Tibo was a crocodile who knew his place.
As every crocodile should.
Tibo knew he was young and weak and he knew he had to find the right places to hunt and eat and hide and sleep. So that he could keep hunting, eating and sleeping. He knew that he had to watch for what the older stronger crocodiles wanted and he had to want something else. He knew had to not be noticed.
But Tibo had a problem.
Swimming was something that every crocodile did. But Tibo liked to swim a little differently to all the others.
As he floated on the surface of the water – searching for fish, watching for bigger or smaller crocodiles – he liked to stretch out his legs and stick his toes above the water.
It felt good.
Tibo had watched the jabiru and the darters and the egrets gliding in the sky above and he had wondered what it must feel like to fly.
So he would spread his own wings and feel the water flow around him like a thick cushion of air. And he would lift his toes towards the sky and feel the breeze that carried all the birds above the water. And in his mind he was with them.
“Careful, Tibo,” his mother had said when she had caught him ‘flying’. “Daydreaming is a certain end for any crocodile.”
“Careful, Tibo,” the older crocodiles would snap. “If we’re hungry and we catch you floundering like that, you’ll make a tasty snack.”
So Tibo was careful.
He stayed alert for sounds and movement and he only ‘flew’ for a blink of a moment when he knew that he was truly safe.
But each time he did it, he wished that he could keep doing it.
And Tibo found enough places to hunt and eat and hide and sleep that he grew. Bigger and older.
There was water, there were fish and there were other crocodiles. But now the other crocodiles were smaller and younger than Tibo. And they disappeared whenever he swam into view. And if they didn’t, Tibo would snap his teeth and whip his tail and show them how fast he was. And how strong.
So soon Tibo had large stretches of the river all to himself.
Where he could look up and see the jabiru and the darters and the egrets splicing the air with their outstretched wings.
So he would stretch his legs out and reach for the sky with his toes.
And he would be carried to the freedom of the birds.
And he would stay there for as long as he wanted.
One day, his littlest one swam alongside and posed the question that all the others had been too frightened to ask. “Papa, what is that you’re doing with your legs spread out? With your toes lifted up from underneath the water?”
And Tibo didn’t snap or whip his tail. He said simply “Lyra, that is a very good question … you see, the oldest biggest crocodile – if he is strong enough and smart enough – can do something that none of the others can. We are flying crocodiles, my son. And I am flying. And if, one day, you are the oldest and the biggest, you will be able to soar with the freedom I have found. … But until then, you will have to dream of it. You can practice. Just a little. But you must be careful. You can only try it for a moment before you return to finding places to hunt and eat and hide and sleep. For daydreaming is a certain end of any crocodile.”
“And are you daydreaming, Papa?” enquired his little one.
“No, Lyra, I am not daydreaming. I am living,” said Tibo. And he whipped his tail to remind the youngest of the privilege and strength of the Oldest and the Biggest.
And soon there was peace again in his stretch of the river.
So Tibo spread his wings and felt the breeze between his toes. And flew.