A long time ago a little boy sat and cried under a wild fig tree on the bank of a great river. He was lost.
Not too far away, Crocodile wallowed in the water near the edge of the river and watched the little boy. Crocodile was hungry.
“How can I eat a boy who is so unhappy? I’ll get a terrible stomach ache,” Crocodile said. “Water is the only thing that can make that boy happy again. I must teach him how to swim. And then, when he is happy, I’ll be able to eat him!”
So Crocodile swished his great tail from side to side and slithered up out of the river to where the boy sat.
“Sad boy,” he said, “you are crying because you are lost. I will teach you to swim. The water will make you happy again, and then you will find your way home. Come, climb onto my back.”
So the boy climbed onto Crocodile’s back, and they slipped into the cool water and floated out into the middle of the river.
“Hang on!” shouted Crocodile, and he dived down deep into the water where fish swim, and plants sway in the currents. Then Crocodile floated down the river with the boy on his back. Crocodile swished his tail from side to side and splashed the boy with the cool waters. He turned upside down, so that the boy had to crawl round to his belly in order not to fall off. He streaked across the river, with the boy hanging onto his tail.
They played in the water all day long. Crocodile made the boy laugh, and after a while, the boy felt happy again.
Crocodile saw that the boy was laughing and happy. “It is time for him to get off my back and swim in the river, so that I can catch him and eat him,” thought Crocodile. “Now that he has stopped crying he will probably taste quite delicious! But I can’t just throw him off my back, then turn around and bite him without warning. That is not fair. I must follow him in the water and catch him!”
So Crocodile swam to the edge of the river with the boy. “It is time for you to get off my back and swim on your own,” he said.
“Why?” asked the boy. “I like swimming with you. You are my best friend, Crocodile!”
“What? I am your best friend?” asked Crocodile with great surprise.
“Yes, you are,” said the boy. “You taught me to swim and you made me happy again.”
Crocodile gave the boy a big, sad, crooked smile.
“Wow, you have a lot of teeth, Crocodile. I never noticed them before!” said the boy.
“Don’t mind my teeth, I have them so that I can bite things and eat them, silly boy! Come now, let’s swim back across the river to make sure that you can swim on your own,” said Crocodile.
And so the boy went into the water on his own, and Crocodile followed him. The boy loved being in the water, and he swam like a fish.
Whenever the boy swam close to him, Crocodile said to himself, “Now is the time to eat him! He will taste delicious now that he is happy!” But every time he thought about eating the boy, he got a terrible stomach ache. So Crocodile swam to the bank of the river and flopped down onto the sand.
“Whenever I think of eating that boy I get a terrible, terrible stomach ache,” he cried.
Hoopoe was sitting high up in the wild fig tree. He flew down and perched on a branch close to Crocodile. “What is wrong with you?” he whooped.
“I must be ill because I don’t feel like eating that little boy,” answered Crocodile.
“Of course you don’t want to eat him,” said Hoopoe. “He is your friend! You taught him how to swim, and now he is happy again.”
“No! He is not my friend! I taught the boy to swim so that I could eat a happy person. I can’t eat a boy who is sad. He would taste as sad as his tears,” said Crocodile as he swished his tail and glared at Hoopoe.
Hoopoe puffed up his feathers and flew up onto a higher branch in the tree. He thought it was best not to be too close to Crocodile. He cocked his head to one side and said, “Now that the boy is happy again, it is time for him to go back to his family, Crocodile. You will never, ever eat him because he is your friend.”
“I suppose you are right,” sighed Crocodile, and he slithered back into the water. He swam out to the boy who was floating on his back under the warm African sun.
“Now that you are happy again you must come out of the river and go home to your family,” said Crocodile. “When you get back to the bank of the river, look over to the wild fig tree where you sat and cried. Someone is waiting there for you.”
“Who?” asked the boy.
“You will know him when you see him,” said Crocodile with a crooked smile, showing his big sharp teeth. And so together, Crocodile and the boy swam across the river to where the wild fig tree stood. Crocodile stayed in the water, while the boy climbed onto the bank of the river.
The boy looked over to the wild fig tree and saw his father sitting in the shade. He ran up to him. “How happy I am to have found you, Father,” he said.
“My son! How happy I am to see you!” said his father. “But I see Crocodile there in the water where you have been swimming! He is very dangerous, and he will eat a little boy like you if he catches you!” He gave his son a big hug. “Thank goodness you are safe now!”
The boy turned and looked back at Crocodile. He was lying in the water near the edge of the river. He could have been a log of wood, he was so still. But just above the water level, his hungry eyes watched the boy. The boy shivered. “I’m cold, Father. Please, let’s go home now.”
Then the boy lifted his arm and waved goodbye to Crocodile. Crocodile swished his tail in answer and floated off silently across the river.