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Bob (Short story)

За хө, манай хүү энэ өгүүллэгийг орчуулжээ. Англи хэл (ялангуяа уран зохиолын хэл) мэддэг мэргэн залуус минь ахдаа тус болж, алдаа оноо хийгээд засаж залруулах юм байвал сэтгэл харамгүй хэлж өгнө үү.

Bob
It seems that the plane has reached the appropriate altitude. The shaking and waving has stopped and the engine noise has quieted. Even the passengers who were rumbling around have found their places and were now reading, listening to music, and some were taking a nap to relieve some travel stress. I am among these people. Since it felt too wasteful to see the sky and the heavens through the tiny, oval window, I have almost plastered my face onto the glass to see the surroundings.
On the thin layer of white cloud, like freshly cut wool used to make felt, that seems stretch forever, my plane sails. Although the sun is setting and the darkness will soon fall, the boundless ocean is seen as a source of deep dark blue through the small patches of occasional breaks in the thin clouds. It‘s probably better for me to get some sleep as the other passengers during the flight, as I have spent the last few days running around preparing for the trip, forgoing food and rest. Sleep has left me, and I know not whereto.
To tell the truth, I knew the day of my return would come, but I cannot believe that it is actually here. After spending few years in a foreign land and working, I am finally returning to my parents, relatives, my country, and all that I hold dear. The joy that I feel in the deepest part of my heart, like a shepherd’s child who has heard of an upcoming festival, has kept even my sleep at bay.
America is a great place to live and work, offering calm and stability. Probably for that reason, different people from different corners of the world come, meld, and stay there for the rest of their lives. It’s like how herds tend to stay on land with good steady source of feed and water. When a person comes to a place like this, they are put on crossroads where the thought of staying in comfort and the thought of returning to their homeland are at odds with each other. While struggling to make the decision and eventually stalling, the man seems to spend certain time without actually doing much out of the ordinary. But I am now going home.
I couldn’t help but remember the man who brought me to the undeniable decision to return home. Maybe that man is looking at me through these thin clouds from somewhere.
I, probably due to my lack of sharpness, could not start any sort of business during the few years I have spent in the States. To make a hefty amount of money in a short amount of time has always been everyone’s wish, especially that of an immigrant. I, of course, have that wish. Since I already said that I didn’t start any business, there is no use in talking about it. The next best way to make some money was to drive a semi, but that still was of no avail since I did not possess the appropriate paperwork. The one after that was to take care of an older person. The pay for such a hospice worker is not much to talk about, but since you get to live at the person’s residence and save your salary, this is considered one of the money-making jobs. Although I heard about the possibility of such work as soon as I got to America, I really was not interested. For someone like me, who likes to sprawl around the house and feels trapped if I don’t take off my shirt, the thought of quietly sitting in someone else’s home, all proper and humble, was not something appealing. Plus, my movements are clumsy and tend to be rough and stiff. If it can be compared to speaking, it would be as if I am stuttering, pausing, and saying random words. To think of me trying to take care of an old man, moving him, toiling around… I don’t know…
Additionally, the man that I would have to care for would be a foreign man. Oh and the thought of dealing with his excrements… makes my skin crawl. Due to these reasons, I was never able to entertain the thought of actually taking this job for more than a few seconds.
But life is not something that goes in a smooth, predictable path. The kids’ tuition and other expenses were adding up. There is no way but to deal with these increasing demands. As life got increasingly difficult, it was clear that the only road was to take the hospice job. My wife couldn’t say a word to push me to do this job since she knows how much I deeply dislike it. But I couldn’t just take my wife’s silence as an option to not do the job.
Then I started looking around to getting such a job, despite my reluctance. But it turns out that this is not a job that you could just decide and take. Although I think my language skills are fine for the job, there was still the requirement of actually having the experience taking care of someone. Therefore, according to my friend’s recommendation, I found a job to take care of someone for 4 hours, only 3 times a week. This way I can build up an experience and hopefully get a recommendation. The uncomfortable part is that the experience is valued higher if the person passes away under my care.
