Owen Jones


Diary – Monday 23 June 2014

I must have dozed off listening to Radio Four over the Internet, because I was startled by the barking of our dog, Angun. I knew the bark, it was a warning to us that there was a snake nearby and to the snake that it was not welcome, so I went outside to investigate. It was about two feet long and as thick as my middle finger, but that does not mean that it is not dangerous in Thailand.

Angun had stopped it trying to get up onto the patio, and I saw it shoot off behind a raised fish pond. It was dark green or grey, and I could see it in the recess between the wall and the pond with its head off the ground, drawn back, ready to strike should Angun stick her head around the corner to investigate.

Now, I have been trying to identify snakes where I live for ten years, but their colours vary so much and the photos are so small that it is not easy. When my wife, Neem, came home, she said that it was either a ngu singn (Lion Snake), if it was gray, or a ngu ba (Crazy Snake) if it was green. She couldn’t see it well because the recess was dark. Thais fear the former, because some say it is deadly, but the latter is harmless.

Anyway, we left it there and called the dog off, more for its own protection than the snake’s. This is quite significant because most Thais kill any snake they see regardless of whether it is poisonous or not, just in case, but Neem is a recent convert to not killing them unless she feels she ought to for safety reasons.

In any case, we both went back to our business, I to my writing and she to entertaining some family members who were visiting from Bangkok.

A couple of hours later, at four thirty by my wall clock, I went to the shop around the corner for a couple of beers as I do every day. Within an hour, the sun had gone down which was almost two hours early. I had been writing in the shop, and time can fly when I’m doing that, but not three hours in the space of one, I thought.

As it happened, the shop clock was very slow due to a depleted battery and I had forgotten my mobile phone. As I was contemplating this, a two-foot green snake shot across the road heading straight for me. I thought that it must be ngu ba, but if it was, it was odd that I had seen only two in 10 years and both on the same day, unless it was my ngu ba from home.
It was quite beautiful under the street lamp and I got a much better look at it, before it disappeared under the rubble in the shop’s garden.

Fifteen minutes later, I had forgotten about the time discrepancy and the snake because I was writing in full flow again, until a scream brought me back to reality. It was remarkably reminiscent of my dog’s barking earlier. The shopkeeper, a middle-aged woman, was shouting ‘Snake! Snake!’ and three of her girlfriends rushed to help her. They each took a broom from the shelf and got ready to beat it to death. Such is the fate of most snakes that come across Thais.

It took them half an hour to flush it out of the shop, which has no walls to two sides, and they had to chase it fifteen metres across a waste patch of land, before the first blow connected, then, stunned, it did not stand a chance.

The four women came back to tell me what they had done, presumably expecting congratulations on the success of their hunt. They were arm in arm and laughing loudly, like comrade soldiers.

‘Was it a dangerous snake?’ I asked.

‘No,’ one laughed, ‘only ngu ba!’

I could not be happy for them although I also understand that the shopkeeper didn’t relish the idea of sharing her house with a two foot snake either, poisonous or not, but I also felt sorry for the snake, so I just went home to carry on writing.

It was then that I remembered the time differential, so I checked my wall clock, but it was correct.

So what happened to the ninety minutes, I wondered?

That evening I couldn’t get the picture of those four joyful huntresses out of my mind, and during the night I dreamed that I was a black man serving time in an open prison, where the guards carried guns and used them freely, killing a friend of mine who was suspected of trying to escape.

That was the first time that I have ever dreamed that I was a different colour.

Visit Owen’s website at http://owencerijones.com

by +Owen Jones