Vincent taught EFL for more than 15 years. He is a freelance writer and a mass culture enthusiast who loves quizzes and trivia.
Amorsolo the tortoise sighed as he watched the squirrels chased one another atop a tree, skipping nimbly from branch to branch. He groaned in envy as a couple of swallows glided swiftly in the air. A grasshopper landed on his head and hopped into thin air in the blink of an eye.
"Show off!" he shouted. He wanted just to spend the day with his head pulled back into his shell as he looked around his fellow tortoises nibbling grass with contentment.
"You're sad again," his friend Kiu-kok said. "Why don't you join us? The sun feels great, and the grass is fresh."
Amorsolo peeked under his carapace, looking up to his friend. "No, thanks. I've got plenty of cleaning to do in here."
Kiu-kok knew Amorsolo was making excuses, for it was the same excuse he had been using everyday.
"And then what next?" Kiu-kok said, "you're going to ask me if I'm happy being a tortoise?"
Amorsolo, you know what we are. Seeing you like that makes me miss your old self—the one I used to hang around and eat leaves with.
"Don't you even dream of moving fast like the wind?"
"Why do you want to move fast?"
"Maybe I could do more better things if I could."
"But you can do a lot as you are. Come on, get out of your shell."
Then an idea came to Amorsolo. "Then perhaps that's what I should do—get out of my shell!" he exclaimed.
Then with great effort, Amorsolo slid out of his shell, slipping his wrinkled shoulders from his sturdy housing, then slipping off his legs. All the other tortoises watched in shock as he ditched his shell. No tortoise had ever attempted what he just did.
"Wow!" Amorsolo said. "I feel light. I feel free. I feel great!" Then he dashed into the woods, leaving his fellow tortoises. "This is the life!" he shouted.
It did not take long for Amorsolo to find an assembly of woodland creatures with the hare as the center of attraction who was admired for his speed. Amorsolo made his way through and challenged the hare to a race.
"But what in Mother Nature's creature is this?" said the hare instead, examining Amorsolo from head to foot.
"I'm a tortoise," Amorsolo said with pride and repeated his challenge for a race.
"A tortoise he claims to be," said a raccoon, "yet you don't look like one."
"Where is your shell?" said a skunk.
"I left it back home," said Amorsolo, this time as if he was unsure.
"He's playing us!" exclaimed a canary, "a tortoise always carries a shell."
A sleepy owl who was listening from the confusion emerged from the hollow of a tree and said, "This is the first time I've seen a creature like you. I will have to consult the Council of Woodland Creatures if there is a registered creature such as you."
Amorsolo argued his case, but strange as he looked without a shell, none would believe him. He was beginning to feel unwelcomed, and before he could feel worse, he bolted away.
He came to a river with three freshwater crocodiles basking under the sun with their mouths opened.
"Oh, wonderful!" said Amorsolo, "fellow reptiles. They will understand." When he jumped on a rock before the basking crocs to reveal himself, they started laughing at him.
"I've never laughed so hard in years!" said the biggest crocodile.
"What's the matter?" said Amorsolo, confused.
More laughs ensued. The medium-sized crocodile even rolled in laughter and whipped his tail on the water.
"That makes it even funnier!" said the smallest, "you're naked, and you don't even know it!"
"Were you forced to sell your house to pay a loan?" inquired the biggest as he snorted.
"No, I'm not naked, I'm a . . ." Amorsolo lowered his head for he couldn't explain, his voice overshadowed by the roaring laughter. He left the river and marched off with indignity.
"Why can't they see that I'm a tortoise?" Amorsolo muttered as he came to a small pond. Its resident turtle welcomed him with a look of pity in his eyes.
"My, my," said the small pond turtle, feeling sorry for Amorsolo. "You poor thing. You came to the right place. What kind of house do you need?" He started measuring the length of Amorsolo's back with a tape measure.
"I'm sorry," said Amorsolo, gently brushing off the pond turtle, "I don't need a house."
"Sure, you do. You're homeless. The rainy season will come soon, and you have no shelter. If you can't afford it, I can lease a big shell that I have stashed at the bottom of my pond. I think it will fit you nicely."
Amorsolo backed off. "No, thanks. I'll drop by if I need a house. Bye."
He rested under a large maple tree. A wolf came from behind the trunk, startling him.
"You look good enough to eat," the wolf said, examining Amorsolo. "I don't know what you are, and I don't care. Your folds of wrinkled skin looked appetizing, and that's all that matters.
For a moment, Amorsolo stood frozen in fear, wishing he could just hide in his tough shell.
Before the wolf could lunge, Amorsolo found courage and bolted towards the direction whence he came, using the tall blades of grass for cover. The wolf followed the grass movements, but Amorsolo managed to avoid him, as the wind blew the grass in the opposite direction.
As soon as he came to the pond, he leased the shell that the pond turtle had offered and promised to return it.
Amorsolo soon found his bale, removed his leased shell, and changed into his original carapace and plastron with renewed confidence.
"Amorsolo!" said Kiu-kok, "what made you change your mind?"
"Nothing," Amorsolo said, smiling. "It's just good to have a shell because I can be me!"
And they foraged together along with the other tortoises.