Updated: Mar 7
*Aesop’s ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ told from the perspective of a pessimistic-desperate-turtle trying to at least be steady.
Written by İpek Sertöz
“...ok,” admitted Little Turtle, “I didn’t think this through.” He felt exhausted already. Turning to his right he watched the overly confident Rabbit jump up and down in front of the starting line.
Then the race started, all too quickly for Little Turtle.
Was he going to be the first turtle in history to lose a race against a Rabbit? How shameful would that be! He rushed forward.
Slap! Slap! Rabbit slapped the turtle's shell. “Are you sleeping Little Turtle, the race has started!”
Little Turtle panicked! He had started! He hurried one paw in front of the other, then tripped, flopping loudly on his belly right across the starting line.
“Oh…” said Little Turtle -
“Ha ha ha!” said Rabbit, bouncing up and down next to Little Turtle. Then he was gone.
“Wait,” called Little Turtle, trying hard to sound confident.
I should have never left my bed today - complained Little Turtle - he had skidded his knee… and destroyed his confidence. Already!
But Little Turtle was stubborn. So he picked himself up and started going forward - one paw then the other, repeat, left paw, right paw…
“I must have made great progress.” thought Little Turtle. Looking over his shoulder, he realized his tail was still on the crossing line.
“Ohh!” realized Little Turtle, “I lost the race! What was I expecting...”
But… Little Turtle was convinced to finish what he started so he kept going. One paw, then the other…
“I wonder” he thought, “If I found Rabbit, we could agree on a tie. That’s better than being the loser. We could both win!” hoped Little Turtle.
Suddenly he felt much lighter and courageous.
“Ohhh” admitted Little Turtle, this time feeling heavier than even before.
“The Rabbit would never agree to a tie. Maybe he already finished the race, and I’m just wasting my breath for nothing.”
Would they inform him when the race was over?
“I didn’t think this through” agreed Little Turtle to himself.
But Little Turtle had promised himself to race as best as he could whatever happened and so he continued.
He bumped his shell onto tree trunks, and had to go around medium sized rocks; “it’s all because of this stupid shell, I won’t even get to see the finishing ceremony!”
His shell felt more and more like a prison cell as his legs got sore, and his breath became shallower.
“Only if I could take off my shell!” thought Little Turtle as he imagined himself flying up into the sky, stretching the wings that had been hidden underneath the bump of his shell… CRACK!
“Oh no.” realized Little Turtle. “Help!”
His shell had been stuck in between two tree trunks, because he wasn’t paying attention where he was going.
“Calm down. Calm down!” told the turtle to himself - but he was already panicking.
“Ok I just need to go backwards and wriggle out of here” he told himself stubbornly, trying to ignore the fact that he couldn’t move at all -
“Oh my fat ass!” moaned Little Turtle. “..and now I’m talking to myself too. Great… I can add crazy to my CV, next to fat, tired, slow, loses races, and has a stupid big ‘Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame-like shell… and-”
“Help!” cried the Little Turtle, he knew that getting stuck never ended well for a turtle. Oh, all those horror stories he heard as a young hatchling, of turtles who strayed away from home, and got stuck between rocks or roots… their empty shells had been found years later.
Who had found those shells so far away from home? Little Turtle had never asked…
Unable to move, he watched the sun inching nearer and nearer to horizon, he realized he would be forgotten forever - it would be as if Little Turtle never even existed…
“That’s great... I can’t think of a better way to starve to death than sitting here in between two tree trunks and- ”
“Who are you talking to?” asked a low lazy voice.
Little Turtle who had called out for help a second ago, now froze in place… well he was stuck anyway.
Right in front of him, he saw the largest Grizzly Bear ever.
“I’m stuck” squeaked Little Turtle, trying to secretly dry his eyes. “I’m racing a Rabbit” he added trying to sound like he had a purpose in life.
Grizzly looked at Little Turtle with gentle round eyes. It reminded Little Turtle of his own mother, and he felt even smaller.
