This story follows on from the encounter I had with the teenage girl at Junction shopping mall. You can read the first part of our meeting here.
‘There’s only one thing that can help,’ she told me. And although I’d been tired when she approached me, insisting she didn’t want my money, although I hadn’t wanted to listen to her long-winded stories of troubles and hardship, she caught my attention at this point. If it wasn’t money that could help her, then what was it? I became intrigued.
‘I’m selling something,’ she continued.
‘Oh,’ I thought. Not quite so interesting as I had hoped. She’s probably selling some tacky jewellery or something along those lines. I’ll have to show pretend interest but politely turn her down.
Better get on with it. ‘What are you selling?’ I asked, half-heartedly.
‘It’s a tortoise’ she replied.
A tortoise?! I wasn’t expecting that! My interested was recaptured. I eyed her small rucksack suspiciously. A tortoise?! I was used to seeing animals being sold along the side of the road – teeny-tiny puppies in cardboard boxes, birds flapping in small wire cages, rabbits being held up by their ears, swinging as their captor runs along the side of the road tapping at the window of passing cars. But a tortoise? Being sold here, in the middle of a food court in a big shopping mall?
She saw she had my attention and drew her bag closely towards her, protectively. ‘Yes, a tortoise. It’s how you can help me.’
‘Can I see?’ I asked. I noticed small glimmers of hope in her eyes.
She pulled at the string on her rucksack. Her hands delved into the depths of the bag. And out of it she drew a tortoise, like a magician producing a rabbit from his top hat. A beautiful, glass tortoise.
I won’t lie, I was a little bit disappointed it wasn’t a real one. Even though I had no intention of buying a tortoise, glass or real. But it was very beautiful. I wondered where she had got it from. Or stolen it from. Is it bad to immediately assume that?
I had to turn her down. I didn’t want a glass tortoise. I told her it was beautiful. I tried to palm her off on other customers in the food court. I’m sure somebody will love it, I tried to assure her. As she place her tortoise back in her rucksack, with a little look of disappointment, I wished her well. I told her I hoped she’d find someone who would buy her tortoise. And I meant it.
And as she walked away, her back turned to me, I thought how very sad it was that her only hope was a tortoise.