(C) The Sunny Zoo 陽光動物園 2017
Everyone loves the new members to our family, the little finches. They are such a cute mouthful… I mean, handful! (Pardonnez moi, I’m working hard on overcoming certain instincts… Mr Keeper, I think my next meal needs to be a bigger rat please) I only talk to them briefly at around dusk each day, when I wake up to stretch my scales, and they get ready for bed. But I know Ellie is happier and chats to them a lot, because she doesn’t keep waking me up with her complaining squawks during the day any more.
Knobby said that Cappuccino and Mocha spent most of their time gathering materials for their new nest. The guinea pigs have a whole bale of meadow hay in the garage, and Cutie generously said that the finches could take as much hay as they needed. This nesting business seemed to settle Mocha down quite a bit, and she said she felt much less fidgety now, having something to do. She and Cappuccino would sort through all the stalks of hay, pick out the skinniest ones, and chew on the thicker ones constantly to bend them into suitable flexibility for lining the nest.
And then on Monday morning a week after they arrived, I was woken up by the excited cries of Baby Kid: “An egg! Mocha has laid an egg!”
Suddenly the whole house was in uproar, everyone ran/crawled/slithered over to look. Even the guinea pigs had appeared from nowhere, accompanied by the inevitable muddy footprints. “Wow, it’s beautiful Mocha! Congratulations you two!” exclaimed Spotty, grabbing Mocha in a rodent-hug.
I have to say it was the loveliest little thing I’ve ever seen, this pearly white, glistening egg no bigger than the very tip of my tail. It lay calmly in the lovingly hay-lined nest, and I fancied I saw a tiny translucent heart beating behind the pale shell (all right, I admit I was probably hallucinating… Mr Keeper, I need a bigger rat NOW please). Even my serpentine heart swelled with pride at having such a gorgeous little baby in our family.
Puffy took her turn hugging Mocha and Cappuccino: “That must be why you were feeling strange all this time, Mocha! You were pregnant!” Mocha blushed and fluttered to hide behind her husband.
While we animals queued up again to gaze at the egg baby, Mr and Mrs Keeper got ready to drive the kids to school, and then they had to attend the funeral of a friend’s husband. It was very sad, the man had been troubled by many things all his life, but he was whole and free now, Mrs Keeper said. I hoped he would have many rats and bats in his Heaven, amen.
“My goodness, what’s that????” came the shocked voice of Mrs Keeper from the driveway.
Hmm, was it just me, or there had simply been too many surprises lately? We only just managed to see off the NASA scientists (Mr Keeper was very sorry for ruining Blacky’s moment of fame, and had since allowed Blacky official use of his computer to continue corresponding with NASA), see off Mr Keeper’s parents (still talking on Skype about electrocuting me with a fly-zapper, bless their souls), welcome the darling finches, and now welcome their baby egg. What ELSE could there be???
So we all hurried out into the garden again to see what Mrs Keeper was shouting about. And even I couldn’t believe my eyes – it was a turtle! Yes, a real-life, long-necked, hard-shelled, algae-covered REAL turtle! Its limbs and long neck were all curled up, and its eyes were closed. All right, maybe it was not alive after all; maybe it was dead?
“Where did it come from?” Little Kid asked the question that was uppermost on all our minds. Our Sunny Zoo is hidden in a perfectly ordinary suburban house, down a long battle-axe driveway about 150 metres long. We were far from any creeks or rivers, and certainly from any other zoos. Judging by the thick layer of algae growing on its shell, it did not look like an escaped pet either.
“Well, we’re running late,” said Mr Keeper decisively. “Let’s put it in some water while we’re out. You guys look after it and see if it wakes up.
So that was what we did. The turtle was gently placed into a storage container filled with de-chlorinated water, and we all sunbathed in the garden while waiting to see if the poor turtle would make it. It was a 30-degree day; I would not be surprised if it had succumbed to sunstroke and dehydration. Hmm, maybe Mr and Mrs Keeper would have to attend another funeral?