“I can help you get unstuck.” said Grizzly in his low lazy soft voice. “And then you can go win your race.”
“You think- you think I have a chance against the Rabbit?”
“Well” said Grizzly as he clumsily started pushing Little Turtle from behind “the race isn’t over yet.”
“But I am so stupid!” said Little Turtle, testing the Grizzly’s optimism. “I got myself stuck.”
“You are not the first." answered Grizzly simply.
"My shell is heavy and useless, I'll never make it anyway," tried again Little Turtle.
"Your home is worth carrying, everywhere." Grizzly added warmly.
No wonder he is so optimistic thought Little Turtle, he doesn't really get the problem.
CRACK! The turtle came free.
“I’m sorry you had to help me.” Little Turtle was trying to say thank you.
“Ohhh” realized Little Turtle suddenly, the light in his eyes setting quicker than the sun.
“What’s wrong?” asked Grizzly with round gentle eyes.
“I can't race anymore, it would be cheating, now that you’ve helped me?”
“Just a little push.” said Grizzly, “everyone needs it sometimes.” Then Grizzly paddled away clumsily into the forest.
He is not so large and scary at all, decided Little Turtle. “You know what, I can still win this race. That Rabbit is probably just sleeping somewhere.”
“Woohoo, here I come!” screamed Little Turtle as he inched forward towards the finish line.
Then it got dark.
Then it got cold.
Then Little Turtle started feeling lonely too.
...But he thought of the gentle round eyed looks of the Grizzly Bear and kept going. One paw after the other.
In the Moonlight all shadows seemed like the silhouettes of enormous monsters with razor sharp teeth, others seemed like black holes waiting for their first victim. It took Little Turtle all his might to keep going. As the night grew darker, Little Turtle had no doubt those were not just shaped like monsters, they were alive and breathing down his neck.
“Where are you-hoo-hu going?” hooted two large eyes from the dark.
The poor-scared-devastated-Little Turtle gulped loudly, he knew where he thought he was going, but the truth was nagging him for a while now.
“I’m lost,” he said finally, but his voice cracked. Little Turtle cleared his throat, and doing his best to sound brave he said: “I’m racing a Rabbit.” His voice trembled anyway.
The big eyes blinked, disappearing for a second in the dark and appearing out of thin air again.
“Youuu” hooted the Owl “can’t go very far if you continue-ue going in circles.”
“Ohh” said the turtle.
That’s all he could say.
He had tried and tried… for nothing!
“I’m sure the Rabbit never got lost even once in his life!” thought Little Turtle, but he didn’t say anything.
He hated that Rabbit, he remembered the way he had slapped his shell before the race, and Little Turtle just wanted to slap him right back. OH! He hated himself equally as much… especially that stupid shell, ugly green color, and… and… EVERYTHING!
The big eyes from the dark kept staring at Little Turtle. “Intimidating!” thought the little lonely Turtle, but again he didn’t say anything. He stared down onto the cold wet ground, and waited for the ache in his heart to spread over his entire body.
“Just because you are lost now, doesn’t mean you-hu won’t be found.” hooted the eyes towards Little Turtle. “If you know where you’re going, you can detour and arrive late, but you will get there. Let’s just assume you took the scenic route this evening.” continued the Owl, sounding like he was smiling behind the darkness.
The turtle just sighed. He had never gone this far from home, he realized this must be the limit.
“A courageous turtle racing a rabbit! What a lovely story this will make one day. You don’t have to win, you know, this will be a priceless adventure regardless of the outcome.”
Suddenly, Little Turtle started crying, ‘nobody would blame him for losing’, nobody even expected him to win. Why was he doing this to himself?
“I just wanna go home” sobbed the weak Little Turtle. “I should never have gotten into this! I can’t even see where I’m going-”
“You don’t need to see where you are going.” interrupted the eerily cheerful calm tone of the Owl. “I can help you find your way, even with your eyes closed.”
