Remember when we were kids, when worries amounted to nothing and time was but a material object. Those were pleasant times, easy times, times which did not need to be analyzed or dissected, disemboweled or evaluated. What summarized this beautiful time more than anything were the birds. Remember when we used to wake up early in the morning and hear the birds chorusing through the trees, belching refrains from angels, chirping to one another from branches, kissing the air with their voices. You and I would look out the window and stare in awe at the formations that they formed in the wind; picturesque geometric patterns scattered across the tired sky, maintaining shape for a fraction of a moment before twisting and shifting and morphing and contorting in random splendor, spilling over the air like a dropped glass of water. There were bright colors that reflected the light from the sun like car mirrors, and dull colors that subtly subdued us with a quiet tranquility. I hear birds now and think only of tall grass and bare feet, of crooked-teeth smiles and short hair, of starry nights laying under the cabana talking about cartoons. And then the crocodile came.
I remember the first day we saw him. We were children, curious and naive, looking for everything and looking for nothing at all. Don’t you remember? He was sitting there in the green Florida river, giving himself a bath with a bar of Dove soap and a bamboo brush. He looked like a pleasant creature, with a mouth stuck in a constant crescent-moon smile and big, bright blue eyes that sparkled with the same innocence we possessed. He was singing while bathing, and his voice contained the tremor and excitement of youth. It would start as barely a whimper, as subtle as a change in the tide, but like a wave it would collect itself, rise in pitch, collect power and with an unmatched force hurl outwards from his mouth, and with a loud crash reach its crescendo before slowly being drawn back in. It would bend and twist, sometimes bumbling out of his long, gnarled jaws, other times slowly oozing forth like honey. More important than anything, however, it was calming, soothing, comforting, caressing. Didn’t it remind you of the birds?
“Why, hello, I didn’t see you there,” said the crocodile, as he paused from cleaning himself to look at us. He said it very calmly, as if he was quite used to children watching him bathe in rivers.
“What are your names?” said the crocodile
I recall telling him my name, and I believe you did as well. He let out a soft chuckle- I hadn’t known crocodiles could laugh- and he bade us to come closer. I still remember the nervous glance you gave me; that sideways look of fear and curiosity that every young child can perceive from any distance. I must admit, I was uneasy myself, but there are times for safety and times for risk. Indeed, there are moments in the lives of humans which can amount to everything in a few simple seconds. Is it not a crime of morality that these short gasps of life can define our existence? That these encounters of utmost brevity can create and destroy a whole plethora of journeys and lessons? Are we such puny creatures, locked to our own fates, that all of our struggles and all of our tribulations and all of our hardships and all of our loves and all of our hates are bound to these miniscule blinks of fatum? Are we not birds?
“Come, come, I won’t bite,” smiled the crocodile, revealing the jigsaw-knives that were his teeth.
We slowly, uneasily, approached, taking the utmost caution to not get snatched up and eaten.
“How can you talk?” I asked apprehensively, ironically, because even at that age we knew crocodiles should not be able to carry on a conversation.
“How can you?” retorted the crocodile, “How can anyone talk? I can make sound, can’t I? I can hiss-” with that he let out a horrible, piercing screech that scared the birds away, “-if I can make sound, why shouldn’t I be able to learn English, to sing, to whistle, to laugh?”
Remember how we both nodded our heads in agreement, as if the circumstances surrounding this strange encounter were acceptable, plausible even? I suppose that’s the beauty of youth, I… I suppose at that age we questioned less and observed more, we refused to accept the boundaries of reality and we let our eyes guide us, not our minds.
“I can see you’re still in disbelief, but you must trust that I am what I say I am, and that I seem what I say I seem,” and with that, he extended one long, scaly, green, warm finger towards my arm, brushing it ever so slightly. The finger was not that of an apparition, not even of a reptile, but instead one of human feel and human emotion, the kind of touch that a mother exhibits on her children, or a lover bestows upon his spouse. It was a touch that signaled kindness, that eased and comforted, that respected and treasured. It put the mind at ease and settled a beating heart, it cast away fears and restored trust. How the birds were singing in that moment! It was as if they crooned with the newfound friendship the crocodile and us had ignited, as if they were rejoicing like angels rejoice when a sinner repents.
“You can, at this point, obviously tell I’m no fictitious picture of your imagination,” the crocodile said in a blunt, matter of fact way, “So why don’t we find something to entertain us! I get quite bored just bathing here at this river”.
Do you remember what we showed him, brother? Do you remember our secret hideaway, the clearing in the forest that was concealed to only you and I? How we would run and skip and play tag and hopscotch and kick the can? Do you remember what he said to us during one of our escapes?
“Friends, I don’t think I should ever want to grow up, if growing up would mean abandoning you both,” said the crocodile, with his smile careening over his scaly face.
And we both felt the same. Growing up would mean leaving the friend that we had, the memories that we made, the experiences we garnered, the imagination that we treasured, the curiosity that we loved, the naiveness that we shunned, the crooked-teeth smiles and the cabanas and the smell of fresh green grass with morning dew. We knew that if we grew up, the crocodile would grow up too, and everything about the wonder of that beautiful time would disappear like the birds in autumn. It was a reality we could not understand, let alone bear. It was a cold feeling, that the crocodile might disappear, it was a bitter wind blowing through a black night sky, it was a crying mother as her son is carried to jail, it was a night without stars and a night without light and a night without touch and a night without laughs and a night without singing and a night without whistling and a night that was cruel and mean and forceful and evil.
I remember when the crocodile stopped talking. Maybe it was because you left us so soon. Maybe it was because he liked you more. Maybe because he didn’t like me at all. I miss you brother. I miss you when I see the animals outside my window, I miss you when I hear from mother, I miss you when I go outside. I miss you when I see birds. Sometimes I hear the crocodile still, but it’s in a far-off land; a land I can’t visit anymore. Maybe you’re there. Maybe there are birds there.
“You must have loved your brother very much,” the nurse said in the voice that parents use to talk to young, incompetent children, “You should drink your tea, it will be cold soon.”
The old man sat in his rocking chair, staring out at the yard of green grass and tree’s expanding before him, his eyes glazed over as if he had been in another world, not comprehending nor caring about what the nurse had been saying.
“The birds are very beautiful,” said the nurse, pointing to a flock that had just perched on a cherry tree in the middle of the yard, “If you listen closely, you can hear them singing through the window.”
The old man’s eyes, for just a moment, escaped from their dream and focused on the birds chirping in the distance.
“I don’t hear them anymore,” he managed to whisper, as he closed his eyes and passed into a restless slumber.