marcel barang

Murder in the dead of night

In English, Reading matters on 29/07/2012 at 4:00 pm


Yes, I did it, officer. It happened last night.

You see, since I decided to go away on holidays for three weeks in September I’ve had this worry about that hole in my backyard ‘box’. It isn’t a box, actually, but a concrete encasement with a concrete lid (and a potted plant on top) built nearly two decades ago over the water drain in a corner of the yard: there’s a hole at floor level in one corner of it that can be stoppered to prevent floodwater surging out of the drain from flooding the yard. In ordinary times it’s through that hole that rainwater in the yard goes down the drain. Trouble is, when there’s a sudden downpour, as there are creepers all over the surrounding walls the dead leaves tend to block the hole, the water level in the yard rises within minutes and it would only take a twelve-centimetre rise for water to seep into the living room through the back door. It’s happened once, just last month in a freak storm, when I had failed to gather the leaves for a few days, confident in the primitive device I knocked together long ago: a band of plastic mesh in front of the hole, kept in place by two water-filled plastic bottles. The mesh stops the leaves from engorging the hole but allows water to flow through – well, in most cases… What if, during those three weeks of absence, a cluster of leaves…? The only thing I can think of is stuffing a towel at the bottom of the back door inside the living room before I leave as an extra precaution. Anyway, I worry about that hole.

Sometime past 2:30 am, I’m doing my SEA Write Award self-imposed homework, reading this (in Thai, of course):

She lies there. The one that loves me. She lies there. Her dark green body bloated with the poison of a venomous snake. My very sister there. A body I’ve cherished and rocked and raised since its tootsies were the size of a clamshell.

I’m reading this when there are noises of some sort of fight between animals coming from the backyard. Must be some cat, so I hiss loud and clear. Silence, lasting seconds. Then a thud.

I switch on the backyard light, take the torch and go out to investigate.

I look around. Nothing. But then, looking down, I see this: a boa nearly as thick as my wrist is stuck in the hole of the ‘box’. It has knocked down both bottles and the mesh. How much of the head part is inside I’ve no idea but the leisurely contracting and swaying body part I can see is about a metre long. Blocking my hole! We shall see about that.

I go back inside, grab a hatchet and undertake to murder the bastard. A ghastly, gory labour. Repeated blows have the boa contort and force its way further through the hole. I grab its tail and am amazed by its power of traction. I finish the unpalatable job in hurried strikes then throw the length I’ve severed into the neighbours’ no-man’s-land. The other part is in the box or perhaps back inside the drain to bleed to death: I’ll be watching for lines of ants next. I hose out the blood, put bottles and mesh back in place, leave the light on, and resume reading.

She lies there. How could I be made to believe this is the one who loved me, a body I’ve cherished and rocked and raised no less than her parents have since she was born – and I was five?
We grew up together, sought food and shared the same dishes, starved in many drought seasons…

Enough. I can’t concentrate. More on that book later. Was it the same boa I had a close encounter with last year, so close I’d have died on the spot had it been a cobra? Why did I have to kill it? For being in my cups? For an intrusion into my privacy? For being challenged by what I was reading? For blocking the hole? Are these good enough mobiles? I write these lines to make peace with myself. The bloody slaughter I performed was upsetting enough. But that’s not it altogether: I feel guilty, not for killing a living creature (I’m no bleeding Buddhist; I do that all the time; we all do: mosquitoes, midges, ants, flies, cockroaches…) but for acting on an impulse, triggered by the ancestral fear I thought I had conquered: why, only the other morning when I opened the back door I found hanging down from its top joint a length of translucent snake skin, a regular event I dismiss as par for the season with the hope this was no viper but a mere grass snake renewing its wardrobe – it’s the price to pay for living in a cocoon of vines and creepers. Folk wisdom has it that I can expect a visit from the dead snake’s partner. Now that’s another comforting thought!


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