‘Mickey, what you do?’ says Sis coming into my bedroom and flopping onto the corner of my bed.
‘Eh? What’s it look like I am doing? I’m working on my computer,’ I crack to her, my usual reply when asked a foolish question of the obvious.
She laughs her infectious laugh. Even when she is annoying she still makes me smile to myself.
I know what is coming. She only does this when she wants to talk about the family, my daughter, maybe some financial issues, or, when my wife is pissed off at me for some reason that usually eludes me until it is pointed out to my dense-assed male self. Sis is the go-between in the family, the one who knows the protocols and approaches needed for these things, to be correct, polite, and socially acceptable and done the Thai/Isaan way.
Instead, she surprises me.
‘Mickey, I just come from teacher’s how (house) next door,’ she says in an excited undertone.
I hear something there and stop my typing and turn to face her. Something is going on; I can hear it in her voice.
‘Okay, what were you doing there?’ This teacher’s house is the house that attaches to ours in the block of townhouses that make up our part of the small soi. She, the teacher next door, is the friend of the owner of our rental house in Surin.
Sis grinned; she knows I am interested in this stuff.
‘I kill snay!’ she grins proudly at this statement. Sis is kind of macho.
‘What?’ I exclaim, ‘Where?’
‘In teacher’s how (house), in her living room.’
‘In her living room? But, that is where she teaches her classes!’ I exclaimed. Teacher has two classes a day in her home during after school hours. About fifty kids come there daily to learn extra, which is great custom for our neighborhood restaurant as well.
‘Yes, but today she not have students.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ I mumble. Once again I have lost track of the days of the week and forgotten exactly what day it is. ‘So, what kind of snake was it?’
‘Cobra!’ she growls, ‘Big cobra this long!’ she spreads he short arms in measurement, then shows me her not inconsiderable forearm and tells me the snake was that big around in diameter.
Even taking her short arms into consideration this obviously was no small damn cobra. I shiver, estimating the snake was about four to five feet long and a good five inches in diameter at its thickest. I am not fond of large poisonous snakes. As a matter of fact I don’t like anything large or small that is
poisonous, with or without legs. I am concerned. Where the hell did it come from? How the hell did it get into her home? What if it had come into MY home?
‘Eh, so how did you kill it, Sis?’ I ask to get the whole story and figure out if there is a problem here for me and mine maybe.
‘Take big piece of steel (some small building angle iron we have from previous construction of the shop) and stab him dead like this.’ She demonstrates using a long piece of metal like a spear, stabbing downward. ‘I chase he snay into hong nam (bathroom). Boy next door to teacher help me (a
college student who rents on the other side of teacher’s home). He hold snay with door to hong nam and I kill with steel!’
‘Are you crazy?’ I ask her, ‘What if the damned thing bit you? Why not call the police and stay the fuck out of there until they come and kill it? That’s what they get paid for!’
She gives me a look like I am crazy and not all that bright too.
‘What?’ I ask, seeing that look. I’m used to it, but still.
‘Why you think police come and kill snay?’ she says disgustedly, ‘Police scared of snay. Police not come to kill snay. Say not their job.’ She nearly spat in her dislike of and disdain for the local constabulary of Surin. They are not the cream of the crop for sure, at times.
‘But, they have guns! Shotguns even!’ I said, somewhat exasperated at this information. ‘They can just come and shoot the damned thing with some birdshot or varmint load in the twelve gauge and be done with it and keep the citizens out of harm’s way like they are supposed to do.’
‘Not do,’ was Sis’ reply to this mini tirade of mine.
‘Me and boy kill dead,’ she said again, rather cockily and with some pride I might add.
‘Well, good for you,’ I said, ‘Why didn’t you come tell me so I could help?’
‘Ha!’ Sis yelped, ‘You scared snay!’
‘Yes, well, that might be so, a little at least maybe, but I’d still help kill the damned thing if need be. But it’s not on my list of fun and sanuk things to do this week. It’s not something I grew up needing to do on a continuing basis, and besides, I have weapons back in the states which I’d easily and quickly use to kill a fucking big cobra in my house.’
She laughed again at this, pantomimed stabbing/spearing the snake vigorously, and said, ‘Kill snake with steel. Teacher happy too mutt, scared too mutt.’
I got the full story from her from beginning to end; how the teacher spotted the snake in her house, how the snake hid behind the TV stand, how teacher freaked and ran outside to our restaurant to get Sis and tell everyone about the snake. A posse of two was rounded up, Sis and college boy next door,
weapons of sorts procured, and the chase of the big assed cobra was on and the humans eventually were victorious. The snake made the wrong choice of home to invade.
Sis left, story told. Me, I was a bit freaked. How the hell did it get in her house? Where did it come from? Why did it come here? I mean, this is a large city, a well-populated area, and an urban area, not the damned rice farm. I just can’t imagine my walking into the house and being confronted by a large cobra in the living room, but just one house away, a house that is joined to mine; this is exactly what happened to the occupant.
I went around checking for ways for cobras to enter my own home. Finding nothing possible I went across the street and asked Sis how they thought the snake, not a small one either, had managed this.
‘Teacher have lady clean her house.’
‘Yes, her maid, I know her,’ I say.
‘Think she leave door in back open all day when clean house. Think cobra come in back door.’
‘Okay. Our back door is never open, and it is screened as well on the inside door. So this should never be a problem for us I’d think, right?’
‘Yes/Chai, no problem, Mickey. Not do same like teacher.’
‘Yeah,’ I muttered, walking back to the house a little more at ease now I had an idea of how the poisonous creature got into the house.