Little Turtle would have preferred if the Owl had offered to drag him across the forest on his shoulders. He didn’t want motivation, he didn’t want somebody telling him he could still finish this race. The only thing he could imagine right now was sleeping.
...but he was too tired to argue with the big eyes in the dark. “Where do I go now?” asked the Little Turtle.
“Easy!” hooted the Owl loudly “Just turn towards the bushes now, and turn left from the crooked tree-”
“Which bushes!?” cried Little Turtle squinting his eyes desperately into the pitch black of the night.
“Sorry.” said the eyes, they did sound sorry. Then there was silence, until the hard belly of the Turtle fell flat on the ground. Thud!
It felt good for a second: giving up. Not pushing yourself forward and forward all through the night. If guilt hadn’t come rushing in he could have slept right there and then. Little Turtle pulled himself cozily into his shell, feeling grateful for the warmth - Grizzly was right, it was home.
“Hey! You have a race to win.” tried the Owl. “I didn’t know you were as blind as a chicken - oh! I didn’t mean to say that. Come out of your shell - I can help you, I will help you!”
“Why?” said the weak voice of Little Turtle.
“Why? Have you forgotten ‘why’ you started in the first place?”
There was silence, “Remember” said the Owl, clearing his throat “You didn’t come this far to just come this far!”
‘I’m too slow,’ whined Little Turtle.
“But are you steady?” continued Owl.
Then reciting everything quickly he started: “Don’t let the length of your journey taunt you, mountains are climbed one small step at a time. You will never regret having started this race: the only times we regret are the small moments of courage we didn’t follow through. If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough, dreams are meant to be scary! Opportunities are disguised as hard work, that’s why-”
“I’m tired.” interrupted Little Turtle.
“You will never be this close to the finish line again if you give up and go home, Little Turtle.”
Little Turtle sighed. He would never forgive himself if he turned back. Slowly, and lazily he pushed his head out of his shell. “AHHH!”
Two giant glowing eyes were looking right into his shell. “Sorry, I just wanted to see what it was like inside - ok, then follow me! You can cry while walking. If you insist.”
Owl flew somewhere to the left and turned his head creepily 180 degrees to stare right back at the Turtle.
“How do I find all the weirdos wherever I go” thought Little Turtle, but he didn’t say anything.
The night went on and on… and on… and just when Little Turtle thought it couldn’t possibly keep going. It did.
With each step Little Turtle felt more disoriented. His discomfort didn’t seem to have a limit. Doubt started growing heavier than his shell. Owl seemed to be taking him deeper and deeper into the wilder parts of the forest. How would he find his way back home? Not the home Grizzly thought was his shell, but home… home!
Then something horrible happened. The worst thing that could have happened: Little Turtle felt sorry for himself.
Self-pity flowed through his veins like poison. But he kept going, because he didn’t want to hear another motivational quote from the Owl. He suffered peacefully in silence.
To pass the time, in his head Little Turtle practised several versions of his losing speech, it was almost perfect. He had decided, for example, that he wouldn’t say something wimpy like: ‘It was a pleasure just being here. I’m really happy for Rabbit. I can’t wait to try again next year...’ Why did everyone say that? NO. It was not a pleasure! Maybe it was a trap to get others to fail as well. “Oh it was so fun, you should try losing too?”
Well, he had challenged Rabbit himself… But it was still the Rabbit’s fault. How arrogant did you have to be to accept a race with a stupid Turtle? How dare he…
The Little Turtle angrily stumped over a mushroom.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, “A mushroom! A mushroom, I can see, look I saw the mushroom.”
“...amazing.” answered the Owl.
The sun painted all the colors back into the forest, even drew a body, feathers, and wings around the talking round eyes of the Owl so that Little Turtle didn’t feel so lonely anymore.
Little Turtle had finally made it into the light. He had used everything he had just to make it through the night, but when he realized the race wasn’t even over yet, Little Turtle felt betrayed.
