Humans can be categorized uniquely by their refusal to learn. Seeing the cobra in the forest plot had sobered me up to the fact that things were not all benign, and a lot of them could quite literally kill you. At dinner I looked up into the rafters at the red and yellow spiders that had threaded their labyrinth of cobwebs across ten feet of wooden beams. If one of those bit me, would I die? How do you tell if something is poisonous? I needed to learn about these things, as it occurred to me I had been blundering through the jungle for almost two months now without any real concern for the actual dangers in it.
Back in the camp however I was safe from all these things, my room had a mesh door to keep insects out and there weren’t any holes in the woodwork for things to crawl through. I didn’t think about things coming in when I went to bed, and felt reassured that the resident bats and cats in the corridor would pluck away anything before it got that far.
In reality, wildlife can get in anywhere it wants, and the apparent impermeability of my room posed no real barrier. Doors were ajar and things would walk, or slither in. I went downstairs the evening after Benita had left for Malaysia, and trotted out to the kitchen. As I passed the bookshelf, a long thin black tendril whipped between my feet before my eyes could follow it, and dashed beneath the cabinet. Janya had been walking toward me and yelled “Snake!” With a huge characteristic grin. I dropped down on my hands and knees but could see nothing in the jumble of old shoes and cigarette boxes. I pushed a ruler into the fray but got no response. I pulled out a shoe box to get it to come out, but could still see nothing. After about five minutes of fumbling with dusty shoes I had seen nothing, so I figured it had slipped away without my noticing.
A few hours later I heard Pitoon calling upstairs. “Umm, Sol. Can you come down?” I walked down cautiously, not sure what to expect but I had forgotten about the snake at this point. Pitoon was pointing to a gap between some tables, stacked against the wall. I leaned over and peered. Sure enough, long, blue and green vine snake peered straight back, its neck bent and ready to leap forward.
“Can I catch it?” I asked, though in reality I didn’t want to put my fingers anywhere near it.
“Yeah, it not poisonous.”
“Ok.” I said and plunged my hand in between the stacked boards.
I felt it slide past my fingers and a faint prick in the knuckle of my forefinger.
“At least,” Pitoon paused, looking at the situation, “I don’t think they’re poisonous.”
I looked up at my finger then back at Pitoon.
“You don’t think? Please be fucking certain!” I laughed as I inspected my finger.
There was no mark, and I wasn’t swelling up and gasping for a tracheotomy so screw I thought, and went it again.
This time I caught it, felt it rush through my clumsy digits and plonk down onto the floor. I dropped down and caught hold of the tail, slipping into the recesses of the dusty room. I pulled back, and it all tugged loose.
“Thanks”, said Pitoon, “I don’t like snakes.”