By T.S.M. Davies
Under the big blue sky, even in the dead of winter, I was not changed by the structure of modern life outside of my tribe. Like any other day, the felt was unloaded from the oxen and wrapped around the yurt timber skeleton to ward off the chill of early winter. Mountains loomed in the distance, preluded by the rolling hills. They were a constant reminder that my tribe was still strong. Yet even as I worked, I felt something change, a tear in our way of life.
My father felt this too. As I continued to work, wondering what this strange sensation was, he looked off into the distance, toward the trees, like he could see something coming. “Fewer will come this time,” he said. He spoke softly to himself, but I could hear his gruff voice carry on the cold breeze. There was a particular tone of grief to which I could only relate to the death of the khans.
Fewer would come. I could tell the same as him. It wasn’t just a feeling, but a matter of statistical fact. There were fewer horses. Fewer oxen. The oxen were the real clue. Horses were common, but oxen didn’t travel without a family forcing them to plod on. They carried materials for our yurts, allowing us to travel anywhere we needed in order to find the resources our tribe required. Fewer oxen meant fewer families. Fewer families signified the death of our way of life.
Fewer would come.
I watched as he wrapped my mother’s embroidered blanket around his shoulders. The red stitching was like a blazing patch of color against the dull winter landscape. The soft material offered warmth and comfort that could be found nowhere else. It was like holding her again. Even the faint smell of her oiled hair lingered in the cloth, nearly a year later.
She disappeared one day, leaving behind nothing but her embroidered blanket and silver bowl. Father claimed he didn’t understand what happened to her, but we both knew better. Like so many others, she was lured into the modern cities by convenience and luxury. The tall, arching walls of the buildings’ interiors were stunning. I saw it with my own eyes on a trip to the city with her. We needed a particular medicine to help my father. He was sick and in danger of dying and the silver bowl wasn’t helping at all. It was a chaotic overload to my senses as I walked the streets with her. Smells of fish, filth, and breads filled the air. Sounds of horse hooves clopped on the street as they pulled carriages mixed with the voices of thousands of people. Everything about city life was different. I was tempted into it myself. It was only the words of my father that made me stay.
“People in cities are constantly moving while standing still,” he said. “But they will never truly stand beneath the Eternal Blue Sky.” I understood well enough. The temptation was strong, but the people were without a true connection to our culture and the god above.
It wasn’t long after that trip when she disappeared, lured in by the empty promises of modern life. And she wasn’t alone. Others followed her lead. Our way of life was dying like a fire without more wood. Only cinders remained.
This winter would be no exception. Fewer would come.