The path winds through a meadow, an earthy ribbon parting green. Breeze-touched, the grasses sway and stir, licking my calves with rough tongues as I walk. Though I maintain a steady pace, I fall farther behind with each stride — his legs are longer than mine, cover the ground more quickly. Already, he is a silhouette cresting the gentle slope; his shadow, stretched toward me, an illusory bridge. Both withdraw steadily.
Following the path’s gentle curves, I continue unhurried. The snake, however, brings me up short. A enormous, bright green astonishment, it is coiled and piled in the center of the path several yards ahead. I call out my discovery, but my companion dismisses my concern.
“Go around it,” he says. His voice is muffled by breeze as he disappears over the hill’s lip.
“But what if it’s poisonous?” I must pitch my voice, placing hands to either side of my mouth to project.
A rising tide of wind diminishes his response, if he has responded at all. Stealing myself to circumvent the snake, I see there are now three snakes. Two brilliant red snakes — similar in size and girth and heavy coils — have arranged themselves on the path to either side of the green, one before it, the other after. Stop. Go. Stop. As I stand, dumbfounded, the snake furthest along the path rears vertically upon muscular coils and lashes out at the central snake, sinking fangs deep into the latter’s neck. The two snakes thrash and convulse in a confusion of green and red until the green snake lies limp.
The danger is clear. There is no “going round”. And, as suddenly as I have this realization, I stand in stead indoors, at a polished wooden counter. All around, the steady pulse and throb of laughter, conversation; the polite clink of utensils on dishes, of ice in water glasses. Suffuse light pours through long, wide windows — the only illumination in this expansive, crowded room.
As the young woman behind the counter checks me in for my stay, my walking companion arrives. He unwraps crinkling sheets of thick white paper, empties several snake fillets onto the smooth counter. Pale, pleated flesh glistens softly against dark wood. He informs the young woman that he’d like the fillets plated up for lunch. Stunned, I immediately remind him that the snake was poisoned — not a good recipe for consumption.
Dismissing my concerns — again — he picks a fillet up between his fingers and bites off a large mouthful, chews, swallows.