'Food and Friends', a chapter from Helper and Helper, the new Snake and Lizard book written by Joy Cowley and illustrated by Gavin Bishop.
It was the dry season and the river was shrinking. It became a stream, then a swamp and then a series of muddy patches with a dry gulch between. Lizard had to go further to find the damp spots where there were still flies to be had. The flies were fewer and the competition had increased. Every fly-eating creature was there, pushing and shoving in the mud. Some of Lizard’s cousins had no thought for family loyalty. They bumped him aside as though he were a dead leaf. The larger lizards reached over him to snatch a fat blue fly from his waiting mouth. Breakfast had become so difficult, he decided to change his feeding time. He would go to the pond at early light, before the flies became active. ‘First come, first served,’ he said to Snake.
‘Lizard, you get wiser every day,’ she said, and that pleased him. Snake didn’t give compliments often.
But Lizard was not the only creature to arrive early. A brown frog with golden eyes was also there for a meal. He was a small frog and he knew a lot about river insects. ‘The blue flies are big, but the sweetest are the little black flies in the reeds. Follow me. The black flies are still asleep on the stalks, and you can pick them off with your tongue.’
Lizard came home before sun-up, his stomach full. He couldn’t wait to tell Snake about his new friend. ‘He was very helpful! Not your usual frog with its nose in the air. We hunted in the reeds for those sweet little black flies.’
Snake yawned. ‘Really?’
‘Yes! You know those black ones that fly too high to catch? Before sunrise, they’re still asleep on the stems. Slurp! Slurp!’ Lizard patted his stomach. ‘Oh Snake! I’ve had such a good breakfast!’
The next morning, as the sky in the east turned pale, Lizard scampered across the desert and down to the pond. Sure enough, the brown frog was there waiting. ‘Black flies again?’ he asked.
‘Definitely,’ said Lizard, and together they crept into the reeds.
The flies were small, and in the faint light looked like tiny black buds on the stalks. They didn’t wake up, didn’t try to escape, as Lizard’s tongue flicked out. There were so many of them! What a feast! He crawled between the clumps of reeds, cleaning one stalk after another until he couldn’t eat another black lump. He called to the brown frog, ‘Another delicious breakfast! Thank you, my friend.’
There was no reply.
He called again, louder this time. ‘Excuse me! Brown Frog, are you there?’
After a few seconds there was a rustle in the reeds opposite. He ran across the mud patch and thrust his head between the stalks. ‘Brown Frog?’
It wasn’t the brown frog. It was Snake.
Lizard stared at her. ‘What are you doing here?’
Snake didn’t look at him. ‘Same as you,’ she said.
A bad feeling came over Lizard. ‘You don’t eat black flies! You don’t like any flies!’
Snake didn’t answer but slid away from the pond. As Lizard ran after her, he couldn’t help but notice a small bulge in her body. ‘You ate Brown Frog!’ he shrieked.
The sun was now making long morning shadows across the desert, and creatures were running on their way to the ponds. Lizard ran in the opposite direction, trying to keep up with Snake. ‘You ate my friend! You did! You ate him!’
Snake stopped and hissed at him. ‘You don’t know the difference between friends and food.’
Lizard was shaking with rage. ‘I told you he was my friend. I said—and you—you—’ He was so upset that the words would not come out.
‘It’s all relative,’ said Snake.
‘He—he wasn’t a relative. He was a frog and he was my friend!’
Snake raised her head. ‘For me frogs are food! Look at you! You have little black wings stuck to your mouth! Doesn’t it occur to you that the flies you gobbled were someone’s friends?’
Lizard quickly brushed his mouth. ‘Flies don’t have friends.’
‘How do you know?’ demanded Snake. ‘They might have very close friendships with other flies. Right now the black flies are waking up, and there will be the heart-rending sound of fly-sobbing over the ones that are missing.’
‘That’s ridiculous!’ snapped Lizard. ‘Flies don’t sob!’
‘Then why do you think fly rhymes with cry?’ answered Snake.
‘You’ll say any stupid thing to pretend you’re right!’ As the sun grew warmer, so did their argument about the difference between friends and food. They could have argued all morning, except that Lizard, with his superior sight, spotted a buzzard circling slowly above them.
‘Home!’ he said. ‘Hurry! It’s a buzzard!’
They sped over the short distance to their burrow before the hungry buzzard could swoop.
Buzzards did not regard snakes and lizards as friends.
HELPER AND HELPER
By Joy Cowley
Illustrated by Gavin Bishop
Published by Gecko Press, 2017