My last post was on Christmas Eve and I told you about the gift of mongooses that were given to us. I mentioned that to the best of my knowledge not one of the 3 mongooses ever killed a cobra, though that is what, according to Rudyard Kipling and others, they are supposed to do. I also promised you a real live, no I mean dead, cobra story. Being raised with the law that one must always keep a promise, here goes—
Snakes. We had snakes everywhere. Well, not everywhere. I mean, my mother never served me wiggling snakes in my soup like in that Indiana Jones movie, Temple of Doom. I have eaten grilled python steak, but it wasn’t cooked on shiny, chrome gas grill, but skewered on a stick over an open fire.
Snakes were around and they were all poisonous, except the pythons and they just squeezed you to death until you were squeezed thin enough to be swallowed whole. Of course if they had just swallowed a goat or a pig, then they laid around eyeing you suspiciously. Pythons liked to lay up in the trees and drop down on their prey. That was a good reason to keep looking up, as some preachers say, but I digress…
We would have to deal with a snake at least once a week. When I say “deal with a snake” I mean they were creating a hazard to navigation, and as any seafaring person knows, a hazard to navigation has to be removed. It was understood that snakes were to be killed. If anyone yelled, “noika”, everybody dropped whatever they were doing and ran to whoever had yelled to help them kill it.
All snakes were to be killed. There was not a single good snake, except once when we had killed a black mamba that had been hiding in the hibiscus hedge that surrounded the outhouse, one of the natives very solemnly put his hand on my father’s shoulder and said, “Bwana, that is a good kind of snake. It will never bite you until it is your time to die.” But again, I digress…
Snakes, as everybody knows, are cold-blooded creatures. If not, The Snake would not have cold-bloodedly tempted Eve with absolutely no consideration for the wellbeing of the human race. In fact that snake wanted to destroy the human race, and its descendents have been biting people’s heals ever since. Oh, dear, again I digress…
Even though snakes are cold-blooded, they like to be warm. They will crawl into holes or a crack in the warm earth at night to keep warm and come out to bask in the warm sun during the day. Trying to keep warm on a cool night is what induced a snake to crawl into one of my father’s boots one night.
My father had the habit of turning his boots, or his shoes, or even his slippers over and shaking them before his slid feet into them. That was to shake out any spiders, or scorpions that might have crawled in there. This time, as always, my father turned the boot over and shook it and was about to slip his foot into it when he thought that it felt heavier than it should. He turned the boot over again and shook it, this time hitting the bottom of it while shaking it and a snake slithered out. After that we all turned our boots over and shook them before we put them on, but again, I digress…
It was the custom in our house, unless we were on safari or something like that, for us children to take a nap after lunch. On the day the cobra fell on her, my sister was taking her nap in the “middle room”. It was called the middle room because that’s where it was, in the middle of the house between the living room and my parents bedroom. Actually it was my mother’s office, sort of, but it had a couch in it.
The cobra must have climbed up by way of the Bougainvillea vine that grew at the end of the house. From the Bougainvillea, it crawled into the foot-thick thatch roof and from there dropped to the ceiling which was nothing more than woven mats laid on top of hand sawn beams.
The snake started in an opening between the overlap of the mats and suddenly found itself hanging from the ceiling. The cobra couldn’t slither back the way it had come. When my dad entered the room the cobra had just fallen from the ceiling onto my sleeping sister. The snake landing on my sister woke her and what she saw was the cobra, angered by its fall, raised up, its hood spread, ready to strike. She froze, afraid even to yell, “noika,” while the cobra’s head swung back and forth, its eyes searching for something to attack.
My dad rushed across the room, seized the snake at the middle, which is not the place to grab a cobra that is about to strike, in fact it is not a good place to grab a poisonous snake at any time because they can turn back on you.
He ran across the room, across the wide porch, shaking the snake vigorously, shouting, “Noika, Noika” and threw the cobra into the front yard. The cobra, intimidated by the wrath of a loving father, did not rise up defiantly to strike someone, but tried to slither off into the grass. It couldn’t get away. The natives all clubbed it to death.
It is a miracle that the cobra didn’t bite my sister. It is a miracle that my dad happened to come into that room just at that time. It is a miracle that the snake didn’t bite my father. Some times you just have to believe in miracles whether you believe in them or not.