All day long I fish in rain or sunshine but all I ever catch are a few fish, grumbled the old fisherman into his flowing, white beard. He pulled his striped robe tighter around his thin body, aranged his turban and set off home as the sun was setting.
‘So there you are,you good-for-nothing,’ scolded his fat wife, her arms folded. She snatched the basket he was carrying. ‘One miserable fish! Why, that’s not even enough to feed a quqrter of you, old you, old man,’ she screamed. Her black eyes were spiteful with anger.
‘Can I help it if the fish refused to bite?’ he shouted, shuffling wearily into the hut.
‘I’m tired of being poor and not knowing where the next meal is coming from,’ she went on, following him into the room. Grumpily, she banged pots and pans as she prepared their evening meal. They ate in moody silence. Outside, the drakness closed around them like a big, black cloak. Fireflies darted here and there while a lone cricket called out in the stillness of the night as the fisherman and his wife lay down to sleep.
Early next morning, the old man decided to return to the river. The larder was empty, their small store of food long finished. ‘Try and bring back at least two fish this evening,’ his wife called out.
The old fisherman set off, grumbling softly into his beard. ‘If I still had her dowry of jewels, I’d give it back and ask her father to take her home,’ he said to himself. When he arrived at the river, he sat on a log and cast his line. But the bright morning sun peeping through the treetops soon made him feel sleepy. He began to nod drowsily and soon he was fast asleep. The piercing cry of a bird woke him up. ‘Hah! What’s that? Who’s there? Come out, whoever you are,’ cried the old man.
‘Good morning, Friend,’ said a voice cheerfully. It came from the larges bird the old man had ever seen. He got up and tried to run away but he stumbled over a log and fell. ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m going to help you, not harm you,’ said the bird.
‘You wish to help me? But why?’ asked the old man.
‘I’m a Khakha bird and we always help people,’ said the bird pleasantly. The old man was puzzled and scratched his head. ‘Watch this,’ said the bird. The flapped its huge wings, rose into sky and swiftly dived in and out of the river. In its bak were three large fish.
‘You’re going to help me fish? That’s wonderful,’ said the old man, his eyes shining at the sight of the fish. ‘Life has been difficult as I’ve not had much luck fishing ,’ the old man told the bird.
‘I’ll help you fish but you mustn’t tell a soul about me,’ the Khakha bird said. The fisherman solemnly promised not to do so. All morning the great Khakha bird fished and soon the old man’s basket was bursting with silvery fish of all sizes. ‘Wonderful, wonderful,’ cried the old man again and again.
‘You go home now but each day I’ll be here to help you fish,’ promised the Khakha bird.
The old man hurried home. ‘Wife, Wife look at all this fish,’ he said. Quickly he told her what had happened at the river. “Now, not a word of this to anyone, not even a relative,’ warned her husband. They cleaned and cut the fish and cooked the pieces until they were golden brown. Then they rushed to the market square.
‘Fresh fish, cooked for sale,’ called out the fisherman’s wife happily. Soon her basket was filled with coins. ‘Husband, I’m the happiest and luckiest woman in the world to have such a clever husband,’ she told him.
Their neighbours were curious about their sudden good fortune. ‘Come on, old man, tell us. What’s the secret of your good luck?’ they teased. But to no one would they reveal the secret of the Khakha bird.
One afternoon, as they were selling fish in the market, they had to move hurriedly out of the way. ‘Make way for the mesenger of the Great Padishah,’ shouted a soldier, elbowing his way throughthe crowded market. ‘Hear ye! Hear ye! A message from the Great Padishah. He will reward anyone with half his kingdom if the whereabouts of the Khakha bird are made known to him,’ cried the messenger.
When the messenger had left the market, the people cried out to each other in great excitement. ‘Did you hear? The Padishah will reward any one with half his kingdom just to know where the bird is.’
The old fisherman’s wife turned to him and said, ‘Husband, why didn’t you tell the Padishah’s messenger that you alone know where the bird is to be found?’
