The scream came from the direction of the bathroom. The sound of running feet followed. Teresa was busy packing the remaining biltong sandwiches into a dish for Grace to take home and Digby had just driven out of the driveway.
“Ouma, Ouma” cried Grace, breathlessly staggering into the kitchen. “A snake!”
“Where?” shouted Teresa, her blood pressure shooting up a few degrees.
“In the bathroom, behind the toilet.”
Teresa shuddered. Ants were annoying, mosquitoes were painful and spiders were quite frightening. But snakes! Now they were terrifying. And how long had it been behind her toilet seat? It didn’t bear thinking about.
She scooped up her cell phone and unplugging the connected charger, pressed the button for contacts. A blur. She couldn’t read the names and numbers. Where were her reading glasses? By her chair in the lounge? Next to her bed? Or had she left them lying on the side of the bath tub? The bath tub being, of course, right next to the toilet! Another chill ran up her spine and she was already starting to find it harder to breathe.
Grace’s slight frame seemed to be trembling from shock. It took a while but finally she seemed to gain some control, and when she spoke, her voice was reasonably calm:
“Okay, Ouma. Now first of all, I’ve closed the bathroom door. That way the snake is trapped. It would be a bad thing if we lost it somewhere in the house.”
Perhaps the understatement of the year, thought Teresa. She watched as Grace pulled a cell phone from her apron pocket:
“I’m ringing Digby now. He’s only just left and can’t be that far away.”
Grace pressed a few buttons and held the phone to her ear. After a few seconds the tinny-sounding melody of ‘Greensleeves’ could be heard from the direction of the dining room.
“Oh no!” shouted Teresa, walking to the dining room table to pick up the phone. “He’s only left it here again!”
And this, of course, was the other side of Digby. He was extremely forgetful. He’d take the knapsack full of ingenious solutions for any eventuality to the corner shop; but he’d leave his cell phone at home – or at someone else’s home.
“Please be calm, Ouma,” said Grace, resting a hand on Teresa’s shoulder. “We need to think about this. Who is home today that can help? Or who is working in the gardens? Let me go and have a look.”
With that, she was out of the back door and hurrying down the driveway.
Teresa took a few deep breaths and tried to think logically. How on earth did a snake manage to get into the bathroom? Could it have come in through an open door and crawled along the passageway? This was a possibility as the front and back doors were usually left open during hot days with just the security gates offering protection. And, of course, she’d often seen those sleek and shiny little lizards sneaking under the gate and making their way into the lounge. She rather liked them, however – they were graceful, harmless to humans and helped get rid of the mosquitoes. But if they could get in, then so could a snake.
Someone at church had once told her that snakes sometimes crawled in through the bathroom overflow pipes. Was that possible, she wondered? And would the snake simply crawl back out the same pipe in good time?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of voices at the kitchen door.
“I’ve found Just George, Ouma. He’s working down the road today. I’m trying to explain to him about the snake – but it’s difficult.”
Just George bowed, held his hands together and looked enquiringly at Teresa.
“George,” she began, “there is a snake in the bathroom. Can you help – help get rid of it?”
“Ow,” said George, his head shaking from side to side; a look of grave concern on his face. “Ow, ow – how do you do?”
Grace now tried translating the whole thing into Afrikaans using exaggerated hand movements to describe the length of the snake. It still didn’t seem to work. George’s reaction was roughly the same with just a few embellishments:
“Ow, how do you do? Good morning.”
“Let’s take him there and actually show him,” suggested Grace.
“But what if the snake has moved right next to the door,” said Teresa nervously. “He could spring at us as soon as we open it!”
“I will peep under the door first – there is enough of a gap to see.”
“But what if it’s one of the spitting ones, you know, like the Rinkhals Cobra. Could it possibly spit into your eyes under the door?”
This stopped Grace in her tracks. She leant on the kitchen table:
“Then I will need protection for my eyes. Ah, do you have your reading glasses, Ouma?”
Teresa could have yelled in frustration.
“I don’t know where I’ve left them. Maybe they’re on the bath tub!”
“Come let’s hunt for them. If we can’t find them we’ll have to think of something else.”
And so the search began. Grace took the bedrooms and Teresa the lounge and dining room. Just George remained in the kitchen looking a little puzzled at the heightened activity. For five minutes they searched, and although the case was found next to an armchair, there was no sign of the glasses themselves. Teresa was really starting to fear the worst. Eventually, she headed back to the kitchen for a quick look along the worktops and window ledges. And there was Just George, the same look of concern on his face, holding her glasses in front of him:
“Madam, you take this – to look,” he said, with a slight smile on his face.
“But where were they, George? And why didn’t you stop me searching?”
This was all too much for the little man, and she knew what was coming next:
“How do you do?”
Teresa sighed loudly, shook her head and turned and headed for the bathroom. Grace was already stretched out on the carpet when she handed her the glasses. It seemed to take her maid a few seconds to adapt her eyes to the distorted vision, but after a while she moved her head closer to the gap.
“It’s difficult… but no, I don’t see it. I don’t think it’s by the door.”
