by David Serafim

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Every now and then, when no grown-ups were around, the shadows sent an ominous erection of a snake protruding from the grass. The thin stalk of a cobra swayed tensely from side to side, its hooded head swelling in pulses as it glared at the children. At first they were frightened, but very soon they drew closer, with excited curiosity. It licked at them in the air, drinking them with its eyes. One of us darted off to the hospital with the news. Moments later my father appeared, heart racing, with the shotgun in his arms. The snake sagged impotently back into the grass and disappeared. Many times he would follow it until it was dead, but there were always more, watching till the children were alone again.

I remember my little brother wading through the grass by the water-tower. The excitement of the other children had drawn us there from all around. A khaki-coloured cobra rose ahead of him. He stared at the snake in hypnotized admiration. It spat at him defiantly. My older brother yanked him from where he stood and ran him to safety before the snake had time to readjust its aim. He stood where he had been deposited, oblivious to his rapture.

”Wow,” he said.

Someone was shouting excitedly that it must be an Egyptian spitting cobra. Someone else added that they make you blind. A third voice built on this newly acquired knowledge by insisting that they never miss the eyes, which was accepted by the others to be true. My little brother turned with admiration back to the snake.

”Wow. They never miss?” he half-whispered.

”Never.” The boy repeated confidently.

Another time there were three boomslangs hanging in a tree. When we first saw them they sagged like long green ribbons decorating the branches. My father waited patiently for a shot. He missed a couple of times, then moved round to find a better angle. The buckshot cut snake after snake in pieces that landed on the ground ahead of us, green and red chunks of snake. Someone had been charged with the responsibility of finding the head and crushing it with a spade. I remember a severed head jumping towards me, spasmodic and homicidal. One of the older boys was explaining, ”If it gets you, you bleed to death - Through your nose and mouth and eyes…”

Doctor John had said the same thing, and he had a big book with pictures of many snakes in it, so he knew what he was talking about.

”…and from your bum. Dead in 15 minutes, I swear!”

The head was gasping at us venomously. We stood and observed: A snake is really just a head with a long tail. The spade came down again and again, ringing against the hard ground. Soon the tailless snake had become a harmless purple pulp, kneaded into the coarse-grained sand. It’s OK to let the tails move, they don’t count. They are just snake-head propulsion systems. You throw them in the compost heap with the pineapple crowns. It’s the heads that are dangerous, especially the eyes.

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