Kulu cranks her jaws wide open upon seeing us
When our neighbors tell us we are no longer allowed to enter their land, we don’t feign a lack of concern. We stew, we peel, we mulch. Later that night, we sneak over to their side with sixteen chicken carcasses and use chicken blood mixed with garlic to lure Kulu—the crocodile—out of their lake.
Sprawled on the ground, Kulu doesn’t twitch a muscle till we throw the first chicken carcass toward her. Instead, she swallows it and then immediately spits it back at us. While we are busy debating the missing wings from that carcass, Kulu bursts into tears. Upon lapping up her tears, the ground shifts and unfurls a bush of squash. Squash vines coil around Kulu’s paws but can’t tie her down. She trundles up to the second, still-winged chicken we dangle before her. Each time she eats, spits, and sheds tears, the ground offers up something new. Kulu crosses over to our side and into our home, and behind her shines a trail dotted with slimy lumps of meat and plump winter vegetables.
Kulu doesn’t seem to mind us cooing “Kulu, Kulu” as she waddles around, poking into every corner of our home, and chooses the storeroom to rest her tail. We know she accepts us when she raises her upper jaw to the ceiling and shows her mouth—the scars, the cracked teeth, the net hooks she proudly rolls around like tongue piercings. One of us has an idea and unloads into Kulu’s mouth a sack filled with brown grains of rice that need dehusking. Kulu snaps her jaws shut and then opens wide, showering us with white grains of rice—pristine, dehusked, liberated from their itch-inducing sheaths. To dehusk all this rice in our mortar and pestle would have taken us days. Galvanized, we empty into Kulu’s mouth sack upon sack of our harvest. We empty out our walls, and she fills the room, our pockets, our ears, and our navels with ready-to-sell rice. We have to be quick, otherwise Kulu, blinded by tears, might snap off our arms.
We discover numerous other uses for Kulu’s snapping jaws. They help us chop fruits for salad, crunch bones for chicken feed, defeather wings for pillows, and trim the frayed edges of the letter we pray to every evening—the decade-old, cotton-paper letter informing us that search parties had been recalled to ship and our mother had been declared lost at sea. Never once does Kulu swallow more than the tiny fraction she requires for her nourishment, never once does she fail to shed copious tears right after. We collect her tears in drums to water our fields. We realize how much the produce from our land multiplied when our neighbors turn up to complain. They accuse us of stealing their crocodile, and, with her, all the fertility of their land. When they threaten to poison us, Kulu uproots a mahogany tree with a single blow of her tail and scares them off. We can’t stop fussing over Kulu, even as she proceeds with her afternoon nap.
Our neighbors’ next visit is atop a cartful of sweets, and they beg for a quarter of our produce. In return, they offer us uninterrupted access to their lake, which they claim has thrived since Kulu’s departure. We don’t wake Kulu up and follow our neighbors—their lake indeed swirls with crackling crystal water, from which crabs jump up to spit at the sky. We picnic right then and there and accept their offer. As days go by, we begin to spend more and more time by the lake. There are attendants to boil up all the crabs we desire. “Kulu must be feasting in our absence. And bawling her eyes off!” we yell while we pepper one another with crab shells. We giggle. We stop farming. Instead of just the quarter, we let our neighbors sink their claws into every inch of our land. They sell all the produce at the market and give us our share, and we return home with our bellies full and our pockets stuffed with cash. Kulu cranks her jaws wide open upon seeing us, but we no longer have the need to place anything in her mouth.
One morning, as we are about to leave home, we find Kulu blocking our path, snapping her jaws incessantly. She appears to be in a trance. Her eyes are completely dry and unmoving. Neither is her tail, nor is her belly, just her mouth, yap, yap, stapling away at thin air. “Has she been starving? How could we have been so negligent?” We go out the back, bring in the mahogany tree, and put Kulu’s snapping jaws to work on it. From the slender bows of wood that cannon out of her mouth, we fashion a boat and put her inside it. We carry the boat up to the lake. We get in, kneel beside Kulu, and get the attendants to push our boat out. We take turns rowing. When we reach the center of the lake, we slip Kulu into the water. She comes alive, flickers her eyes at us, and snaps our boat in half. She lifts all of us onto her back and swims, crossing lake after lake that flows from her eyes, till we lose count of the lakes, till the lakes merge into a sea. The sea gathers our tears.