A true account of snakes and death.
George Orwell once wrote a short, heart-wrenching essay about the death of an elephant. This won’t be like that. And it won’t be as exciting as ‘Snakes on a Plane’. This is ‘One Snake on a Road’, and I don’t think Samuel L Jackson would’ve starred in that movie:
‘Get this motherfucking snake off this motherfucking road.’
‘OK, Samuel, that’s me shifted it.’
‘Anything else I can help you with?’
‘No, that’s fine. It was just the snake I was concerned about.’
‘Cool. You going to be OK now?’
‘Yeah. So long as there aren’t any motherfucking toads in that motherfucking grass.’
I was walking down the side of a rural road in Turkey with my girlfriend when two guys zoomed past us on reasonably shit-looking mopeds. I say zoomed. Imagine the noise of a coin-operated hair-dryer from a cheap motel passing you at the speed of evolution. One of the guys, who was rather fat – a reasonably irrelevant observation, but I just wanted you to be able to picture him; he had a moustache too, if that helps – made a sort of ‘Ahhhh-ooooop’ noise as he realised he’d ran over something. It was the noise of guilt, but a half-assed guilt. After all, he quickly discovered, he’d merely run over a snake. It’s not like it was a mouse or a puppy. ‘Fuck snakes,’ his ooooop seemed to say, ‘I actually found its maiming quite funny.’ If any crippling was to have its own pompy, trumpet-based theme-tune, then this would be the one.
We walked to the middle of the road to check how much damage had been done to the poor fella. He was a thick, long and black snake, his head, tail and body immobile. I got down on my haunches to look deep into his tiny snake eyes. They were red-rimmed and staring. His little forked tongue, still and silent, was poking out from his open jaws. Blotches of blood and bits of brain stained the concrete. I prodded his body with a stick I found near-by and watched as his length pathetically swished, curled and twitched from side to side; not knowing whether his movements were caused by some posthumous reflex, or indicative of a last-ditch fight for life. Whichever way I looked at it: that snake was fucked.
I used the stick to push it to the grass at the side of the road. So what to do next? I’d never put a creature out of its misery before. I understood the noble inevitability behind the act of animal euthanasia in cases of extreme injury and illness, but always hoped I’d never have to administer it. Especially since this was no cosy vets’ surgery with a sterile needle and a panpipes’ tape. I was at the side of a Turkish road with a snake and a bunch of rocks.
So I picked one up. It was slightly bigger than the palm of my hand, and felt hot from the sun. It wasn’t terribly heavy, but heavy enough to turn a snake’s head into bloody mashed potato. Was I really going to do this?
‘Maybe it’ll get better and be able to slither away itself,’ worried my girlfriend. ‘Or grow a new head or something.’
Deep down, we both knew that this snake wasn’t going to dust itself off and belly into a hedge to gub a shrew. It had chomped its last rodent, terrified its last sandal-wearer. Still, the thought of pulverising this wounded creature made me feel uneasy, despite the mercy aspect.
‘You’re going to kill a snake?’ my girlfriend asked.
‘I think I’m going to kill a snake,’ I replied.
At that moment an old Muslim woman – head covered, and dressed in peasant apparel – approached us on her way up the road. She didn’t speak any English, but I decided to cross the language barrier by way of mime. I pointed to the snake’s unmoving body, making sure she noted its injury. Then I pointed to the spot on the road from whence I’d flicked it, making sure she saw the blood. I then mimed a man on a motorbike running over a snake. This was the strangest game of charades I’d ever played (sounds like ‘ooooooooop’). I showed her the rock in my hand, and then mimed me bashing in the snake’s head, but made sure to keep a sad expression on my face to let her know that I wasn’t relishing the prospect. After every mini-mime along the way of the long dramatisation of my intended snake-kill she shrugged her shoulders and nodded, a look of nonchalance on her leathery old face. She finally walked off, still nodding and shrugging, leaving me feeling vindicated. After all, this woman was as close to a resident expert on snakes I was likely to find. And, being Muslim, of course she was going to be supportive of a good stoning. The decision was made. I was going to kill that motherfucking snake.
Fine in theory, but I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t even like squashing spiders, hideous nether-beasts though they are. I clenched the rock in my hand, felt its hardness dig into the base of my fingers. I imagined what it would feel like to drive this object through living flesh, but couldn’t, having no frame of reference with which to compare. Maybe it was just resting. Maybe it was in shock, collecting its thoughts, watching its little snake life flashing before its blood-darkened eyes, waiting, just waiting, for some spark, some scintilla of strength to carry it swishing and bobbing back to the safety of its home in the long, lulling lengths of grass and swaying reeds; back to the snakestead; back to its little snake babies, and its anxious snake wife, who’d been so worried about her husband’s absence that she hadn’t even prepared his daily dinner of half-regurgitated rat, and was instead hissing a soft, sussurating lullaby to all the little baby snakes as they cried and cried and cried and cried for their SPLATT! THUD!! BIFF!! KERSPLURGE!!
Like 60’s Batman, but with more snake-blood.
By the time I knew what was happening I’d hammered its head about six times with the rock. Then I placed the rock on top of what was left of its skull and stomped down about another six times. Goo was on the roadside, and blood speckled my fingers. My girlfriend said I looked like a maniac. I just wanted it to be dead – medically and incontrovertibly dead – to deliver it from any further agony. The aim was to euthanise the snake, not subject it to a Guantanamo Bay-style shit-kicking.
Mission accomplished: it was dead. It now looked less like a formerly-living creature, and more like the end of a flex of cord that someone had dipped in tomato sauce. And the act of killing it had felt no more unpleasant than slamming a paperweight into a block of warm butter. Those are the kinds of sentences that serial killers smuggle out of prison when they’re writing their memoirs. ‘It all started with the snake. From there, hitch-hikers were easy…’
A German couple walking down the road saw me do it. I approached them, bloodied-rock in hand, shouting: ‘I’m not a snake murderer!’ and then attempted to explain my actions to them. They didn’t speak very good English, so I’m not sure what impression of British people I left them with.
A little farther along the road my girlfriend and I encountered a stray dog, hobbling and panting in the heat.
‘Poor beast,’ I said. ‘Looks on its last legs.’
She looked at me and smiled, ‘You’re not going to bash its head in with a rock, too, are you?’
‘No,’ I laughed. ‘No, of course not, no. Certainly not…’
It was a very poorly dog.
‘…I don’t think so…’