(a Slovakian folktale)
Once upon a time there lived a man and woman who had one son, a foolish sort of friendly lad named Ivan. Alas, the family was so poor, and times were so bad, their supplies began to run short, and soon it came to pass that they had just a few grains of millet in the pantry.
The mother was a careful woman, and so one day she said to her son, “Ivan, go to the miller and tell him to grind these grains into meal. We shall make the best of what we have.”
Ivan was an obedient boy, and he set off for the mill at once. He was careful to carry the millet in the bowl that his mother sent, but every now and then he lifted the lid to check the grains. Suddenly an unexpected gust of wind swept past, and every grain but one flew away.
Ivan quickly placed the lid atop the bowl and hurried on. He was proud of himself for saving one grain.
When he reached the mill, he said to the miller, “Please, grind this grain into meal.”
The miller shook his head, sad to see just one grain. But because he was a kind man, he added a few of his own, ground it fine, and sent Ivan home with a bowl of meal.
When Ivan arrived home, his mother was delighted to see the meal. “I’ll just cook this into porridge,” she said, and this she did. She poured the porridge into a bowl to cool, and she turned to her son. “Ivan,” she said, “guard this while I rest, for I’m tired and would like to take a nap.”
“I will, of course!” Ivan said cheerfully.
His father was already fast asleep on the hard bench in the kitchen, so the mother sat in her chair, closed her eyes, and soon she was fast asleep too.
Ivan stood guard over the bowl.
But it was a warm day, and so he opened the window. The minute he did this, a fly buzzed into the house and made its way directly to the bowl.
“I promised to guard this meal with my life!” Ivan said, picking up a stick, prepared to swat the fly.
“You won’t spoil our millet!” he said, and he swung that stick as hard as he could.
Sadly, he missed the fly, but he did not miss the bowl, and it shattered into dozens of pieces, spilling the porridge everywhere.
Poor Ivan! He was terribly furious and determined to get even with that mischievous fly.
“Watch out!” he cried, raising his stick in the air as the fly buzzed toward his mother.
He swung that stick hard, but this time he missed the fly and struck his mother. She fell to the floor, still fast asleep, but now she was asleep with a bump on her head.
Naturally Ivan was doubly angry this time, and so he chased that fly again. Before long the fly flew to the bench where Ivan’s father lay fast asleep, and that bold fly landed right on his father’s forehead.
“You’ll never escape!” Ivan cried, and this time he brought the stick down hard and fast, missing the fly but not his father, who fell into a deep, deep sleep — now with a great big bump on his forehead to match the bump on his wife’s.
“Now you’re in trouble!” Ivan shouted. No one hurt his parents, not while he was standing guard. And no one destroyed the family’s last bite of food without arousing Ivan’s ire. He chased after that fly that buzzed this way and that, and Ivan swung that stick, breaking every pot and every bowl and every glass, shattering the table legs, a chair, and a few oil lamps.
That fly buzzed round and round, and Ivan grew dizzy. After a few minutes, the fly flew toward the window.
“Not that one!” Ivan cried, for the fly was heading toward a closed window, not the kitchen window that stood wide open. “Outside with you!” he cried, throwing his stick right at the fly. He shattered the window; the fly escaped, and the stick flew out of the house after it.
When his parents woke and saw their house destroyed and felt those big bumps on their head, they looked at their son. “What happened?” the father asked.
“A thief was in the house — I chased him with my stick because he destroyed our food!”
The mother and father smiled at each other. “Thankfully we have our beloved Ivan,” they said, and that night all three said their prayer of thanks for their little family.