KABLAN

“It seems that dogs too can pine for the places they know, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does.”
“It’s strange… Do dogs really have feelings like that…? Just like human beings?!”
“It turns out they do…”
[From a conversation]
That spring drastically changed Kablan: not only did his little everyday habits change, but he even started moving differently. It seemed that his whole view of the world had altered. It was strange – after all, since the puppy had first come to our home, only four months had passed. Although his whole life had been going on in front of our very eyes all that time, a puppy had changed into an adult dog almost without our noticing it, as if he had been growing up somewhere else.
Almost until the day when spring was suddenly upon us – heralded by the tiny warbler flapping in the bushes after its long flight, until that tiny herald of spring appeared, Kablan had remained an easily astonished babe. He would lay his head with its floppy ears on his paws, lie around at the threshold of our home and his gaze would catch every single happening outside in the yard: his only movement would be when he threw back his head all of a sudden, with the wary curiosity of a child.
Probably any living creature is bound to increase in size and grow up, to start thinking and then link thoughts together to form a whole pattern under the influence of events in the outside world, which suddenly invade and change its life. Kablan would have to experience a series of upheavals, which would abruptly change his character and the way he took in the world around him.
One day – probably not a very fine day for the puppy – in the early spring, my father took Kablan and clipped off his tail and the tips of his ears in keeping with local custom. He had been robbed of everything that gave him an air of spontaneous mischief and puppyish charm. It was as if I too could feel the pain, when I heard the crunch of the cartilage under the merciless knife, when my father spread out first the ears and then the tail at the threshold of our home before he cut them off. Kablan did not make a sound though. The dog just turned his sad gaze straight at my father who, once he had finished with the ears, turned his attention to the tail. Frozen in surprise, the puppy seemed not to pay any attention to the thick blood dripping from the painful wounds.
From that moment on Kablan stopped coming indoors: the threshold had become an invisible wall for him, a sad barrier, of which he was always mindful. Although it was clear that what Kablan had been through had not changed his loyalties, for several days the puppy kept looking at my father with an air of wary bewilderment. The pain of the wounds still not fully healed had evidently made its mark. Yet his love for us began to resurface and bounced back. Not even his master’s cruel treatment could undermine that, especially now that the pain was soothed by signs of affection.
Yet that day marked the end of playfulness and innocent puppyish pranks. Kablan was no longer to be seen chasing after pieces of paper fluttering in the wind. He paid no attention to the plump frisky lambs, who had in the past aroused his surprise, as if the fluffy balls had specially grown legs so that they could play with him, Kablan.
It seemed like only yesterday that the tiny puppy had shown timid interest on encountering our cat. As soon as he had noticed our orange cat, Kablan had turned into a small comic version of a circus pony – lifting up his front paws as he pranced warily towards her with smooth steps, stretching his neck out as far as he could. The puppy’s eyes had been full of friendly curiosity and there had been a mischievous smile shining in those eyes of his.
Oh yes! Kablan was a champion when it came to laughing! When I returned home after going somewhere, I would catch the smile in Kablan’s eyes as he ran out to meet me. A happy smile!
He let his soft ears hang down nearly as far as his eyes – what could he be thinking about? If you were to try and call to him now: “Kablan!” he would quickly turn round to you and there would be sparkles of laughter in his eyes. He would be laughing…
Now though, it seemed that many things had ceased to interest him. When, as before, a lamb might roll past him like a round ball or a kid come leaping towards him or a cat creep gracefully past, he would behave as if there was nothing around him: he would be thinking his own thoughts hidden from everyone else. He would lie there, remaining motionless with his head on his paws and only his eyes would focus on something – attentive and serious.
It was his eyes, as soon as they opened, that made us realize that he would be a highly intelligent dog. We were completely sure about that. When our old dog was torn apart by wolves last year, a close relative of Father’s promised to give him the best puppy from his bitch’s next litter. Although old customs strictly forbade relatives from giving each other knives, chickens or dogs, we started waiting impatiently for news. A shepherd without a dog is like a shoemaker without his last and it would be simply unthinkable to take sheep without one up into the ravines of the Karatau Mountains, where in the winter wolves used to gather in rogue packs.
The bitch gave birth to only two puppies – a son and a daughter. She had had a good supply of milk and when our little chap had been able to stand up, I had brought him to our home.
In the evening my father had returned from the pastures and subjected the puppy to a strict examination. In keeping with old customs, my father would not usually permit himself to pick up or even stroke a puppy or any young animal. He used to say: “Human poison on the palm of a hand can rob a creature of its will, kill its soul”.
Yet the first thing he did was to pick up the puppy by the scruff of his neck and hold him hanging vertical for a long time. It was hard for me not to start crying and just stand there and wait – sure that the puppy would squeal any moment. I already felt very fond of him. Yet the youngster showed true grit: his eyes as black as coals remained calm and even had a glint of curiosity in them. The next test was even tougher: my father picked him up by his ears. This time as well, the brave little dog did not flinch and stayed silent. People always said that a test like that would forge a dog’s character so that he could stand up to wolves…
“The wolves will have met their match! He’s going to be a real wolfhound!” commented my father in a satisfied, optimistic tone. “What shall we call him?”
“With a face like that…” I said: “He’s like a snow-leopard, isn’t he? So why don’t we call him Kablan then?”
“Kablan? All right… Kablan it shall be. To make sure he’s strong, ferocious and nimble… Kablan”.
That very moment the puppy suddenly looked over towards my father, wiggled his ears and we all began laughing.
“You see, you see,” said my father happily: “He responded! So he likes his name! Let him be Kablan!”