Teresa didn’t really like the ‘think’ part of that statement and waited until Just George had joined them before she pulled gently at the door handle. Pushing the door open a few inches, she peered cautiously inside.
“I can’t see anything. No wait, there it is looking out from behind the base of the toilet. I can just see the face – it’s very pointy. What kind is it, Grace? Is it a Cobra or maybe a Puff Adder?”
“I don’t know, Ouma. When I see snakes I usually go in the other direction. George, come and look.”
She took George by the hand and moved to one side so that he could see into the bathroom. George looked for a second, his eyes narrowing and a frown enveloping his face. Then to their surprise, he began to laugh.
“Ow, ow, ow,” he went, slapping his hands on his knees to emphasise his amusement. Then, to Teresa and Grace’s astonishment, he went down into a squatting position, his legs far apart and both feet splayed. He stayed like that for a moment before springing violently up towards the ceiling. This manoeuvre was then repeated a few times before he shouted:
“Ow, ow, ow. I go back to work. How do you do? Good morning.”
With that, he marched purposefully towards the back door, and before they could stop him, was down the driveway and heading back to one of the neighbour’s houses. Teresa slammed her hand against the wall in frustration and then immediately looked nervously towards the toilet for any movement.
“Well a fat lot of use he was. Now what are we going to do?”
“Keep calm, Ouma.” Grace tapped her on the back. “I have offered a prayer, and something will turn up.”
And so it did. For just as she uttered these words, the tortured sounds of Digby’s car came bumping up the driveway. There followed the usual delay as he extracted himself from the vehicle, and after a few seconds, running footsteps approached the kitchen door.
“Damn!” he called breathlessly, “I’ve only gone and left my phone – again.”
Teresa backed into the hallway and shouted:
“We’re in the bathroom, Digby. Come quickly – there is a snake!”
He was next to them in a flash.
“There… look,” whispered Grace. “Right behind the toilet.”
Digby peered cautiously around the door, his eyes glued to the area at the base of the toilet. He stood completely still, his concentration fully on the tiled floor in front of him, his eyes focused and alert. Then, as he turned back to Teresa and Grace, a peculiar look came over his face and his hand started unconsciously tugging at his beard. The corners of his mouth began crinkling upwards, and Teresa wondered if he was also going to fall about laughing and wander off.
And then, to her horror, that’s exactly what he did.
“Hur, hur, hur,” he sniggered, pulling even harder at his beard. “Don’t worry ladies; I’ll soon sort this out. Hur, hur, hur.”
They followed him down the hallway as he headed out of the back door towards the car. For a moment, Teresa thought that he was simply going to drive off. But soon he was returning; the knapsack slung over his shoulder. Unfastening a few straps, he removed the Tupperware bowl that had previously housed the oranges while also pulling out an old copy of the Stillwater Echo newspaper. Then striding purposefully to the bathroom, he bent down on his knees and crawled along the tiles towards the toilet. Slowly and carefully he raised the bowl above the snake’s head.
“No Digby, stop!” yelled Teresa as Grace threw her head back and began praying to the heavens.
They both screamed as the head suddenly seemed to spring up into the air. Then they watched with horror as Digby readjusted his position, took aim, and quickly brought the bowl down on the ‘head’ as it made contact with the ground. There was a popping sound as he reached for the newspaper and slid it carefully under the bowl.
“Poor little fella,” he said, “let me get you outside before these ladies hurt you.”
The ladies in question looked briefly at each other, shook their heads in confusion, and followed him cautiously out of the back door. He carried the bowl across the lawn, stepped over the unfinished pathway and gently laid the container down next to the concrete bird bath. Then he slowly raised the bowl from the grass and took a few steps backwards. For a moment, nothing moved. And then a large green frog hopped into the air, landed smartly on its hind legs, took a brief look at Digby and the women cowering behind him before bouncing off towards the nearest tree.
“Oh Digby, how could we be so stupid,” cried Teresa.
“It’s a mistake that’s easily made,” he replied. “With just the head showing, you can get confused. But now I must be off –1 don’t want to be any later than I already am.”
Teresa watched as he ran back into the house, retrieved the knapsack and began the complicated process of reinserting himself back into his car. Eventually settling behind the steering wheel, he wound the windows up and took a brief look towards the house. Teresa moved out of sight, sinking to her knees behind a Protea plant. When she lifted her head she could see him rocking backward and forward in the driver’s seat. And, in spite of the windows being wound, she could clearly hear the laughter.
“Hur, hur, hur.”
Soon he was slamming the steering wheel with his fist; his body shaking violently and his spare hand tugging at his beard.
“Hur, hur, hur.”
Slowly but surely she sneaked up on the car. Rapping sharply on the window she watched as he reacted quickly, doing his best to bring his laugher under control.
“Sorry to interrupt you, Digby,” she said. “But I thought you might just need this.”
She pulled his cell phone from her pocket and handed it to him. Then after glaring at him for a few seconds, she turned sharply, and with a touch of a smile, made her way back towards the house.
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