Then he had another bad idea:
“Oh” said Little Turtle, “What happened?” asked the Owl.
“Rabbit will tell me I cheated, because I got help from you and from Grizzly too. I wanted to finish the race, but maybe it’s just wrong.”
“Why do you think it’s cheating, Little Rabbit?” Asked the Owl, “I haven’t walked a single step of your journey. You told yourself you were tired, and then pushed through like a champion. Nobody can take that away from you.”
Little Turtle felt trapped in the race, but kept quiet.
“Now,” said the Owl, “go win your race, and don’t overestimate your opponent. He hasn’t won yet.”
“How do you know!” asked the Turtle.
“Because you haven’t given up yet.” said Owl.
“Well, he likes talking” thought Little Turtle, but of course he didn't say it outloud.
The Owl gave him an encouraging last look and flew away into the pink sky.
“Only if I had wings… I wouldn’t have to race anyone…” regretted-his-existence Little Turtle.
...but then something happened: Little Turtle looked up from his pessimism, and just over the wildflowers, he saw the river. He was so close! Close enough to push through!
And so he did. All he had to do was to cross the river, go over the hill and locate the sycamore tree, follow that up north, and before he knew it, he would be by the finish line.
It still sounds like a lot. But Little Turtle was so motivated, he didn’t stop to overthink what he had to do. He just did it. Owl had really worked his magic.
“It was a really nice smart Owl. I really liked his company.” said Little Turtle to himself, hoping he had thanked him heartily enough.
He chomped up some leaves for breakfast, filled his cheeks with fresh grass and started marching towards the river. The Owl had brought him very close to the little wooden bridge.
“What a gentleman.” decided Little Turtle.
The weather was beautiful, the sun was nice and warm on his shell, and Little Turtle felt invincible. Birds, flowers, river… and the bridge had a missing plank.
Little Turtle stopped midway across the bridge and looked down. Through the gap he could see the river flowing beneath him, loudly and violently. There was no way across. “Not if you're a lousy turtle, with the average agility of a mossy rock.”
“I bet the Rabbit didn’t even realize this, he must have jumped right across without even slowing down!”
“Ohh, I lost the race…” he moaned loudly. How could he be ‘steady’ when life was so uneven.
Little Turtle did all he could to stop himself from crying.
“What advice do you have now Mr. Owl! You-hou You-hou-hu- Idiot! The more I try, the worse I fail... “ gloomed Little Turtle, his heart was aching horribly.
“Your tears won’t fix the bridge,” said an old determined voice. Little Turtle looked around him but couldn’t see who had spoken to him.
“Why don’t they ever look down...” said the voice at last, Little Turtle looked down through the gap and saw a Crocodile staring right back at him. He seemed casual enough in the violent rush of the river.
It was a scary sight, and Little Turtle ‘jumped’ back in fear. But his curiosity took the better of him, and he peeked down once again.
“Are you going to sit there all day? Your moaning is annoying me out of my skin.”
“You heartless beast!” exploded Little Turtle, “Can’t you see there is no way to cross this bridge!”
“No way across? Well… wherever it was you were going, must not be that important after all.” gnarled the voice at Little Turtle.
The two stared at each other, Little Turtle wanted to explain all the things he had overcome so far, how he had pushed through, but the Crocodile didn’t seem too capable of empathy. His words pained Little Turtle dearly.
“Where I am going is very important actually!” protested Little Turtle, “I am racing a Rabbit-”
“Ha! Racing? You don’t look in a hurry,” mocked the Crocodile, Little Turtle wanted to throw his entire body onto the Crocodiles head - his shell would come in handy for once.
“What do you suggest I do?” cried Little Turtle, “...Jump, Fly, Climb?”
“You can float you know.” said the Crocodile in an unimpressed voice.
There was silence.
“Are you sure?” said the Little Turtle, regretting his question immediately. There was no way anybody could make him voluntarily put himself into rushing water, not to mention with a Crocodile in it.
