I’m the white-haired Western man you can see in the background behind that Buddha sculpture. The picture was taken by my wife in Sri Lanka, just as a tiny green snake was rushing across my feet.
I write fiction stories for a literary magazine in Edinburgh for a living, and the sight of that little reptile immediately put me in touch with the muses, very efficient ladies who embedded between my eyebrows the plot of a story worth telling. I took out the telephone, pressed the engraving button, and the words began to flow from my mouth by themselves:
“The serpent knew that the great moment had arrived and with its little triangular head it repeatedly pressed the shell of the egg that held it imprisoned.
Even without having the slightest idea of what she would find outside, and thus feeling an immense fear that could only be compared to the excitement that dominated her, she cracked the shelter in which she had developed and, after managing to break it, stuck her nose out.
He started sniffing around with his long forked tongue. After receiving the valuable information that the blind eyes of his species could not give him, he guessed that he was under a warm shelter of dung and dry leaves, and among other eggs similar to the one that had served as an incubator.
Her farsighted mother, who was the same green color as her daughter and who had died a few days earlier in the clutches and beak of a hawk, had left her a succulent pantry made up of the carcasses of several beetles and butterflies that the newborn rushed to devour.
After the fear, excitement and hunger, the little snake knew the satisfaction that comes from filling the stomach and the sleepiness that followed. So, allowing himself to be guided by this other physical need, for the moment he forgot about the exploratory desires and sank into the comfortable nap he first dreamed of.
There, in the world of dreams, and thanks to the genetic memory he inherited from his ancestors, he found himself crawling through an environment that was shaped like a huge forest full of life that he could never see. It was a world full of smells, aromas, stenches and perfumes that informed him of where danger and protection lay; and he knew that, if he wished to survive, he would seldom have to leave the damp shelter of moss and leaf litter.
Waking up and being overcome again by the calls of the stomach, she gave herself another treat from the mother’s pantry and, delighted with life, went to sleep again. When she finally went out to explore the surroundings of the shelter without paying the slightest attention to a couple of sisters who were only then breaking the shell of their eggs, the snake sensed that it was night and thus the ideal moment to start her runs through life.
Competing with the smell, her ears provided invaluable information in the form of dozens of different noises, songs, grunts and cries; chorus before which she was paralyzed for a long time believing, as it was, that she was surrounded by enemies and her life could end almost before it had begun.
Except for its busy tongue, the snake looked like just another twig among those that covered the jungle floor. But suddenly her immobility turned to a frantic race as she heard a thundering noise approaching. Her instinct warned her that she had a good chance of being crushed!
Only imagining the scenery where it was moving, the reptile achieved a minimum of protection by crawling into the roots of a tree, just before it crossed a wild buffalo of great tonnage whose footsteps made the ground shake as if it were an earthquake.
Continuing with her exploration, the snake arrived shortly after in front of a muddy pond which was very much to her liking because, apart from managing to get hold of several insects that floated disoriented on its dense waters, she discovered how natural swimming was for her.
In a few moments, she also learned that she could not breathe under water, and that there were other types of enemies in the aquatic world, for example a fish with an immense mouth that liked the taste of reptile meat and fish, but our little friend, who was becoming a veteran with just a few hours of life, noticed the waves produced by the hunter with enough time to “go out on legs” and reach the shore.
He did not stop crawling until he reached the protective leaf litter, and he saved his life again by the skin of his teeth because, as a curiosity of the jungle, this type of fish had developed the ability to leave the water and remain for long periods on the outer mud, swallowing any insect or lizard that was not alert.
After what seemed like an eternity full of experiences, the dawn came for the blind and insectivorous snake. At that moment, the survival instinct had to be shown again to be effective by warning him that, with the light, the number of enemies and dangers would increase greatly.
As a first sample, he had an early white ibis looking for a good breakfast for his chicks. The bird’s big eyes seemed to grow larger as it got excited in front of such a succulent and tender majar. But as he was about to peck the snake to death, he was frightened out of his wits by a barking deer galloping past in pursuit of a leopard.
In reality, the snake only learned of the ibis’ proximity when it heard its desperate fluttering; a noise from which it drew a quick lesson that translated as follows: You’d better go to bed.
Always accompanied by an astrological fate that her sisters had not had, for by then most of them had already been devoured by various predators, our little friend found a rotten trunk nearby, inside which, apart from shelter, she found an unfortunate family of beetles that served her for breakfast.
