As a kid, I used to spend most of my summer holidays at my grands. Back then, everything was new and every day brought a discovery. A newborn lamb that Alfredo, the son of the shepherd, showed me; the magic of the Chinese balloons, ascending like phantom lanterns in the fresh air at dawn; the recoil of a rifle that threw me back and down to the ground; the sparking stones, shining at night when hit with each other.
As a stationmaster, my grandad lived with my granny at a railway station, a small one with very light traffic: no more than four trains per shift stopped by. It was a perfect place for a man who had abandoned public life and whose greater hobby was hunting or, rather, hiking through the loneliness of the countryside.
The white building with its red roof was surrounded by fields of almond and some scattered carob trees. Of these, the oldest had been the one my grand chose to build a swing, hanging a log from the upper branches held by thick ropes. What an irony !: One of my favourite places, my best playground ever, would become the stage of my worst experience, the source of nightmares that had to last for years.
Older people are not early birds and some days, tired of waiting for my granny to call me for breakfast, I got out of the bed and the station to visit the old tree. It was amazing to climb the stem and ride some branch, listening to the soft coo of the doves, the funny calls of the blackbirds and the chirp of the sparrows while smelling the carob pods, surrounded by leaves filtering the first rays of the Sun. But one day, everything changed as a snake begun to encircle the log of the tree while I was on an upper branch. Almost still, mimicking the rough surface of the tree bark, I could see her eyes, although not her tongue. Was she sleeping ?. Have I awoke her while climbing, maybe stepped on her ? And so, was she ready to strangle me, to bite me ? Even now, I don’t know why I thought of the snake as a female creature. What I did know was that she was, for sure, of a poisonous kind.
I was not afraid, she didn’t scared the shit out of me (if I may put it this way). No. I wasn’t terrified or thrilled either— mostly because I was unable of the least movement. Instead, I panicked and nearly passed out. It was a logical reaction: ‘If I don’t see you— I thought— you can’t attack me; you can even disappear’. My eyes closed, I could feel my heart beating, the sweat soaking my clothes, but not my breathing as I’ve decided holding it hoping the beast didn’t hear me. I didn’t dare even shallow my own saliva !. The worst signal was that birds were not singing any more. It was as though they were waiting for some quick reaction, as though the silence was announcing a violent, wild outcome. How long did that take I don’t know. No passers by at such an early hour, no awaken grandparents either. I couldn’t take the risk of crying for some help.
Somehow (maybe it was just a matter of fatigue) I managed to move my hand without alerting the snake as she remained still around the stem. My next move along the branch was also unnoticed. All of a sudden, I had the creepy sensation that my hand had touched one of the baby snakes. I encouraged myself and opened the eyes. What I touched was the swing rope and my only opportunity to escape such a monster !
I roped down until my feet found the swing log and run as fast as I could (snakes are pretty far, you know). I never told my grands about my horrible experience because, among other reasons, I’m not sure, even now, about the snake. Did she really exist ?. Could have it been a lightning effect ? Were snake’s eyes mere insects roaming the tree bark ?
Never mind. What was real and persisted for a long time was the fear, which I knew back then, in that happy time.
Cheers and have a good loooooong weekend