The Dead Lake

The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov Read Free Book Online

Book: The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov Read Free Book Online
Authors: Hamid Ismailov
was to take hot water and powdered milk to passenger trains waiting in the siding for an express goods train with important cargo to pass and sell their beverage or play the
dombra
to earn a little money. And city people from unknown lands, golden-toothed Uzbeks, yellow-haired Russians and red-shirted Gypsies gave them brand-new coins and paper roubles. And sometimes they would even receive a sweet or some city knick-knack. And once someone gave them a bar of chocolate. They shared the sweets half-and-half, but Yerzhan generously let Aisulu have all the knick-knacks, and she accumulated a whole heap of them in boxes and little drawers: lipstick, Komsomol and Young Pioneer badges, one ballpoint pen, a key ring and even a huge pair of sunglasses.
    Of course, it was rare for passenger trains to wait here; mostly they were goods trains, some with cement, some with timber where they could strip the bark, some with sand, some with china clay that they could chew instead of black tar.
    But at least once a week Uncle Tolegen’s wagon, coupled to a goods train, travelled round all these way stations that were called ‘spots’, bringing them railway bread and occasionally flour for round bread rolls, sugar, salt and tea bricks. The grown-ups, however, went out to meet that wagon themselves.
    *
    It wasn’t long before Aisulu started to accompany Yerzhan to his lessons with Petko, with firm instructions from Uncle Kepek not to get separated for a single moment. Unfortunately, Petko’s Mobile Construction Unit lay in a completely different direction from the school: if you drew a triangle connecting home, school and Petko, then Petko was right up at the apex. One afternoon, after Yerzhan had played yet another Mozart march on the violin for the school assembly and they were running late, the children decided not to go home but to head straight to Petko. They wanted to try a new route. Using Grandad Daulet’s method, Yerzhan calculated that if the sun shone into their right eye on the way from home to school, then now, in Kepek’s Russian expression, it should shine ‘right up their arse’.
    The steppe lay all around them, like a wide-open eye, mutely escorting them on their way, and an equally huge, bright eye watched them from above. Ensconced on the donkey, they weren’t frightened – no snake or steppe spider would bite them, no fox or kite would come close. Small black spots of occasional graves jutted up out of the horizon like markers indicating their route.
    But suddenly one of these spots started to move. Yerzhan quickly realized that it was a solitary wolf who had come out on his pre-winter hunt. He was lurking in the steppe waiting for prey. The boy had learnt what to do. He took off his school jumper and wound it round his hand like a flag. He lashed the donkey and waved the flag, whooping at the top of his voice. He didn’task Aisulu to follow his example, but she imitated him straight away, whirling her jumper about and lashing the donkey with it, while squealing so shrilly that Yerzhan was almost deafened. The wolf had not expected such a show. Surprised by the ambush, he turned and took to his heels, running ahead in the same direction as the donkey. Inadvertently the children found themselves in pursuit of the animal. They galloped for almost half an hour. Then all at once the wolf disappeared and at long last they saw the trailers and the excavators. They had reached Petko safely.
    They didn’t mention their adventure to the violin teacher and without any delay the lesson began. Petko taught Yerzhan, and Yerzhan almost simultaneously passed on what he had learnt to Aisulu, who didn’t know Russian and couldn’t read music yet, and only annoyed Petko. But as soon as rain started falling outside, the air inside the trailer cleared too. And when the rain turned into a thunderstorm, the teacher and his pupils had to stop playing in order to save the donkey. The animal was so terrified that it had broken free and

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