Would you trust a snake on a tree?

The snake tried every trick to climb the coconut tree. Failing, it slithered down and risked death. How could I stop it from being killed, I wondered. But the snake had plans of its own...

Remember how Kaa of Walt Disney's Jungle Book hissed seductively from a tree: "Trusssst in meee, jussst in meee"? And remember how some time ago I wrote of a little cobra that I had seen to safety, away from the pipsqueak securitas that wanted to bludgeon it? 

Ethnocide, I say. That's what it is -- to kill a snake for what it is. That tender little serpent, then still porcelain-skinned and round-eyed as a baby, put up glorious defiance before it was dismissed for safe release. It took every iota of patience, restraint and wit to ensure that no one died that day, at least in my presence. After that day I decided not to inform the security of the presence of snakes unless it was absolutely necessary. Worse than afford anyone (primarily, the snake) the trauma of an encounter, I thought I'd keep watch until it slithered away without maligning its reputation.

One recent morning I was fumbling about in a literary air-pocket when our maid, breathless as a budgerigar in a wind tunnel, informed me of the presence of a snake. Remembering full well what had transpired the last time, I looked out of our second-floor balcony and saw a sizeable snake, nearly six feet long, entwined round the trunk of a coconut tree. Half of its body was wrapped around the trunk as it reached out in short, desperate lunges for a pinch-hold on the woody bracts above its head. 

Perhaps my maid, who was by now rather faint, expected me to run downstairs and inform the security guards. Instead, I thanked her and reached for my camera. And there, from the vantage of the balcony, I watched the snake, keeping watch over it for I was anxious that it would be discovered. After a few unsuccessful attempts to scale the crown of the tree, the snake returned to the ground and hid in a stack of steel pipes. I breathed again and sat back to watch the action. 

Around the snake-in-hiding, life went on. People came and went. First, a car full of middle-aged gents pulled up and parked a few feet from the pipes. They stepped out arguing amicably but loudly over a real estate technicality. The snake ducked as soon as the car appeared but when the gents lingered, talking, it gathered courage and poked its head out curiously. Every time the conversation volume peaked, the snake snuck its head back under the pipes. Snakes cannot hear airborne sounds but it was probably sensitive to the sudden movements of the men as they talked. After they left the head reared up again. 

Presently the gardener arrived, humming to himself, and got down to weed the strip of lawn under the coconut tree. The snake, with its head raised behind his back, must have been less than 10 feet from him. I, on the other hand, nearly died of nervousness. 

My wife had taken my daughter downstairs (while coaxing lunch into her unwilling little mouth) and I couldn't inform her about the slithery presence near her since she wasn't carrying her phone. I packed off the maid and went downstairs and told them as gently as I could without raising an alarm that we had company, just a few feet away from our feet. My wife took it very well under the circumstances and so did my daughter, who was curious to catch a glimpse of the snake. After satisfying their curiosity we went back upstairs and watched over the snake. It remained there among the pipes until nightfall and I saw its head rear up every now and then. Under the cover of darkness, I suppose it slid away to safety. 

Were I romantically inclined, I'd like to have imagined that this was the same snake I had rescued earlier, now all grown up. But then again, it wasn't. I trust most snakes to do us no harm. Trust is everything. If only we could rely on trust alone.

Note that I didn't name the snake. What do you think it is?

Text and photos by Beej

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