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Killing a Snake

Filed Under: Short Stories

Date Created:10 Feb 2016

Last Modified:08 Sep 2017

Number of Views: 347

I used to poke my nose. Nasty little habit. But I couldn't help it. It felt good. Scraping bits of hardened dry mucus and flicking them into my mouth. Sweet stuff.

Sometimes, I would poke my ears too. And scrap out the wax. And flick it into my mouth. Horribly bitter stuff. Don't try it.

You must be squirming now. But you probably did it do. You definitely did it. You probably do it even now. It is an engrained habit. You poke your large fingers into your small nostrils and scrape out pieces of mucus—when no one is looking. At times you forget and do it in public; like on a bus for instance. And while you ogle at it and decide the fate of that dangling string of mucus, you inadvertently lift your head and take a look around. Only to find you have an audience staring at you with looks of pure disgust draped across their faces. And just like that, your sweet innocence is lost forever. No amount of pleading can reclaim it. And then you feel dirty and stupid.

Yes, I was a curious kid with a huge appetite for tasting things. What did I not taste? I tasted mucus. I tasted ear wax. I tasted my skin. And I came terribly close to tasting urine.

It was a hot evening. We were retiring from a day of vigorous activities, most of which involved all manner of games of playing.

My brother James was a curious case in our family. He had an eye for detail. He could see something were the rest of us saw nothing. He was our very own watchman. For example, he saw ghosts where clearly I could see none. I really coveted his remarkable talent and tried in every possible way to conjure up images of monsters and things. But alas, none were forth coming and I remained dismally blind to the world of monsters.

"Snake!" He shrilled, right next to me, right into my ear, as we walked towards the entrance to the house.

"Ugh! Ulepundako bwino!" I hissed, poking my finger down my ear trying to reach down to scratch my bruised eardrum.

"Big black snake!" He shrilled again, pointing towards the garage entrance, his eyeballs projecting so far out of their sockets I feared they would pop out.

"Ugh, you and your visions," I spat in annoyance. "Always seeing stuff which ain’t—"

The words died in my mouth and my knees weakened, almost giving way.

"Ssss... Snake!" I yelled, wobbling backwards and ramming into James who was in a similar state of disarray. We stumbled a bit and almost fell into a heap of rattling bones.

The long, black snake stopped to observe us, startled by our chilling screams. It raised its head about ten centimeters off the ground as if to take a clearer look at us. It was the first time I had ever seen a snake do that. I felt myself fainting, my soul beginning to pull out of my body heavenward.

"Ilikwisa?" Came my uncle's voice, pulling my soul back into my body.

We pointed with shaky fingers.

"My God! Stand back! This is a cobra—one of the most dangerous snakes in Zambia. If it bites you your leg rots away. If it spits into your eyes, you go blind."

He sounded excited. "We need to kill it."

'Kill it? Speak for yourself. I am too young to die. I am not even married yet.' I thought as my brother and I retreated to the doorway of the house.

He advanced forward. The wretched snake was still in the same spot staring at him majestically. It clearly was not afraid of him.

"Iwe Trevor!" My father suddenly bellowed behind us. "Ulefwaya ukuipaya? You can't kill a snake with bare hands!"

Uncle Trevor cringed and stared back at my father with a look that said, "I am not that stupid."

"Get into the house children." Father said pushing us into the house. "This is a big man's job."

I greatly admired my father. He was so strong and big, and had a huge, thunderous voice. Everything around rattled slightly whenever he spoke. There is nothing my father couldn't do. This snake was a goner. Our little heads popped out of the door way, and slowly the rest of our bodies edged outside. This we had to see: the great demise of the big, bad snake.

"Trevor, out of the way!" He said stooping to the ground to pick up a stone. Trevor obliged and quickly jumped aside to give way the greatest stone thrower that ever lived.

He aimed. And he shot.

'Goliath down!' I thought.

The snake dodged and the stone flew past, hitting into the metallic sheet behind. It bounced off weakly and fell a few inches next to the snake. I could have sworn I saw the wretched snake laugh.

"Yaba," Uncle Trevor mocked. "How can you kill a cobra three metres away with a pebble? Let me show you how it’s done."

He dashed to the hedge at one corner of the yard and whipped of a long piece of bamboo stick.

'Ulusengu,' I thought, 'It never fails.'

The snake was waiting to take him on. Either this snake had signed a death warrant or it knew was it was doing. Had it not been a black belt itself, it would probably have had a black belt in karate.

Uncle Trevor lifted the stick high and brought it down hard. It skilfully swung to one side and the bamboo smashed to the ground, shuttering to several pieces.

"Ha!" My father scoffed bending to pick up another pebble-like stone.

I could hardly believe what I saw next. The snake rose a couple of inches higher and stared at hopeless Uncle Trevor. It drew its head back and then suddenly darted forward.

Uncle Trevor screamed, rubbing his eyes and staggering.

"Yanfwishila! Napofula!"

In a furious rage my Father hurled the stone with all his worth at the dastardly, spitting snake. Once again, he missed. But to be more precise, the snake dodged. The stone smashed into the sheet with a loud bang and bounced right back at my father, hitting him in the leg. He screamed and zoomed past us into the house, limping.

I was horrified. The snake had defeated my invincible father, sending him screaming for dear life, and blinded my uncle, making him stagger aimlessly around the yard screaming:

"My eyes! My beautiful white eyes."

I looked at my brother and the world went hazy, and a certain song began to play in my head:

'It's been a long time without you my friend...'

The snake had won. We stared at it in horror. Noticing us, it appeared to smile and for the first time after James had spotted it, appeared to make movement—towards us, slowly, not in a rash, as if it knew what we knew: we were too paralysed with fear to flee.

Once more, my soul began to rip out of my body—heavenward.

A cup was suddenly thrust into my hand.

"Sundilamo." It was my mom. It was a command. She was looking exasperated. In my current state urinating was way too easy and I had probably already done it. I couldn't understand her command. The deathly snake was approaching and she was telling me to pee into a cup? Was she out of her mind?

"I said sundilamo!" She roared. I shuddered into submission, unzipped my shorts and placed the cap in place, my eye on the approaching snake.

Mom turned and faced the snake. For the first time, I saw the large kettle in her hand. Steam was oozing out of it. She opened it and hurled its contents at the slithering snake. The snake began to writhe, twist and turn in confusion. I watched in amazement as she lifted a large stone and dropped it onto the snake’s head, instantly smashing it. It writhed a few more times before becoming perfectly still.

She turned to me and stretched out her hand.

"Give me that."

She snatched the cup which I had filled to the brim.

She strode towards Uncle Trevor and grabbed him by the shoulders.

"Isula ifi menso!"

"I can't." He yelled in agony.

"Ubupuba!" She pulled his hands away from his face and forced his eyes open. To my utter horror, she downed the contents of the cup into his eyes. My jaw dropped open.

Five minutes later I was seated with my legs crossed, my cheeks resting on the inside of my palms, my elbows on the small sitting-room table, staring intently at the cup of urine in front of me. In the background, my mother was screaming at my father and uncle for having put us in danger. And every once in a while, my uncle would interject escatically:

"I can see!"

Three things were now certain. Firstly, I knew I couldn’t rely on my father anymore. Secondly, it’s women who knew the ultimate secret of killing snakes and hence the reason why I was definitely going to get married. Third, urine was a miracle fluid that could neutralize snake venom.

I lifted the cup and brought it towards my mouth.

All Rights Reserved to Michael Sinkolongo

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