Pulling into a parking space at the customs building, I feel like I am fourteen years old again, taking our beloved but very sick family cat to the Humane Society to be put down. Walking into the brick building, I am holding out hope that the hardest part of this process is over, that I'll simply hand over the keys and be on my way.
In the basement, everything is eerily as we left it: a sea of identical desks and computers, staffed by women in matching outfits, each sporting one of three interchangeable hair cuts. Those that aren't playing video games are furiously tapping away on their calculators.
Eventually, one of the women recognizes me, and points her finger up. Here we go again. This time, to my relief, she stands to join me. Thus begins another round of upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, downstairs, and upstairs and then downstairs again. I feel positively useless, following the woman around like a scruffy puppy; I'm not sure what else to do.
On the top floor, the women are finely manicured in neatly pressed, professional attire with expertly applied makeup and perfectly coiffed hair. I, on the other hand, am a complete wreck. Dirty from unloading our car, exhausted from weeks of non-stop activity, one part weary of wearing the same outfit for months, one part completely numb to it – I may as well be Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown.
With each stop at a new office, my ward makes some unintelligible announcement that contains a single pair of words I can understand: Toyota Corolla. Every time the words are uttered, there is a twittering exchange of snickering and giggling. I have no idea what is going on.
For all I know, she could be taking me around the building simply to crack jokes with everyone, saying: "Hey look at this scruffy idiot I have in tow! He is giving us his Toyota Corolla because he can't afford the tax. How much do you want to bet he'll still be following me if I come back in 30 minutes?"
If amassing a huge collection of paper is the aim of this exercise, our upstairs-downstairs efforts are succeeding. Each stop involves a new document and a few stamps, and sometimes an exchange of the current stack for a new one.
Two hours have passed and I am now carrying a ream of paper. My keeper has dropped me off like the basket of dirty laundry I resemble, still confused, in front of the desk where this all began. I tenatively push my pile of papers forward, hoping the woman there knows what to do – I sure don't. She responds by silently getting up and walking away. Hmm.
After being completely ignored for thirty minutes, a grumpy-looking lady in a frumpy-looking uniform appears and points her finger to the door. Good lord, after all of this are they just telling me to leave? Wait, no, she will come with me. Phew. She wants to see the car.
I am a little embarrassed as we walk out to inspect the gift I am giving Mongolia. Our LRC looks like the hell it has been through, and I wish I could show her a picture of what it'll look like once it's been cleaned. Instead, I open the hood, the trunk, and the doors for her critical eye. She looks around disdainfully, and then she points at the ignition.
With a concealed cringe, I start our car for the final time. When the engine roars to life, she is taken aback, scowling at the racket. Immediately she indicates she's had enough of this racket by waving her hand in the air in my direction like I am something hot out of the oven.
Despite the noise, she seems satisfied, so we return to the building together. She takes the keys, my ream of paper, and another twenty minutes of the day before handing me a single piece of paper. It is a copy of the title for our car, now owned by the Mongolian government.
Back outside, there is our dirty car, no longer a part of our journey. In a furtive fit of sentimentality, I remove the front licence plate as a keepsake before Mongolian Customs officials come out to take it over for good. Goodbye LRC!