So yet another dog was to walk this earth with the name Kablan.
From that moment on till the sad day when he would lose his ears and tail, Kablan lived with all of us as just another member of the family. That meant hard times for our spoilt ginger cat. The smooth pattern of her days gave way to constant fear: banished were the carefree games, the tranquil sleeping above the stove, placid meals and outings without a care in the world. When the cat first caught sight of Kablan she rose up on stiff, straightened legs, almost starting to dance on the spot and, hoping to avoid danger, even arched her back: it looked as if her ginger coat might burst into flame any second and she began to hiss with her eyes almost popping out of her head. In that small tense body wild hatred seethed. Meanwhile the large still wobbly body of the puppy was twitching with unstoppable curiosity. That was how they first responded to each other – each animal in its own special way…
It was only in the spring when Kablan began to remain outside our threshold that the “spoilt life” of the cat was able to resume its normal routine.
By the autumn Kablan was almost a fully grown dog. He had a real ‘bass’ voice by then and there was a harder, wilder gleam in his eyes. He would survey the sheep like a true master and roar at them, as if he meant it, if they did not obey and wandered off. Only very rarely now would he let himself be distracted by a butterfly, enjoying as it were an echo of his distant childhood.
On calm drowsy days when I was able to bury myself completely in a book, Kablan would settle down next to me and make a point of resting a thick and heavy front paw on my leg. He would soon grow bored though of lying there motionless and, after a noisy yawn, he would start pushing at my leg, trying to attract attention. I would pretend that I had not noticed anything, although out of the corner of my eye I would watch his tricks. Kablan would start trying harder and harder to move my leg and in the end I would give in and ask: “What do you want little fellow?”
His happy eyes would quickly look away from me: he was like a mischievous schoolboy who, although at fault and asking forgiveness, would nevertheless be ready to forget all that had happened and to embark on new pranks.
“Are you bored? Tell me straight…” I said. It felt as if Kablan might start talking any moment.
But no answer came. Perhaps he felt shy about his puppy-like lack of restraint. His eyes stopped shining and he looked over into the distance, towards the Karatau Mountains.
I talked to my father about the amazing intelligence to be seen in the dog’s behaviour. At first my father did not really believe me, but he soon noticed it himself, after spending long periods alone in Kablan’s company. Mama was so struck by what we were telling her that she even started praying, worried that it might presage some disaster!..
One day, when we were out with the flock, the sun was shining high and steady in the sky, the sheep were nibbling at the grass and some of them had already clustered together and were dozing. As usual I was reading away. Kablan had settled down nearby. Out of boredom he started gently biting the end of my shoe and I instinctively began waving my foot from side to side – the prelude to our next game… The faster I moved the end of my shoe away from him, the more unexpected his next moves would be: he would start trying to get his teeth round my whole foot. All of a sudden I stopped playing with him: Kablan was looking at me and watching, giving me a curious look, with his large head tilted to one side. By now I was deliberately not moving any more, knowing that he was on the look-out for any movement on my part. The next thing he did was to touch my foot gently with his paw. I turned suddenly and now I could read in his eyes: “Come on, move! Let’s play!” I felt I had to go on wobbling my foot to and fro for him as I went on reading and not really showing him any attention, but that game was soon to prove boring for Kablan. He opened his mouth wide, yawned a couple of times, lay down and, as was his habit, let his head flop down on his paws and stayed put.
As I read, the time seemed to fly by without us noticing. Suddenly Kablan jumped to his feet and stood up next to me, nudging my side a little. It was clear that he wanted something more: I was still reading but not really paying attention to my book and quietly glancing at the dog every now and then. Kablan laid a heavy paw on my knee. I did not say a word. So then he placed a second paw on my knee, but I still paid him no attention. By now he seemed to be objecting to my impossible indifference and covered my book with his paw, giving me a sideways look, asking: “Well, and now what?” By this time he wasn’t smiling any more.
“Kablan, Kablan, you clever dog!” I put my arms round Kablan and hugged him.
He cheered up at last. He nibbled gently and tenderly at my hands, pulling me into his game.
By this time his eyes shone with laughter. He grabbed at my straw hat, rushed off heaven knows where and then came running back. Then he rushed off again and this time came back with the hat. He would not give it to me though: he was waiting for me to rush after him and retrieve it, but catching up with him was out of the question! The dog was sitting some way off and waiting for me to chase over to get the ‘toy’ back. I started running so as to jolly him along – I was entering into the spirit of it all by this time. Anyway Kablan would not just hand over the hat like that and so we started tussling – almost in earnest.
An enormous striped butterfly fluttered towards us and alighted right on Kablan’s nose, slowly closing and unfurling its colourful wings. Although chasing butterflies had always been great fun for him, now the dog did not pay any attention to it, perhaps just took note for the future. The butterfly had no intention of flying away though – it flapped its wings clumsily and alighted

straight on Kablan’s paw. He sat there quietly and then suddenly let out a roar: why shouldn’t he roar at a butterfly? He came down on it with his other paw and even ground his teeth.
Now I could see that he was really angry. At a poor wretched butterfly?
Ten days later we had to say goodbye to Kablan for a time.
“A dog, if it is halfway intelligent and brave, has to live in a pack for a time, with older experienced dogs. Otherwise he’ll never be a real wolfhound, he won’t be brave enough to face a wolf” was what my father had told me.
Kablan was sent off to the shepherd Bekter, who kept two fierce dogs. Every year they would kill a wolf and it was to them that our Kablan was sent. For training.
