Maureen Yeo, Singapore
We called him Cubbie
Because he was found in a cupboard
in my in-laws’ driveway.
Where did he come from?
How long had he been there?
How did he survive?
Wikipedia had some answers.
At home, he would brumate in winter.
Brumation is staying for weeks
At the bottom of a lake or river,
without eating. He was native
to the Americas.
“This one is an ang moh turtle, ah?”
“This one is a red-eared slider. Ang ear not ang moh.
This one is a tough survivor.”
I built a tank with rocks for basking.
“This is no way for him to live,” the husband said.
“We should set him free.”
“We can’t set him free.
He is an invasive species. He outcompetes
the locals. And he’s our responsibility now.”
“But you see them everywhere,”
The husband protested. “What is one more out there?”
“It is one more too many.
How many local tortoises do you see?”
I asked the husband, who had no answer.
“Exactly. We can’t set him free.”
But I felt bad for Cubbie.
It was not his fault he was an invasive species.
This was no way for him to live.
You can’t shut a living thing away.
He shouldn’t have been here, but now that he was,
We couldn’t put him back in the cupboard.
I brought him downstairs to bask
because our flat doesn’t get much natural light.
One day, he escaped.
“Did you try and find him?”
The husband was concerned.
“Yes of course I did, but he’s gone.”
“I hope he will survive.”
“He will definitely survive. He is tougher than our local species,”
I said, but my feelings were mixed.
I hoped he would survive.
An animal should live free and he was now free.
But he was an invasive species.
So we said goodbye to Cubbie.
He’s somewhere out there, natural yet unnatural.
A part of our country.
We carried on with our lives,
Working, eating, commuting. Some days, I ask the husband,
“How many locals do you see?”’
The Chinese say, 不是猛龙不过江.
If it’s not a fierce dragon, it won’t cross the river.
I am a fierce dragon.
I crossed the sea.
My ancestors ruled the world.
My bloodline is ancient and proud.
I am master of my domain.
I am biggest in this small pond.
I love my children tenderly,
But I eat my own kind.
I kill in cold blood,
But sometimes I weep.
Who am I?
After media-related stints in Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong and Singapore, Maureen Yeo now teaches English, Literature and life skills by introducing her students to Roald Dahl's great principle: "A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men". She has done freelance travel journalism for TODAY and has been published in periodicals by Math Paper Press. Her children's book, The Great Singapore Poo Sale and Other Beastly Business, about the animals of Singapore uniting to protect their homes from humans, was published by Epigram in 2018.