Then, when the little girl was about to take a nap with her stomach full, some unconscious person began to jump over the wooden roof, making the snake’s paranoia go wild.
What form did the new danger take? The answer came to him when he noticed a smelly hand which, touching the inside of the trunk, eventually reached the reptile, which grabbed it by the tail and, before it could take a bite with its harmless mouth, pulled it out.
The snake knew that she was now really in trouble, for even without being able to see them, it was clear from the noise their attackers were making that there were dozens of them around her. If she had not been blind, she would have noticed that they were young macaques in search of games, whose tribe was scattered around eating berries, blackberries and wild strawberries.
Had she been an adult and more experienced, the snake could have mounted the ever-effective act of making them believe it was poisonous and deadly of necessity. But being only a newborn and not yet having attended the snake school, she had to endure being dragged along by one of those playful impudents while running after the others. A game which, alas, ended up on a tree branch causing vertigo to the sensitive little blind girl.
Making matters worse, for everything that goes up must come down, the incident was capped by a terrifying nosedive when the monkey got rid of it to avoid the attack of a mean old male, who was very carefully angry after being woken from his nap by that noisy little girl.
If a clumsy mammal like humans had fallen from that height, it would surely have ended up with all its bones broken. However, this was not the case with snakes because, unlike cats, they actually have seven lives. And our friend, after hitting the bottom, went away without thinking for a moment. Under the same tree she found a mouse hole and went in there to get her strength and courage, while promising herself to be more careful.
Hearing the continued scandal of the monkey business, which continued around until the evening, the snake remained as still as a stick for the rest of the day. It only dared to leave the shelter after the usual change in the ambient sound as the daytime fauna became silent to make way for the nighttime one.
Had he had the sense of sight, he would have noticed that he was rushing a bit, because the rapid tropical sunset still showed the last few tails showing their best colours and outside there was a little light. While she was beating her brains out, it made her visible to dozens of good observers around her, one of whom, by the way, turned out to be the same hawk that had eaten his mother’s lunch a few days earlier. Although he had already closed one eye and was about to do the same with the other, when he saw his favourite delicacy zigzagging, he jumped right in.
This bird would surely have gotten a serpentine cap if, due to its precipitation and the diminishing light, it had not accidentally crossed its flight with that of a large pheasant that, at that moment and after picking up speed, was going to climb up the branches of a tree where it would spend the night.
The collision between the two birds was very noticeable and, in addition to attracting the attention of every living creature due to its complaints and fluttering, it gave the snake time to quickly disappear from the scene.
For a large part of the night our friend finally enjoyed a certain tranquillity because, on her way, she found only peaceful beings among whom she could move without frights; they were mice, rabbits, hares, deer, goats, bats, hedgehogs and other fauna that were only interested in filling their stomachs in peace, and she began to believe in the future.
Her hopes were dashed at dawn when, as if from nowhere, she found herself suddenly immobilized between the claws of an owl that, for a few moments, was watching her with gigantic eyes capable of piercing the penumbra of the jungle.
“This is as far as we go,” said the snake, waiting for the death blow. But the bird must have had some extravagant whim between its eyes, because instead of killing its prey, it held it very carefully in one of its claws and, extending its long wings, flew away with it.
If that event had had some accidental witness, I could have commented: “I saw a snake flying”.
While crossing the night space, our friend had an unprecedented collection of emotions. Aside from the expected terror, she felt dizziness, euphoria, lightness, and chills.
He experienced a sensation of falling into the void that exceeded that which he suffered with the monkeys when the owl swooped down at great speed and ended up stopping very precisely on a tree branch. “Now he’ll crush me,” said the reptile to himself with logical pessimism.
Fortunately, he was wrong again, for the bird, now picking it up with its beak, went up to the trunk, stuck its head through a wide hole where a pair of chicks could be heard, and gently deposited it between the feathers covering the ground.
The snake was amazed to discover that this was a very comfortable and warm place where he immediately began to find insects very much to his liking.
At the same time that she was beginning to swallow with delight, she said to herself: “This is incredible, they have caught me to feed me!
Indeed, our blessed serpent had fallen into the hands, or better said into the clutches of some very wise owls that, from immemorial times, discovered the advantages of having as tenants small insectivorous snakes like our friend; reptiles that, by keeping the nest clean of parasites, avoided the death of forty percent of their chicks.
The snake and the owls were very happy, and they ate partridges, or mice, or insects, to taste.
And bunting, bunting, this serpentine tale is over.
DIVERGENT STORY, by Nando Baba