nce upon a time, a worker who was very poor found some work as a fisherman's helper. He was paid a few fish a day, and this kept him and his wife alive, though barely.
One day the worker caught an especially pretty little fish. As he turned it over in his hands, he thought, "Why, what a marvelous fish this is!" Suddenly the fish spoke to him, in a human voice.
"See here, brother man! Just moments ago I was playing with my friends, and I got caught in your net. Now here I am in your hands, suffering and probably dying! My parents and my playmates must be searching for me and worrying terribly about me." Now the fish was gasping. "Please have pity on me. Throw me back into the water!"
The worker gazed at the marvelous talking fish. Could it be true? Was it possible that a fish lives a life filled with joys and sorrows, also? He quickly threw the fish back into the water. "All right, my pretty little fish, go along and play again -- I don't want your parents and friends to worry any more about you!"
When the worker's boss, the fisherman, saw this, he became very angry.
"You fool!" he yelled to the worker. "I hired you to catch fish, not to throw them back into the water! You're a worthless fool! Begone with you -- I don't ever want to see you again!"
And the poor worker walked sadly home. "What shall I tell my wife?" he wailed, dreading what would happen to them without his job.
He was walking along the road plunged in his unhappy thoughts, when suddenly he saw a Monster in human shape coming toward him. The Monster was driving a very fine cow before him.
"Good day, brother," said the Monster. "Why do you seem so sad?"
The worker told him his story.
"See here, my friend," said the Monster. "I'm going to do you a favor. Do you see this cow? I'll let you keep her for three years. She'll give you plenty of good milk every day, and you and your wife will never go hungry. But listen carefully to this condition: When three years have passed, I will come and ask certain questions of you. If you answer them correctly, the cow will be yours. But if you don't, then I'll take both of you along with the cow, and do whatever I want with you. So -- do you accept?"
The worker thought, "I suppose it's better to take the cow now than to go hungry. At least we'll be able to sell the milk and live for three years, and then we'll see what happens. Maybe we'll be lucky enough to answer those questions." So he accepted the terms, took the cow and went home relieved and happy.
Indeed, the cow gave plenty of good milk, enough for the worker and his wife to drink and to sell, and in this way, provide the necessities of life.
In the evenings, the worker and his wife would often sit together at their door, thinking about the Monster. They tried to imagine what the answers might be. But as they had no clue what sort of questions the Monster would ask, they would always end their sessions with a sigh and go to bed with troubled hearts. Day by day, the end of the three years grew closer and closer.
One evening, a handsome youth came up to them.
"Good evening!" he said. "I am so tired, and it is getting dark. If you please, may I spend the night under your roof?"
"Of course you may, only tonight you must know that something terrible is going to happen to us! Three years ago, we took a cow from a Monster. He told us we could keep the cow for three years, but at the end of that time he could come and ask us some questions. If we answer those questions correctly, then the cow will be ours to keep, but if we can't then we will become the Monster's prisoners forever. So if you stay with us tonight, be careful that no harm comes to you!"
"I see," said the youth. "Well, if it is all right with you, I'd just as soon stay the night." And so he did.
Exactly at midnight, a loud knock was heard at the door.
"It is I, the Monster! Three years have passed. The time has come to answer my questions!"
"We'll never be able to answer them!" wailed the poor worker and his wife, clutching at each other's shoulders.
Suddenly, the youth stepped toward the door. He said to them, "Don't worry, I'll answer for you."
"I'm here, waiting!" growled the Monster outside.
"And I'm here also," calmly answered the youth behind the door.
"Very well, then," said the monster. "Where are you from?"
"I'm from the other side of the sea."
"How did you get here?"
"Riding a lame flea!"
"Then the sea must have been very small?"
"Not at all. Even an eagle couldn't fly across it!"
"Then that eagle must have been a fledgling?"
"Not at all. The shadow of his wings would cover a whole city!"
"Then the city must have been very small?"
"Not at all. A hare couldn't run from one end of it to the other."
The Monster was speechless. It didn't know what other questions to ask. He stood there silently at the door for some time, then disappeared into the darkness.
The poor worker and his wife were overjoyed. They and the youth celebrated until dawn.
When dawn was breaking, the youth said it was time for him to take his leave.
"Oh, no, we can't allow you to go!" cried the couple. "You saved our lives. Tell us what we can do to thank you."
"You don't have to thank me," replied the youth. "I must be on my way." "At least tell us who you are!" begged the worker.
"If you must know," said the youth, "A kindness is never lost, even if you throw it into the water. I am that little talking fish that you threw back into the sea!"
Having said these words, he vanished.
The story "The Talking Fish" is adapted from a story of the same name from Armenian Folk Tales by N. W. Orloff (Colonial House: Philadelphia, 1946), pp. 27-31.
Adapted by Elaine L. Lindy © copyright 1999-2000. All rights reserved.
2000 Elaine Lindy -- All rights reserved.
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 344
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