THE GAZELLE



   All these stories about Shyrdak which you've just read were previously published in the papers. Once a stranger came to pay me a visit.
   "I'm one of your readers," he said, introducing himself. "I want to tell you about my encounter with Shyrdak."
   "As far as I know," I said, "Shyrdak only reveals himself to children."
   "It's about something that happened in my childhood that I've come to tell you," the man replied with a smile.
   I invited him to take a seat on the carpet and brought him some green tea.
   The story he told me rang true, and so I wrote it down and included it in this book.
   "My name is Meilis," my new acquaintance began his story.
"My father was a hunter. Once he brought home in his rucksack a creature much like a small kid. It was a young gazelle. Father had found it all alone in the steppe-it appears ill-fortune had befallen its mother. Luckily, our nanny-goat had just given birth to kids, and we brought her the gazelle to nurse. At first the nanny-goat would drive it off, but then it seems she took pity on it and began to nurse and care for it. Now she had four kids instead of three. We all loved the gazelle, and it was affectionate with us in return. Summer passed, and then autumn and winter, and one morning in the spring the gazelle ran off into the steppe and didn't return. The nanny-goat bleated piteously, and I even cried. I remember waking in the middle of the night, thinking I had heard a voice saying: 'Don't grieve! Your gazelle will be back. I'll bring it back myself!' And sure enough, on the third day the gazelle returned home. 'I wonder who it was that talked to me in the middle of the night,' I thought to myself, and came to the conclusion that it must have been some sort of a kind sorcerer.
   "But after it had had a taste of freedom, our gazelle was no longer the same. It would shy away when I tried to embrace it.
   "'The next time it won't be back,' my father said, and he tethered the gazelle on a rope.
   "Time passed, and one day some guests came to stay with us.
   " 'Tomorrow I'll treat you to some gazelle meat!' my father said to his friend.
   "That night I lay awake for a long time. And suddenly in a moonbeam I saw a tiny man in a quaint cap.
   My name is Shyrdak,' he said. 'What are you lying here for?
Don't you know what's in store for your friend the gazelle tomorrow?
Do you think I brought him back from the steppe for that?'
   "I jumped up and tried to get a better look at the little man, but he had vanished. Then I crept quietly out of the house, made my way to the livestock pen, and unfastened the rope around the gazelle. I scratched him behind the ear in parting and gave him a hug, and I could h'ear the wild pounding of his heart.
   "I can remember how he ran away into the steppe. Day was breaking, and the dust flew up from his swiftly pounding hooves in a fine mist. I was filled with both sadness and joy."
   This is what Meilis told me about Shyrdak. In including his story in my book, I hope to hear from other readers who may have seen Shy rdak, or may even have made friends with the tiny man.