That was when it really hit me – how much I had become attached to him. When I used to go and guard the sheep on my own, that was when I felt it most of all. At first I even found myself thinking that any moment my strong, affectionate and light-hearted Kablan might appear over the mountain pass with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Although Kazakhs do not pine over dogs – or perhaps do not admit it – everyone in our household missed him in their own particular way. We all knew that but nobody said anything.
Near the middle of the summer Kablan returned. My father brought him home and the dog stayed at the threshold, like a stranger and grown-up now – completely grown-up and rather morose. He seemed bad-tempered somehow. We ran out barefoot to meet Kablan, and I wanted to throw my arms round him. Yet he did not even pay me any attention: he looked at me gloomily, as if he was gazing right through me over to the blue shadows of the horizon.
During those months in another household his coat had turned grey, like a wolf’s. Before it had been soft but now his fur was more like wire. His once round and friendly eyes were triangular and there was a cruel glint in his pupils. His chest was wide and more rounded than before, like a yak’s, and his powerful jaws reminded me of a shark. Kablan had put everything childish behind him and every trace of youthful mischief had been left seven kilometres away, in Bekter’s yard.
Kablan had turned into the kind of dog which my father had dreamt about.
Yet I had loved the Kablan that was gone, the dog who used to flare up like an angry child and who had had a smile in his eyes… There was nothing to be done, no puppy can remain a puppy for ever. Every creature has to grow up, to change and mature and later grow old. There is nothing any of us can do about that, we cannot stop it happening. There was one small thought I could console myself with: the qualities which the puppy had acquired in his cradle would stay with him throughout his life, come what may. I felt sure that somewhere in the depths of his heart there still lay hidden those traits of Kablan’s I had loved…
Soon after that Bekter called on us.
“My friend,” he said. “That dog of yours is not just any dog, he’s a lion. I have to admit that both of my dogs pale beside yours. I won’t exaggerate – I haven’t seen how he faces up to a wolf, because he hasn’t come across one yet. You need to make him feel they are his enemies. If you find a wolf-skin – you need to stuff it with straw and tease Kablan with it. He needs to learn the smell of it,” said my father’s friend as he drank his tea.
They talked away quietly, but then at the end of a pleasant conversation and after a shared supper Bekter suddenly changed the subject out of the blue: “My friend, in keeping with our customs I want to insist on my guest’s privilege, my kalma1. We have been close friends for so many years and I have never asked you for anything… just as you have never done either. So please respect my request…”
Father looked over at him with a troubled expression. Bekter went on talking, without raising his eyes from the table and twisting his mouth as he drove home his point: “My request is for Kablan. I shall pay you handsomely, whatever you ask – my horse or camel and I shall add in both my dogs to boot. I don’t often ask you for anything… Like a good neighbour, you won’t refuse me will you…?”
An unpleasant silence hung in the air. I looked at my father out of the corner of my eye. His ordinary calm, bronze-coloured face was covered with pale patches and his eyes were dull and fixed on his tea-bowl, as if he had caught sight of something interesting in it. The heavy silence continued and gradually began to seem rude. Forcing himself to reply, my father began at last to force out his carefully chosen words:
“A true friend would not ask for something that is held so dear – that is what people have been saying for years now, Bekter. There are other ways to put a friendship to the test… Ask for anything you like, I don’t mind. But not Kablan. I have to admit, I could feel this was coming and your request is hard to listen to. They say that relations between friends sometimes depend on a pinch of tobacco. Don’t take offence, my friend, but I can’t do this. They say that when God first created the dog, he ensured that dogs should share the same fate as their masters. How do you think things should be shared now? Don’t take it amiss, but I shall have to disappoint you with a refusal”.
I felt as thrilled now, as I had been frightened before.
Bekter left the house in the blackest of moods: “The love of a friend is worth thousands. You would not part with a dog worth no more than ten roubles… Sell him to me then!” He slammed the door, without waiting to hear my father’s excuses. Once again the house was full of silence.
“After all,” said my father at last. “Good relations between people should not depend on a dog…”
I knew what those last words implied. For eleven years my father and Bekter had taken their flocks out to neighbouring summer pastures and set up camp together. Our winter and summer camps had always been within easy reach of each other. This trait of Bekter’s character was something familiar to everyone. It was all too easy for Bekter to become envious of something belonging to another person and he would not rest or let the owner of whatever had taken his fancy rest either. It did not matter whether it was a horse, a saddle or simply an attractive piece of crockery – Bekter would not give up until he had acquired what he had his sights on. He would stop at nothing, he would even remind people of favours he might have done for them years  before, but in the end he would get his way. Once his goal was reached, Bekter would be the best and most considerate of friends once more. If his request was not granted – God forbid! – then his envy could turn him into the bitterest of enemies.

There had been a similar incident the year before with a saddle, which a friend had sent my father as a gift from afar. How Bekter had set his heart on that saddle! Yet he knew it was against local custom for a Kazakh to accept a saddle as a present, while its owner was still alive and that would be seen as a bad omen. Indeed saddles were regarded as something that would be handed down within the family: a father’s saddle would be handed down to his son, an elder brother’s to a younger one and so on. Only the saddle of a person who had no descendants might be passed on as a memento and sacred pledge of friendship… That was the age-old law. Bekter left the house as if for always and it took a long time before my father could calm down from that encounter. Relations only improved when my father made Bekter a present of an ancient whip with a silver handle and invited him with all his family to join us for a feast when a sheep was slaughtered…
On this occasion we could sense that Bekter was deeply insulted and would not darken our door again.
