A minute is long enough

A minute is long enough

Human, After All

Anubha George

We were on the hunt for a tortoise that a friend gifted us. We called it Polo. He was a red-footed tortoise, a baby at seven months old. He was a gift from a friend who bred tortoises for a living.

Polo was beautiful. He was about the size of a man’s palm. He had been with us for two months. We had tiles in the house. Polo lacked grip. He’d slide around the house as if skating. The thing with pets is, you fall in love with them quickly. When they go, your heart breaks. I’ve felt like that when the dogs we’ve had before, have died. We had a pug named Shadow once upon a time. He used to eat dates with his chapatis every day. If we didn’t give him that, he’d refuse to eat. I remember crying for days when he passed away. We still mark his death anniversary ten years on.

But when Polo came to us, there was no fear of him passing. His species could live up to 50 years as house pets, way longer than a dog. Visitors were fascinated. Often, they’d ask if he was a turtle. Polo is a tortoise, we’d say. Then simplify it: tortoises live on land; turtles live in water, some or nearly all of the time. I have to admit I felt smug while educating people about Polo.

He wasn’t a big eater. He’d munch on green leafy vegetables -- lettuce and kale were his favourites. He also loved apples and juicy sweet grapes. We were settling in with Polo in our home and lives, and he with us. No, let me be honest -- we were basking in his presence. But life throws in a twist just when everything is going well, doesn’t it?

One morning, my mum & I were sitting out in the verandah. There was music playing on the radio. Polo was out, sliding around as he did. The phone rang. Mum went inside to answer it. I walked in with her to get myself a glass of water.

We left Polo alone for literally a minute, if that. We didn’t see that danger was lurking nearby. A black-faced langur, commonly found in Rajasthan. It sat there on the mango tree opposite and must have quietly observed this tiny little thing moving around. It must have jumped out, picked Polo up and ran back up the tree.

I returned. My heart stopped. Where was Polo? Then I saw the langur running across with the little tortoise. The langur turned it around, examined it, knocked on its shell, tried to pull out its neck. Then it ran away with Polo into the wilderness. A minute is more than enough for tragedy to strike. I raised an alarm. Some neighbours sprung to action. We ran after the beast. It was faster. Just as it had appeared, it disappeared into nothingness.

We figured the langur may have got bored of Polo and thrown him off somewhere. We put up posters on lamp posts and walls asking people to let us know if they saw an abandoned tortoise. We offered a reward. We were distraught.

It will be a year this March since Polo was snatched. Or is kidnapped a better word? There’s no news of Polo. No one ever called. A little tortoise was never spotted anywhere in the neighbourhood. It only took a minute for our lives to change. But then, a minute is long enough.

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