The subject of snakes came up the other day during dinner. On the menu was spaghetti and meatballs, and for some reason, Amanda suddenly announced that the slippery texture of the pasta reminded her of snakes.
Of course, that was all it took for Saffy and me to put our folks down and push our chair back from the table. To my credit, I remained outwardly calm but Saffy’s formidable bosom began to heave asthmatically.
“Seriously, Amanda,” I began.
“You are just sick!” Saffy hissed, her eyes narrowing to slits.
Amanda looked astonished. “What?”
“You know how we feel about those…those things!” I said.
Saffy nodded. “And thanks to you, I can’t ever eat pasta again because every time, I do, I will be thinking about…about what they look like…and, oh God, I need to get away from this table!”
And with that, Saffy got up from the table and disappeared into her room. The next morning, she said she didn’t sleep a wink. “I kept imagining there were snakes crawling up my bed and under my sheets!” she reported. “And the air-con kept me awake because it kept hissing at me, so I turned that off, and then it got too hot and I had to open the window, but then I‘d read somewhere that there are snakes that can climb up trees and leap ten feet in the air and I kept thinking it would be just my luck that one of them decided to leap into my open window right onto my bed! So, I got up and closed the window and of course, I couldn’t sleep because it was so hot. I am a mess!” Saffy moaned.
Now, I know there are readers out there who have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. “Snakes?” they’re probably thinking. “What’s he on about? Nothing wrong with them! Not the friendliest creatures I know, but I’ve got nothing against them anymore than I have against, ooh, say, chickens. And they taste good in a soup too!”
The thing is, I’ve always been afraid of snakes. Can’t stand them. Can’t stand the idea of them. Can’t stand the look of them. Can’t stand even the word. And, of course, like all phobias, it’s utterly irrational since as far as I can tell, I’ve never actually met a real snake. My sister, who has the same fear, thinks it must be a reincarnation thing. “We probably fell into a snake pit in a previous life,” she told me when she was 10 and I was eight. I had nightmares for six months and for years afterwards, I would ask everyone I met what their Chinese horoscope was and if the answer was ‘snake’, I ran for the distant horizon and never looked back.
Leave it to my mother to tell us the story of when her father fell ill, he drank his way back to health with a tonic made from a snake marinated in alcohol. Even at the age of seven, I remember thinking it was the most revolting thing I’d ever heard of in my life.
Years later, I read about this stupid schmuck who kept an anaconda as a pet and then one day when it got hungry, the dumb thing turned around, strangled its owner and then swallowed him. It was the grossest thing I’d ever read but all I could think about was that it served the guy right. “Why, oh why would anyone be stupid enough to have an anaconda as a pet?” I asked Barney Chen who replied that thinking about questions like that gave you wrinkles.
Meanwhile, Saffy is so annoyed with Amanda that they’ve not spoken in days. “Can you believe that anyone would be so cruel to say such a thing? I love pasta and now I can’t even walk past an Italian restaurant!” she posted on Facebook.
Her best friend Sharyn said all this reminded her of the time when she was growing up in a kampong in Kelantan in Malaysia and one day, while her granny was squatting on outdoor toilet, she looked down and saw a snake peering back up at her. When she heard that story, Saffy was simultaneously frightened out of her wits and furious. That night, she took Sharyn off her Facebook friends list.
“Oh God,” she groaned to me. “Now, I can’t even go to the toilet! Why do people tell us such horrible stories?”
“They’ll be punished in their next lives,” I promised her while thinking about the SMS I’d received that afternoon from Amanda: “In HMV. Am buying ‘Snakes on the Plane’ for Saffy. Haha!”