My father could not help regretting that he had ever let Kablan go and stay in another household. After the long ‘training’, the dog no longer seemed to feel he belonged. However much affection we showed him, however much I tried to hug him and pat his head, as I had like in the old days, he would move away as if he was saying: “Leave me in peace, can’t you!” He always seemed gloomy. The worry that Kablan might leave us and go back to his temporary companions was with us all the time.
He started disappearing sometimes for the whole night.
I would lie there in the dark with my eyes wide open, knowing that nobody in the house was asleep: they would all be listening for a rustling noise outside. While Kablan was not at home, we did not notice any other noises or the oppressive stillness of the night. His low, hoarse bark now seemed like protection from any kind of misadventure. Then when that low barking woke us at daybreak, all of us – even my father – would run outside, as if we were hurrying out to welcome the head of the household returning from his travels. I was naturally the first to reach Kablan and every time I was surprised to see how in the shadows of the dawn he looked more like a calf than a dog.
“Kablan, my little puppy, home from your wanderings!” I would say in a voice full of affection. Although Kablan had long stopped looking like a puppy and hardly paid me any attention, I would stroke his stiff wiry fur.
Happily Kablan’s aloofness did not last for very long. Soon he began once again to acknowledge us as his former owners. It would seem that the time he had spent ‘growing up’ had not all been a bed of roses making him forget the home where he had spent his carefree time as a puppy. This acceptance of his ‘family’ once again made us all as happy as could be.
Yet Kablan had changed. He was more independent and more of a loner than before. This we could see from a new habit of his: sometimes he might be with us all day, watching over the sheep or lying out in the sun, but towards evening he would suddenly disappear without trace.
On one occasion I decided to run after him. I caught sight of him among tall thistles: he seemed in the grip of some inner struggle. I stopped in my tracks, amazed at what I saw in front of me. Kablan lay down, without moving a muscle and suddenly leapt into the air, curled in a tight ball and then he would hurl himself up again like a straightened spring, hardly touching the ground and letting out a hoarse growl. The grass and the flowers around him were squashed and sticking out in all directions and then he suddenly snapped up something among the flattened thistles and with a jerk hurled it over towards me. The living bundle landed heavily at my feet – a badger. Torn open and flattened like some damp old rag lay the sorry badger, motionless by this time. I could see that Kablan needed more than just a badger to rent his fury on: he was still growling when he sat down beside me and looked around him with that troubled gaze of his, as if he was challenging fate itself to a fight.
I went on standing there without a sound, reluctant to call out to him and attract attention to myself. For a moment I felt that he was capable of tearing me apart just like the badger. In the end I pulled myself together and called out in a low voice: “Kablan…”
He turned round abruptly to look at me.
“Puppy boy! Calm down”, I said in my ordinary voice, but could not recognize it as it was trembling.
I was only able to recover my wits completely, when Kablan moved his eyes away and then, looking somehow rather bashful, he leaned his head over to one side as if he felt ashamed of his wild outburst.
Together we hurried over towards the sheep, who in the meantime had moved a long way off. For the rest of that day until I reached home, I kept thinking through all the details of Kablan’s recent behaviour and decided that there was more to it than met the eye. Where was he to find an outlet for all that energy and strength? At home I spoke to my father about what I had sensed: he agreed with me and started working out what might be done.
The very next day while Kablan and I were out with the flock, Father got hold of an old wolf-skin and stuffed it with hay till it was solid. Before night fell, he positioned his dummy quite a long way from the house. At dusk we set off in the same direction with Kablan. As we walked down a nearby slope the stuffed ‘wolf’ was clearly visible and Father gave the command: “Go for it, Kablan! Go for it!”
The dog looked carefully to see the direction in which he was pointing. At last he caught sight of the ‘wolf’, the hair at the back of his neck bristled and his whole body shuddered. In the blink of an eye our Kablan was flying like an arrow towards the ‘enemy’ and, seconds later, all hell broke loose. By the time we reached him, the dummy had been torn apart and there were pieces of straw scattered everywhere. Kablan, who had not yet regained his calm, was standing amidst the straw dust and rags with bloodshot eyes. It was blatantly clear from the expression of his mouth with its bared teeth that he was put out at having been presented with an enemy who surrendered so easily…

“Kablan, Kablan! Calm down now. For Heaven’s sake, calm down”, I said as I stroked the dog’s back.
It appeared that he had only been waiting for our support so as to launch once more into wildly tearing up the remains of his enemy’s skin. It was all we could do to calm down the frenzied attacker. He only calmed down and followed us home after my father had gathered up all the upsetting remnants into a sack.
Kablan did not sleep at all that night. His usual peaceful murmur had disappeared: instead there were threatening notes to be heard in deep bass growls which were a challenge to the whole neighbourhood, growls that were sent out to an unknown opponent.
It was on that day that the old bonds between Kablan and me were broken asunder.
One day in the middle of the winter that followed, tiny snow-flakes were coming down from the low grey clouds scattered across the sky – a sign that a blizzard would follow. On days like that the temperature usually rises, even fat will not grow solid. Winter clothes were already feeling too heavy and my head would sweat under a fur cap: the thaw would bring playful thoughts with it and made you want to play snowballs, roll about in the snow and laugh out loud.
My mood had been spoilt that day and it was my father’s fault: one of my school-mates in our village was going to get married and naturally both my father and I had been invited. Any shepherd is drawn to such a chance for a social gathering and a good time like that! Out in the silent pastures it can be lonely when you are on your own, especially after the noisy rough and tumble of school… At first being on my own in the winter seemed unbearable, a real torture – enough to make me howl. Yet a man can get used to anything: to the quiet, to the isolation and to fear.
