I had my first pair of Red-Eared Sliders when I was in Primary 4. They were also my first “real” pets… the fishes didn’t count because they always died in a few weeks (oops). Papa brought us to Sam’s Aquarium and we got to pick our first hard-shelled friends. Er Jie chose and named hers Panicky – it was the most frantic tortoise in the entire tank, which got her attention. I chose the only tortoise hiding at the corner, away from the crowd, silently chewing on it’s own…hmmmm…brown stuff… I named it James, after James Bond – the hero of the movie I had just watched.
For the next few years, both of them would be my fellow companions. We fed them well, and they ballooned to huge, heavy critters. They were masters of escape, using their webbed feet, they were able to lift themselves out of their tanks. Imagine the surprise you would get, coming home to an empty tank, and two tortoises crawling around your living room. I would take Panicky and James to the open fields beside my void deck for walks. There, they would frolick for hours. Once, James disappeared and we were so worried. Hearing a cat’s screeching, we hurried over… I saw a cat scurrying away with James calmly retreated into its shell. Good biting, James.
Here the story gets interesting. One particular day, I left James alone in the balcony for some time. I returned to see it desperately shuffling its hind legs. Upon closer inspection, I realised its feet were bleeding from trying to dig at the balcony tiles. “James!” I cried, hurriedly returning it to the tank. Then, it struck me. That James was not a James at all. But perhaps, a Jamie… This was a huge blow to a young boy. However, I was determined to help my critter companion accomplish its mission.
Everyday then, I would take James (change name need to change on NRIC, leceh lah) for its afternoon walk in the field. Without fail, she would find the most shady spot, and begin to dig. Dig, dig, dig. She did for hours. Sometimes the ground would be too hard, and hours of digging would only leave scratches on the floor. I’d take her back upstairs back to her tank, give her a good scrub and feed her.
“We’ll try again tomorrow, I promise…”
Day after day went by. But this day, it was different. She found a quiet spot under a tree, and she kept digging for hours. Soon, it was night but she wasn’t done. The hole was considerably deep. I ran upstairs to grab a torchlight while Da Jie got her camera. It was hard to spot James as she was she blended well with the tall grass. Then… lo and behold… She laid her first clutch of eggs. I marvelled at the miracle unfolding before my eyes. Unbelievable.
After James covered up the nest, I returned to retrieve the eggs – carefully tucking them into an essence of chicken box (the green one). The eggs never hatched but nothing could be more special to a young boy. There’s just something about the way God wired us to love nature and animals, I guess.
Later on, Panicky and James would always be found outside of their tanks. It seemed the more I brought them out, the more they hated their plastic container. I could take them out of the endless fields, but I could not take the endless fields out of them. They longed for the freedom to bask in the sunlight in open fields, and nothing would stop them. The escape artistes continued their act. I found James two floors down one time (by then they were too big and mum put their tank outside). How does a tortoise get from the 4th to the 2nd? The stairs? The lift?!
The day came when Panicky disappeared for good. I was kinda upset, but I still had James, right? But the day came too, when James would disappear forever. I spent hours scouring the drains downstairs, sticking my head in, hoping to find a stuck tortoise… but it was not to be. Maybe the parents released them into a pond somewhere… but I never want to believe that. To me, they got out somehow… even if they were out there in a new pond.
Finally, I think… Panicky and James were truly free. Someday, someday, I’ll meet you again my friends. Happy World Turtles Day, Panicky and James.
The following pictures are of another tortoise that Nadine gave to me almost 3 years back. It had special training to be just like Panicky and James. I made it do pull-ups and stuff…but its interest have mainly been food pellets and dried shrimp so far.