The first day of my job, possibly the worst I have had to do since I got to America, began. After getting the address of the old man, I finally arrived and rang the door bell. After a while of silence, an elderly woman, who might have been very tall in her younger days, with brownish hair with gray showing in only a few places (she might have dyed her hair), opened the door and after looking at me through her dark brown eyes that sit underneath her old, wrinkly brows, without even a ‘Hello,’ said,
-Are you the new guy?
After which I quickly caught myself thinking, “This is going to be an annoying old lady.” I replied,
-Hi, how are you? Yes, I am the new guy. My name is Samdan.
After hearing my reply and looking at me for a while, she said,
-I know, I know. But I can’t say your name.
It seems some information came to them about me. She told me to come in and slowly moved inside. It was evident that her way of slowly walking was not that of style, but that of old age. While following her inside and noticing her leg of full of burst veins and bruises, I quietly thought to myself, “Compared to the older ladies in Mongolia, she wears shorts.”
As I imagined, the smell of an old, damp house hit my nostrils. Although the house is not in bad condition, the choice of old, dark, wooden furniture seems to darken the house with small windows already not getting enough light. There are many pictures of family and friends all over the walls, staircase, and the fridge. After looking at the pictures of kids with deep blue eyes, I couldn’t help question, “That’s weird. Wasn’t her eyes brown?”
While leading me to the old man’s room, the lady said,
-The nurse came just before you. Now Bob is just waiting for you.
I make a mental note that his name is Bob and ask the woman,
-What is your name?
-You can call me Jerry.
Just like how I was acting distant from them, they were acting distant as well. After entering the room, I see the old man, who seems so small, not because he is lying curled up, but because he looks as if he has just been dried and shrunk. Jerry asked him,
-Bob, do you see the new guy?
-Oh you are the new guy. It’s nice to meet you.
I notice that his voice still sounds thick and strong. It is obvious that he has been burdened by the disease for many years. His limbs, including his hands and feet, have shrunk away to nothing, and since he has been bedridden for the last two years, his skin was wounded on his knees, elbows, feet, and basically everywhere. It seems that he has lost mobility of everything but his eyes and mouth. However, whoever looks at just his head would believe that he is completely healthy. His gray hair, white beard, and glasses make him look like one of those professors from a movie. After seeing him, I couldn’t help think, “How could a man get like this? Instead of living like this…”
It seems that a nurse comes in every morning and changes his bandages. The nurse also cleans his excrements and changes his diaper. I later found out that he screams, out loud in pain, the whole time that the nurse is in his room.
My job description involved helping Bob put on his pants, putting him on his wheelchair using the special contraption, shaving his beard, wiping his face with a moist towel, and bringing him out to the specially designed sun room. My other duties included such time-filling activities as cooking him breakfast, feeding him, reading him the paper or a book, and on special circumstances, playing cards with him if he so desired.
Although Bob and his bed sheets were cleaned every day, he still smelled rank of that bedridden smell. While I was standing and thinking of how to touch his frail, skinny hands and body, Bob asked,
-What is your name again? I forgot.
-My name is Samdan.
I answered.
-Then I will call you Sam. Since Sam is my son’s name, I could never forget it.
From this I noticed how his mind was still fresh and vital.
I answered “Sure,” thinking I don’t care what this old man calls me, as long as I can make a few dollars. This is how I became “Mongol Sam.”
Jerry was always there watching and directing my movements during this first interaction. She told me to use a rubber glove before touching Bob. I don’t really like the smell of rubber gloves. Although I didn’t understand if Jerry’s intention on whether she wanted to protect me from Bob or Bob from me, I gladly wore the gloves. It was evident that my movements and the way I was handling Bob was not liked, because every time I touch Bob, Jerry would tell me to be careful or gentle. Maybe because I had not embraced my job and did not like what I was doing, I might have been rather rough and careless. He also wanted me to comb him.
While I was scratching his head, halfheartedly, and thinking to myself, “To get combed? What a pain. Like anyone’s going to see him.” Bob said,
-Oh, yes. Right there… Again…,
which made my disliking even more. Since I have become much more patient after living here in the States, I was able to keep my mouth shut and keep quiet. After that, Bob told me that I did everything well, like every American who hides their true feelings to be polite.