Yet when you suddenly realize one fine day that Nature is not at all deaf and uncaring, after you have learnt to listen to silence and notice the leisurely rhythms of life going on around you and are no longer scared by unexpected creaking or by your own thoughts, the noisy life back in town can even seem alien, although that too is part of human life. Yet the freedom of the steppes, the mountain ridges encircling them, the plains so rich in colour, the petals of flowers and rustling branches soon become so familiar, so much part of you, that you feel they too can speak to you and you are no longer alone…
That’s what everyone says, but – even after a whole year! – I can still not really get used to it, as other people seem to have done. I keep thinking about the houses and streets in the nearby town, friends, leisure pursuits. Once you start taking time off, opportunities to get together with friends are bound to present themselves. Anyway what reason could be more important than a wedding? I started making ready to go…
Anyone can imagine the excitement with which I took my new blue suit out of the clothes chest, the suit which had been bought for me for my school-leavers’ party. It was I who brought out the reliable old flat-iron to give it the finishing touches. The night before the big day I polished my boots till they shone and imagined myself setting off in the blue suit and the boots gathered at the knee: finally I washed and even smoothed my hair down with burdock oil. I spruced up a saddle for my horse. In a word – the young stalwart was ready! I lay down again to complete my dreams of imminent conquest. All I had to wait for now was for the sun to come up and the morning frost to start melting and then I would set off.
Yet at dawn all my efforts and sweet fantasies were shattered. I had only just got up and was on my way out to the stable when my father appeared and said: “You’re not going”. He just said it like that in a deadpan voice. “You’re staying behind, it’s me that’s going”. And what was the reason?! He had run out of tobacco. He was planning to go and buy some more himself. And me? Ever since the news of the wedding had come, I’d been looking forward to it for days and nights on end. I’d prepared everything. Even my hair was tidy! And now I was to stay all alone with the sheep! Nothing I said to try and persuade him helped. After all I could bring back the tobacco myself.
My father would hear none of it. What did I know about choosing tobacco? There was nothing to be done. Only he knew what kind of tobacco was needed and all I could do was keep my mouth shut.
I took off my best clothes, banishing them from sight for ever. I deliberately did not appear for breakfast and so, feeling more hard done by than usual, I went off to lead out the sheep. I did not set out on horseback but on foot, taking a crook with me.
I trudged along after the sheep, just listening to the dull crunching of my own footsteps, while seething with rage inside. Suddenly something hurled itself on to my shoulders out of the blue, making my heart miss a beat. I fell face downwards into the snow and, as I fell, I turned round and caught sight of Kablan’s sparkling eyes. I felt like shouting that it was hardly the best moment for fooling around. How had Kablan managed to catch up with me? I had only managed to get on to my knees when Kablan threw himself at me again, trying to push me over. He started running around me and shaking his head with his tongue hanging out – just waiting for the next opportunity.
“That’s enough! Stop it! Off you go!” I shouted in a cross voice.
Kablan refused to listen. Like a young lad all ready to go on with the game, Kablan kept knocking me over into the snow each time I started getting to my feet. I was out of breath by now, feeling annoyed and clumsy. Snow had got under my shirt and I was beginning to feel really cold. After all it was hardly summer. Each time Kablan moved away a little, he would sit watching me closely, choosing his moment. If I rose to my feet he would knock me down again straight away. The sheep were a long way off by this time.
“Kablan, come on now, come to your senses! That’s enough! Quieten down a bit!” I was sure that he would obey me after all this and I got up, pushing myself out of the snow with my hands which

were red from the cold. But no! Kablan came back like some crazy calf, his tale pointing straight upwards as he leapt!
“Get out of here!”
I swung my crook at Kablan and my blow landed right on his ear. He did not let out a sound and sat down not understanding what was going on.
“Take that! Sit still now!…If a silly child wants to cry, he pulls at his father’s beard…” I shook the snow off myself and walked on in the direction of the sheep, without turning round to look at the dog. He remained there sitting on the ground, bewildered and offended.
Half an hour later Kablan was still waiting at the far side of the flock and had no intention of coming over to me. That was how we slowly moved forward through the rolling uplands, determined to ignore each other, when suddenly the sheep at the front of the flock clustered together in fright and turned in my direction.
“Kablan! Stop it! You’ve gone mad!” I shouted thinking that he was getting the sheep all worked up so as to take his revenge on me.
It was only then that I caught sight of three dead sheep with their bodies ripped open. I could feel how my hair went up on end under my cap and I was gripped by cold fear. Some of the sheep rushed in my direction and in the middle of them I could see running wolves. There were two of them. What should I do now? I had not taken a gun with me and had even set out without a horse…
Frantic by this time, I called out: “Ai-i!”. I took fright at the sound of my own voice. Kablan had come tearing over to me by this time: he could obviously also sense that there were strangers in the flock. He had forgotten my unjustified blow by this time and his eyes had a determined gleam in them, although some of his usual confidence seemed to be missing. He rubbed his side up against my leg, as if he was about to say something or simply so as to feel me at his side. He looked at me in a rather puzzled way and suddenly, lifting his face skywards, he started to howl, several times in succession.
I realized that it was hard for this inexperienced dog to pluck up courage to hurl himself into battle. Some kind of wariness held him back, but at the same time a wave of anger was rising within him, turning his muscles into strong springs and pushing him forward. It was a moment when a dog needed his master to egg him on. I had to decide there and then. There was not a moment to lose!
I gripped my crook and with a trembling voice yelled: “Kablan! Kablan!” Although the dog had been sitting by my side, the sound of my voice now spurred him into action.
