There are a few pieces of railroad tie, rocks, a straw bale, and a couple other random odds and ends out in the chicken run, and sometimes when I go out there I roll one over. The chickens are immediately alert, waiting, their eyes on me. If I call “Kip kip keee-ipp!” they come running, because they know I’ve uncovered a juicy hoard of bugs.
This evening I rolled over a rock and, sure enough, bugs. So while they were pecking and scratching there, I rolled over a piece of railroad tie and – YIKES!! – I found this!
I dropped a small pebble on him to see if he would rattle, but he didn’t, so I just enjoyed him for a bit before the chickens came to see what I’d found. (Yeah, I like snakes – I told you that before!) While I was chasing them off, he disappeared under the straw bale. I don’t think we have gophers in the chicken run, but we definitely have mice. I’m hoping he’s willing to be flexible!
It was around midday on a hot Sunday, and I had spent a deeply satisfying morning tiling the wall around the bath in our new home. The Girl Child, then aged about three, was off making friends with other kids who lived on the property. I decided to take a relaxing bath before calling the munchkin in for lunch.
I started the hot water running. My glasses steamed up, so I put them on the back of the loo. I peeled off my disgusting, sweaty, grout-smeared clothes, and, naked and short-sightedly peering, I ambled through my new home to the living room, which is where all the boxes and suitcases were piled up waiting for attention.
The front door, which opened into the living room, was one of those old fashioned ones that you occasionally see in South Africa – a solid wood door with a panel of ripple glass set into the top half, and a little railing above it from which one could hang a curtain. My clothes were hanging from the railing, so that’s where I was headed, squinting slightly to focus in order to make my selection … paying no attention at all to where my feet were going … until a loud HISSSSSS caused me to change gear instantaneously from first to reverse. I might have levitated a little.
On the black-painted concrete floor, just inside the door, was a hissing, writhing mass of … something blurry that hissed and writhed.
Full speed ahead, I scurried to the bathroom, snatched up my glasses, crammed them onto my face, kicked the dog outside, screamed “STAY OUT” at the Girl Child as she and her startled new friends ambled up the garden path toward the back door, remembered that I was naked, ducked out of sight, and skidded into the living room …
… Just in time to see the tail-end of a snake vanishing into a suitcase.
I slammed the suitcase shut, scurried back to the bathroom, turned off the bath tap, yanked my damp and grouty clothes back on, and ran to ask the neighbor mommy to watch the Girl Child while I dealt with the snake. (Well, no, I didn’t know her … but she seemed nice enough and I was planning to know her. And I knew where she lived. Hey, this was more than thirty years ago. People were trusting then.)
Around about then I probably remembered to breathe. It’s not that I’m scared of snakes, exactly – I’ll happily handle them and quite enjoy the way they feel.
But nearly stepping on one when you’re all naked and sweaty and thinking of a leisurely bath followed by a tasty lunch … aikona. Nuh-uh.
So anyway, to get back to the story. I marched boldly into the living room, picked up the suitcase, heaved it into the back of my car, and headed for the Snake Park.
What – you thought I’d just kill it? Why would I do such a thing? Listen, I’ll kill stuff if I must. I once spent a profitable morning with a neighbor, learning how to kill chickens. (This is a skill I have never actually used since that day, but I did acquire it.) I smack flies and mosquitoes. But there was no earthly reason to kill a perfectly good snake when the Snake Park was a mere ten-or-so miles away.
If you clicked on the link, you will have noticed that the Snake Park, today, is quite the tourist destination. In fact the snakes hardly get a mention. It is now all about crocodiles, and they have other animals as well, and you can buy pizza and beer, and if you are adventurous (i.e., completely insane, or an adolescent male with girls to impress) you can fly over the crocodile pond on a sort of foofy slide. Back then, it was a bit different.
Thirty years ago, the Snake Park on a Sunday afternoon was a place that nice people from Pretoria and Johannesburg (which were separate cities in those days) would take their nice kiddies, still nicely dressed in their pretty church clothes, for a nice educational experience, followed by tea and scones with jam and cream.
So when I came puffing up the hill from the parking lot, dressed as previously described and with my hair (did I mention that I had grout in my hair?) sort of bundled together in a pony tail, I didn’t really fit in. And when I barged into the front of the line of Sunday afternooners, I have to tell you, There Were Mutterings.
You couldn’t get inside unless the woman in the ticket booth clicked you through the gate, so I pushed my face up to the grille over her window and said, “I have a snake in my car. I need someone to come get it.”
Well, there was no conning this cookie. She had heard every imaginable scheme for getting into the Snake Park for free. “Two Rand,” she said. (Back then, R2 was worth US$4. Now the cost of entry is R50, which translates to around US$5. No, this makes no sense to me either.) It hadn’t occurred to me, during my preparations for this outing, that I would need any money, so I didn’t have my purse.
“No, you don’t understand. I’m not here to look at snakes – I am here to donate a snake. It is in my car. I just need someone to come get it.”
“Two Rand!” she replied, very firmly.
“I don’t have two rand! I don’t have any money! All I have is a snake!”
By this time the crimplened masses were getting restive and their muttering had reached an ominous level. I was greatly relieved to see a young man in a khaki uniform with a Snake Park logo on the pocket headed our way. I stepped hastily out of the line and explained my predicament.
“You have a snake in your car? Where is it? In the engine?” he asked.
“No, no – it’s in a suitcase. But the suitcase is heavy and I’d just appreciate some help getting it up here,” I explained. So he followed me down to the car and heaved the suitcase off the back seat.
“Wow – it is heavy,” he commented. “How did you get the snake to go in?”
“It just crawled in on its own. The suitcase was on the floor – I’ve just moved house and am busy unpacking.”
So back we walked up the hill, past the line and through the gate, with him lugging my suitcase all the way. I followed him as far as the doorway of a tiny room which was lined, floor to ceiling, with class cases full of – you guessed it – snakes. I was happy to watch him unpack my snake from afar, and not have to stand with my back to them. (Yeah, okay, maybe they do creep me out just a little.)
Cautiously, he unlatched the suitcase and raised the lid. At that moment, I realized that this sweet young man was expecting a Rider Haggardesque python, something like this …
… because I had completely forgotten to mention that, in addition to the snake, my suitcase was full of books. What he in fact got was more like this…
… only a bit more crumpled. And not pink.
To his credit, he didn’t say a word. He just lifted it out and put it in a glass box, then shut my suitcase and handed it to me.