‘Hust, woman. You know nothingof these matters. It needs much thought,’ said the old man.
‘But Husband.... half his kingdom.... for just a bird too,’ went on his wife.
‘Be quiet, woman. We’ll discuss this at home,’ he warned.
All that night they stayed up and talked about the Padishah’s message. ‘Why, you’ll be the secondmost powerful man in the whole kingdom,’ his wife told him. ‘I’ll have a fine house, jewels...’ she sighed happily.
‘The Padishah wants the bird as a pet for his son perhaps. That must be why he wants it, said the old man.
The next day, the fisherman made his way to the palaceof the Padishah. He hadon a robe of fine silk and a new turban. ‘I’ll come on a matter of great importance. I know where the Khakha bird is to be found,’ he told the guard.
‘Come this way, Sir,’ said the guard and showedhim into the throne-room.
The Padishah sat on a high golden throne studded with precious jewels. He was surrounded by his coutiers. ‘You’ve news of the Khakha bird?’ asked the Padishah.
‘Yes, Your Excellency, but first, may I respectfully enquire as to why you wish to have the bird?’ asked the fisherman bravely.
The Padishah was known for his cruelty. ‘Old man, can’t you see that I’m blind,’ shouted the Padishah. ‘My doctors tell me that the only cure is the blood of the Khakha bird smeared over my sightless eyes,’ the Padishah went on.
‘The bird helps me and...’ stammered the fisherman.
‘I’m not interested in your explanation. Bring me the bird or you’ll pay for your insolence with your life,’ screamed the Padishah.
Four hundred of the finest horsemen in the Padishah’s guards accompanied te old fisherman to the river. They rode coal-black horses from the Padishah’s stables.
The fisherman’s wife was washing clothes by river. When she saw the soldiers, she was greatly alarmed. ‘Hustband, what’s all this about?’ she enquired ferafully.
‘Go with the soldiers and hide in the forest. Don’t come out until I give the signal,’ he told her sternly.
Then the old man took out some sweet-meats and placed them on a stone. He squatted and waited patiently. Presently,he heard the sound of flapping wings. ‘Hullo, Friend. You were not a the river as usual today,’ greeted the Khakha bird.
‘I er... I was busy...’ said the old man. ‘Here, I’ve brought you some sweet-meats as you’ve helped me so often,’ the old man said.
‘Thank you,’ said the bird and began to eat with its back to the forest.
With a heavy heart, the old man raised his hand as a signal to the soldiers. Then the grabbed hold of the Khakha bird’s leg. ‘What are you doing,Friend?’ asked the bird, puzzled. The fisherman’s wife rushed up to him and held on to his hand. The bird began to struggle.
‘Hold on to my waist, Wife, and don’t let go whatever happens,’ the old man cried out.
‘Hold on to me, Captain, and don’t let go whatever happens,’ said the women to the captain of the guard.
The soldiers formed a chain, each holding on tightly to the other. The Khakha bird strunggled more fiercely now and began to rise from the ground, flapping its wings strongly. ‘Hold on! Don’t let go whatever happens,’ the captain told his soldiers. Slowly the bird rose higher and higher. It made frightening noises and tried to free it self. The wind rushed by as the bird rose steadily to the sky.
‘Ai...eee...I feel so giddy,’ complained the old fisherman.
‘Don’t let go whatever happens,’ shouted the guard.
‘Hold on!’ panted his wife, her face red with exertion. ‘It’s all your fault,’ she panted. ‘You haven’t a sensible bone in your body, Husband, that’s what’s the matter with you,’ she scolded. ‘What will the neighbours think if they see us? I’ll be the laughing-stock of our village and it’s all your fault,’ she went on.
‘Ah, I feel so ill. This terrible wind. I don’t think I can hold on much longer...’ cried the old fisherman. With that he let go and one after another, the people came tumbling down to the earth...
The Khakha bird looked sadly at the tiny, human specks hurtling earthwards and then flapping its powerful wings, it soared high into the bright, blue sky with the wind at its back.