“Kablan! Don’t be frightened! Go for it! Grab them! Off you go!” It was me who ran off first in the direction of the wolves.
As soon as I dashed off, Kablan seemed to get the better of his fear and shot off like an arrow towards the wolves, who had slowed down a little at the sound of my voice. When they caught sight of the hound, both the wolves seemed to calm down and launched into the fight without the slightest hesitation. After that I could not make things out clearly any more. I could not see who was where and pick things out in the free-for-all. The sheep had scattered down the valley in a panic.
Now it was me having to hurry after Kablan. As I ran I remembered what my father used to say. Every now and again he would remind me: “Even if a man has no weapon, he is still a man and an animal will fear him…”. When she caught sight of me, the she-wolf did indeed move off rapidly, but not to any great distance. She ran up on to a hillock and looked at what was going on from there. It was as if she was sure that the other wolf would be able to cope with both me and the dog in the fight to come.
God knows, how I started to swing my crook as I approached the free-for-all, but Kablan now felt sure of support and jumped on top of the wolf, knocking him over. It was all over in a matter of minutes. I saw the wolf’s eyes looking out from underneath Kablan and I took in their doomed expression. That glance may not have been directed at me, but it was me the human being who was being accused of the outcome. A moment later the wolf did manage to tear himself away and rushed off. One of his paws was giving way underneath him and there were traces of red in the fresh white snow. He was limping. That was why Kablan did not let him get very far: he caught up with him easily, grabbed hold of the wolf’s neck and then threw him to one side, as he had with the straw ‘wolf’ that evening near our house. The wolf turned head over heels a number of times but Kablan would not let him rise to his feet, growing fiercer by the minute. In the end he buried his fangs into the enemy’s neck and his own face was soon spattered with the other animal’s blood. Hoarse gasps escaped from the throat of the vanquished wolf. The beast’s final suffering was long-drawn out. His paws tensed and tried to push away the dog and his scrawny body was shuddering, while his teeth went on and on chattering but more and more slowly.
“That’s it, Kablan, calm down now”, I whispered in timid bewilderment. I tried to lever him away from the wolf with my crook. It was only then that I noticed that all was left of the crook was a small piece of broken wood.
It took some time for Kablan to regain his composure. He stood next to me motionless and dull growls were still rumbling inside him. Nor did his coat show any signs of lying flat again. His eyes still had fire in them, kept alight by what was left of his frenzied anger. It was difficult for me to make out whose blood was on him: he was covered in it and some of it was beginning to dry and had the colour of rust.
It was only now that I suddenly remembered the she-wolf, but her tracks had long grown cold.
I went home and collected a cart. I loaded the dead wolf on to it and then I noticed how exhausted Kablan was. He could hardly stand. I had to load him on to the cart as well. The dog could not lie still near his dead prey and so I had to cover the wolf with a felt mat. I whispered words of endearment to Kablan. During those tense moments I caught a glimpse of Kablan’s youthful smile in his gaze, which I knew from his time as a puppy. There was not a trace of any hurt left over from the morning episode. In his gaze turned towards me I could read the devotion and trust I had known at the very beginning…

That was when I really felt guilty for my ridiculous blow with the crook. What had Kablan been guilty of? Of being in a good mood, of enjoying the thaw, of wanting to relish his happiness and strength in a game with me? How could he have known that I felt so unfairly treated by my father? I vowed that I would never give vent to anger against anyone.
By now we were approaching the house. I called out to Kablan who had calmed down during the ride and was now lying motionless in the cart.
“Hey, Kablan, did you fall asleep? Are you expecting special treatment? Get down now!”
I put my arms round our hero. I could not stop trembling as I thought back to the recent battle. It was only now when Kablan rose to his feet reluctantly that I noticed how badly his right side had been torn, as if it had been lashed with a knife, and there was a thick discharge from the wound. I called out to my mother and she washed her hands as soon as she saw the wound and the dead wolf. Then she quickly burnt part of a felt mat and sprinkled the pieces into Kablan’s wound.
It took a month for Kablan’s wound to heal. It was partly his fault that it took so long, although he did lick his wound all the time. He turned out to be a very restless patient: the first night he could not settle at all. So we decided to tie him up, but that did not help either: he loved his freedom far too much to put up with a chain. He tore at it and the wound opened again. I had to unfasten the hook and let him go free. Mother washed Kablan’s side several times, as she was afraid it might turn septic.
News of Kablan’s victory over the wolves quickly spread. Many new puppies started being given the name Kablan and my father’s friend Bekter, who still bore a grudge, repeated his old request to acquire our dog, but my father was not even prepared to listen to him this time. They parted company for good after that.
The following spring when the earth was only just beginning to rouse, we decided that we would seek out new pastures instead of the old ones we had been using for the last three years. This time we moved over into the Bakanas ravine. It was an ideal spot sought after by all the sheep-breeders in the neighbourhood. The abundant water meant there was plenty of lush grass. In the dry season we would see hardly a drop of rain in the Karatau Mountains, but here in this ravine enough water collected in the winter and spring to see us right through to the first snows. The soil was very fertile as well: people used to say that you would try and pick a blade of grass here and end up with a haystack.
Of course, there was not room for everyone to camp there and there would often be arguments. That year though it was decided by the authorities that we would have a turn in the ravine. We would be there in the gentlest season, when the earth had been washed by the rain, grass was abundant and the May beetles were just beginning to fly about in the sun. The grass was so long that, if you sat on the ground, it would hide you from sight. A few seagulls could be seen flying over the small pure mirror of the nearby lake.