I knew that he was lying and while I left I thought to myself, “A man seems to never stop suffering. Why would anyone have to suffer like this at the tail end of their life…”
Days passed and I had been coming to his house for quite a few days. I couldn’t even believe myself for lasting this far. From day to day, my conversations with Bob got longer and more meaningful. One day, while feeding him, I didn’t quite put the whole spoon in his mouth and a piece of food got stuck to his lips. While trying to get the food into his mouth by moving his tongue and lips, he dropped it. A thought quickly came into my mind, “When I actually put it in your mouth, why can’t you just close it?” and I almost said something. Then, when I looked at him, I caught his deep blue eyes full of sadness and noticed him let off a sigh full of sorrow.
At that moment, I couldn’t think any bad thoughts about Bob. Instead I became aware of how I am thinking these horrible thoughts about a man, who has become so weak that he has to look for my hand to feed. Bob’s food portion is very small. Compared to the older men’s food in Mongolia, who eat meats so rich with fat that it drips oil, Bob’s food is bird food. I even walk around looking through the fridge on my off days thinking that I am hungry. Considering that, Bob, who is imprisoned in his chair, is probably very hungry, not being able to raid the fridge himself. And it probably doesn’t feel good that I am dropping his portioned food due to clumsiness. This is how I started to look at Bob in a different light.
It seems true that when you do something with an actual resolve, you see something new every time. While looking at Bob, I just realized that the eyes of the kids in the pictures actually came from him. After that I said,
-I am sorry Bob. That’s my bad.
-Oh, it’s fine.
-No it’s not fine. I see a lot of sadness in your eyes.
-Oh? If you see something in my eyes, it’s not about you or this food.
-I thought you were mad at me.
-Oh no. I am not mad at you or the food.
-Then what is it?
-I have become something like this…
After hearing that, I deeply pitied Bob for the first time. It must be terrible to be caught in the wraths of some disease at the end of your life, and even the amount of food that gets in your mouth is dependent on how much someone like me would allow. When I thought of it like this, I couldn’t help but empathize with the sadness in his eyes. I then realized that I have seen this look and these eyes just yesterday. I didn’t realize the same that I did now.
Bob asked to play cards yesterday. The simplest of games to play with someone like Bob was blackjack. Everyone in my family, including my grandparents and close relatives, loved playing canasta. They still sit around and play. I started playing with them when I was little. When I play, I would cheat. Cheating was kind of my thing. My grandma would say,
-This bad kid is always cheating, and would smile.
I think I played like that with Bob yesterday. Since he can’t move, I would have to bring the cards close to his face. I would look at the reflection of the cards on his glasses. This way I would always win. After losing a little bit, Bob looked at me with those same sad eyes and said,
-You’re really good at this. Hearing this, I was laughing like when I was little, playing with my grandma. I might have even thought, “Of course, I would win against an old man like this.” At that moment, Bob was looking at me with those sad, sorrowful eyes. Makes me wonder why I didn’t notice those deep blue eyes and why I was acting cold and distant to this man, as if he had done something to me.
When he was young, Bob was a businessman, a man of strength, and ambition. Even now, when he is down like this, a Philippino man would sit by his bed at night for 12 hours, taking care of him. Every week a Polish woman would come and clean his house, a nurse would come in every morning to change his bandages, and I too would spend 4 hours with him 3 times a week. All this has to cost money. To think what I am compared to him… I am just a little man with a spoon, trying to catch some of that money that is flowing out of him like a river. Compared to Bob, compared to what he accomplished in his life, my life’s worth seems insignificant.
After that day my interactions with Bob became completely different. It didn’t even take any effort to do that. It just required me to put some care and feeling into what I was doing. By saying few warm words when talking, moving his limbs that he couldn’t move himself, and fixing his seat with care, I began to see him warming up to me as well. Although he would still ask me to do things, it seems that a man, in his condition, becomes used to the ways of his caretaker, and sometimes it could seem like begging. As I talked from my heart and cared about what I was doing, our bond seemed to get stronger and we became much closer. For some reason, I started to think of my own graying father. I wonder how my dad is doing without his son there to take care of him. I was becoming more aware that the world seems to inch away from a man with age, as I spend more time with Bob. Even though my own dad is a lot younger than Bob, I still wondered if he had things that he just couldn’t take care of himself.
