by He Junhua
The lips of the backpacker were almost cracked when he suddenly found that the herdsman yurt of Alatanula’s was left unlocked.
Not even a single drop of water could he suck up from the kettle. If only the thirst had not been that unbearable, the backpacker would not have broken in Alatanula’s yurt in such a rude way. As he pushed the door open, the backpacker found a kettle of milk tea on the stove that was still hot. He hesitated for a second before he lifted the kettle. He then drank the milk tea in the kettle up in one breath, like an aged horse that had trudged over one thousand miles of gobi.
The backpacker left 20 bucks on the table in the first place. Then he found it a bad idea and decided to wait for the host.
He hadn’t expected that he had to wait for a whole day.
Alatanula took his sheep to the faraway Urigen. He didn’t hurry back home until it was totally dark outside.
Hearing the sound outside of the yurt, the backpacker at once stood up and hurried out. He said apologetically, “Grandpa, I am awfully sorry. I saw your door was not locked, and boldly broke in. I am sorry for it.”
Alatanula seemed so concentrated in driving the flock of sheep into the sheepfold that he totally ignored the backpacker.
The backpacker, who thought what he had done could have irritated the host, dared to move but stand where he was, awkward like a Japanese iris in the autumn.
The host kept silent until he settled down his sheep, “What is lock?” he finally voiced.
The backpacker then realized that there was no lock at all on the door.
The backpacker fell in a total shock. It was incredible that there were people who did not know the lock in the 21st century. He then tried to explain to the host what a lock was, which was, however, a mission almost impossible: How could you explain to someone who had never seen a lock? It was like explaining how to lasso a horse to someone who had never seen a horse. So he answered, reluctantly, that a lock was a tool to install in the door. When the door was locked, no one could enter the room until you opened it with a key. A key can open a lock and only the lock.
The host immediately shook his head, “How is that? Absolutely not.”
The backpacker said, “why not, and it can make others unable to enter the room.”
“Is it a good idea? How come if the herdsmen who is passing by me get thirsty? They can’t get water in the room. Where can they find kumis to keep themselves warm what if they are caught by the blizzard? Where can they take a rest when they are exhausted?” the host asked the backpacker, confused.
So the door was open to provide convenience for the people as thirsty as the backpackers to “steal” water.
The backpacker became completely speechless. More than that, he was shamed to death.
“We herdsmen usually set out to pasture from the east in the morning and can’t come back home from the west until the evening. It is a long journey. Everyone will end up hungry, thirsty and exhausted, no matter how strong you are.” Alatanula tried to make him understood by gestures.
“Why not return from the same direction?” the backpacker was puzzled again.
“Genghis Khan said we shouldn’t tread on the same piece of land twice in one day. Monke Tengri bestows us the vast grassland as a blessing, not something to spoil.”
The host then made a fire, asking the backpacker, “Young man, Spend a night here?”
“Well, great, thank you!” the backpacker agreed with excitement, not forgetting to say, “Sorry to bother you.”
At dinner, the backpacker made another try—how could be possible that the old man hadn’t seen a lock? It was, just unimaginable. He asked, “So it is true that none of the herdsmen here use a lock? Aren’t you afraid of being stolen?”
“But why people steal? Every Mongolian of Hardan Bateer Grassland has his own hands to work.” asked the host.
“Aren’t you afraid that others might eat and drink everything here up?”
“I will also eat up others’. Today I went to Urigen and feasted myself there. Ha-ha.” He laughed, as if he had been quite pleased with his meal.
Lying in the warm bedding by Alatanula, the backpacker found he couldn’t fall asleep. It couldn’t even have occurred to him before that day that locks were unknown to the herdsmen on the grassland. As Alatanula had said, doors were only against wind and chill instead of thieves, but it was just unbelievable.
The next morning after leaving the old man, the backpacker visited several herdsmen and turned out to find none of their doors locked.
The backpacker was completely convinced by what he had experienced. Soon afterwards, his travel note entitled Miracles on Hardanbateer Grassland was published on Traveler, the travel monthly with the largest national circulation. For a while, more travelers rushed to Hardanbateer Grassland in swarms.
When the backpacker went to Hardanbateer Grassland again, it was a year later. This time he was even more shocked—all the doors of the herdsmen were locked!
He couldn’t wait to find Alatanula, trying to figure out what had happened in the past year.
The door of Alatanula was also locked—the dark green plum-shaped padlock appeared unpleasantly dazzling in the sun.
“At the beginning, Chaketu lost his teapot. Soon, Khaserdun lost his three-generation family heirloom, a carved saddle.” said Alatanula who just rode back at noon, “I lost my leather boots and stirrup.”
“Everyone here lock the door. Now I have to ride for such a long way to have my lunch home.” He said, obviously grouchily.
It was just Tuesday siesta on Hardanbateer Grassland, but the backpacker felt the faintest tiredness. He felt a sudden thirst attacking him, making his lips unbearably parched. He felt like beating someone, but he ended up doing nothing. All he could do at the moment was standing there, alone, to confess for the rest of his life.