I wanna do right by you

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Jimmy Eat World – Get It Faster

They rode.

First by jeep. The 24-year-old girl they’d commissioned to act as guide piloted the machine, heading out into the endless Mongolian desert. There were no roads. Just directions. The guide seemed to know which direction would end up somewhere.

With no landmarks, no hills, no foliage, they could see the gers, like mini habitable silos, for hours before they eventually came close enough to get out. Just miles (or was it kilometers, G. thought, or does it even matter when measurements mean nothing and the numbers are infinite?) of watching the ger get slightly bigger on the horizon.

Don’t knock. That’s rude. Just pop your head in the little flap, smile, and give a little wave. The family will already have begun tea for you.

On the third day they came across a van. The front axle had broken, the windshield shattered, front end sunk low into the sand like a bad overbite. Wordlessly they pulled out a blanket. Everyone placed what food and drink they had out on the blanket and began the picnic. Dried goat from a jar, rancid mare’s milk, some tea. R. offered a bottle of vodka from his backpack and faces lit up. It was high noon.

They drove one of the stranded van’s passengers to the nearest hut, where a motorbike carried him to a city.

R. and G. and the guide – they rode.

At the last ger of the day, a 14-year-old boy and his 17-year-old sister lived alone. Well, as alone as you can be with 2,000 sheep and hundreds of horses. Horses outnumber humans 13-1 in Mongolia. The father had taken the mother to the city’s hospital, and the boy and girl herded alone. No matter, they’d begun the tea.

In the tent pitched next to the teenagers’ ger R. and G. laid down. G. felt his thigh under the covers. It had been a while. “C’mon,” she said.
He rolled over.
“Tomorrow,” he murmured, “we ride.”

On horseback this time. The jeep could not handle the mountain ranges.

Up and through and over and down they galloped and clopped and stumbled and lurched. For two days. The summer desert warmth gave way to a chill.

“Can we stop?” G. asked. “I want to put on my jacket.”
“No,” said the guide. Then, thinking about it, “No.”

Through valleys and around mountains and toward an isolated people hardly anyone in the civilized world had ever met, only a few dozen remaining. Mongolia’s drop in total fertility rate is the steepest out of any country in the world.

“Can we stop now?” G. asked, shivering in her short-sleeved shirt.
“No,” said the guide. Then, thinking, “Okay.” She handed G. the bottle of vodka without dismounting. “Drink.” G. took a swig.

“Now,” the guide said, putting the bottle back in her pack, “we ride.”

[Bleed Mongolian.]

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