burn each other on the hot pipes. A puppy screams as someone steps on it.

The fighters climb to the surface. Men in thick Russian coats and women in high heels stop to watch as they exit the movie theater. Some of the younger children are crying. It’s far below freezing, but Battulga and Naidam stand shirtless in the street, circling each other like boxers in a ring, oblivious to the cold. Dozens of scars on their scrawny, half-starved bodies tell the tale of their lives. “I’ll kill you!” they scream back and forth. A few punches are exchanged before Naidam reaches into his pocket and pulls out a jagged piece of glass wrapped in a rag so he won’t cut himself when holding it. He lunges at Battulga and stabs him five times in the back. Then, just like that, it’s over as some of the older boys rush in to break it up. Battulga is crying hysterically, not from pain but from the humiliation of being beaten.

“I am not strong enough,” he says. “I cannot beat him.”

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