CROCODILES by Matt Harris

CrocodilesOnce there was a very happy little girl who lived in a village between a jungle and a river. The little girl was so happy that she smiled all day long. She smiled when she woke up in the morning, smiled when she saw there were noodles for breakfast, smiled on her way to her school lessons, smiled when she came home for lunch, smiled as she spent the afternoon helping her mother with the laundry and cleaning, smiled and laughed while she played with the other children in the evening and went to bed smiling and looking forward to happy dreams. Life was good for the happy little girl.

But not everyone liked to see the girl smiling so much. In fact almost everyone in the village disliked seeing her smile all the time. This was because life in the village was very hard. The reason it was hard was that they lived between the river and the jungle. The river was full of crocodiles and the jungle was full of tigers, so the villagers had to scrape a living from their thin strip of land. At night they stayed indoors, fearful of the rustling sounds from the jungle where the tigers crept, and the sloshing sounds from the river where the crocodiles surged slowly through the brown waters.

The villagers would have liked to go fishing on the river but anyone who tried would be snatched by a sudden crocodile and dragged down into the dark water. They would have liked to forage in the jungle, but the tigers were too many and too quick. So life was hard, food was scarce, and the hot days of hard work were only broken up by the screams and chaos that came when a tiger ventured out of the jungle to grab some unsuspecting villager, or when the great jaws of a crocodile closed with a snap around someone who had strayed too close to the river’s edge. The people’s faces were hard and serious and even the children were glum and hard working, and when they played in the evenings they were not carefree, but cautious and worried.

All except the little girl who smiled so much. She smiled and smiled and paid no heed to the worries of the other villagers. At village meetings people began to mutter darkly about the little girl. She’s insolent, they said. She has no idea about life, they grumbled. What is she so happy about anyway? they asked.

The little girl’s grandmother was one of those who grumbled. She was embarrassed to be known as the grandmother of the foolish little girl who smiled all day and cared nothing for life’s woes. She often tried to stop her granddaughter smiling so often.

‘How can you smile all day when life is so hard? Can’t you see that everybody else is unhappy? Are you trying to insult us all?’

The girl would shrug and apologise, but still she would smile.

All day long while the sun blazed, the tigers watched the village from the darkness of the jungle, and the crocodiles watched from the brown waters of the river. Sometimes the crocodiles would lift their heads to show great mouths of gleaming teeth, bared in gleeful smiles.

‘Look at the way those monsters smile, said the little girl’s grandmother, If you don’t stop smiling you will turn into a crocodile one day!’

The little girl laughed. She went to school each morning and learnt all about the world, so she knew that such things didn’t happen.

One day after school, while she was helping with the housework, her mother became angry with the girl’s constant smiling. ‘Go away and play!’ she scolded, ‘I’ve had enough of your smiling for one day.’

The little girl went away, but since all the other children were helping the adults with their farming or housework she could find no-one to play with. Instead she went to sit on a high rock near the river, where she could look out over the water but was far enough from the banks to be safe. She looked at the brown water churning lazily in the bright sunlight, and her smile widened. She saw the dense jungle on the other side of the river, watched it shift and sway, saw the rich green glow at its heart. She smiled even more. She watched the brown waters slide back here and there revealing green backs and watchful eyes. She smiled.

Out in the middle of the river a crocodile was watching her. It slowly raised its head from the water to show its enormous, pointy-toothed smile. She smiled at the sight. Her smile got wider and wider, her eyes glittered, her teeth sparkled in the sunlight. Her skin turned green, her hands and feet became claws, a great strong tale grew out behind her and thick scales grew all over her in beautiful patterns of green and gold. Her smile stretched out into a great gleeful crocodile smile. With a swish of her powerful tail she turned and prowled back into the village.

She crept up to her family’s hut. Outside, her grandmother was hunched over a wooden bucket, scrubbing wet clothes. The girl who had become a crocodile snapped up her grandmother in her jaws and gobbled her down in a flash. Her mother came running out of the hut, and the crocodile girl grabbed her in her jaws and gobbled her too. She turned and prowled back to the river as a commotion spread through the village. She crept down the steep banks of the river and slid into the dark waters. With a flick of her tail she surged forward. With a full belly she rose to float content in the middle of the river. The other crocodiles grinned at her. She smiled wider than ever.

***

February 2015 – ‘Otherworldly Originals’ Month

This story is part of the Short Story Sunday ‘Otherworldly Originals Month’ which continues throughout February with a quirky, distinctive and original story every Sunday.

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