My Gift: 
A Story Just for You

Everyone in the village knew the Usurer, a rich and smart man. Having accumulated a fortune over the years, he settled down to a life of leisure in his big house surrounded by an immense garden and guarded by a pack of ferocious dogs. But still unsatisfied with what he had acquired, the man went on making money by lending it to people all over the county at exorbitant rates. The usurer reigned supreme in the area, for numerous were those who were in debt to him.

One day, the rich man set out for the house of one of his peasants. Despite repeated reminders, the poor laborer just could not manage to pay off his long-standing debt. Working himself to a shadow, the peasant barely succeeded in making ends meet. The moneylender was therefore determined that if he could not get his money back this time, he would proceed to confiscate some of his debtor’s most valuable belongings. But the rich man found no one at the peasant’s house but a small boy of eight or nine playing alone in the dirt yard.

“Child, are your parents home?”

“No, Sir,” the boy replied, then went on playing with his sticks and stones, paying no attention whatever to the man.

“Then, where are they?” the rich man asked, somewhat irritated, but the little boy went on playing and did not answer.

When the rich man repeated his query, the boy looked up and answered, with deliberate slowness, “Well, sir, my father has gone to cut living trees and plant dead ones and my mother is at the market place selling the wind and buying the moon.”

“What? What in heaven are you talking about?” the rich man commanded. “Quick, tell me where they are, or you will see what this stick can do to you!” the bamboo walking stick in the big man’s hand looked indeed menacing.

After repeated questioning, however, the boy only gave the same reply. Exasperated, the rich man told him, “All right, little devil, listen to me! I came here today to take the money your parents owe me. But if you tell me where they really are and what they are doing, I will forget all about the debt. Is that clear to you?”

“Oh, sir, why are you joking with a poor little boy? Do you expect me to believe what you are saying?” For the first time the boy looked interested.

“Well, there is heaven and there is earth to witness my promise,” the rich man said, pointing up to the sky and down to the ground.

But the boy only laughed. “Sir, heaven and earth cannot talk and therefore cannot testify. I want some living thing to be our witness.”

           Catching sight of a fly alighting on a bamboo pole nearby, and laughing inside because he was fooling the boy, the rich man proposed, “There is a fly. He can be our witness. Now, hurry and tell me what you mean when you say that your father is out cutting living trees and planting dead ones, while your mother is at the market selling the wind and buying the moon.”

Looking at the fly on the pole, the boy said, “A fly is a good enough witness for me. Well, here it is, sir. My father has simply gone to cut down bamboo and make a fence with them for a man near the river. And my mother. . . . oh, sir, you’ll keep your promise, won’t you? You will free my parents of all their debts? You really mean it?”

“Yes, yes, I do solemnly swear in front of this fly here.” The rich man urged the boy to go on.

“Well, my mother, she has gone to the market to sell fans so she can buy oil for our lamps. Isn’t that what you would call selling the wind to buy the moon?”

        Shaking his head, the rich man had to admit inwardly that the boy was a clever one. However, he thought, the little genius still had much to learn, believing as he did that a fly could be a witness for anybody. Bidding the boy good-bye, the man told him that he would soon return to make good his promise.

A few days had passed when the moneylender returned. This time he found the poor peasant couple at home, for it was late in the evening. A nasty scene ensued, the rich man claiming his money and the poor peasant apologizing and begging for another delay. Their argument awakened the little boy who ran to his father and told him, “Father, father, you don’t have to pay your debt. This gentleman hare has promised me that he would forget all about the money you owe him.”

“Nonsense,” the rich man shook his walking stick at both father and son. “Nonsense, are you going to stand there and listen to a child’s inventions? I never spoke a word to this boy. Now, tell me, are you going to pay or are you not?”

The whole affair ended by being brought before the mandarin who governed the county. Not knowing what to believe, all the poor peasant and his wife could do was bring their son with them when they went to court. The little boy’s insistence about the rich man’s promise was their only encouragement.

The mandarin began by asking the boy to relate exactly what had happened between himself and the moneylender. Happily, the boy hastened to tell about the explanations he gave the rich man in exchange for the debt.

“Well, the mandarin said to the boy, “if this man here has indeed made such a promise, we have only your word for it. How do we know that you have not invented the whole story yourself? In a case such as this, you need a witness to confirm it, and you have none.” The boy remained calm and declared that naturally there was a witness to their conversation.

“Who is that, child?” the mandarin asked.

“A fly, Your Honor.”

“A fly? What do you mean, a fly? Watch out, young man, fantasies are not to be tolerated in this place!” The mandarin’s benevolent face suddenly became stern.

The boy leaped from his seat. “Yes, you Honor, a fly. A fly which was alighting on this gentleman’s nose!”

“Insolent little devil, that’s a pack of lies!” the rich man roared indignantly, his face like a ripe tomato. “The fly was not on my nose; he was on the housepole . . . “ But he stopped dead. It was, however, too late.

The majestic mandarin himself could not help bursting out laughing. Then the audience burst out laughing. The boy’s parent’s too, although timidly, laughed. And the boy, and the rich man himself, also laughed.

With one hand on his stomach, the mandarin waved the other hand toward the rich man:

“Now, now, that’s all settled. You have indeed made your promises, dear sir, to the child. Housepole or no housepole, your conversation did happen after all! The court says you must keep your promise.”

And still chuckling, he dismissed all parties.

Kenneth Foster


The Fly  
(a Vietnam story)

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