“Depends how much you want it,” said the Crocodile, his grin was starting to make Little Turtle sick.
“Oh,” said Little Turtle, he felt stupid already. Did he have a choice, going back would take him just as long, and he had gotten so far… ‘you didn’t come this far to just come this far’ repeated the Little Turtle under his breath. The Owl was right… He would never be this close to the finishing line, and if he didn’t try every option first he would never forgive himself for turning back.
“..this wasn’t part of the race!” complained Little Turtle trying to distract himself from the stupidity of the act he was about to commit.
Little Turtle got off the bridge and went down to the river. Seeing the water up close made him doubt himself even more.
“Are you sure?” asked Little Turtle, his voice was shaking, his knees were wobbly, and the Crocodile didn’t radiate reliability.
“Go ahead turn back, you won’t be the first to abandon your dreams.”
Little Turtle imagined the Crocodile biting into his shell and cracking it open. He considered other potential outcomes and couldn’t think of anything worse that could happen - assuming he didn’t drown.
He half stepped in, half slipped into the river. He panicked and swallowed some water, almost toppled over, bumped against the Crocodile and then…
“I can swim!” yelled the Little Turtle over the sound of the river, as he bumped again into the Crocodile.
“I wouldn’t call that swimming,” said the Crocodile, but Little Turtle was too happy to notice.
It was an amazing feeling, it felt exactly like what Little Turtle imagined flying would be like: Weightlessness. For the first time in his life Little Turtle didn’t have to carry his shell! The water was cool and soft at the same time. He felt his paws glide gently in this magical substance that carried and soothed him.
The Crocodile watched him impatiently as Little Turtle paddled clumsily in the same spot, stuck to the side of the Crocodile, who was the only thing preventing the stupid turtle from being pushed down stream. But Little Turtle didn’t seem to realize the situation. He had a giant smile on his face, his mouth was open, and his eyes were glued to the other side of the river where he ‘thought’ he was going. That idiot thought he was swimming! HE thought he had a chance!
The Crocodile wondered how long the Turtle would try before realizing he hadn’t moved an inch since entering the river. But the Crocodile couldn’t make fun of Little Turtle, he was trying way too hard.
“Ok,” said the Crocodile, “that’s enough…” he flicked his tail and pushed the turtle forward, guiding him with his nose until the shell of Little Turtle bumped into the soft sand on the other side.
The Turtle didn’t move for a very long time, even the Crocodile feared he was broken or something. Then Little Turtle looked over his shell - his face hadn’t changed: Still the same stupid grin and open mouth.
“Wooow,” said the turtle as if in a trance. “That was the best thing that has ever happened to me!”
The Crocodile bit his own tongue not to say something mean - poor Little Turtle he thought, he was just too naive. “Come on go now, you are ‘racing’ don’t forget that.”
Little Turtle nodded, his smile not fading one bit, and started to ‘run’ towards the hill. Crocodile couldn’t bear watching him, he was too slow. But at least he was moving… ‘Good luck, Little Turtle.’ he uttered under his breath, he had never wished well for anyone other than himself.
Little Turtle inched his way across the open fields, his heart was beating very fast, and he was almost high on adrenaline. He was dreaming of swimming, and water, and that one fish he saw…
He had a lot of time to dream. It took him quite a while to reach the top of the hill.
Once at the top Little Turtle was once again mind blown, he had never seen that far ahead of himself before. He stretched his neck as far out as he could. Wind blew onto his face gently but consistently, and for a moment Little Turtle just watched. He had deserved this scenery.
The river and the Crocodile seemed tiny, the endless distances he walked short enough, but way ahead of him lay hundreds if not thousands of trees, he could see every color gifted to flowers, birds, clouds, animals. Every shape, every texture. Every shade of green, red, orange, pink! He hadn’t realized how big everything was, how far he could potentially go - how far he would go! now that he knew it was worth every step of the journey.
