There was a girl who lived in a land of perpetual summer. She could not imagine it would come to an end sooner than she thought.
Teresa lived with her family in a huge house, surrounded by a luscious garden. She, her brother and playmates capered in the shade of massive trees and played games of make-believe where princes and princesses fought dragons and wizards and saved the day and fell in love. In that garden, where her grandmother grew fragrant roses, children and pets ran free; only the yellow, blue and green parakeets languished in a great aviary.
The garden was also home to a million wild animals. Lizards with blue stripes on their backs scampered among the bushes and butterflies alighted on the roses, flaunting the kaleidoscopes on their wings. Occasionally a rat would speed past the swimming pool and up the tallest tree, then down the top branches onto the roof of the house and find a way into the attic, and sometimes, the grownups said, you could hear their scrabbling in the dead of night.
And then, there was the ponderous, silent guardian of the land. Neither pet nor fully wild, an impossibly ancient slow tortoise they named Joanico. No one knew where he came from, he must have been there when the girl’s grandparents built the house. Everyone respected his quiet dignity as he plodded from shade to shade. Even the dogs stood back as he daringly headed toward their food, and let him take his time and eat in peace. If anybody but tried to approach, he would withdraw into his shell and wait for that person or animal to tire and go away. Time moved differently for him.
There was something Joanico favoured over dog food — the scarlet hibiscus flowers that fell from the tree-creeper. Whenever the children spotted petal-speckled ground, they knew the old guardian from the Triassic would soon materialise, and they’d titter and giggle as Joanico gobbled up one flower at a time and chewed on it at leisure. It took him hours to finish the feast laid before him. They wondered, did all members of his species enjoy flowers? They thought he may be the only one made him more special.
One day the fairy tale began to fray and dissolve before the caustic winds of History. Revolution came and shattered the fragile world the girl and her family had lived in. They left the family home for an apartment, concerned for their safety and then, when life took a turn for the worse, they boarded a plane that would take them to another continent. The children wanted to bring Joanico along, but the grownups explained he was a wild animal, and if you uprooted him he would surely die.
The girl and her brother uttered a silent goobye to their ancient friend, never to see him again.
Years later and thousands of miles away, in their new apartment, the girl’s brother brought something home she assumed was a dog bowl. But on closer inspection she found two minuscule turtles living in the odd-shaped “dog bowl”. When she was about to tease him, asking what good were pets you could not cuddle or play with, he revealed their names – Jo and Nico. He too was trying to fill a hole in his life, the one left by the mysterious hibiscus-gobbling creature that had roamed the endless yet finite passages of childhood. And she said, try to feed them one of grandmother’s flowers.
But life does not repeat itself. The turtles were not Joanico, nor the flowers hibiscus.
Decades later, the girl took her two adult sons to visit her homeland, and they went to see the old house, which looked brand new, just like before. Not so the garden — no more trees, no more lawn, no more swimming pool. She wondered what had become of Joanico when they dug his home out of the ground and paved over the generous soil. She would never know, but deep down inside a little voice promised Joanico had found a new garden where the hibiscus blossomed and other children grew up under his tutelage.
Did you know I have a book coming out soon? It tells Teresa’s story, and reveals what happened after she left her native land and Joanico behind. If you would like to learn more about her, her brother, their family — their lives, loves and struggles, their fears and their many mistakes and failings, but also their attempts at redemption and resolution, keep watching this space. I will let you know when the book is out.