He had just wrapped around that branch just the way he liked it, getting ready to relax when Sean shoved his scaly head into his. It was one of those moments, when he had a thought that he assumed would be profound, and he’d bob his head up and down like a baby bird about to be fed by his mother. And all Cedric could do was listen.
‘You know the other day,’ said Sean, gesturing with his tail to the glass barrier between them and the humans, ‘we heard a human say, “I got this bracelet for Christmas” and you asked who this Christmas was? You kept hearing about him, but you never really got an idea who he was or what he did? Well, I think I figured it out.
‘That woman got a bracelet for Christmas because Christmas is a deity that needs us to get gifts for him.’ He looked at his tail and wriggled it. ‘I know you wonder why we don’t have appendages. Maybe it’s because we haven’t been getting gifts for Christmas. If we start doing so now, maybe we’ll get our arms and legs.’
Cedric unwrapped himself from his branch, sacrificing his moment of rest for a chance to slap Sean with his tail. ‘I don’t think this Christmas is a god. He’s probably just another human, one they just really like a lot.’
‘But I remember another person. He said something like “a trip to the zoo, it must be Christmas”. Christmas must have given him entrance to the zoo when he couldn’t previously, and he probably did it because that person gave him a gift.’
‘Christmas could have given him entrance to this zoo,’ said Cedric, ‘but that doesn’t mean he’s magic. I mean, I’m pretty sure most people who come to see us aren’t gods.’
‘I just think it’s worth a shot,’ said Sean, slithering back to his usual spot, ‘When they come and feed us, I’m going to give what they feed us to Christmas. We give him something, maybe he’ll give us something.’
Cedric was about to oppose, yet something made him say, ‘You do that’ before returning to his usual resting spot. As he closed his eyes and attempted to forget the ramblings he just heard, the image of himself with arms and legs suddenly entered his brain. He had never seen that much of the other animals at the zoo, but he knew some of them ran, some of them used their fingers and toes to climb up walls. What would it be like to run fast, to do something quicker than slither? And there were the humans, who would look from beyond the glass holding their cups or those phones. Cedric had tried to hold things by curling his tail, but the humans could hold two things at once – no, more than that. They could not only hold things in their hands, but under their arms as well. And the bags they had under their arms, they apparently held so many things.
Then he thought, what would he need a bag for? It’s not like he was going to travel. The reptile house had everything he needed.
So he told himself not to think about it.
When feeding time came, however, Sean pretended to eat his dead mouse, only to spit it out later and clean it up with his tail. ‘Okay, Christmas,’ said Sean, looking up, ‘this is for you.’
‘You really think he’s going to hear you?’
‘Of course,’ replied Sean, ‘he’s a god. Gods can hear everything, can’t they?’
‘Still,’ said Cedric, ‘we don’t know if he’s a god. We don’t even know that it’s a him.’
‘I don’t know, Christmas sounds a little feminine if you ask me.’
‘No, I’m pretty sure it’s a male. It just feels that way.’
So for hours, Sean sat by the mouse, and didn’t seem to have any temptation to eat it himself. Cedric left him alone, just rested on his branch, and eventually fell asleep. When he awoke, he awoke to Sean’s disappointed face.
‘Christmas didn’t collect, eh?’
‘I was so sure,’ was all Sean said in response before he ate the mouse himself.
‘Well,’ said Cedric, ‘at least you get an extra meal today.’ Sean said nothing in response.
So Sean forgot all about the whole thing, at least for a few months more. At least until their feeder said to them, ‘Hey guys, you know Christmas is coming?’ He laughed and added, ‘I bet you two have pretty big stockings.’
When he left, Sean bobbed his head in excitement once more. ‘He’s coming, Cedric,’ said Sean, ‘I just put out the gift at the wrong time.’ He rubbed his head with the end of his tail. ‘And I think we’re going to need something called a “stocking” to put the gift in.’
‘Look, Sean,’ sighed Cedric, ‘it didn’t work then so I doubt it’ll work now.’
‘But Christmas is coming. That’s what he said.’
‘How do we know Christmas is a god? He could just be a very frequent customer here. Maybe we’ve met him already, who knows?’ Cedric sighed and shook his head. ‘What I do know is we aren’t getting any appendages.’
‘Never say never.’
And Sean took that saying to heart. Every day he would put a mouse aside, putting it into a stocking – or what he thought was a stocking – made out of leaves. He kept on doing it as long as he heard the humans talk about Christmas. ‘Christmas is coming,’ they heard, ‘What are you getting for Christmas?’
Cedric didn’t care.
Whoever Christmas was, he could just come and go. He even ignored Sean in the corner, staring at his eagerly-prepared mouse gift, and it was just as well, for Sean had begun to ignore him. Christmas was all that mattered to him, so Cedric left him to his devices.
Then came the days when the zoo went quieter than usual. On one of those days, Sean woke Cedric up for the first time in ages and bobbed his head again. ‘I’ve seen Christmas!’
‘I tried to wake you up but you kept on sleeping! Christmas…well, his full name is Father Christmas, did you know he had kids?’
‘Well, he said he was very impressed by how dedicated I was in pleasing him, and asked me to do him a favour. You see, he normally goes down chimneys to give people presents…he does give gifts, I knew it! So, right, he couldn’t go down the chimney because, well, he said he had one too many mince pies whatever they are, and he said I was thin enough to go down chimneys so he took me on his sleigh and wow, let me tell you, the world outside this reptile house…’
‘That’s nice,’ said Cedric, closing his eyes again before being slapped by Sean’s tail.
No, it wasn’t his tail.
It was too flat to be a tail.
‘I helped him deliver the presents and he gave me a reward,’ said Sean, raising his arms to the sky.