Once upon a time, a Crocodile lived a peaceful life deep in the heart of the Amazon. His days were filled with swimming, sunbathing, and eating. All his friends in the river looked up to him as a leader. He was brave and strong and cared about the well being of the rest of the river animals.
Crocodile had a best friend. His friend’s name was Piranha. They became close when they were young and all the other young animals were scared of them. Now Crocodile and Piranha were grown up, and most of the other animals knew them and were not scared anymore. Everyone around the riverbank was friends.
One day, Crocodile was lying on the riverbank enjoying the sun when Sunfish swam up to the shore. “Good morning, Sunfish,” greeted Crocodile.
Sunfish nodded to Crocodile. “Good morning.” He stopped and swam in a circle before continuing. “Crocodile, I was wondering if you’ve seen Piranha lately.”
Crocodile shook his head. “Not in a while. He said he was taking a vacation, swimming to a different river bend. Why? Is something wrong?”
“Maybe,” Sunfish said. “I thought I saw Piranha this morning with Tree Frog. Tree Frog was trying to rest on a rock but Piranha – or someone who looked like him – kept jumping up and snapping at him. I thought I heard Piranha saying mean things to Tree Frog, and calling him names. I know that doesn’t sound like Piranha, but it certainly looked like him.”
Crocodile thought it was strange behavior for Piranha, and it was also strange that he would return from vacation without telling him. “If I see him, I will talk to him, Sunfish. Thank you for telling me this. It certainly does not sound like Piranha, but I trust you. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding. They could have been playing a game.”
“Maybe,” Sunfish replied, but he did not look convinced. After smiling at Crocodile, he swam away and left Crocodile to his thoughts.
Time passed, as it always does, and Crocodile had barely seen Piranha. He had also fully forgotten about his talk with Sunfish. When he was swimming through some tall grass, looking for something to eat, he heard voices from the other side. He did not try to listen, but as he got closer the voices got louder, and he heard Piranha’s name.
“He’s becoming a menace!” said Tree Frog.
“Oh, I don’t know,” another voice replied slowly. “Perhaps he’s having a bad day.”
“But Turtle, if it was just today, I’d understand. Or even a week. But he’s been like this for weeks now! A bad day is no excuse. Piranha is just getting out of hand.”
“Perhaps someone should talk to him,” squeaked a voice from above. Crocodile glanced up and saw Monkey hanging upside down from a low branch. “Crocodile is friends with him; perhaps he could get through to him.” Then, Monkey turned his head around and saw Crocodile through the tall grass. “What say you, Crocodile? Will you talk to Piranha for us?”
Crocodile swam towards the shore to be with the group. “I don’t understand. What is Piranha doing that is making you all so angry?”
“He’s always so rude!” Tree Frog exclaimed.
“He’s been saying things that are not very nice about the other animals behind their backs,” replied Turtle.
“He laughs at others and makes them feel badly,” Monkey said, flipping down from the tree. “And I love laughing, but this kind is not right.”
“I have not seen any of this,” Crocodile replied. “In fact, I have not seen him at all. It just does not sound like Piranha. Maybe you have him confused?”
Monkey shook his head. “Sorry Crocodile. Perhaps he’s avoiding you because you’re his friend.”
“Maybe. I’m sorry on his behalf, though.” Crocodile swam off, his head full of thoughts. Piranha hadn’t been acting strangely around him. He wondered if Piranha really was just having a bad day, and the other animals were sore about it. That must be it, he thought, and didn’t think on it again that day.
A couple days later, Crocodile was just drifting off to sleep when he heard a slithering. He opened his eyes and spied his good friend Python staring at him through one unblinking eye.
“Crocodile, may I speak to you for a minute?”
Python and Crocodile were longtime friends, much like with Piranha. Python mostly kept to himself, but was always loyal and strong, and always honest.
“Of course, Python. How may I help you?”
Python looked nervous. Python never looked nervous. “It’s about Piranha.”
“Oh no,” said Crocodile. “Not you too!”
“I’m afraid so. Earlier today, I heard him picking on Catfish. You know Catfish likes privacy, but Piranha was floating by Catfish’s rock, taunting him. When Catfish finally came out, Piranha snapped at him and swam off.”
Crocodile was sad. If Python said he saw this, then Crocodile believed him. Catfish was one of the nicest animals in the River, even if he did like to keep to himself. “Are you sure, Python?
Perhaps they were playing.”
“Catfish doesn’t play like that. I talked to him, and he told me Piranha has been teasing him a lot lately. Piranha also teases other animals, and eats all the fish, and he ignores other animals’ privacy. It seems Piranha met some new friends while on vacation. Others like him. He told me they said this is how his kind is supposed to act. There is no use changing it. I’m worried about him, Crocodile. He is turning into someone I do not know anymore.”
Crocodile was so upset. There was no use denying it anymore. Piranha had changed on vacation, and it was Crocodile’s responsibility to talk to him. “Thank you, Python. I will see what I can do about him.”
“Would you like me to come?” Python asked.
Crocodile shook his head. “This is something I should do alone. I do not want anyone else involved.”
So Crocodile swam to the large rock that was Piranha’s favorite, and sure enough, Piranha was there with a few of his new sharp-toothed friends. They were splashing and yelling, but got quiet when Crocodile came closer.
“Piranha,” Crocodile said quietly. Piranha swam ahead of his friends but stopped far away from Crocodile.
“What do you want, Crocodile?”
“I want to know what happened to you. The other animals say you’ve been mean, rude, and unfriendly since you got back from your vacation with your new friends.” Crocodile glanced at the other fish. “Did you forget about us?”
Piranha sneered. “You mean, did I forget about you? You’re just jealous that you aren’t my best friend anymore. I’m allowed to make new friends, Crocodile!”
“Of course you are, Piranha, but it’s just sad if they’re making you act this way. This isn’t who you are.”
“You don’t know who I am anymore,” Piranha replied. “I’m a fish. You’re a reptile. We compete for the same food. We have the same territory. What makes you think we could be friends?”
Crocodile swam closer, and the other piranha swam back towards the rock. “We’ve been friends our whole entire lives. We’ve always been who we are, eaten the same things, swam in the same places. What’s changed?”
“I guess I did,” Piranha said as he swam up and around Crocodile in a circle. “You’re too passive, Crocodile. I’m a hunter, I’m a predator. If you don’t like it, you can deal, just like the other losers that live by this river bend.” Piranha swam up to the side of Crocodile’s head and snapped his sharp teeth at him. A long gash along the side of Crocodile’s jaw started to bleed.
Crocodile had always been very patient. He was a good soul. But Piranha’s behavior was not okay anymore, and now he was becoming dangerous. All Crocodile could think was how he would feel if Piranha had taken a bite out of poor Catfish the way he just did. This was the last straw. Crocodile protected the other animals in the river, and Piranha was a threat to them. In a flash, Crocodile had opened his massive jaws and swallowed Piranha whole. Piranha’s new friends turned tail and swam away as fast as they could.
Crocodile returned to the shore of the river bend and told the other animals what happened. As sad as they were to have lost Piranha, they were glad that Crocodile cared about all of them enough to sacrifice his best friend for the good of the river. They had a moment of silence for Piranha right then, and afterwards, all was good in the river. The troublesome other fish never showed up again.