Some days just don't go as planned. But I'm sure you probably already know this. 'The best laid plans' and all. Not too long ago I had one of those days that didn't play out exactly the way I'd anticipated. That seems to happen to me a lot. . . But I suppose this time it really could have been worse, all things considered. After all, I did learn quite a few interesting things, plus I even ended up meeting. . . well, I think I'm getting ahead of myself. I suppose I should start near the beginning. That does seem a good place to start, right?
So, it was a few weeks ago, and here's what happened:
Sitting in the incredibly uncomfortable wooden chair in the library's study room, I flipped my old phone shut. I'd just gotten a text message from the tutee I was supposed to be meeting."Slept thru alarm. Will be late. So sry!"
I folded my arms on the table and dropped my head down, letting it rest on my forearms. Listening to the rain crashing down mercilessly on the huge floor-to-ceiling windows, I thought about how much I would have preferred to stay in bed this gloomy morning instead of driving all the way down here to meet a student for some extra study time. I would probably have been really upset at the fact that they had the audacity to be late if I hadn't been so tired. But there was something about sitting alone, in an empty library, on a cold, rainy day, early in the morning, that just took all the fight right out of me. In fact, it pretty much took all the energy out of me period.
"This really kind of bites." I muttered into my arm.
"It can't be that bad."
I whipped my head up off the desk, searching out the source of the voice. I was sure the room had been empty and I was alone.
"I mean, you're in a library for crying out loud. This is like, the coolest place to be. Besides a beach in Maui anyway."
I scanned the big room but saw no other person. I rubbed my eyes and looked around again.
"Yoohoo, over here. Yep, this way, right here."
Following the sound, finally I spotted who was talking. Sitting across from me at the edge of the table was a small brown turtle.
"Yo." he said casually, briefly waving to me. I blinked at him, mainly because I really wasn't sure what else to do. "Um. Hi." I said tentatively."
"Hi." he replied. "I'm Shy."
"Really? Never would've guess." I mumbled, a bit surprised I was managing to speak. "I am too, actually."
"Yeah, I never get tired of that joke." he chuckled. "Seriously, though, my name is 'Shy'." he said smiling.
"Ah. I see. Well, nice to meet you." I wasn't sure if I meant it or not, but it was really all I could think to say at the moment.
"I'm sure you're wondering more about me." he said. I opened my mouth, all ready to tell him that yes, I was wondering something, but it was really more along the lines of my mental health and it's somewhat frightening current state. But before I had the chance to say anything, some kind of heroic and histrionic music began streaming out from somewhere. "I am the Tortoise of All Knowing." he said dramatically, standing tall (at least as tall as a six-inch tortoise can stand) puffing up with pride. He posed like that for a minute, as if he were waiting for a crazed group of paparazzi to snap photos left and right of such an honorable and glorious figure.
"Turtle of All Knowing, huh?" I asked skeptically once the music and posing stopped.
"Tortoise. Tortoise of All Knowing. Yes. Go ahead, ask me anything." he replied, gamely.
"Okay." I said, figuring what the heck, I'll play along. "What's the meaning of life?"
"What, you've never heard of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?"
"Go on, ask something else." he said eagerly.
"All right." I said, trying to think of a question. After a minute I figured I had something worth asking: "Okay, so I know turtles live near the ocean and stuff, but what's the deal with tortoises? I mean, what's the real difference between you two?"
"Well there's a deep question." he said sarcastically.
"Deep. Hah. I get it. Turtles, the ocean, deep." I replied drily.
"Hm, thouchι" he replied. "All right, well, there are four major difference between turtles and tortoises," he began. "(1) Turtles primarily live in water while tortoises live almost exclusively on land."
"Yep, knew that." I interrupted.
"Hey, who's the Tortoise of All Knowing here?" he said eying me.
"Sorry. Please continue." I said, putting on my best "I'm highly interested in what you're talking about" face and hiding a small, amused smile.
"Okay then. (2) turtles can be omnivorous whereas tortoises are herbivorous. And (3) Turtles can migrate from one place to another, but tortoises tend to stay in one area."
