A Snake In The Grass
Isn’t it funny how some memories just drift in when we least expect them?
Sometimes I think my life is measured in memories. What is not to love about that, especially when most of my close family members have passed on, leaving only cherished memories behind? And I truly enjoy the experience when an old forgotten memory simply pops into my conscious and I get to relive it in minute detail. Sure, some are sad but I think my psyche is kind of tuned to store a lot of the better ones.
Be that as it may, this particular memory made me laugh. I can’t even recall what triggered it now — could be that I was looking at old photographs, the classic memoir-nudge.
Around the time I was ten and in the seventh grade, we lived in an interesting house. It was a single-story house. The main portion was occupied by the owners. They rented out two front two-room portions and one side portion.
We occupied one of the front portions. Our rent was cheaper as the kitchen was not attached to the house; it was in a corner of the compound. It was a large bare room, with a counter against one wall. A corner was separated by a half wall and dedicated to a sink of sorts. I am calling it a sink because it had a tap and drainage, enabling us to wash the dishes and in a pinch, even bathe if we wished to. We hopped, skipped, and jumped between our “main” home and the kitchen. We used a gas stove but mostly used the kerosene stove as it was more economical.
The bathrooms, which we shared with the other tenants were in another corner of the compound next to a well, from which we drew water — it was our main source. The toilets were in yet another corner at the back.
Anyway, I was friendly with the owner’s daughters as we went to the same school. We played together on the roof often and they were quite nice. I remember being a little envious because they hired a rickshaw to and fro to school and I walked. Seemed unfair then — but in retrospect, as with most things in life, I realize that I was better off. Skinny, healthy, and hyperactive is a good state to be in.
So anyway, that summer, the girls had gone to visit some relatives and I was left to my own devices. I loved walking around in the backyard, crunching the dead leaves under my feet.
One afternoon, as I aimlessly loitered around with a stick, prodding whatever I could, I sensed a movement in the leaves. I could have imagined it, but I was pretty sure I saw something move. Obviously curious, I prodded some more and this time saw definite activity. Too late, I realized we had an unexpected visitor.
A snake, no less.
Stunned, I ran to tell my grandmother. Smiling indulgently, she decided to humor me and accompanied me to the back of the house where I claimed I saw the snake. Naturally, it wasn’t there.
Quite unlikely it would wait to meet my grandmother, right?
So anyway I must have sounded quite convincing — and we gathered the other neighbors. The landlady, who lived on the premises, heard the commotion going on, and grumbling at her siesta being disturbed, came out to investigate what the ruckus was all about. When we told her we saw a snake, (see how quickly it became “we”), she smiled enigmatically and went towards the gate.
What was happening?
We were puzzled. Opening the gate, she looked to the left and to the right. Then she clapped her hands sharply. Nothing happened. She clapped again. Wondering what she was up to, we joined her at the gate now to see, in the far distance, under a large tree, a couple of people resting. And resting with them, were a couple of large round wicker baskets — the sort snakes are kept in.
She managed to attract their attention and beckoned them over. One of them came to the gate and she asked them if one of their snakes was missing. The man turned to his companion and said something. He too joined us. The landlady spoke to them sternly and they scurried to the back of the house. I wasn’t sure what she said, because I didn’t have a good grasp of the local language yet. Fifteen minutes later, they had caught the snake and apologizing, slunk away.
After they left, the landlady serenely informed us that while there was the possibility of snakes in the foliage, it was extremely rare. More often, it was a ploy of the snake charmers who would release their snakes into a property and then pretend to be the saviors who caught the snake, so they could be rewarded in cash! Very clever, indeed!
Impressed, we all went back to what we were doing.
And no, the landlady did not reward those guys. She was too savvy.
To this day, my uncle still teases me about this!
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