MY FATHER

   My father was broad-shouldered, with a round face and reddish beard. On the surface he appeared slow-moving and staid, but the fact was that he concealed his agility and quickness from others. This he reserved for the steppe, the hunt, and for work - my father was a cowherd.
   When I was a young boy I saw my father only rarely. I was still dreaming those sweet early morning dreams when he left with the herd, and when he returned home in the evening I was already sound asleep.
   I really came to know my father only when I started going to school. He taught all of his children, although he himself was neither able to read nor write. The only thing he was able to do was to write out his name, Tangrykuli, in Latin letters. By the time he had finished, his tongue was always blue. He wrote with indelible ink, and before writing down each letter he would always dab the pen on the tip of his tongue.
   I knew that when Father paced around the house clearing his throat, or sat down and took off his fur hat and rubbed his shaven head it was a sign that he was in a good mood. I could approach him botdly and request anything at all. But if he averted his eyes and kept rubbing his hands together it meant he was upset or angry. At those times it was better to stay out of sight altogether.
   To tell the truth, this was something I learned only gradually, over the years.
   "Devil's wheels", motorcycles, automobiles, trucks, heavy-duty tractors; new tempos, new ways, new expectations. We ceased dreaming of magnificent racehorses and began dreaming about machines.
   The three of us - Yazli, my elder brother and I - built a four-wheeled cart. It even had a steering-wheel. We would roll our wonder cart up to the top of a high hill and coast down to the bazaar. We couldn't have dreamed of a better place to go. At the bazaar we saw throngs of people; there our parents bought us treats and new clothes.
   Our cart was the envy of all our friends, and we gave rides to all who asked. But once little four-year-old Chary came trudging up the hill and asked for a ride. I refused: the ride down wasn't entirely risk-free - the cart could capsize and one could easily end up with a broken arm or leg.
   "You can't ride," I said. "Wait till you're bigger."
   That evening Chary's father paid us a visit.
   "Your Kayum bullies the smaller children," he told my father "He hit Chary. The boy's still in tears over it."
   I tried to explain what had really happened, but my father wouldn't even listen. He gave me a whipping right on the spot, so that Chary's father would have no doubt that the guilty party had been duly punished.
   Chary's father calmed down and upon leaving, turned to me and said:
   "If I hear of you misbehaving like that again, I'll have your hide!"
   I was already going on eight. I feared neither the corsak nor the jackal, but that day I learned to fear deceitful people. People who told lies.
   And the surprising thing is that this bitter lesson had a continuation which was just as unpleasant.
   Next to the livestock pens there was a smooth, vacant lot where after school all the kids would play Lapta, a game similar to baseball. Our ball was made of rags and bounced poorly, but everyone loved this fast-paced game.
   I was seldom chosen to play as I was little and easy prey for the older, more experienced boys. Once someone brought a yellow rubber ball from town. If you hit it against the ground in would shoot back up over your head. That day I had been left out of the game as usual. I stood at the sidelines and watched with envy as the older boys played. All of a sudden someone gave the ball a real wallop and it landed right at my feet. I caught it on the rebound - fleecy,
outlined with four bright red bands, tight as a spring - I held the wonder-ball in my hands and just couldn't get enough of looking at it.
   "Throw it here!" the others yelled.
   "If you don't let me play I won't give it back!" I shouted.
   "You can play when your legs get longer," they responded. "Let's have the ball."
   I took a big swing and threw the ball over the fence into the farmyard.
   The ball's owner came running over and gave me a well- deserved slap. All of a sudden I remembered the incident with Chary and ran home as fast as my legs could carry me.
   "Papa!" I cried, bursting into tears. "One of the boys hit me, and he's bigger than me. Let's go and let him have it!"
   I thought that Father would go rushing off to avenge the culprit who had made his son cry, but Father just sat there calmly drinking his tea and acting as if he hadn't even heard me.
   "Papa!" I howled. "They beat me up!"
   "If you don't want to be beaten up, play with kids your own age and leave the older boys alone." With these words, he turned his back on me entirely.
   I stood there for a while, and then left.