Meg always spent two weeks of her summer vacation with her Auntie Del, who lived with her husband Uncle Ben in an animal farm in Bansalan. Meg adored her aunt and uncle. They did not have any children of their own and they were always sending Meg dolls and books.
In the farm, Meg could run around without the danger of getting run over by big vehicles and she could milk the cows and the goats with Uncle Ben when she woke up early. Their farm was spacious: there was a shed for the cows, a pen for the pigs and goats, and a coop for the chickens. They even had a couple of horses that Uncle Ben and his help would ride. And so, she always looked forward to her stay in the farm.
After Meg settled into the room she had claimed as hers, Auntie Del led her to the back of the house. When she asked why, Auntie Del’s response was only, “I have something to show you.”
Unlike Meg’s home in the city, which was small and cramped, Auntie Del had four rooms and even had a separate airy room for her dirty kitchen— even bigger than Meg’s room in their house. Next to the dirty kitchen was a shed with a poso where they did their laundry. Auntie Del went to the shed and showed Meg a tub made of cement attached to the northern wall of the shed. Meg got excited. This tub was not there last summer. Meg peered in and saw creatures with black-green shells. Turtles!
“Your Uncle Ben has grown tired of land animals,” Auntie Del said with a laugh. “Now, he’s into creatures that can walk and swim. They’re called Reeve’s turtles.” Meg nodded in fascination. They looked at the turtles for some time before Auntie Del noticed that the sun was setting. She poked Meg, who was still busily watching the turtles. “Let’s go inside. The mosquitoes will attack us soon.”
Meg shook her head. “Can I stay here for a while, Auntie Del? I want to watch the turtles some more.”
Auntie Del nodded and turned to leave. But she stopped mid-step and said, “Meg, do not touch the turtles, okay? They are pets, not toys.” Meg nodded.
Meg stared at the creatures pacing on the sandy bottom. One…two…three…she counted. There were ten turtles! Some were hiding inside their shells, probably taking a nap. Some were munching on the kangkong piled on the left side of the tub. Some shells were bigger and looked more worn-out than the others.
One shell suddenly came alive and out came four feet followed by the head. The turtle began to crawl towards the kangkong. Meg watched the turtle crawl. One…two…three…four…five…Meg counted the seconds. But she reached fifty-seven and the turtle was nowhere near the kangkong.
She looked to the right. She looked to the left. She looked behind her. Auntie Del was nowhere in sight. Meg wanted to help the turtle. It would be very hungry by the time it reached the food pile. She quickly picked up the turtle and deposited it in front of the pile and watched as the turtle gnawed on a stalk. Meg grinned and sat by the cement box. She felt happy to help, like an angel.
The next afternoon after Meg helped feed the cows, Meg dashed to the turtle tub again. One was slowly crawling out of the pond on the right side of the tub, so she picked it up and put it on the sand. A second was making its way towards their little pond where other turtles were floating happily. She grabbed it by its shell and put it in the water. Now, the turtle wouldn’t suffer in the hot summer air.
Meg felt like a hero. She was helping the turtles accomplish their journeys faster. She was a turtle angel!
Then Meg noticed a white oblong object by the pond. It was not there yesterday afternoon. She bent down and examined the strange object. She called out to Auntie Del, who was at the dirty kitchen, preparing for dinner.
“Why, Meg, that’s a turtle egg,” Auntie Del said when Meg pointed to the strange object. She then went back to the dirty kitchen.
Meg looked around the tub and saw that there were more eggs shallowly buried in the sand. The egg by the pond was the only one astray from the pile.
She wondered who might be the mother of the egg. Such a careless mother! Leaving one of its eggs by itself. Meg picked it up, deciding to put it by its brothers and sisters. But just then, Auntie Del dropped a plate and shrieked, surprising Meg and making her jump. The egg tumbled out of her hand and landed on the pond with a plop.
Meg’s heart was pounding as she looked at the murky water of the pond. She could not see the turtle egg. She sucked in a breath. Meg felt fear and guilt wash over her like a cold bucket of water. What if Auntie Del found out? She would not let Meg visit the turtle box again. But she couldn’t reach into the pond either. The turtles might mistake her fingers for worms and bite her!
She ran out of the shed and into her room. She sat in the dark and thought, “they’re going to punish me!” She wasn’t supposed to touch and play with them. And now, she dropped one of the eggs. Her uncle would be angry too. He was the owner of the turtles after all. He wouldn’t trust her with the cows now. She sobbed into her blanket.
