It is now late in the afternoon. The kindergartner and I get onto the boardwalk at Lower Peirce Reservoir, treading gingerly, the raindrops still dripping heavily from the branches of the tall, skinny trees. I have Ninja in a flimsy black bag. She’s trying to dig her way out of it, and almost succeeds in falling out of a hole in the side of the bag that I haven’t noticed. It’s just rained heavily, a passing storm, which has almost caused us to scrap our plans to release the creature. But I urgently wanted to get this done, because Ninja – a Malayan box turtle we found crossing the road near the Sembawang Air Base on a hot and dusty afternoon – hasn’t eaten or drunk anything since we picked her up two days ago.
“Two friends say lettuce!” “My eldest son had two tortoises and they loved bok choy!” “Try kangkong. All tortoises eat kangkong.” “Warm water is best, soak her in it.” Nothing has worked. With the large tortoise continuing to ignore offers of food and water, I have been starting to feel paranoid about waking up the next morning to find her dead. While the kindergartner and I spend the morning considering our options, the reptile fights my decision to leave her on our open balcony, crawling inside the apartment to sit, unmoving, near us: at the inside corner underneath the sofa, facing our feet; under the dining chair, an arm’s length from us. By the end of lunchtime, we are beginning to feel attached to the gentle and beautiful animal. I initially thought that she was an abandoned pet, but the dried grass stuck to the back of her shell, when I first found her, is evidence to the contrary.
Meanwhile, our pet horse Pinky is feeling forlorn because the kindergartner has of late been less interested in her. The arrival of Ninja has, of course, exacerbated the sense of neglect, and she has been uncharacteristically quiet. “Russell,” she cries every evening into his ear in bed, “remember we are best friends? Can I sleep on your head tonight?” “I don’t like you anymore,” the kindgergartner would say, positioning his fingers in the shape of a pistol: “Beum! You’re dead.” “But why?” Pinky would ask desperately. “Because,” he invariably replies before pounding her with a clenched fist. With Ninja around, Pinky has become even more diffident. “Do you still love me, Russell?” she whines from time to time, but the kindergartner continues to ignore her.
Now, Pinky is perched on my shoulder as we approach the streamlet. “Are you really letting the turtle go?” she whispers into my ear. “Yes,” I reply, stroking her gently with my cheek. “The aquarist says she’s from the wild and best released here.” I know what she’s thinking, but I do not verbalise it for her. We arrive at a point where the boardwalk is low enough for me to reach the forest floor below. I take Ninja out from the bag. The kindergartner and I tell her goodbye and good luck, and I squat to place her onto a patch of wet leaves. When we look again, she’s disappeared under the wooden planks. The kindergartner is quickly distracted by the other things he’s seeing for the first time in the forest. I think I hear Pinky sigh, but I cannot be sure. I pat her on the head.
That evening, the kindergartner cries. “I miss turtle,” he says. I am surprised that our rescue project has turned into a lesson about letting go. I hug the small boy, allowing him to express his sadness. “I miss turtle,” he repeats, tears flowing down his cheeks. Pinky watches tentatively. “I’m here, Russell,” she finally says, softly. The kindergartner sobs harder, pulling Pinky towards him, holding her close.
Singapore-based editor and writer Jocelyn Lau is currently working on producing a collection of short verses based on bringing up a small boy. She is also hoping that this series of short fiction about her family’s imaginary pink horse will eventually become a publishable book. Visit https://www.kucintabooks.com.