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'We drink...' he says, 'then we cut ourselves'

City of Lost Children: Part 5

July 12, 2008|By Kent Treptow

On Saturday night the Tengis kids are making money. The theater is showing the movie “Chinggis Khan,” a Japanese-produced epic about the 13th century founder of the Mongol empire. Liberty Square is overflowing with cars. The children haggle with drivers for money to watch their vehicles. Essentially, they are being paid not to steal. If the owner pays them, the car is left alone. If not, there might not be any side-view mirrors or hubcaps left when he returns.

The movie begins and the crowd disappears into the theater. The kids want to play billiards so we head to the old communist museum. Inside, an enormous Lenin head, 6 feet across, stares down from a pedestal. Communist slogans written in Cyrillic adorn a wall behind it. A dozen dimly lit pool tables sit on the floor below.

The kids are happy, flush with a bit of money. Battulga is playing against Munkhdul, a teenage boy who splits his time between the theater holes and others nearby. As he rolls up his sleeves to break, I see what looks like a giant zipper running up his right forearm. The zipper is actually a series of scars from self-inflicted cuts, arranged in neat rows like hatch marks. There are dozens of them. They commemorate fights, old girlfriends and bad days. Most of the older boys have them.

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“We drink and talk about our lives,” he says. “Then we cut ourselves.”

On his left arm there is one scar longer than the others. It runs from his shoulder to his wrist and is about half-an-inch wide. It’s for his older brother, Soyambo, also homeless, who was stabbed to death in a fight last year.

Solongo is playing at the next table. It’s the first time in six days I’ve seen her above ground. She has been hiding from her 24-year-old brother who beats her at home.

The sight of her is shocking. She is beautiful. Her clothes are still relatively clean, her hair jet black, eyes sparkling, with a glorious smile. She seems out of place. Her name means “Rainbow” and all the boys have a crush on her. My concern that some of them might try to assault her eases when I see how they turn into puppy dogs around her. She is guarded like a rare treasure.

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