Then, she heard her Auntie Del’s voice. Meg slowly got out of bed and opened the door a little. Her aunt was in the sala, holding her phone to her ear.
“Yes, Maila,” her aunt said, talking to Meg’s mother. “Meg’s been a wonderful child here. She wakes up early and helps Ben with the milking. She even feeds the cows in the afternoon. Thank you for letting her stay here again. I’m really happy to have her here every summer….” Meg closed the door and sat on the floor. Auntie Del wouldn’t want her back next summer after she discovers what she had done, she thought.
After a while, Auntie Del called her for dinner. Meg went out of her room and sat at table morosely. Auntie Del began to chat animatedly as she scooped rice into her plate.
“Meg, your mother called a while ago. She asked if you’re behaving as you’ve promised her.” She paused and passed the bowl of rice to Meg who received it quietly. “Of course I told her that you are always well-behaved and you’re even helping us with the chores. You’re like the daughter we don’t have.”
The image of the turtle egg suddenly flashed in her mind. Meg began to sob.
Uncle Ben asked, “What’s the matter, langga?”
Auntie Del stood and transferred to the seat next to Meg. “Did something happen?”
“You…won’t…let…me…stay…here…next…summer…again…” Meg responded between hiccups.
“Why?” Auntie Meg pressed, looking as bewildered as her husband.
“I…I…dropped…one…of…the…turtle…eggs…in…the…pond…” she admitted. “I…didn’t…mean…to…I…was…startled…when…you…dropped…the…plate…Auntie…Del.”
Uncle Ben spoke after a while. “Is that it?” Meg nodded. He reached out and patted Meg’s head. “It’s okay, Meg. I didn’t even know that one of the turtles had lain eggs.”
“You’re not angry?” Meg asked in surprise. “Aren’t you going to send me home?”
Uncle Ben chuckled. “No, of course not. Unless you want to go home now. Do you?” Meg shook her head. Uncle Ben leaned back on his chair with a smile. “I thought so.”
Meg turned to her aunt. “Are you angry, Auntie Del?”
Auntie Del sighed. “I told you not to touch the turtles, didn’t I?” Meg nodded, scared that now her aunt will tell her that she could not visit the farm anymore. “At least you owned up to your mistake, langga.” Auntie Del stood up. “Now, let’s resume our dinner, shall we?”
Meg picked up her utensils and began to eat silently. But her mind was already elsewhere.
The next day, Meg woke up early and went to where Auntie Del was helping Uncle Ben milk the cows. “Auntie Del, I want to clean the turtle box,” she said.
Auntie Del nodded with a smile. She helped Auntie Del refill the water containers and the stack of kangkong. They placed two bowls containing feeds. They contained vitamins that the turtles needed, her aunt explained. Auntie Del dusted the bulb hanging over the tub, which they used to keep the turtles warm at night. Then, she drained the water in the pond. They found the egg at the bottom. Auntie Del put on a plastic glove and carefully put the egg by the sand. Uncle Ben arrived with an egg tray that he usually used to collect the chicken eggs.
“What are you going to do with that, Uncle Ben?” Meg asked in wonder.
“We’re going to move the eggs to one of the incubators we use to hatch chicken eggs,” he answered. Slowly, he dug out the eggs. By the time he was finished, there were five eggs in his tray. Meg put on a glove and picked up the egg that she had dropped in the pond.
“Please put this in the incubator too, Uncle Ben,” she asked.
“But there’s a big chance it won’t hatch anymore,” Uncle Ben responded.
“Shouldn’t we give it a chance too like its siblings?” Meg pleaded.
Uncle Ben paused. “You’re right, langga.” He let Meg put the egg on the tray. “Now we’ll have to wait fifty to ninety days.”
“See that, Meg?” Auntie Del pointed at the egg tray. Meg noticed that one of the eggs had a dent on it. “Not all eggs are perfect. Not all turtle eggs survive. In the wild, only one in a hundred hatchlings would be able to grow into an adult turtle.”
Meg listened intently now. But she knew that every egg should count. The egg she dropped may still become a baby turtle. She watched as a turtle with a chipped shell crawl towards the kangkong pile. One…two…three…four…she started counting the seconds again. But this time, she did not use her turtle angel powers. She let the turtle make its own way.
Kasmira Blaise S. Sigue is a BA English-Creative Writing student from the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She hails from Digos City.