Priorities. We sometime get them wrong don’t we? Especially when you have a choice of having savings to buy a home versus going for a weekend in New York? Despite me desperately wanting to go to New York, I know, it should be my priority to have enough money to eat. And to buy a home later. Whatever. *Sobs*
I’m very good with priorities, generally. I know what should be priority. Like whether you need to do a grocery run or you’d end up eating take out again, you choose to do a grocery run. That’s because you prioritize your health over ease. See? Easy.
Sometimes I get my priorities wrong though. With dire consequences.
One particular memory of getting responsibilities and priorities all wrong happened one Saturday evening. I was feeling particularly responsible this evening and I felt that it was important to do all the errands like going for a grocery run despite the fact that I would really rather lie down in bed and stare at the ceiling? What you don’t do that? Try not having TV. The ceiling becomes just as fascinating after a while.
But anyway, as I step outside the house, I find a small black thing, wiggling by the slippers outside my porch. Even in the dark, there was no mistaking what it was.
‘Uh, sayang (love),’ says the husband from inside the house. ‘Why did you stop?’
‘I think there’s a snake by our slippers.’
Yes, it was. A snake. A very small one wiggling away by the slippers.
‘Yeah, don’t worry, it’s very small! Like see?’
I thought to myself, I’m not particularly worried about snakes. Firstly, I’m not a princess. And secondly, I’ve seen plenty of snakes overseas, in India and even in the UK. And naturally, since this snake is on my porch, next to the garden, naturally it’s a garden snake.
So I kicked the slipper and the snake wiggled. I screamed and ran off.
‘What?! What?! Are you okay?!’ Eizwan shouted.
‘Oh, no worries. I thought the snake was going to climb up my trousers. It’s fine now.’
‘Snakes are not fine!’ Eizwan declared, peering at the snake. ‘Let me deal with this snake first.’
For some bizarre reason, I felt very cross with this announcement. I’ve seen plenty of snakes before, as I’ve said, in the UK and in India. This one is in the garden. This must be a garden snake. It feels over the top to deal with just a garden snake. I don’t want him to kill the snake, it feels very uncivilised. And I’ve already decided on this evening’s priorities. It is to go shopping. I am being responsible.
‘No,’ I announce.
‘It’s just a snake. Come on, I need to go shopping.’
‘Lin! What if it goes inside the house?’
‘We have cats. The cats will kill it.’ I roll my eyes.
We argued about it for a while, but I was adamant. We are going to get into the car. Eizwan sulked as he got into the car and remained sulky, going on and on about it being my problem later.
‘They’re garden snakes,’ I said.
‘But what if they’re not?’ he asked me. ‘What if they’re something more dangerous?’
‘Don’t be silly.’
‘Sure that was a tiny snake. Tiny snakes had to come from somewhere. What about the mama snake then?’
Crap. I forgot about it then. And then my little paranoid brain started to think…what if? What if that baby snake was a dangerous snake? And what if that baby snake had a mama snake looking for it?
‘Don’t be silly, Eizwan. Mama snakes don’t miss their baby snakes.’
Or do they?
I texted my mother about the snake, hoping to reassure myself that the snake is just a garden snake. And that, it was small and tiny. And that the cats could kill it. My mother’s reply was less than reassuring: “I’D STILL SCREAM ANYWAY. MAKE SURE YOU COVER EVER HOLE IN YOUR HOUSE WITH A TOWEL. DON’T LET THE SNAKE COME IN.”
I was becoming less and less assured by the end of our shopping trip. Even Eizwan who wanted to prove a point about how silly I was about not letting him deal with the snake was now starting to realize that in his efforts to prove his wife wrong, the snake might just come into the house and make itself at home.
Sure it’s a baby now. What if grows bigger, we have nooks and crevices for it to hide, plenty of food. What if it makes its appearance later on as a fully grown, mature adult snake? With priorities of eating my cats?
As we sat down at a restaurant to takeaway our naan, we debated about what species the snake might be. ‘Garden snake,’ I say.
‘But it’s black in colour. As far as I know, aren’t garden snakes green?’ Eizwan asked.
‘So what do you think it could be then?’
Eizwan did not want to say. Finally he said in a low tone. ‘Cobra.’
Later that night, instead of relaxing with a book or a movie, I propped my laptop on my lap in bed and then frantically researched snakes in Malaysia. I Google garden snake in Malaysia. And to my distress, no one can confirm that garden snakes can be found in Malaysia. They’re common in the United States, but not so much in Malaysia.
So what’s common in Malaysia then? Kraits, cobras and vipers. Silly me for assuming we could just be like the West. I may read the Guardian newspaper in the mornings, I may eat pasta and sometimes put on a winter coat to pretend I’m still in the UK, but face reality Adlina. You’re in Malaysia.
For every midgie the British complain about, we face mosquitoes that spread malaria and dengue.
For every thunderstorm warnings in Savannah, we have daily evening rain that uproots trees, causes flash floods and destruction.
So for every non-poisonous garden snake in the UK, we have…
Some dude who specializes in snakes in University Malaya wrote a long entry about the various snakes you can find in urban Malaysia.
‘We found a pit viper in one of our departments!’ he went on to say, enthused. ‘So it shows you can find dangerous snakes all over urban Malaysia.’
Feeling much better now, I retire to bed. Not before checking to make sure there are no snakes in bed. Because apparently, in India, many deaths occur because snakes make their way to your beds because it’s warm and comfy.
Am just sayin’.
The next day, I receive a phone call from my dad. He sounded very serious. And quite upset.
‘I heard from Umi about your problem. Listen I want to talk to you,’ he said. ‘About the snake.’
‘Ahahaha. It’s just a small snake. No big deal, when we came home it was gone.’
‘How do you know it’s gone and it’s not inside lurking somewhere in your house?’
‘I…I don’t know.’
‘You should have dealt with it first.’
‘Get some sulfur and then pour it outside the house. Stops the snakes from coming in.’
‘Make sure you kill the snake next time. Before it kills you.’
What used to be a pleasure now, my little garden has now become a hiding ground for an enemy of the state. Every time I look at my little herb patch, I wonder if the snake is in there. I tiptoe into the house, every cardboard box hiding a potential combatant.
When I leave home for work in the mornings, I despair for my cats. Sometimes I imagine that I come home, finding the fat body of my cat, on the floor, it’s mouth open in a twisted scream, dead from a snake bite.
And then I cry a little on the way to work.
I finally showed the picture of my snake to my brother. ‘See! See, if you zoom in about twenty times you’d see the little white patch on his head. I think it makes him a cobra.’
My brother snatched the phone from me and looked at the picture. ‘Oh God, Lin! I can’t believe you’re making such a fuss!’
He tosses the phone back to me. ‘The thing is fucking tiny. It’s just a garden snake and you guys are making too much of a fuss.’
Or is it?