The swapping reptile was three feet long from nose to tailtip and brown, an old faded brown like a boot sale handbag, or a scuffed leather shoe. He walked with his funny feet turned out, splat splat splat down one after the other, a bustling falling-over-himself arse-wagging walk as if he were always trying to catch up with his own lumpy body. Poor old thing, he was very slow. Sometimes we used to take him for walks on a cat lead, down on the green space between the five blocks of flats which stuck up all around like bony white fingers through the grass, different heights, creased green palm in the centre. Everyone on the green staring:what is it? --A monitor lizard, we'd tell them. Was he taken from his tropical rocks to land here, on a grey council estate in the arse-end of nowhere? We never knew. The grass always confused him at first. He'd freeze, all over, looking for all the world like a plastic dinosaur except for his little hooded eyes: blink blink, where the hell am I? and then he'd spot some insect crawling in the grass, and go all predatorial. Flick of a pink tongue, gummy jaws munching, little black legs disappearing inside. Nosing off through the undergrowth in fits and starts like a wind-up toy, thoroughly enjoying himself till we decided he'd had enough, rounded him up and got him back into his blue velvet collar.

He'd settle down with a resigned hiss and we'd take him up in the lift - scaring old ladies, delighting little kids - all the way up to the fourteenth floor where he lived, at that point in his existence. As you have no doubt guessed from the name, he'd been around a bit. Swapped for a bass amp, a cheap Fender copy. Swapped for a big old colour telly. Swapped for a gram of coke, seven baby skunkplants, a chunk of soapbar, a sheet of acid tabs. Swapped, once, for a snowy owl, not a good swap: the owl had to be set free, it shat everywhere and landed on people's heads with sharp, ripping talons but there was no swapping back the swapping reptile, this was understood. Through all these peregrinations he'd picked up some damage - bent tail, slightly dodgy back leg on the left side, numerous scars from battles with mice and rats which people had tried to feed him. He preferred crickets. Emptying in the jar, all the black leaping insects, pleased hisses and snappings from inside his tank, which came with him on a swap, was five feet long and took two people to carry. His last owners thought the tank was cruel, and let him wander their flat freely - he was a friendly sort, the swapping reptile, and slept in their bedroom to keep them company - but it turned out to be a bad move. At a party, somebody accidentally trod on him. He died the next day and was buried, with full ceremony and a few squashed crickets, on the green.

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