GOING TO TOWN

   On Sunday Father woke me up before sunrise. After drinking some green tea, we mounted the donkey and headed for town.
   It was winter, and in hot Turkmenia the temperature can drop surprisingly low. When there's a wind blowing, the frost even unsheathes its claws.
   Mthough I was riding behind my father, my ears and hands began to ache from the cold. I untied the strings on my ear-flaps and let them down, but I had no mittens. I had to hold on with one hand and warm the other against my chest.
   Finally we came to the Shormaidan salt marsh.
   "Papa," I blurted out, "buy me some mittens at the bazaar."
   "All right, my son. If you're really cold, we can stop and build a fire."
   I was so anxious to see the town that I said:
   "I'm not cold at all!"
   It was growing light. Snowflakes were twirling in the air.
   "We've covered exactly half the distance," my father said, "and I caught the scent of snow in the air a long while ago. If it's a big snow, they'll close down the bazaar."
   Looming up just ahead was a steep hill.
   "That's the fortress of Annakuli Tepe," Father explained.
   Silently we started off again. As we crossed the steppe I remained patiently silent, but when we came to Kerki, the questions came spilling out of me like grain from a torn sack.
   I thought: in the town each house has a store in it and the town dwellers sit by their windows eating buns with halvah.
   "Papa," I asked fearfully, "are people allowed to ride their donkeys through the town?"
   "Yes," Father replied.
   And true enough, when we arrived in Kerki I saw two-wheeled bullock carts and donkeys plodding along the streets of the town, which was mostly one-storeyed, like our own village.
   We rode our long-eared donkey to the far end of town where Father's friend, the hunter Djorabay, lived.
   Djorabay was busy pouring concrete f6r the foundation of a new house.
   "Hm! Yes, clay is no match for this," Father said, giving a frozen mass of gray concrete a nudge with his foot. "Our lives are improving. We've got the power to do anything."
   Then we went to the bazaar. Father bought some gunpowder and lead, and for me he bought a pair of mittens, a rubber ball and a new book. Then we strolled around from shop to shop, bought some candy and some gingerbread, and left for home.
   Kerki was the first town I had ever seen.