‘Goldie the Turtle’ – by Manisha Anjali
‘We’ll make a fire tonight. Old Lady and I will cook you and eat you then.’
Old Man was a clever bastard. Always making something from nothing. His fingers, yellowing and callused, tightened the fraying rope around Goldie the girl child’s shoulders. The giant turtle shell was charcoal and gold, resting neatly on her bony back. Holding the shell steady, Old Man magicked a rope ribbon bow around Goldie’s middle as she giggled manically.
The shell smelled of old salt.
‘We felt like kings when we ate turtles like you,’ he said, buffing the shell lightly with his black grease handkerchief. Engraved in the shell were lines and markings of old lore, ancient battles and lost magick. Old Man leaned against his truck and watched the glow on the girl child’s face.
‘You can’t cook me Old Man!’ Goldie tugged at the rope to ensure tightness. The barefooted girl child danced wildly around Old Man with the shell of a turtle on her back and Jesus in her arms. Jesus, her companion and playmate, was a doll made of flour and a plastic bag, with rubber bands tied at the right places to form a head, hands and feet. Jesus had dumpy crooked button eyes, a ball-point grimace, and funnily enough, no nose.
‘I can cook you and I will cook you.’ Old Man laughed.
Goldie stuck out her tongue and zig-zagged around him in circles on the tips of her toes.
Old Lady watched from the tin roof of the bungalow. She was singing gospel hymns in D-minor, wiping dollops of honey sweat off her forehead with her white cotton scarf. She was on hurricane maintenance today, patching up the tin roof with bits of aluminium and wood. The girl child’s dancing shadow was beastly and strange, making Old Lady’s heart contract ever so slightly.
She took hold of her scarf, trembling. Blood. Two drops of blood. She folded the haematic cloth tightly, shoved it into her dress pocket and did not tell anybody.
‘Goldie baby!’ she called out, her pepper eyes squinting against the Sun of Paradise.
Still zig-zagging, Goldie looked up and grinned.
‘You be careful Goldie baby. You are a girl, not a creature,’ Old Lady said.
‘Can I go and play?’
‘Yes baby,’ she said smiling, then looking over at Old Man, who was now rolling a cigarette. The girl child gnashed her teeth, clicked her heels and danced off into the village square, leaving Old Lady and Old Man to stare at one another.
‘Come down here Old Lady. Come down,’ he said charmingly, licking the sticky side of the paper and lighting up without taking his eyes off of Old Lady.
‘You can’t give her proper toys?’ She sighed and put both hands on her hips.
‘We don’t even have money for petrol this week,’ he said.
‘Oh hell,’ she sighed.
‘Come down, lady.’
‘Alright Old Man. Alright.’ She wiped the new beads of honey sweat and made her way down the crooked brown ladder.
The village markets were alive with fruit of all colours. Brown skinned merchants smiled. Flies sat on the mirrors in the scales of the open mouthed fish. The girl child danced in an around the stalls. The Lady of the Oranges patted her on the head, the Prince of the Sugar Cane gave her a sweet treat, The Madman and his Donkey both grunted politely, the Cloth Merchant told her a story about the end of the world, the Milk Maid blew her sweetheart kisses and the Children of the Flowers did not even look up. On a floor of banana leaves sat a woman cross-legged making paintings with her fingers. In front of her were little mountains of clams. In front of the clams was the Son of the Clams. He dug into the dirt in front of him, fishing out a handful of dirty pebbles.
The Son of the Clams let out a brutal roar. The girl child was stunned.
One. Two. Three.
Goldie felt the stones hitting her shell. She ran fast through the markets, with the Son of the Clams tailing behind her with more stones.
‘Devil! Bastard!’ Goldie ran screaming. Though the shell protected her well, she felt as though her heart was going to burst out of her chest and writhe on the ground, gasping for blood.
‘Shame on you! Bastard!’ she yelled again as she ran haphazardly into a bush of goya summer flowers.
