Written by Jacinta Escudos | Translated from Spanish by Eliana González Ugarte
Highlight to read content warnings:
Child Abuse, Genital Mutilation, Violence, Blood.
I turn into a crocodile on warm afternoons.
I head to the stream, take off my clothes, go in face-down, close my eyes, extend my arms, and open my legs.
I feel the desert winds embracing me with its hot currents. They melt me. They penetrate me down there. And something shifts, something that is no longer me, but a crocodile.
My new strength draws me in, seductively, the way a woman’s hips dance when she walks. I have scales on my hands, and a new, extended nose attached to jaws filled with sharp and pointy teeth. The little critters run away from me and hide. They’re afraid.
They’re scared I’ll open my jaws. They’re afraid of my eyes.
At first, I didn’t know what was happening. And then I remembered what was said in the village. A girl who doesn’t submit to the ritual will turn into a crocodile.
I couldn’t imagine how a girl could turn into a crocodile. But I wasn’t supposed to ask. I'd later come to understand.
That first afternoon I turned into a crocodile was strange. I laid face-down in the stream because I was hot, and the heat makes me sleepy. I wanted to sleep, so I did. And when I woke up, I discovered I was an animal. I got to know my jaws, my new hands. If I twisted my body far enough, I could even see my tail. My very own tail!
I found it curious. To be an animal and a person. I wasn’t worried; it was fun. I spent my afternoons in the shrubbery by the stream with my other crocodile friends. We talked about the animals they hunted, the young, the heat and the water. And we spoke of the people who lived in the village.
The other crocodiles couldn’t believe I was human until they saw me turning back into myself.
The elder crocodiles said that a human who could turn into an animal had to be a sorcerer. And so, the other crocodiles began to respect me, and they promised to help me because they knew I’d be kind to them.
I had a great time with my friends. We swam, ate, and played. They taught me how to hunt. We stalked the animals that approached the stream’s shore to drink water: impalas, buffalos, lions, elephants. And also, people.
I didn’t like being human. I preferred my time spent as a crocodile. Mother had been clear. She said, you have to submit to the ritual. And I’d say, no, I’d rather be a crocodile. Mother would throw me to the ground and yell. The women would speak to me, telling me I had to do it and be unafraid, that everyone did it.
I cried. I didn’t want to listen. I’d place my hands on my ears and wail. I knew of the girls’ screams when they went to the ritual. I knew of the ones who died afterward.
You’ll never get married, they’d say. And Mother would say, no one will pay a dowry for you. We’ll be forever miserable. She’ll be unfaithful, lustful, sick in the flesh, and her whole body will rot. Her parts will grow and grow and be as big as a goat’s horn, they’d say behind my back
I dreamed. In my dream I lay face up, naked. And in the dream, I saw that between my legs grew a long one-eyed serpent, thick and rigid, colored like my flesh, and I took the serpent’s head between my hands, placed it in my mouth and began to feel strange things throughout my body. And I awoke pressing my legs together, feeling like something moved in that part where water leaves the body. Something that moved and throbbed just as intensely as my beating heart.
They left me to my fate. Mother didn’t want to hear of me. I slept and ate there, but they didn’t care if I left or stayed. I was unworthy, and I feared that any day they’d take me by force to do that which they did to the others.
And I didn’t want to be with them. I hated Mother. I saw her take my little sister, I saw her take others. My little sister cried for days and days, and all that came out of her body was blood. Lots of blood. Mother spent her days changing the blood-soaked cloths for other cloths, rusted by the poorly-washed blood.
Once, I saw it all. I knew they took the girl to the healer’s hut. The healer stripped her, and the women would hold the girl’s legs open, and the girl would cry and howl like an animal for the slaughter, and the healer used a knife to cut a piece of flesh, the size of an ear, from there, where water leaves the body. And the blood sprouted red, in abundance. And there was no way to stop it, not with mud plasters, not with a mix of herbs. And the girls didn’t drink concoctions or dusts to alleviate their pain, they were merely held by their own mothers or older sisters, while another woman cut their parts and sewed them up with reeds and needles made of thorny plants.
I’d rather be a crocodile. Unworthy. Impure.
One morning, Mother told me I had to go with her. I knew what that meant. She’d deceive me and take me to the healer. They’d subdue me; tie me up like an animal.
I ran. I ran desperately, screaming. I went to the only place where I had friends: the stream. I ran and got into the water, and I remember hearing a strange cry coming from Mother. She knew that was where the crocodiles lived. Mother thought I was dead.
I got into the water, and for the first time, I turned into a crocodile in the stream’s dark depths. I came ashore as a crocodile, and the others followed me.
We went to the village and destroyed everything. The only beings we tore apart were the women. Some of my friends died. The men resisted. But we weren’t interested in men. The women were the ones who did it all. The ones who maimed, forced, kept the legs open.
Mother died, and I saw her die, but she didn’t know I was her daughter: I, crocodile. I personally participated in eating the healer. And we took care of everyone else too, because the girls were never happy after the ritual. It was an act of mercy to end them.
When we were done, it was because all the men had gone away. They were unable to defend their women. They ran frightened. Joyously, we clapped our jaws as a sign of victory.
Now I’m this village’s leader. My crocodile friends have a good time. I no longer try to become human. I’d rather be like this, a crocodile, with a long serpent growing between my legs.
© Jacinta Escudos
Originally published in El diablo sabe mi nombre, and Insólitas.
Jacinta Escudos was born in El Salvador. She has cultivated the novel, short story and essay genres and has experience as an editor, translator, as well as in guiding literary workshops. In 2000, she was a resident in Heinrich Böll Haus in Germany and in La Maison Écrivains Étrangers et des Traducteurs de Saint-Nazaire. Winner of of the I Premio Centroamericano de Novela “Mario Monteforte Toledo” (2003) with her novel A-B-Sudario, published by Alfaguara Guatemala. She's published ten books between novels, short stories and essays, highlighting: El asesino melancólico (2015), Crónicas para sentimentales (2010), El desencanto (2001) and Cuentos sucios (1997. She lives in El Salvador where she writes the biweekly column "Gabinete Caligari" in the Séptimo Sentido de La Prensa Gráfica magazine, and heads literary fiction workshops and works in cultural promotion. Her other work, like her journalistic columns, can be found on her website http://jescudos.com.