Here is your wisdom, they say as they thrust the young reptile into my arms. Guard its life as you guard your own.
I too am young, and the idea of being responsible for this other life is daunting.
What if I fail?
What if it dies?
Or, what if it grows large and mean and I cannot control it?
My year-mates, my heart sisters and blood brothers, are also given young reptiles to care for. I see each of them cradling their black-scaled, green-eyed charges. I see blood welling from the arm of my name-twin. Her reptile has not yet been taught to gentle his claws.
My reptile is white, not green, and her eyes glow red like the embers of a fire. They say our reptiles – our crocodiles – are the descendants of Earth’s dinosaurs. But this is not Earth, and I am certain mine is closer akin to dragons. Her claws are light against my skin. Her ectothermic body presses into my chest, seeking heat.
Here is your wisdom, they repeat, and I understand: In caring for our crocodiles we will learn to care for others, and in training them to behave politely, without lunging for food or snapping their heavy jaws, we will learn to temper our wilder urges, to live thoughtful, measured lives.
I hold the white crocodile closer, and I feel her infrasonic rumble move through my bones.
She is my Wisdom
I am her Heart.
When we are both grown, she will return to the waters of the Great River and I will take my place on the village council, but we will still be bound.
They say that our People descended from crocodiles instead of apes. I cannot be certain of this, but I dream at night of lying in the warm sun on the riverbank, of watching my lover move silently into the darkness, of sliding into the dark water where I am truly free.
It is a dream that feels almost like a memory.
Here is your wisdom, they say yet again, and I give them a half smile, one that doesn’t reveal my teeth.
The white crocodile is my Wisdom.
And I am her Heart.