By a strange coincidence Bekter’s flock appeared on the other side of the lake after we had already set up camp. The lake was like an uncrossable barrier between our two families: misunderstandings and deep-rooted quarrels made sure that each family kept to its allotted site. Human failures at mutual understanding did not apply to the dogs, however: Kablan, who had grown up in Bekter’s pack, met up with his old friends and soon relished their company again.
Yet Kablan did not really seem his old self after we moved to these new pastures. Whether he was out with the sheep or by the threshold of our yurt, he would lie motionless and out of sorts, with his head resting on his outstretched paws. He was noticeably thinner than before and his fur, which had not yet finished moulting, was hanging in tufts on his concave sides. We were worried that he might be ill, but every now and then he would indulge in a bit of wild fun and his playfulness would prove irresistible… I drew my father’s attention to his behaviour, but my father was not able to understand it either.
In addition to everything else, Kablan started disappearing at night again. Just as before, when he was an ‘unpredictable teenager’, we would listen out at night for any rustling sounds as we waited for him to come back.
One day when I went outside early in the morning Kablan was standing right on the threshold. It was not clear if he wanted to come in, or whether he thought he ought to step back: he was clearly wrestling with an urge to step across it. I could sense his wish to be with us and only painful memories from the past held him back from crossing the wretched threshold. I understood all that and tried to caress him at least with words: “Kablan, dear fellow, where have you come back from?…”
Kablan’s belly was wet and it was obvious that he had come back from somewhere far away. When he caught sight of me he went running over to the tent, where we kept grain and salt and then he came straight back to me again. I could not believe my eyes: he was holding my old fur cap in his teeth. My cap which had been forgotten back home when we had set out for the new pastures. Kablan was standing there proudly: his eyes were shining with their old smile, as if he could sense my surprise and happiness. Yet he really was able to sense the moods of everyone in the family. I accepted the cap from him as if it was a very special gift.
“You clever dog, a dog like no other!” I stroked his forehead and scratched him behind his ears. I put on the cap and asked: “Well, does it suit me?”
Kablan gave me a good-natured look and then turned his eyes away. Did he really understand that the cap was mine and no-one else’s? I did not get round to asking those questions because Kablan, who now considered the matter closed, ran off nimbly to the sheep without a care in the world. He was like a little boy proud after successfully carrying out an errand.
It was after the cap episode that we realized where Kablan used to disappear at night.
I asked my father: “It seems that dogs too can pine for the places they know, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does”.
“It’s strange…Do dogs really have feelings like that… just like human beings do?!”

“It turns out that they do…”
“People are drawn back to the places where they grew up and dogs to places where they were properly fed”. Perhaps that saying applied to all other dogs, but Kablan was different.
It has to be said that living creatures sooner or later do grow used to the conditions they live in. After all, out here in this new setting Kablan still had us and his familiar work. Gradually he grew accustomed to the new pasture and he also had his furry neighbours for company, despite the bad relations between the two families: that meant that there was always a good deal happening around him and plenty to do. Despite the strength and cruelty Kablan had displayed in the fight with the wolves, he remained a trusting dog and probably regarded Bekter’s yurt as his second home: he would sometimes wonder over there to pay that family a visit.
We had been out in the new pastures for more than a month when suddenly a marked change came over Kablan. The disaster struck without any warning and we could not understand where from. A dog, who had been healthy and full of life the day before, came over all forlorn in the space of a single day. His eyes turned dull and his sides seemed to cave in. When it was time for him to go out to the flock, Kablan rose to his feet but was out of breath and flagging.
“My God, what’s the matter with him? He’s like a helpless child!” cried my father in a wretched voice, as he surveyed Kablan.
“Kablan, darling dog, what’s the matter with you? Tell us what it is”, I said as I went up to him.
Kablan did not make a sound. He just turned his head to the left with a little yelp we could hardly hear. My father and I looked at each other, really worried by now: for as long we could remember Kablan had never made a fuss about trifles.
“My God, something’s up with him” said Father, his face pale with fear by now. “Kablan, are you in pain? Tell us, let us know, my friend…”
My father stroked the dog, scratched him behind his ear, but Kablan did not respond at all to that caress. He just moved his head away.
Things got worse with each passing day. Kablan started refusing food. We did not prepare anything separately for the dog. We fed him from the family pot. You cannot say that he was fussy, but sometimes in the past if there had not been enough salt or something else in his food, he might have raised his head from his bowl and looked at us reproachfully, as if to say: “The food you give me nowadays is no good at all!” That was the Kablan we all knew: his good appetite and sleek coat had shown how healthy he was.
Now Kablan was not paying any attention to his food, although we picked out the best pieces of meat specially for him. Everyone was walking around miserably. Nobody dared voice the fear out loud that he might die despite everything.
During those worrying days of his illness we set up a little shelter of branches for him and tied up Kablan so that he should not go off and stay out too long in the sunshine. We took his food over there and it made me desperately sad to see how thin Kablan was, unrecognizably so. As I looked at him, I could hardly imagine any more the dog he had been just a few days before. Meanwhile he was wracked with coughing fits as if he was choking over something that was stuck in his throat.
I quickly ran back into our yurt and told Father about his coughing. His eyes almost popped out of his head and he slapped his knee in horror:” What? What are you saying?”
Without waiting for an answer, he hurried over to the shelter. Kablan was again wracked by coughing, as if he was dragging the cough out of his stomach. My father turned blue with fury and his face was distorted, as if gripped by a spasm: “Damn them!” he shouted. He passed the palm of his hand gently across the dog’s belly, first pressing and then letting go. Kablan, meanwhile, whined in distress and shook his head.
“Son of a bitch! Who could have done that! And where?! How could he be such a heartless devil?”