As far as I can remember, my dad was always a good man doing good deeds. When my grandparents left one by one, they left through the care of my father. Sometimes when I stop by his house, he would always be helping his parents, helping them eat or washing their clothes. I wonder what he thought when he was doing all those things. He might have thought that his kids would take care of him when he is older, as he did for his parents.
It had been 3 – 4 months since I started working for Bob. Sometimes when I was at home, thoughts about Bob would creep into my mind. Our conversations had evolved from cold, distant interactions into things that mattered, that were close to life. One day our conversation concerned me and why I came here to work and such. While listening to me talk he said,
-Well, making money is one thing, but what are you going to do next? Are you ready to make any decisions?
I realized, suddenly, that there was a lot of wisdom in those words, as if I had been splashed with cold water on a hot day. He made me reconsider my purpose in America and what I should do next.
I am not sure if it is the effect of English language or if Bob talked to me like that on purpose, but it seemed that everything he said, although short and direct, seemed to contain some deeper meaning. One time I asked Bob,
-Bob, you were a business man. How much was your biggest profit when you were younger.
After looking at me, he said,
-Is it that important?
At that moment I realized that it may have sounded like I was trying to gauge how much he has. I said,
-Oh no Bob, it’s not what you think. You don’t have to talk to me about this. I was just saying that I heard it was really good to do business in your days…,
to get out of an awkward situation.
-It’s fine. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. There are still good opportunities to do business nowadays. Although the end result of business may look like the amount of profit gained, it’s not that simple.
After saying this, he paused to see if I understood what I meant.
-I am not that big of a businessman. My biggest profit margin was probably about 50 million.
At that I couldn’t help but make a sound. He smiled as if to make fun of me and said,
-And do you see the end result?
-Yeah but there are a lot of people who take care of you. If you weren’t a good businessman, that would not happen.
-No, for a man who has become like me, money doesn’t matter. Sometimes it might be better not to have money…, and even though I wasn’t looking directly at him, I noticed his voice weaken. Bob continued,
-If I didn’t have money, they wouldn’t be keeping me alive in torture…
Hearing this made me realize how unhappy he was with his existence. Sometimes after he coughed really hard and choked, he would shake his head in pain and almost whimper, making me even more convinced of his misery.
-Bob, life is longer the better, right?
-True. Nothing is better than a long life, but…
-But what?
-But mine is too long… and he took a long, deep breath.
-I’m sorry. I keep turning the conversation towards me. It doesn’t matter how a man is, he just has to do good and spread it on everyone around him.
While watching him try to keep himself together, I thought to myself, “It seems he is right about life being a little too long for him.” Bob’s health got worse from day to day. His bold, strong voice got weaker, his screaming in pain got more numerous, and I began to see him shake his head in disappointment more often.
When I come in the mornings, I began to hear Bob in agonizing pain more often, when the nurse changed his bandages. Afterwards, when I hesitatingly enter his room, he would smile and try to act as if nothing was the matter; but how could he wipe the teardrops on his cheek. I would try to play along and would say,
-Good morning, Bob! How was your night?
-Very good! He would say.
After dressing him, I would comb him, and when I do, I would purposefully comb extra hard on the back of his head, because I learned that he likes it. It seems that it itches on that very spot, though I thought he was being a pain at first. Then I would wheel him out to his only paradise – the sunroom. Whenever he gets out there, he would always look around as if he is saying good morning earth, good morning neighbor, and good morning everything. Once, he whispered to his tomato plant, to which he seemed to have a special bond,
-Only two more weeks.
-What’s in two weeks? When I asked,
-They will turn red. He said, and looked at them with fondness. Then he followed,
-I like the morning. I like to see Jerry, you, and this plant in the morning…
At that instance I thought, “The morning is one thing, but what do you think about night.” The thought even scared me a little. I couldn’t figure out if Bob got scared of the night or if he wanted it. He was very good at hiding things that might worry others.