There was a sea meadow on the other side. The girl child crawled through the tall tawny grass using her knees and elbows, kicking at the snakes tickling her feet. Jesus grimaced aloofly. The rope ribbon was cutting into her ribs and shoulder blades. Bony, sweaty and bloody, Goldie stood up and stretched her arms to the sky and smiled at the faces in the mangrove trees. The sand was black and gold. Children who throw stones all go to hell, she thought as she curled into a little turtle ball and fell into a dream under the Sun of Paradise. She walked into the secret insides of the universe. All consciousness was seeped in wetness. All thought was in blackness. Down inky tunnels of sponge and coral she was being pulled towards a window streaming rays of a rainbow. The light led to a bed of pearls pink purple and amber. She bounced on the buoyant pearls laying on her shelled back, hypnotised by the strings of jellyfish floating overhead. Her own legs too had turned into strings, their coloured veins delicately tangled, wanting to be immersed in the tangles of the jellybloom. She saw Jesus swimming around her in circles. Goldie also swam closer to the Sun of Paradise and touched their mystical tentacles, experiencing a delightful, tickling sensation. She began to laugh, louder and louder, as the jellyfish kept stroking her hair, belly and face. The Sun of Paradise disappeared and with the Milky Way came hundreds and hundreds of baby turtles, smiling with their shiny black eyes, tickling Goldie, suspended in happiness. Goldie laughed and laughed.
Old Lady was now on her knees in the kitchen. With her left hand scrubbing the linoleum floor and her right hand clutching her heart bone, she was again lost in her gospel song. Old Man walked in, whistling. He took off his soiled boots. He watched her scrubbing and singing, waiting until she had finished her song before clearing his throat, taking in a deep breath and finally saying, ‘Old Lady, are you dying?’
Standing up with her red soap bucket and looking straight into his eyes of black oil she said, ‘I swear, I swear, I swear on Jesus the Christ and I swear on the sun and moon, that I, Old Lady, am not dying.’
‘You and your sun and your moon and your lies.’
‘It’s all we got Old Man.’
‘What am I to do when you die?’
‘Pray for the girl.’
‘Old Lady, I love you.’
‘Old Man, I am so lucky to have you.’
They waltzed in silence. She smelled of sweat and frangipani. And him, of tobacco and truck grease. Old Man pushed her against the kitchen counter top. Old Lady dropped her soapy water bucket on the wet linoleum and they were both drugged by the taste of their salts.
Goldie awoke in twilight. By now the summer flowers had closed their faces, the markets had closed and all the children had returned to their homes. She sat up and listened to the voices of the tide. All around her, little turtles were breaking through the sand. Hundreds and hundreds of turtles hatched from their eggs. Eyes barely open, guided by the moonlight, they waddled into the ocean. Goldie stared in delight. She lapped up the moonlight and licked the sand on the back of her hand.
‘Little babies! I am your queen,’ she shouted at the turtles, ‘Let’s go babies!’
Goldie crawled slowly through the sand, clutching Jesus by the throat.
Old Man kissed Old Lady’s forehead, stroked her head and tugged playfully at her ears. Old Lady stood up, frightened and awake.
‘I will look for her. You make a fire. Make a fire quick Old Man.’ Before he could say anything Old Lady had disappeared into the darkness. Old Man took in a big gulp of the warm night air. He thought about all of his worries and loves as he gathered bundles of sticks from the shed. He assured himself that all would be all right. That Old Lady will not die, that the girl child will be found, and tomorrow he will be able to start his truck and drive them away to a world of riches. He magicked a fire and sipped from his flask. Old Man gargled the whiskey. It warmed on his tongue before sliding down his throat. He heard Old Lady shouting into the night as he watched his dreams burning in the flames.
‘GOLDIE! GOLDIE BABY!’ Old Lady shouted at the moon, the stars, and the spirits of the night. ‘Oh Jesus the Christ. Please help me find the child.’
Old Lady in her petticoat ran through the jungles of the island, shouting, panting, coughing, bleeding. She ran through the goya summer flower bushes, past the ghosts of the wild horses, past the night owls and sleeping snakes, through the tall tawny grass and into the pumping heart of the mangroves.
With breathy, chesty yelps, she shouted again and again and again.
GOLDIE GOLDIE GOLDIE…
Goldie gasped and swallowed a mouthful of black sand and seawater, paddling with her hands and feet, her little body being pushed under and under by the weight of the shell. The baby turtles were lost in the black water.
Old Lady reached the sand and coughed up thick clots of blood, as red as can be under the full circle moon. She doubled and dropped to her old knees, the wets of the tears and bloods warming her chest as Goldie the turtle and Jesus sank under the moon.