The next day I was sitting at my computer. I heard a bit of a commotion across the street but thought nothing of it, as my wife and Sis and the neighbors and clientele are a boisterous lot at times and prone to much laughter and horseplay. Hey, it’s a sanuk shop and everyone likes the staff, my wife and
Sis. There’s always some sort of teasing or joking tomfoolery going on there all hours of the day and night. They open up at five in the morning and close at nine in the evening. At various times of the day the place is packed with customers, and at other times it is slow as hell. At the moment the lunch crowd should have been packing the place, so I thought little of the noise from without my door.
Maybe an hour later a knock came at my door and I bade whoever was applying for entrance to come within. It was Sis, and she was grinning from ear to ear. She immediately plopped her ample derriere on my bed and whooshed out a deep breath. Something was up, dammit.
‘What?’ I queried.
‘Mickey, today have another big snay in teacher’s how!’
‘What? Again? I thought you killed it!’
‘Eh, not same snay. New snay! Mama snay, lady snay. Ooo! Biiiiiiiig snay!
‘Great,’ I said. ‘So what, you think this snake was the wife of the snake you killed yesterday?’ (I’ve heard or read somewhere that the female of the species is usually larger than the male I believe, if memory serves, and that they mate for life.)
‘Yes, think so. Mia (wife) from other snay. Come look for Sammi (husband). This snay bigger than snay (from) yesterday.’
‘How much bigger?’ I ask, thinking what the hell, yesterday’s snake was about five feet long and four or five inches in diameter at its thickest.
Sis gave me another foot with her hands apart to show how much bigger.
She proceeded to tell me how her and two of the college boys next door chased down this snake and killed it.
Teacher had once again come into her home to find, in her kitchen this time, this big mother of a cobra, and once again ran out of the house screaming to our shop to alert Sis and the others there. Once again Sis and the boys armed themselves with whatever makeshift cobra killing implements were at hand and went off to slay the varmint for the venerable and beloved neighborhood ajarn (a tiny lady of great charm and good heart that everyone here adores).
Sis and the boys made their way into teacher’s house and chased the creature around before finally cornering it. At one point Sis says the snake, cornered, turned on her and reared up to its full height (cobras can raise about two thirds of their body off the ground) and opened its hood menacingly as if to strike out at Sis. One of the boys took that moment to haul off and bat the snake with a large stick he was using right in the puss, knocking it down and stunning it. The other boy then pinned it with his own weapon and Sis used the mighty angle iron snake-killer sword of hers to stab the cobra in the head numerous times, slaying the beast before it could harm anyone. Sis said that part had scared the shit out of her and she was happy the boy had used that moment to strike the beast down before it lashed out at her. Sis is rather short, but sturdy, and she says the snake, when it reared up, was nearly as tall as she was; a frightening experience which a friend of mine had told me about when he encountered a much larger ‘king’ cobra on a Thai golf course once years ago.
Once the tale was finished I sat there thinking to myself that I didn’t know if she was the sort that lacked fear, or that lacked a brain. Maybe it’s a mixture of both? I know that if I was in trouble and needed someone to stand by my side in a desperate fight I would surely want Sis at my side. Maybe it is just the inculcated Buddhist thinking that death is just a step toward another life, possibly better, possibly worse, that let’s them seem to have no fear at times. Or maybe, much like our own ancestors who fought the wilds and its dangers throughout our own history, doing things we now think brave or foolhardy at times, it’s just that they grow up with these dangers around them and think nothing much of them. They are used to this stuff, inured to it, and just do what needs to be done to protect themselves and their own family and friends and neighbors. It’s just all in a day’s work.
After a while I asked Sis where the hell she thought these cobras were coming from. Why here? Why now? (We’ve lived here over five years and never had this problem before. Yeah, we’ve had a few scorpions, and even a huge tah carp (a poisonous centipede of huge proportions.) The only thing we could figure out was that in the block behind ours there had been a rai of empty wooded land left undisturbed for years. Recently the land was bought and cleared to make room for a new apartment building. All the trees and brush were cut down. These two cobras may have been living there, undisturbed, hunting rats, mice and lizards at night unseen and unmolested. Teacher has a small wall in back of her townhouse where she has a couple square meters where she raises many plants and flowers. Her wall is a low one, maybe four feet high, which the cobras could possibly get over (they were large snakes) when they were looking for refuge once their home was obliterated by the new construction. The maid leaves the back door open when cleaning, the snakes explore the new territory left open to them, and man and beast clash, sadly.
The Thais seem to have little use for the cobras. No one is grieving for their loss and no one is talking of their conservation or maybe trapping them and releasing them back into the wild where they belong. Actually they are almost always eaten at these times, and their skin taken for curing and sale even. They are a danger to the children, elderly, and even full grown healthy adults. In Thailand it seems there is an ‘Us or Them’ attitude toward these marvelous, yet dangerous, creatures. The Buddhist concept of live and let live doesn’t seem to apply as much as you would think it would, considering the country is like around ninety-five percent Buddhist.
And for those thinking this only happens up here in Isaan, well I hate to disabuse your notions, but I have known a few friends living in Bangkok with small yards who have also ran into poisonous snakes in their property. I also know a few people in Pattaya who have run into this as well. So, it is not just in the hinterlands this stuff occurs. It can happen right in the ‘big city’ as well. You are warned.
Another exciting week in Surin it was. One of these days I am going to be in for a big surprise I fear. I hope I can comport myself manfully and not go running out of the house screaming like the little old teacher from next door. But, it remains to be seen. One of these days boy…
(The Central Scrutinizer)
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