Naphisa Senanarong — Crocodile Tears, Human Hearts

They are sitting in his kitchen when the hand and the foot arrive. All that is left of her sits in a wooden box on their kitchen table—almost like those vintage jewelry boxes topped with spinning ballerinas, lined with purple velvet; it is the box she will be cremated in.

One hand and one foot—both singular and not enough. He goes to sit by them, as if he hopes his company could make up for the lack of—they took his daughter’s body; they also deprived the hand from the other hand, the foot from being feet. It is the left hand, which some say is connected to the heart. That’s why a bride wears her wedding ring on her left hand, as if underneath the skin, from the tip of her finger, some sort of meridian flows through the petite wrist, up the bend of the elbow, all the way to the wide, hopeful heart. It is a sweet thought, really, that beneath the satin touch of soft skin or sandpaper-rough hands of every anxious bride runs the same connective tissue, a pipeline leading back to the beginning of it all—the human heart.

It is the third time in his life he has ever cried. The first time was when he was six and had to feed the fabric of his own school shirt through his dried-out lips to keep from screaming in empty-bellied agony, stomach acid eating up his own insides. The second time was when his now-wife agreed to leave her family in the countryside and join him in the city, where he intercepted her at the bus station with a proposal. His face seems not to know what to do now, how to respond to the signals being sent from his brain that let him know: It’s over. Everything in his face—sun-creased eyes, deep-etched mouth, even the sturdy nose like a flatland across his brown skin—moves a fraction of an inch every few seconds, like a pixelated video lagging behind in Thailand’s horrible Internet reception.

He cries silently.

His wife remains where she is, her back to the only counter in the cramped kitchen that is somehow squeezed into their one-bedroom apartment. The sounds escape her body, soft but constant as the tick and whirl of a fan in a sweaty, damp corner of Bangkok. They stop abruptly.

She crosses the kitchen, which takes only one step, to where he sits—dissolving like rags in the washing machine. Her fingers find their way into his hair, cropped so short she can feel all the pores in his perspiring scalp beneath her fingertips.

When the woman first came to Bangkok, she worked at a crocodile farm in Samut Prakan. She was only sixteen then, so they made her the substitute mom for baby hatchlings. In their eggs, they made wet little chirps, like baby birds choking on their own saliva. Her young husband worked long hours; her family refused to talk to her for eloping.

She got excited at the chirping sounds, because it meant her babies would be breaking through the thin shells of their eggs soon. She spent her sunrises knee-deep in green water, wading lovingly into their enclosures with buckets of tiny fish and sometimes rat parts ground into sausages. She loved how they fit in her hands. Soft, naked underbellies weighing against her palm and lower arm, tiny tails tucked against her body, into the crevice between her breast and her armpit. Crocodiles are extremely flexible. It was important she pointed them away from her body when she released them back into the water, letting go of the tails at the same time as the necks. She always got a little sad watching them slither back into the water without turning back, as if they didn’t know her. The animals rarely bit her.

In another enclosure on the other end of the farm, in a pit more than twelve feet deep, lay Yai, the largest captured croc in the world. In her five years there, six women had climbed the silver fence around his enclosure and ended their lives at the bottom of that pit. He was a Siamese-saltwater hybrid—they tend to be very large. His enclosure barely permitted him much movement, just a shuddering twist of his thick, beefy neck above the grimy water, for him to reach his sacrifice. Some say they saw tears in his eyes while he tore his girls limb from limb.

The woman commands her body to the counter. She grabs a clean piece of cloth from the rack, used to dry dishes, and soaks it in cold water. Her hands moves—methodically, thoughtfully—kneading the cloth like sticky rice, feeding it through aged fingers. She wrings the cloth in her hands after, and returns to her husband.

Crocodile tears serve solely utilitarian purposes, the woman recalls as she brings the cold cloth up to her husband’s feverish face. She moves it gently but firmly between his sparse brows; down the valley of his nose; over his wide, cracked lips flecked with blood; all the way to the flab and folds of his withering neck.

Yai needed the lubrication for his dry eyes, gazing at the sun above his little pit, day in, day out. When a crocodile trainer she’d taken for a friend pushed her up against the wall of the enclosure and pried her legs open with his sticky hands, leaving angry, red fingerprints around her thighs, later that same night, she went to the pit and dangled her legs twelve feet above Yai. She could taste trails of salty tears drying on her face. Nobody knew about that night except for the silent beast. Two months later, at the farm’s famous crocodile show, a wild croc closed his jaws decisively around her trainer friend’s neck, five thousand pounds of pressure per square inch, easily severing the ligaments keeping his neck and his head together.

She wonders if her tears serve utilitarian purposes too: getting her up from the mossy floors where she pulled pants over her bare ass, all those years ago; and now, helping her find the right emotions to console her husband, to run the cold cloth down his hot, heavy face, to clean his pores of brine—all the tears and sweat he cannot stop. She will cry, of course. But maybe in this lifetime, she’s simply lost too much to cry salty tears for very long. Her eyes, capable only of producing a finite amount of tears—an entire ocean distilled and reduced into a few brackish drops.

The husband can only feel the wife’s tears for a brief second. They are warm. She bends down and rests the underside of her trembling chin on the curve of his head, her arms moving down to his chest where her fingers knit, forming a nest for his heart. They stay that way for a while—the two of them locked in a puzzle of body parts, aching, yearning, clamoring for all the missing pieces—for the rest of their daughter, somewhere out there, lost and alone among the layers of dirt and debris that make up this despicable city. This terrible place they decided to make home. Bangkok.