When I search back through my memory for images of my
childhood, I see poplars, the dilapidated adobe walls of the old used fortress,
and Grandma Toty, who used to come and watch us youngsters and tell us
stories to keep us in tow.
I can also remember how the poor peasant folk were all issued sheep and how the new owners immediately branded them by painting special marks on their backs. So as not to confuse'their precious animals with those of their neighbors, they marked them with indelible ink. Those painted sheep are probably the most vivid recollection from my early childhood.
I also remember the time when Yazli played a trick on me. "Want to hear a story?" he asked, and began: "Once upon a time there lived a respected old man who had two sons. One of them was called Ait - 'Speak' and the other Aitma - 'Don't Speak'. Ait, bring me the hammer!' his father say. And Ait bring it. 'Ait, sing me a song!' And Ait would sing. Ait was a clever boy. But the other ... What was he called again?" Yazli clasped his head in his hands.
Realizing that I had been duped, and that there would be no more story, I burst into tears. To this day I get a surge of bitter indignation when I think of it.
And then there was the time I got my first taste of real fear. It was a warm in early spring. The leaves were budding on the trees, flowers had sprung up on the knolls, and the air was permeated with the faint, purifying smell of smoke from the bonfires that people built to clear their vegetable patches of accumulated muds and stubble. Even now I am struck with nostalgia when I catch the first hint of spring in the air - the fragrance of budding leaves, the rain-dampened earth, and smoke.
We had been sent to gather dry branches for firewood. It was already evening. There were three of us: Yazli, Djuma and I. Djuma, another neighborhood boy, was even older than Yazli, and was sometimes entrusted with a donkey to help carry the firewood.
We went to an old channel of the irrigation canal. In no time we had each gathered up a bundle and were about to set off for home when Djuma pointed to an old, solitary apricot tree off in the distance. Some sort of big birds were circling above the tree.
"Let's run over and take a look at the nest!" Djuma cried.
We grabbed our bundles and axes and took off running towards the solitary tree.
"Let's see who can make it there first!" Djuma yelled, proposing a new contest.
Yazli and I began clambering furiously through the dry branches, not even noticing that Djuma hadn't budged. Yazli beat me by a second or so. We peered into the nest and saw three eggs. They were speckled and tapered and about the size of a hen's egg. I reached out to take one of the eggs, and all of a sudden I felt something sharp and hard strike against my hat. Yazli slithered down the tree branches like a grass snake. "Kayum! Climb down! It'll hit you again!" he cried.
I scrambled down, scraping my hands and knees in the process. When I reached the ground my legs were trembling.
Djuma roared with laughter.
"Well, how did you like the carrion-crow?"
We ran off a distance from the tree and sat down to rest. The sun, fiery and crimson, was sinking below the horizon. We began hacking up old stumps with our axes, but the twilight was deepening, and soon the stars were twinkling up above. We set off hastily for home. Djuma walked ahead and I trailed along last. Suddenly a strong wind sprang up. Our bundles were prickly and heavy, and we tottered with every gust of wind.
When we came out onto the broad, dust-covered
pasture trail, I glanced back and froze: three wolves were following along
behind us at a full trot. "Wolves!" I stammered out. But instead
of taking off at a run, I sat right down in the dust. My friends had started
running, but noticing that I wasn't with them, they stopped and came rushing
over to where I was sitting.
"Get up!" Djuma yelled. "Where did you see wolves?"
I opened my eyes and pointed to the dark, stirring figures. Djuma boldly ran over and gave one of the "wolves" a kick - it was a ball of last year's tumbleweed.
We returned in high spirits, but that night I had a hard time getting to sleep. In the first place, I had acted like a coward, and in the second place, I kept trying to figure out what kind of person Djuma was. He had put us up to climbing up into the crow's nest. That crow could have picked our eyes out. But then when I had surrendered myself to the mercy of the wolves, he hadn't abandoned me, and had even escorted me to my front door. And so that night
I didn't come to any final conclusions.