He located the bent sycamore tree, and followed with his eyes the path he would walk soon. The finish line couldn’t be very far away, even though he couldn’t see it yet.
But there was a problem. The Rabbit was nowhere to be seen. Had he already finished the race and gone home? He looked over his shell back into the river and towards the broken bridge. Crocodile was gone too.
Little Turtle felt eerily lonely. He had overcome so much since he had cried on the bridge, since he had gotten lost in the night and stuck between two tree trunks, and since he had fallen flat over his belly over the starting line… “Ok,” said the Little Turtle, “Let’s see what problem comes my way this time.”
He clung to the sensation he felt in the water, to the wisdom of the Owl, and gentle forgiving looks of the Grizzly. He promised himself: Rabbit or no Rabbit, audience or no audience, he was going to walk over that finish line. He just had to.
It was slow, boring, tiring, annoying, unnecessary, and hard.
He realized at some point that he had passed the sycamore tree, and was heading into bushes north of the tree. He blamed himself for sleepwalking and gathered his attention to concentrate on what lay ahead of him.
There was no way around the bushes. Little Turtle thought for a second, then calmly and stubbornly pushed himself into the bushes. He almost got stuck a few times but managed to keep going.
Once he was free from the tangle of the bushes, he saw the best sight he could hope for:
Grizzly, Owl, even the Crocodile, birds, and his parents! Everyone was there. Except the Rabbit.
They seemed to be chatting to each other. Or whispering, for some reason Little Turtle couldn’t tell. Crocodile was nodding intently while his parents repeated questions over and over again.
His parents had left home many days before him, just to be here on time. They always left way too early. And Little Rabbit had told them to stay home, not wanting them to be there when he lost. Now it didn’t seem to matter anymore, he didn’t mind losing, well he did… but not as much as he feared he did. He was grateful to see them, he had so much to tell!
“I made it, you guys!” yelled the Little Turtle, but his throat was dry and it didn’t sound like anything at all. The others noticed him. They were now waving their arms and signaling him to be quiet, The Crocodile was signalling him to rush over.
That’s when Little Turtle realized the ribbon was still intact on the finish line. He wondered how this was possible. Maybe it was somebody else’s race line... somebody could have tidied up after the Rabbit had gone through. Little Turtle knew he had no chance, he was just too slow, and had got lost, and stopped to cry a few times. But then… He saw the Rabbit. He was sleeping under a tree just a few meters down the finish line. He didn’t look very tired, or weather worn, he seemed to be napping more like anything else.
While everyone was frantically miming Little Turtle to be quiet and hurry, he did! His heart was beating faster than ever, with the sound of every dry leaf, and crackling branch, or his heavy breathing the Rabbit could wake up and spring into action - just one sound and Little Turtle would lose even with his nose already on the finishing line.
One paw, after the other, right paw, left paw, repeat…
His parents had all their attention on him, they weren’t even breathing. The Grizzly looked back and forth between Little Turtle and the sleeping Rabbit, the bear seemed more confused than even before. Owl, who never seemed to be able to stop talking, was whispering to himself constantly. The Crocodile had his eyes on the Rabbit, he looked like he could eat the Rabbit if he accidentally stirred in his sleep.
Inch by inch Little Turtle passed his entire body over the finish line, and tore away the ribbon, everyone held their breath until his tail had cleared the thick white line on the ground - then everyone burst out!
His parents outran Owl and Grizzly to congratulate him and hug him. Crocodile just smiled, but this time Little Turtle didn’t have the urge to drop on to his face, instead he smiled back to the Crocodile. Then cried, he had never felt so much support before.
The Rabbit… he slept on. He missed the finishing ceremony.
“How?” asked the Little Turtle innocently.
“Ah - Rabbit was so busy underestimating you, he couldn’t simply do his best.” answered Owl.
“I knew you’d win,” said the Grizzly, “Didn’t you?”