One sad, rainy day, I walked up to Bob’s house and Jerry was standing on the door. When I saw her sleepless, red eyes, I froze. I couldn’t even say a word. Then Jerry said, understanding what I thought,
-No, no Sam. It’s not what you think. But it was a difficult night. He just had a morphine shot and I don’t think he will get up. “Phew, gave me a scare,” I thought and realized I was actually scared. When I said,
-Ok then I will leave, and turned,
-Why? I hoped you would help me. Although I knew there is not much to do I said,
-Of course. But what should I do?
-You just have to sit in the sunroom and do whatever you want. This meant that she wanted to pay me for doing nothing. I said,
-This is a little uncomfortable for me.
-No, I want to do this. Bob wants to do this. Bob even told me to do it before he got the shot.
The tireless rain that falls from the gloomy sky, the sound of the table clock ticking and disturbing the peace, and the sounds that Bob unknowingly make out of unconscious pain seems to make the whole world freeze in time of sadness and despair. It makes me think “what if I can’t talk to Bob again or even can’t see him.” It was more fear than thought.
The next morning I walked up to Bob’s house, wondering what happened, and when I heard Bob’s voice from his room, I was filled with joy. Bob was very active and happy that day. When Jerry said that she had a hair appointment and she would need to buy bird food, as if she was doing something important, Bob looked at me and smiled to make fun of Jerry. I smiled back, understanding what he was doing. After she left, I asked Bob,
-Did you have other girlfriends before you met Jerry? I hoped to bring Bob’s spirit back up by talking about things that men talk about. Bob looked at me with a playful look and whispered,
-Is Jerry here?
-No she left.
-Go check and make sure.
-Why? Are you scared?
-No, not really, but I can’t make her sad. I may not have the time to make it right again.
“A smart man has thought of everything.” I thought to myself. After I went to check and got comfortable, he concentrated a little as if trying to remember and said,
-She was a very beautiful girl. Tall, great body and blonde…
From what Bob said, they liked each other a lot, but did not fall in love. When I asked why they didn’t fall in love, Bob said,
-At that time, God sent me Jerry.
I don’t know how else to sum up someone’s life full of happiness. Soon Jerry came looking a little more refreshed and asked,
-So what are you guys talking about? Bob do you see my new look? and stood next to Bob. Even though he didn’t take a strong look at Jerry,
-You look wonderful. Although I didn’t see what was different about Jerry, I agreed with Bob and said,
-Yes, you look very different.
Jerry looked happy to hear the compliments and said,
-Sometimes I like to look good for Bob. Isn’t that right?
-You have always been beautiful; Bob said and looked up at Jerry, who then petted his head with fondness.
At that moment I realized that I needed to leave this house and my life in America. If I had stayed until Bob passed on, my chances of getting a high paying job was very probable. It was evident from Bob’s weakening voice and features that Bob’s passing was near. But money and that job was not that important to me anymore. I just didn’t want to see him getting sent to the hospital, to never come back. In simpler words, I didn’t want to see him die.
When I left their house, I hugged Bob as they do in America. Although he was skin and bones, I felt as if I was hugging a great source of wisdom. Yes, I hugged my Bob.
When I got home, I called Bob’s house and Jerry answered. When I told her about leaving, she didn’t believe me.
-Why are you leaving? Did you not like something? We can talk about it.
-No Jerry, I just want to leave Bob in my mind the way he was today.
When Jerry got quiet,
-Sorry Jerry, I’m just telling the truth.
After a few seconds of silence, Jerry said,
-It’s fine, Sam. Bob said you were a smart guy, now I’m starting to believe it. I wish you luck on your future.
Even though the conversation ended and silence fell, both of us couldn’t hang up and just held our phones…
Bob, you taught me that a person comes into this world to receive love, care, and wisdom from someone. Also, when we leave, we are supposed to pass some of it onto someone else. You gave me a lot of things. You gave me my parents, my loved ones, and my country. You gave me the wisdom to take care of my father. Although my dad can take care of himself for now, when the time comes, you’ve given him the chance to enjoy having a son and me the chance to enjoy being a son.
I wonder how Bob is today. Still trying to catch his food with his tongue or leaving his wisdom to someone else, enjoying his sunroom and tomato plant? But I doubt that. He may be looking at me through this endless blue sky.
-Would you like something to drink?
The stewardess’ question startled me and paused my line of thinking. With that break from my thoughts I started to look out the window as if I just got on the plane. As I looked out, I noticed the red glowing sun rising from the direction of my country. Yes, I am flying to the direction of the rising sun.

