I coax no fish today. There will be a hollow in my stomach as I have run out of brown food and the winter months continue long past the time that spring is meant to appear. It is chance and good favor that I still have the keg of strong rice wine half full. The comforting haze helps to hide the pain of hunger and it takes me far away from this barren waste of my life. No wife to warm my ger, no daughter to cook and sing for me. Both gone, one in death, one to warm the furs of her husband’s ger. She is Least wife of five but still sheltered by the wealth of the warrior husband who chose her. Who took her from me.
She will eat well tonight, and each night. She will never know the pain of being alone, for she is now part of a clan that is full of women who call her sister, and their children who set upon her lap and play with her hair. Her brown eyes are soft and there is no crease upon her brow. At night as I collapse in my stupor beside the dying embers I sometimes hear her voice among the others as it is carried by the wind to my ears. Happy. She is happy.
Nohai came to my dream world again last night. Dancing for me by the light of a fire, she enticed me with her nearness, and left me gutted as she abandoned me once more. How many times has she taken me as I sleep, only to discard me at the light of day? My body longs to join her in the spirit world, but each day I awake alone, again to face a cruel day.
Cold breath clouds around me. I feel the stiff frozen hair on my face and wipe it clear with my bare hand. Taking my stick I break the thin skiff of ice that has formed over my fishing hole. I see others standing on the field of ice, watching holes, some with tell tale splashes of red in the snow. They will eat tonight. As I stare into the blackness of the water I see no fish, no movement. I will not.
My body craves the burn of wine and I decide to give this day to the fish. I stretch my eyes across the frozen sea and watch as the sun wanes low in the sky. Far in the distance there is movement, as if a person walks from the open sea toward me. My eyes squint and I try to focus. It is impossible. Yet she is there.
She walks toward me, the colorful embroidery of her boqtaq unmistakable. It is Nohai! I begin to walk to her, arms outstretched. She smiles and I see the familiar red glow of her cheeks, looking so vibrant and alive, not the grey sunken woman I laid in the ground. The ice thins beneath my feet but I am without fear. I reach to her and begin to shuffle faster. Ice crackles and moans and water begins to rise into my steps.
“Batu-dai! Batu-dai!” My name circles my ears like a black fly. I swat it away, running toward Nohai.
“Stop Batu-dai!” Many shouts slow my feet and I finally turn toward the sound. They have gathered at the shore, men and women of the village and they all call to me. I see Nokaijin, my daughter among them. She waves her arms at me.
I turn back to Nohai.
She is gone.
I slow my feet to a stop. I sink within the ice and feel the frigid waters seep. There is a moan and crack. The sea intends to claim me. I turn and slowly walk through the crumbling ice, sinking and soaking so that my skin is numbed with the cold. I walk faster as the cold brings the return of my senses and begin to stumble and run, ice smashing open behind me to the blackness of the winter sea.
I fall and slip into the sea. My body sinks below the surface. I am swallowed by the depths.
I do not rage and fight but simply allow the weight of my wet furs to pull me downward. I look above me, following the last bubbles as they escape my nose and mouth and see the far distant light of the sinking winter sun. I expel my air and wait for Nohai.
Fierce hands grab me and I am dragged up and out of the water. I am pulled to shore and surrounded by villagers, all speaking at once, shouting orders and instructions. My son in law carries me to Nokaijin’s ger and my wet clothes are stripped. Wrapped in fresh furs and set by a warm fire I am joined by the elders who sit with me and smoke. They do not speak of what has happened. They speak of great hunts we have led, great battles we have won. Wisps of smoke curl to the ceiling and escape to the dark night that has fallen. Warmth returns. Rich salmon is placed before me and I eat.
Many springs come to follow many winters. I am beloved Ovog: Grandfather and have a place of honor at my son in law’s fire. Many fat sons have been delivered of Nokaijin and I teach them the ways of the hunter, of the fisherman. I wait now, on the ice for Tabudai and Jirghadai to join me. The sun is warm today and already the fish are coaxed to my hole. I see their shining silver sparkle and dance as they rise to the light. We will eat well tonight.
My eye is caught by a flash of movement out across the open sea. I shade against the low winter sun and my eyes find her at long last. The red of her boqtaq bobs up and down with her steps. Waiting always, within the happy years I have spent in my daughter’s ger. Waiting always for her to find me once more. She has alluded me since that fateful day in the sea, but here she is at last. She walks to me over open water and waves. I smile, enchanted to see the rosy fat curve of her smiling cheeks once more. My breath is filled with light. Nohai.
My heart shudders once, a thick thud within my chest. I drop to my knees, reaching toward Nohai. She is at last in front of me. Our hands clasp, eyes lock and we are joined , warm and bright as the winter sun.
I quickly shed the tattered coat of this life and rise with Nohai.