THE OXBOW LAKE

   Rakhim-aga, Arsian and Bubenchik followed the path along the river. It led them into the rose-willow thickets, and when they emerged, the river was already far off in the distance. But directly before them was a glimmering surface of transparent blue water- an oxbow lake.
   This was a very special lake - it took in water from the main channel and then made a loop and dropped again into the river. The current in the lake was barely perceptible; the silt-filled water of the Amu Darya settled and became as clear and transparent as spring water. In recent years the Amu Darya had receded further and further, and a large island had formed between the lake and the river, where licorice root gatherers from the village took their livestock to browse and raised melons on the fertile, loamy soil.
   Rakhim-aga, Arslan and Bubenchik stood on the bank, which was overgrown with cat's-tail.
   There was the rumble of a motor as a boat pulled off from the opposite bank. A few minutes later, after respectfully greeting Rakhim-aga, the boat-boy had seated all three in the motorboat and they were racing off along the lake towards the melon fields.
   "We caught sheatfish over there this year!" the boy shouted, pointing to a creek overgrown with reeds. "Cut off the motor! I can't hear!" Rakhim-aga yelled back.
   The boy cut off the motor. The boat immediately settled deeper into the water, and silence descended over the lake.
   "I said we caught sheatfish in the creek over there. Twelve kilos!"
   "Not bad!" Rakhim-aga exclaimed. "Did you use a net?"
   "No, we used bait. They spawned in those reeds. Their roe is like black beads on a thread, strung from one reed to another, and the fish themselves keep watch nearby. We caught a small-sized fish, Pu? it on a hook, and threw it back into the creek. It thrashed about and raised a commotion in the water, and a sheatfish appeared in a flash, afraid that the intruder might gobble up its spawn. It dove instantly after the fish and was caught. It dragged our boat all the way across the lake, and almost broke loose."
   "You can let us off here!" Rakhim-aga said. "We'll go the rest of the way on foot."
   There were tall cat's-tail bushes growing on the island, their downy crowns looking like nomad tents from a distance. Poking out from between them were the red tops of fig trees.
   "Oh!" Arslan's cry of fear was transformed the next instant into an exclamation of delight as a flock of pheasants took wing from beneath their feet, as if a fountain of precious stones had suddenly sprung up from beneath the ground.
   "Jo-coor, jo-coor!" rang out their disturbing but fascinating cry.
   "Grandfather!" Arslan cried. "I'm so glad we came here!"
   Rakhim-aga smiled and placed his hand on the young boy's shoulder. Arslan put his hand on Bubenchik's neck and they continued their walk, observing the wonders of the island.
   "Look at this reed!" Rakhim-aga said to his grandson. "It would make a fine mat. Only nowadays hardly anyone makes them anymore."
   A hare went scampering directly across their path.
   "Grandfather, was it here that you saved the hares last year?"
   "You see that slope over there with the white willow? Last spring the water flooded out everything around here. The whole island was submerged. The hares all huddled together around the willow, and the water was still rising. We scooped them all up into sacks and carried them across to the other side. When we untied the sacks they all shot out like bolts of lightning."
   Their path was blocked by the fallen trunk of an old mulberry tree.
   "Let's sit down and listen to the voice of the lake," Rakhim-aga said.
   Arslan sat down, while Bubenchik set about browsing on the leaves of the nearby bushes. The water made a gentle splashing sound, as if conversing with the bank.