Looking for Turtles by Ankita Saxena

The Atlantic is shipless tonight.

We walk unarmed, guided by the moon and Mon Carlo’s red headlamp. He stops one time to talk to the night watch and wave away sandflies.

Halfway through we’re given biscuits, a stool and a net of mosquitoes through which to see the stars. We look for moving shells and flippers, but it’s past midnight and the sand is as unclouded as a face through torch light.

He stops once more, but there are no guards this time, no savoury snack and whispers.

Just a high tide and an ocean breeze – this could be London with your eyes closed, hearing motorways through single glazing; or an airport in sleeping hours, the time between two journeys; or the soundtrack to a film before its climax.

But we’re just school kids in the Southern Hemisphere, making footsteps in dry sand, and our eyes are open.

Finally we see it – he’s palm sized and more delicate than the crabs which freckle the beach. He is walking in circles – sometimes with his back to the moon and the sea, sometimes with his head to my feet.

We watch the waves spin in circles too, grab hold of land, dragging away the broken shells, weathered sand – but our leatherback beauty is far from the Atlantic.

Finally Mon Carlo picks him up and drops him into a receding wave – as simple as dropping a coin into a wishing well, or a rotting fruit into a sewer – we’re not meant to meddle.

I’d never seen a live turtle, only the dead ones we found from excavating a nest the day before – caught in the motion of movement – forever paralyzed in the state of waking up.

I’m satisfied now; wide awake. Mon Carlo searches the sea for signs of life, and turns back for the first time.

Only one in a thousand survive.