Just as my mind began to wander down that unhappy path, there was a slight movement from the storage container. “It’s awake!” cried Knobby, who was lying on his favourite rock right next to the container and therefore had the best view. “Hello there, friend!”
Our guest slowly twitched each of its legs, probably testing to make sure they were still intact and it hadn’t grown wings, and then cautiously opened its eyes. Upon seeing 14 pairs of eyes staring at it, it promptly shrank back into its shell again and belatedly played dead. Well, that settled the question of its life points.
Cutie gestured for us to step back a bit, and then he smiled down at the turtle from Knobby’s rock, “Hiya there, we’re all friendly, no worries! And don’t mind the snake, she’s friendly too! Can you talk, or you want some more time to yourself?”
Cutie must have hit the right note, because the turtle finally raised its head up and looked at us. We all did our best to grin, some succeeding better than others. “Hello…. Where am I?”
“Ah, this is the Sunny Zoo…” began Cutie.
“Otherwise known as the Federation of Liberated Ingenious Pets,” piped up the guinea pig triplets together, “FLIP for short!” They gave each other high fives.
Cutie glared at them with annoyance. “As I was saying, this is the Sunny Zoo, and we’re all pets that are no longer owned by humans! You’ve come to friendly territory, so you can relax and recover from your trip. Err, where did you actually come from, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Obviously feeling much better, the turtle started paddling around in the water and looked at us with curious eyes, “Wow, that’s very cool, you have your own house? I never knew you were here! Well, I’ve been living by myself in one of the dams across the road… on the big Korean chili pepper farm. Then when I got up this morning, something went funny in my head… and I said to myself, now what a nice bright day, I’ll go look for a girlfriend!”
Ah, the mystery unravels! Guess it’s not just the finches then, must be breeding season for turtles too! That’s the thing with us animals – some instincts are so inbuilt that there’s not much we can do about them. And sometimes, as in this case of our bachelor turtle friend, the instinct came at a most inopportune time, such as on a scorching hot day.
“So off I walked,” said the turtle, “And walked… and walked. I could smell a body of water, so I just followed that. I crossed the road, nearly got hit by a few cars…”
“Ewww…” we all gasped.
“BUT I soldiered on!” continued the turtle, now thoroughly enjoying the attention of a relatively large audience, “I gotta say, my legs were getting sore, I was really thirsty, and my eyes were so dry I could hardly keep them open. But I followed the smell of water… came down your loooooong driveway…….” His voice trailed off, clearly still traumatised by the memory of his near-death experience.
“And discovered this is a dead-end street,” I finished for him. “Mr Keeper says there’s a storm drain under our driveway. That must’ve been the water you were smelling.”
He nodded and took a deep breath, probably to reassure himself he was still in this world and not the next, “I stood there for some time, wondering what to do. But it was so hot! I considered walking back… but realised I didn’t have the strength… I knew then that was it for me… I was going to die… in the middle of nowhere… without ever having a girlfriend!” He began sobbing.
“Err…” said Cutie the Alpha, alarmed by the guest’s sudden outburst, “There there, lots of animals don’t have girlfriends, that’s not the end of the world!”
Knobby agreed, “I don’t have a girlfriend. That’s fine with me.”
“Waaaaaaah!!” the turtle sobbed louder.
“Err… Spotty?” Cutie rapidly stepped off the rock and gestured for his wife to take over.
“Must be that weird breeding call thing with turtles,” Spotty concluded, patting the turtle on the shell, or rather, on the algae. “Messes with their minds. All right, all right sweetheart, don’t worry! Look, when our human employees come back, we’ll see if they can find out where to find you a girlfriend, okay? They’re experts at this sort of thing!”
Oh really? I laughed to myself. Mr and Mrs Keeper would be really thrilled to find out they now have to be expert matchmakers – for a long-necked turtle!
The Sunny Zoo
The animals at the Sunny Zoo enjoy their many freedoms, including having access to the Internet and a blog.
(C) The Sunny Zoo 陽光動物園 2017