12 comments:

Erhtsas said...

Гайхалтай өгүүллэг шүү. Англи хэл минь тийм сайн биш болохоор алдаа оноог нь шүүж даанч чадахгүй юм, үнэхээр уучлаарай.

Өмнө нь Монгол хэл дээр уншиж байсан болоод ч тэр үү Англи хэл дээрхи орчуулгыг зүрхэндээ хүртэл 100% ойлгож уншиж чадлаа. Зарим нэгэн хэсэг дээр нүдэнд нулимс бүрхээд л ирж байна.

Таны өгүүллэгийн бүх ном надад байгаа, зарим нэгэн өгүүллэгийг яагаад ч юм дахин дахин унших дуртай. " Борог өвс " " Ангарай " "Би чамайг мартахгүй " " Би хошигрохгүй ээ " гээд л сэтгэлийг догдлуулах бас сэтгэлд олон зүйлийг ойлгон мэдрүүлэх дэндүү гоё бүтээлүүд. Ийм сайхан зүйлсийг бидэнд хүргэж, амьдралыг ойлгон мэдрэх ухаан нэмдэгт тань баярлалаа ахаа.

Болорхон said...

За мунхаг би хальт мөлтхөн харсан гэвч санаагаа хэлмүү. Таны өгүүллэгүүд монгол ахуй, монгол хэл хэллэг, монгол ёс заншил бас гадаад хүн тийм ч амархан тайлаад ойлгочихооргүй монгол дүрслэл, монгол ухаанаар дүүрэн шүү дээ. Боб ч ялгаагүй хэдийгээр агуулга болон дүрүүд дотор нь гадаад хүн, гадаад амьдрал өгүүлдэг ч гэсэн Самдангийн бодлоос шууд л "монгол үнэр" үнэртдэг. Тэгэхлээр орчуулга ч ялгаагүй "яг тэр үнэрийг тэр чигээр нь үнэртүүлж чадахуйц" тийм чадварыг шаардна. Энэ тийм ч амаргүй. Жишээ нь "үүлийг - эсгий хийх гээд зулчихсан ахрын ноос"-той зүйрлэнэ гэдэг монгол хүний л төсөөлөлд буухаас цаадуулын чинь төсөөлөлд тийм амар буухгүй шүү. Гэхдээ танай хүү их хөдөлмөрч зангаар хичээнгүйлэн сайн орчуулж шүү. Утгыг бол сайн гаргасан байна, уран зохиолын орчуулга шиг хэцүү ажил үгүй, ялимгүй үгчилсэн үү л гэхээс бусдаар хэн ч уншсан ойлгомжтой хөрвүүлжээ. Цааш цаашдаа улам илүү сурах тусам сайжирна бизээ. Аав хүү хоёрт амжилт.

Anonymous said...

Your son did such a good job.Very proud of him. Keep going

Бум said...

Эрхцас: Сайн уу? Баярлалаа. Уран зохиолын буян байхдаа Өнөө цагийн залуус та нартайгаа ямар нэгэн сэжмээр холбогдох шатагтай яваадаа баяртай байдгиймаа ах нь.
Болорхон: Хэлээд юү гэхэвээ. Хүү бид хоёр их ярьсан. Тэгээд эхний байдлаар тавиад хүмүүсээс санаа оноо авъя гэсэн юмаа
Анон: Tnx

Дестини said...

Монгол эх нь хаана байгааг хэлээд өгөөч. Би уг нь дээр уншсан юм, одоо эрээд амар олохгүй бна. Би харьцуулж үзээд санаагаа хэлье.

Anonymous said...

Дестини: "ЭНЭ" гэдэгт оруулчихлаа

Дестини said...

Имейл хаягийг тань олдоггүй. Би өчүүхэн санаагаа хэлэх гээд хэл загатнаад...

bum said...

t_bumerdene@yahoo.com

1000 захиа said...

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Teacher Jim said...

You are a very good writer. A sad but wonderful story. You should try to publish it somewhere, both in Mongolia and America. Not for money but for the story itself that others should hear. And, welcome home.

Jim / ESL Teacher
Ulaanbaatar Mongolia

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