My father had just driven the herd back from
the pasture. As usual, Mother brought him a cup of tea and a churek - a
flat cake-and after gulping down the tea he looked at us all with a face
more tired and drawn than usual.
"Son," he said to my elder brother, "the polled cow is still back in the thickets. She's stuck in a quagmire. I tried for hours to pull her out. I want you to come along and help.
Just as they were ready to leave, one of the village elders, a respected, grey-bearded old man, came to pay us a visit.
Father had no choice but to invite his guest to tea. They sat down on the carpet reserved for special occasions and the old man began a polite, leisurely conversation.
"We are thankful to Allah for his blessings. Let's pray that no sickness will fall on anyone. May Allah preserve us from the Evil Eye, Wicked Tongue, and Evil Spirits and Genies. Lately many have been followed by an evil spirit."
"Who has been followed?!" my elder brother chimed in: the cow had to be saved, and our guest, although a respected elder, had long earned a reputation as an idle gossip.
The old man chewed hk lips, obviously disconcerted by the young man's lack of deference. He blew his nose, took a sip of tea, placed some chewing tobacco under his tongue, and only then did he answer:
"The son of honorable Chary-aga, while passing by the devil's barn where the fire-eating devil's cart is kept, saw a camel with no neck. The brave lad took fright -as anyone would - and fell sick.
"I pass by the barn early in the morning and late at night, but somehow I've never noticed a camel without a neck, my father said.
He too was beginning to get impatient, but couldn't break the rules of hospitality, while the elder was just warming up to his favorite theme.
"Tangrykuli-aga," he said, stroking his beard, "there's nothing surprising in the fact that you never saw the camel. Genies don't reveal themselves to just anyone. When I was young I used to see them often. Once I saw a genie in the form of a woman combing out her white hair. I saw that genie in the thickets of the Amu Darya. And another time I saw a wolf genie...
"But maybe it was a real wolf!" I exclaimed. "They told us at school that genies are just old wives' tales.
"Son, don't interrupt when adults are talking!" my father silenced me sternly.
"Your father is absolutely right, young fellow, the elder began to preach. "Only a good-for-nothing, uncouth boor who doesn't mind his manners would doubt the words of an elder. If you're so brave, pay a visit to the devil's garage yourself one night. But I know you won't have the courage. You're still too little to be brave. What have you seen, besides a hot churek?"
The elder wanted to cut me down to size, intimating that I was still just a youngster tied to my mother's apron strings, because baking chureks and pulling them out of the oven is considered work fit only for a woman.
"The Evil Spirit has proliferated so because people have been dredging up an impure river.
"You mean the canal?" my elder brother asked indignantly.
"The rivers were created by God!" the elder stated with a dark frown. "People have no business interfering in Allah's work.
Only after all these old wives' tales and lectures did the elder finally state the real reason for his visit. He asked Father to take half a dozen of his cows into the herd. The old man was quite wealthy, and feared the new ways.