My father’s lips were shaking and I felt my blood run cold.
“What’s happened, Father?” I asked quietly.
“Those devils have put a needle in his food. He’s swallowed something…”
Surely not? Surely that could not be true?! My hair stood on end and a cold shiver ran through my whole body. So that was why the poor dog was fading away before our eyes: they’d given him food with a needle in it! Who could have done it? We knew everyone out here and there were no other dwellings nearby. But nobody would admit anything like that unless they were caught in the act… Poor Kablan, the innocent victim caught up in human feuds!
The next day around twelve o’clock Kaban grew agitated and started to whine plaintively, in despair. He began to gnaw clumsily at his chain. Listening to that whining and squealing was more than we could bear…
“Let him go,” said my father. “He’s a free dog after all, why should we tie him up… let him stay free”
Those words made me turn cold all over.
“What…what d’you mean? Is he going to die?”
My father did not reply. He just made a determined movement with his chin in Kablan’s direction – telling me to unchain him.
I walked over to Kablan. He whimpered as I approached. I could read a question in his eyes: “Well master, kind master, tell me… Tell me what’s happening to me? D’you know where the pain’s coming from? Surely it’s not the end… I’d only just started living…”
The poor dog did not know that he had become the innocent victim of black envy. That was something he would not understand. What can Nature know about human envy and hatred. Nature does not distinguish between beloved children and step-children. Nature does not mete out revenge…
I had hardly released Kablan from his chain before out of old happy habit, he tried to run round the shelter, but after a few steps he lay down again and rolled over on to his side, weakly stretching out his paws and yelping pathetically. By evening he seemed calmer. Every now and was wracked with coughing fits as if he was choking over something that was stuck in his throat.

I quickly ran back into our yurt and told Father about his coughing. His eyes almost popped out of his head and he slapped his knee in horror:” What? What are you saying?”
Without waiting for an answer, he hurried over to the shelter. Kablan was again wracked by coughing, as if he was dragging the cough out of his stomach. My father turned blue with fury and his face was distorted, as if gripped by a spasm: “Damn them!” he shouted. He passed the palm of his hand gently across the dog’s belly, first pressing and then letting go. Kablan, meanwhile, whined in distress and shook his head.
“Son of a bitch! Who could have done that! And where?! How could he be such a heartless devil?”
My father’s lips were shaking and I felt my blood run cold.
“What’s happened, Father?” I asked quietly.
“Those devils have put a needle in his food. He’s swallowed something…”
Surely not? Surely that could not be true?! My hair stood on end and a cold shiver ran through my whole body. So that was why the poor dog was fading away before our eyes: they’d given him food with a needle in it! Who could have done it? We knew everyone out here and there were no other dwellings nearby. But nobody would admit anything like that unless they were caught in the act… Poor Kablan, the innocent victim caught up in human feuds!
The next day around twelve o’clock Kaban grew agitated and started to whine plaintively, in despair. He began to gnaw clumsily at his chain. Listening to that whining and squealing was more than we could bear…
“Let him go,” said my father. “He’s a free dog after all, why should we tie him up… let him stay free”
Those words made me turn cold all over.
“What…what d’you mean? Is he going to die?”
My father did not reply. He just made a determined movement with his chin in Kablan’s direction – telling me to unchain him.
I walked over to Kablan. He whimpered as I approached. I could read a question in his eyes: “Well master, kind master, tell me… Tell me what’s happening to me? D’you know where the pain’s coming from? Surely it’s not the end… I’d only just started living…”
The poor dog did not know that he had become the innocent victim of black envy. That was something he would not understand. What can Nature know about human envy and hatred. Nature does not distinguish between beloved children and step-children. Nature does not mete out revenge…
I had hardly released Kablan from his chain before out of old happy habit, he tried to run round the shelter, but after a few steps he lay down again and rolled over on to his side, weakly stretching out his paws and yelping pathetically. By evening he seemed calmer. Every now and then we would go out to his shelter to see how he was. When night fell, I went out once more to check that he was there.
But Kablan had disappeared.
“Papa, Kablan’s gone…” I said as I came back inside, hardly able to get the words out.
“What d’you mean – gone?” By this time my father was talking to himself in a tone that was almost calm and slightly irritated, as if he was accusing himself.
“We shouldn’t have let him off the chain. I hope to heaven nothing happens to him. Take a horse and go and look for him”.
I searched the whole area as far as Kablan could possibly have gone. I even went over to see Bekter, despite everything. Kablan was not there either.
As dawn broke, Father set off to search as well. I stayed at home. When the sun was overhead, Father returned. When I heard the thud of hoofs, I hurried outside, but my father had already dismounted and was laying Kablan down on the ground by his shelter.
He did not need to tell me what had happened. I could tell by the way he was holding the dog by his paws. Kablan now seemed such a long and pathetically thin dog. He looked like a rubber toy with all the air let out of it. Once more, confronted by that body, I felt so guilty and I froze over inside.
The Kazakhs have a saying that “A good dog never shows you his corpse”. Kablan probably did not want us to see him in his pathetic state and he had taken himself off – to the old pasture, where Father had found him. That last journey of Kablan’s amazed everyone who heard about it. What memories had driven the dog forward, what had he remembered?
By midday we had buried Kablan at the very top of the hill south of the Bakanas ravine. It was not customary to bury dogs there, but we chose to ignore that superstition because we were saying farewell to a friend…
1967
3 Kalma – the request of a guest for something which has taken his fancy, which would normally be granted (a request for a knife, a saddle, a horse, a household utensil or the like) not be refused.