There was once a boy who lived in a village in a valley of Japan. His village had wooden houses with sliding doors and rushing water and creeks. One hot summer day, it rained heavily from dawn to dusk. The creeks got deeper and wilder, and the boy, Makoto, thought it was the perfect time to venture down to the creek and hop from rock to rock. Makoto loved to watch the water, to feel it gushing over his hands. He put on a finely-woven straw hat and his blue shoes.
Makoto’s mother was fixing lunch, and she told him to be back in half an hour so he could eat with his father when he came home from his job at the post office. Makoto told his mother that he would be back by then.
Stretching his socks up to his knees so he would not get mosquito bites, Makoto started down the road. Not many others were on the road at the time, but Makoto did not mind. He liked to be by himself, to breathe in the fresh, thick air, to wade in the creek, to trek amongst the large green trees of the valley School had just ended, and Makoto went out every day to see something new, or to visit old special places.
Makoto headed down the road, and stopped at the post office to say hello to his dad. Makoto reached into his pocket and took out a few pumpkin seeds. He handed them to his dad over the counter where he worked, selling people stamps or arranging for their letters and packages to be mailed. Makoto pressed the seeds into his father’s hand and his father smiled and thanked him.
“Where are you off to today?” he asked Makoto.
“The creek,” Makoto told him. Then, in a hurry to get there, Makoto waved to his father and ran down the rest of the road.
Makoto walked past the giant bamboo stalks and he stepped carefully down to the creek. He hopped from rock to rock, and then stopped to listen to the loud, rushing water. He looked to his right, where two waterfalls stood. They had been there for hundreds of years. He hopped onto three more rocks, slipping on the last one, which was wet and slippery. He fell on it and scraped his knee, and as he scrambled up on the opposite bank, his shoe was pulled from his foot and swept down the river. Makoto ran down the riverbank as fast as he could. He caught up with his shoe, but then it floated away from him and under the bridge. There was no bank for him to run on and no rocks to hop on. He waded into the creek, then swam through the creek and under the bridge. His shoe had caught in between two rocks. He swam closer to it, but was soon swept off to the side. Makoto was tired from swimming and his limbs were sore. He pulled himself up onto the bank, and lay down on his side. He was wearing only one shoe. He turned to lie down on his back on the muddy bank. He sat for a long while, just thinking and sitting still. Then he remembered that he had been asked to be home to eat lunch with his father.
His shoe was no longer in sight and Makoto was so tired that he couldn’t bring himself to swim through the rushing water and the sharp rocks. He decided that he would sit on the bank until a villager noticed him. But if he didn’t arrive home soon, his parents would be worried.
Makoto was just falling asleep when he heard an ancient voice whisper into his ear. “I will take you back, and look! I found your shoe.” Makoto opened one eye and then two. A turtle was standing in the mud next to him. On the turtle’s back was his shoe! Makoto thanked him gratefully and put his shoe back onto his foot.
The turtle waded into the water. “Climb onto my back,” he said. Makoto sat down on the turtle’s back and he leaned forward and held on tight to the turtle’s beautiful shell. Then the turtle swam swiftly into the water.
Makoto held his breath, but the turtle assured him that he didn’t need to. Makoto breathed in, and water came out his nose. “I wasn’t ever able to breathe water before!” he told the turtle.
The turtle smiled wisely and said to Makoto, “Did you ever try?”
Makoto had not.
The turtle said to him, “Makoto, you have always been one of us. You are really a human body and mind, but your spirit and soul are turtle. Once every seven years we give one newborn child the ability. The child can breathe and swim like us. When you fell into the creek when you were young, all the turtles of the creek circled around you to cast the spell. Your mother came and took you out of the water just after you had become part turtle.”
Makoto was amazed with the turtle’s tale, and he believed it. He even found himself about to check if there was a shell on his back, but he remembered that his appearance was human. He began to get used to breathing water, and soon they had swum under the bridge. The turtle paddled in between rocks, and then up the bank. Makoto turned to say goodbye and thank you to the turtle.
But the turtle had swum back into the creek.
Makoto crossed the creek on the rocks once again, and he held on with his hands so that he didn’t slip. He hurried up to the road and ran toward his house. His slid open the door and took off his shoes. He slipped into his house slippers and crossed the room to the table where his parents were sitting on the tatami mats.