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Hovhannes Tumanian: The Talking Fish

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Translation of story by Hovhannes Tumanian

ONCE UPON A TIME there was a poor man who worked for a fisherman, in return for a few fish a day. This was all he and his wife had to live on.

One day the fisherman caught a very pretty little fish, and telling his help to put it away, waded back out into the river. As he turned it over in his hands, the man thought,

“Poor little fish! After all, it’s a living creature too. It must have parents and friends, and it surely has its joys and its sorrows, like we humans do.”

Suddenly the fish spoke to him, in a human voice, “See here, brother Man! I was playing with my companions so happy that I forgot to be careful and got caught in your net. Now my parents and my playmates are probably searching and grieving for me, and here I am, suffering and dying on land! I so want to go back into the river and live and grow in the cool, clear water. Please have pity, and throw me back into the water!” it gasped.

The man pitied the little fish, and threw it back into the water. “All right, my pretty little fish, go along and play again—I don’t want your parents to grieve any more!”

The fisherman was furious. “You fool,” he cried. “How could you let that fish get away? Begone with you, I don’t ever want to see you again. You can die of hunger for all I care.

“What shall I do now?” lamented the poor man, as he trudged sadly homewards.

He was walking along the road plunged in his unhappy thoughts, when suddenly he saw a Monster in human shape coming towards him. The Monster was driving a very fine cow before him.

“Good day, brother,” said the Monster. “Why do you look so sad?”

The man told him his story, and lamented that he didn’t know how he was going to earn a living or how he was going to break the news to his wife.

“See here, my friend,” said the Monster. “You see this cow? I’ll let you have her for three years. She’ll give you a lot of good milk every day, and you and your wife will never go hungry. But only on this condition: when three years have passed, I will come and ask you some questions. If you can answer them, the cow will be yours. But if you can’t, then I’ll take both of you along with the cow, and do whatever I want with you. Do you accept?”

The man thought a bit. “Better to take the cow than go hungry. We’ll be able to live for three years, and then we’ll see what happens. Perhaps we’ll be lucky, and be able to answer those questions. He accepted, took the cow and went home happily.

The three years passed quickly. The cow gave enough milk to feed the poor man and his wife.

Yet they would both sit at their door in the evenings, thinking that soon the Monster would come for them. They sighed and worried about it, while the fateful night came closer and closer.

One evening, as they sat there, a very handsome youth came up to them.

“Good evening,” he said. “I’m very tired, and it’s getting late. May I spend the night under your roof?”

“Of course you may, only tonight something terrible is going to happen to us! We took a cow from a Monster, on the condition that if we used its milk for three years, he could come and ask us questions at the end of that time, which is tonight. If we answer those questions, then the cow is to be ours, but if we can’t, then we will become the Monster’s prisoners. So take care that no harm comes to you.

“That doesn’t matter. Whatever happens to you, will happen to me too, said the youth, and stayed there with them.

On the stroke of midnight there came a loud knocking at the door.

“Who’s there?”

“It’s me, the Monster! Three years have passed. Now answer my questions!”

“We’ll never be able to answer them, wailed the poor man and his wife.

But the youth said to them, “Don’t worry, I’ll answer for you,” and he went to the door.

“I’m here, waiting,” growled the Monster outside.

“And I’m here too,” the youth answered calmly from behind the door.

“Where are you from?”

“From over 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 covers a whole city!”

“Then the city must be very small?”

“Not at all. A hare couldn’t run from one end of it to the other!”

“Then that hare must be a very small one?”

“Not at all. Its hide would be large enough to make a fur coat for a grown-up man, and a warm cap as well.”

“Then the man must be a dwarf?”

“Not at all. If a cock were to crow at his feet, the sound of the cock’s crowing would not reach the man s ears, he is so tall!”

“Then the man must be deaf?”

“Not at all. He could hear a deer grazing on a blade of grass, far away in the mountains."

The Monster was taken aback. He 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 man and his wife were overjoyed.

When dawn was breaking, the youth prepared to take his leave.

“No, no, we can’t let you go,” cried the couple. You’ve saved our lives. Tell us what we can do to thank you.

“You don’t have to thank me. Well, I must be on my way,” replied the youth.

“Then at least tell us who you are,” begged the man. “Do you remember the proverb that says, ‘Do good, and even if you throw it into the water, it will return to you some day?’ I am that little talking fish that you pided and threw back into the river!” said the youth. And before the couple had time to recover from their amazement, he had vanished.