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hannibal

I can’t for the life of me remember why, but I always wanted one. I never had a pet, and I guess that played a big part. And being the way I am, the only pet I could ever imagine myself having was the stupidest pet I could think of. I contemplated this for years before I came up with one. A dog or a cat would never do, obviously. A canary? Nah. A hamster? Never, it’s just a rat in disguise.

A cow would have been perfect, except there was hardly room for me in that little closet I had back when I lived with mum and dad, let alone a full blown cow. I’ve always liked cows. They’re stupid. Incredibly stupid. Delightfully stupid. So stupid you can’t help but love’em. I know cows, you see. I spent four summers on a farm as a teenager, as a cowboy. The last summer I spent there, I was even in charge of the cow. You know, I cowboyed it. I went out and found it when it was time to milk, and for the second half of the summer I even milked it myself. Manually, mind you, not with one of those automatic cow-milkers. And it’s not like this was back in the middle ages or anything, it was ten years ago, the summers of 1983-’86. There just wasn’t much of a point in bothering about the automatic cow-milker for just that one cow. So I did it by hand. Not many can say that today, let alone die hard city folks.

It must’ve been lonely. For the cow. Having no cow friends I mean. But we became good friends. She always came when she saw me approaching at milking time. Plodding towards me in that clumsy way only cows can plod. But a cow is too big. Even now that I’ve got my own place, I could never fit one in here. It’s a darn shame ’cause milk doesn’t get any better than that, straight from the teat. But they’re too big and expensive. Besides, the health authorities would never let me get away with it. Well, enough about cows, delightful as they are. This isn’t about cows, this is about Hannibal.

Fish have a purpose, however silly; they’re ornamental. Sheep, akin to cows, are quite delightful, but problematic. I don’t have a garden, so where would I get the grass? A tarantula or a cobra would do, but to tell you the truth, I’d always be scared shitless, so that would never work.

Luckily there lurked, in the back of my head, the memory of a turtle a friend once had. The memory was vague, to say the least, seeing as I was about five years old at the time. Well, from what I could recall it was just the thing for me. So I decided on a turtle. It’s about the pointlessest pet I could imagine. (Actually, I later thought of houseflies, you know, in a cage or something, but it was too late. I had already told everyone I knew that having a turtle was my life’s dream, and I would call it Hannibal. You can’t back out of these things. Besides, the average housefly only lives for a few days, even if you know what to feed it, which, incidentally, I don’t.)

What’s the point of having a turtle around? It doesn’t do any tricks. It’s ugly as hell, and, well, it doesn’t do anything. It just crawls around aimlessly, or hides inside its shell. Just how pointless can you get? The perfect pet for me.

It’s not easy. Getting one, that is. In fact, it’s harder than hell. I tried all the pet shops. No dice, although in one of them I found out a lot about turtles. The old woman that worked there had had one, aeons ago, and told me a lot about turtles. They’re illegal in this country it seems, which of course adds to the attraction. That is, from what I gather, it’s illegal to import them, but when they’re in it’s OK. Sound stupid? Maybe, but that’s the system.

Well, she told me this story about a turtle. Its owners lived in an apartment building, and somehow the neighbours got wind of the turtle. Well, for some obscure reason, the neighbours wanted the poor thing out, and asked the owner to get rid of it. No way. This turtle is a part of the family, and you can just as well ask us to flush the kids down the toilet. I like that bit. Sticking with your pet. In the end the neighbours brought in the police, to evict the poor bugger. What cruelty! Bringing in huge policemen (in the eyes of a small turtle) to cruelly murder a poor, helpless, itty-bitty turtle.

The old woman in the pet shop told me that they’re very easy to feed. The key word is vegetables. Anything green will do. 100-200 grams a day, perhaps a bit more if it’s big. They love cabbages, and cucumbers too, but the cucumbers aren’t good for them. Don’t know why. Not many veterinarians specialise in turtles, it seems, so information is kind of hard to gather. Well, they’re easy to feed and cheap, a big plus. I sometimes try to picture one, fairly small-about 10 cm. in diameter-eating a leaf of cabbage. Trying to bite into a cucumber slice with its tiny little mouth. And its minuscule teeth inside that itty bitty mouth, nibbling away at the cabbage. All in slow motion, of course, like watching grass grow. It makes my insides tickle.

Well, the old woman in the pet shop didn’t know where I could get one, but she gave me a couple of ideas. Try The Owners of Aesthetic Aquatic Animals Society. And if that doesn’t work, put an ad in the paper. I did. Attend one of OAAAS’s meetings, I mean. I think they meet on the first Thursday every month, but see if they don’t advertise in the papers. They advertised, and the next meeting was on at 8:30 the following Thursday. I felt kind of awkward about going, and frankly quite terrified about going alone, so I tried to persuade my brother that this was something he didn’t want to miss. That didn’t work, so I told him we could go to the movies afterwards. My treat. I’m glad I did. We went to the meeting, very hesitantly, as if we didn’t know what we were doing there, which of course we didn’t. We followed the others that showed up into the room where the meeting was to be held and sat down in the far end of the room, as far away from the others as we could. Having listened to OAAAS members exchanging anecdotes and tips about their gubbies for about an hour, once in a while giving us a curious glance, my brother poked my side really hard and ordered me to ask. Turtles? The man was baffled. No turtles here, my friend. He looked at me like there was something wrong with me, like I was mentally retarded or something. It turned out the Aesthetic Aquatic Animals bit meant goldfish. Feeling cheated I tried to talk my brother out of the movie and into renting a videocassette. He wouldn’t budge, until I promised that some Coke, popcorn and lots of chocolate would also go on my account.

The ads weren’t very fruitful either. Once a year, two weeks at a time (it costs a bundle), I have run an ad in the paper, but to no avail. No turtle owners who want to get rid of their pets. No friendly people who want to help a fellow citizen.

That was seven years ago. I have since discovered that a trip to Galapagos (Darwin and his turtles) is more than I can handle in the foreseeable future on my measly income. What else is there? I’m at my wits end.

Anyway, I’m living with this girl now. She’s OK, real cute, and can keep up a conversation too. But it’s not working out. I can’t put my finger on it, but something’s wrong. So I just try to enjoy my time with her, while it lasts. I’m taking a lot of pictures. I like her a lot, and I want to have memories of her when I grow old. I’m not all messed up about this. This just isn’t working out, and we both know it. Maybe I would have fallen in love with her given time, but I guess I’ll never find out. It’s just one of these things.

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