"You said there were four differences."
"Yes, and (4) tortoises are much snappier dressers than turtles." he did a neat little 360 on the table, showing off his bronze colored shell. "See what I mean?" he said suavely, raising a nonexistent eyebrow in a mock come-hither kind of way.
I couldn't help but laugh at that, and immediately he joined in with me, our brief laughter undoubtedly being the loudest and oddest noise the room had ever suffered. At this point I decided to completely set aside the bundle of thoughts crowding my head such as Okay, where did this tortoise come from, How is it possible that he's talking to me, and Have I completely lost my mind. I'd already questioned my sanity enough throughout my life. I figured I'd just enjoy this, whether it be a mental breakdown or not.
"All right go for it. Ask me something else. The Tortoise of All Knowing is here to serve and amaze. Mostly amaze." On the surface he seemed just a bit hubristic and slightly sardonic, but I could tell he also had some kind of charm and a good, albeit slightly unusual, sense of humor. I considered it for a moment and realized those were all probably rare traits to find in a tortoise.
"I dunno. Surprise me." I said, genuinely unable to think of anything to ask.
"Ah phooey. That's no fun." he said, clearly feigning a pout. I began to realize that Shy seemed like the kind of little guy who would heckle you and playfully argue with you all day, a bit of a drama queen even, but really only in the best of ways.
I stifled a giggle, enjoying this little conversation more and more. "Oh but come on. This gives you a chance to show me how all-knowing you really are and truly amaze me by answering questions I never knew I had." I quipped, guessing that he'd respond well to a friendly tease.
"True." he replied thoughtfully, his big brown eyes gleaming, a smirk dancing around the corner of his small reptilian mouth. I had guessed right. He placed his little head on his hand, putting on a great thinker expression. "I bet you didn't know. . . "
He began telling me all sorts of things about shooting stars and amoeba and elephants and music and and trees and authors and pens and coffee and countries. Before I knew it twenty minutes had gone by.
"No way. How on earth do they do that? Wait, are you telling me you've actually seen a clam climb a tree?" I asked Shy, completely hanging off every word of his at this point.
"I swear!" he said, raising his hand and chuckling a bit at my astonishment. "There really are certain types of clams in the Caribbean that can actually climb trees. Of course a few of them don't, though. Fear of heights, you know."
I laughed at that and leaned back in my chair. As I sat there thinking about all the things I'd never thought about before, just about to ask Shy what else he could tell me, I was suddenly startled by a new voice that pierced the calm of the quiet library: "Sorry I'm late!" I looked over to see the student I was supposed to be meeting standing in the community room's open doorway. She looked completely frazzled, wild hair, wet from the rain, spewing out from a clip atop her head, jacket hanging sloppily from one shoulder, leaking books and papers everywhere. I jumped up out of my chair just in time to snatch her notebook from the air as it slid out of her arms. "Thanks!" she breathed, clearly out of breath, as if she'd run all the way here. "I'm really sorry to have kept you waiting." she apologized. Earlier I had been somewhat irked at her tardiness, but now I found I really didn't mind so much. "No worries," I replied. "I actually had someone to talk to." I gestured back to the table where Shy had been sitting. But when I looked, he was gone. In his place was a small, rectangular sheet of paper. I reached for it and found something had been quickly written down:"Had to run. But now you know where to go next time you want to know something! S"
I turned the note over and found that it was actually a bookmark with the library's hours of operation printed in bright bold letters. I smiled. "Cheeky little thing." I murmured. Putting the bookmark safely in my pocket, I took one last good look around the room to see if I could spot Shy anywhere. But the only life in the big room now was just me and my tutee. I decided it best that I not tell all about what had happened in the past half hour, and she didn't ask, so we sat down and got to work, finishing out the rest of the morning as had been planned.
I think deep down I know I'll never see the tortoise again. But every week since then I go back to the library and look, just in case. And while I'm there, I pick a random book off the shelf and read. That way, if I ever do come across the Tortoise of All Knowing again, I'll have something to tell him, too.
My latest little story and pattern