FIREWOOD FOR THE OVEN

   Arslan stood at the doorway, panting and out of breath. "Grandfather, is it all right if I go with the others to gather firewood?"
   Rakhim-aga eyed his grandson sternly from head to toe and smiled:
   "It seems you've become a real helper. Just yesterday Grandmother was saying that soon she won't have any firewood left to bake chureks. It's almost all used up. You're a good lad, Arslan. Thank you for helping out around the house. You have my permission to go gather firewood, but make sure you don't lag behind the others and take some bread along. It's always good to have some handy when you're out working."
   "Thank you, Grandfather!" Arslan took some bread and rope and ran off to join the others, his pet kid trotting along at his side.
   They headed first to the rose-willow thickets, but there they found little worth gathering.
   "Let's cut across the river to the island," Yagmur, the eldest of the group, proposed. Yagmur was already seven and would be starting school in the fall.
   The water in the ford was shallow, and only came up to Arslan's knees.
   "Me-me-me!" the kid cried, its little bell tinkling mournfully. It was terrified of the water.
   "Come on, Bubenchik, don't be afraid!" Arsian shouted, jumping up onto the bank of the island.
   "Me-me-me!" the kid bleated in reply.
   "We'll have to carry him across," Yagmur said. "He'll never cross by himself."
   "Yes, he will!" Arslan cried. "I'll call him two times and he'll run across.
   "You mean to tell me he's trained?" Yagmur asked incredulously and called out: "Bubenchik!"
   The kid didn't even turn its head.
   "Well?" Yagmur said, with a laugh.
   "He only listens to Arslan," Sapar said. "Go ahead, Arslan, call him!"
   "Bubenchik, Bubenchik!" Arslan shouted. The kid jumped into the water and was on the island in two bounds.
   "Now that's amazing!" the boys said. "Arslan the trainer!"
   Along the bank of the island wound a well-worn path. The youngsters followed it past the cat's-tail thickets and the green rushes. Soon they came out onto a clearing. Here in the spring the floodwaters had left in their wake great piles of bushes, roots and grasses of all kinds.
   "Listen, fellows, this brushwood is great for making pilaf!" Yagmur exclaimed joyously.
   "But is it good for an oven?" Arslan asked fretfully.
   "The best!"
   The boys began gathering bundles of the brushwood. Suddenly Bubenchik, who had been hovering around near his master, reared back, lowered his head and began snorting.
   "A snake!" Arslan cried, tossing down his bundle of twigs.
   "It's only a grass snake," Yagmur said, laughing. "Keep gathering, there's nothing to worry about."
   The young boys tied up their bundles and sat down in a circle to have something to eat. Almost everyone had brought along a piece of bread or churek, and these they shared with those who had brought nothing.
   Suddenly a donkey appeared on the path;
   "Let's catch him and load our bundles on him!" Yagmur suggested.
   In no time at all they had surrounded the donkey, although it obviously had no intention of running away anyway.
   "Whose donkey is it?" Arslan asked.
   "It must be a stray," Yagmur said. "First we'll pad his back with some grass and then we'll pile on the brushwood."
   Someone came up with an extra length of rope and after gathering up a huge bundle of dry twigs, they all helped lift it up onto the donkey's back and drove it towards the river.
   When they reached the crossing they didn't even recognize it- the water had risen and was now turbid and muddy.
   "How are we going to get across now?" Arslan asked fearfully.
   "Let's swim! Who wants to join me?" Yagmur asked bravely.
   The boys exchanged glances and stepped back away from the bank. The stream was now about thirty meters wide.
   "You can swim across by yourself," Sapar said to Yagmur. "We'll wait here while you go fetch the grown-ups."
   "I'm afraid to go alone," Yagmur confessed. "The current's pretty strong."
   "Then what are we going to do?" Arslan asked, hugging tightly onto Bubenchik.
   They all turned and looked up at the sun. It was already close to the horizon. Without exchanging another word they all began shouting, in the hope that someone might hear them.
   But no one answered their cries.
   "It looks as if we might have to spend the night on the island," Sapar muttered.
   "Let's try shouting some more, only this time all together!" Yagmur suggested.
   The boys shouted together and singly, calling their fathers, brothers, mothers...
   And finally from the depths of the island came a man carrying a shovel. It was Bayram-aga.
   "What in the world are you doing here?" he asked the boys.
   "We came for firewood!" Yagmur said, answering for all.
   "You mean there wasn't enough on the other side to suit you?" Bayram-aga said angrily. One by one he carried the boys across the ford. He lifted them up on his shoulder together with their bundles like a giant. And when it came Arslan's turn, he carried him together with his bundle and Bubenchik. as well.
   Then Bayram-aga unloaded the brushwood from the donkey, carried it across the ford, and drove the donkey back into the depths of the island.