As the brief wet of summer passed into vague memory, static electricity began to build.
Tiny white sparks of energy that earthed on my skin were generated when I brushed Tiger’s black coat. Her fur so static that the brushing attracted more dirt than it removed. And her kisses stung – a forked tongue zapping with tiny charges.
Frictional voltage was a winter icebreaker. I shocked shop assistants with cold hard currents and exclaimed loudly after incidental, physical contact with strangers. It happened everywhere – shaking hands with colleagues, handing over money, or helping someone cross the icy street. It was a running gag, coaxing smiles from stoic Mongolians.
The parched air was brilliant for drying washing. I discovered this after draping my washing over the kitchen heaters. Lurking under the window and looking like old truck radiators, these steel contraptions carried hot water from the city’s central power stations to every apartment in UB. The heating systems were turned on at the start of winter, then turned off at the start of summer. Like clockwork. You could not tinker with them. You could not turn them off. Regulating temperature was done by opening a window to the freezing air. Mine were painted sky blue. While the washing dried quickly, my undies’ heat-shrunken elastic threatened the circulation in my legs, and sported rust-stains from spots where the paint had peeled off.
The air ached with all consuming dryness. One night I forgot to re-lid my moisturiser. Three quarters full when I left it, I found the jar next morning, lid flung asunder, its insides exposed to the world. It was a pitiful sight, with sticky residue remnants. Merciless evaporation had claimed another victim. It had cared little that the cream wasn’t tested on animals, or that it was made of kelp, thousands of miles away in Australia. The arid air was like an addict craving release from a gnawing gut, devouring all in its path to help ease it’s pain.
It hounded my skin, withering it unforgivingly. My scalp was a moonscape, desiccated and deflated, with coconut flakes dusting my shoulders as I moved. Rubbing my leg loosened a snowstorm of dead skin, littering the carpet with epidermal detritus. Hardened banana chips broke off in chunks and crashed to the floor. Dust mites loved me. Crevices developed on my heels, their rough edges painfully snagging threads in my socks and catching at bed sheets as I tossed and turned. My hands aged ten years, brittle nails shattering and snapping when I touched things. Slathering myself in moisturiser helped for a time. But no amount of moisturiser could coax flexibility or suppleness to return. They had fled. Been consumed.
My nose was so dry that nosebleeds were common. At night I would wake choking, my throat so parched I could not swallow. It made me anxious. I tried boiling pots of water to increase the flat’s humidity… but I couldn’t do that all night.
In theory, my window sill plants and bowls of water balancing on the radiators were evaporating moisture into the flat and creating a mini ecosystem. In reality, it made little difference. Most days I could live with my red and blotchy, uncomfortable skin. But on days when it felt like fish scales chafing the wrong way against rough hessian, I became irritable and cranky and would blindly run to the corner shop in search of moisturiser… generating static sparks as I went and howling like a banshee in my head, yearning to slake the ache of my skin.
Could this be anywhere near the depth of pain experienced by Mongolia’s seared landscape over the eons? No wonder it was merciless.