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In the inky darkness the snake swung back like a pendulum. The furry squirming body of the bat hit me full in the face. Snakes, I can generally deal with; but since I was a small boy. I have had an unreasoning fear of bats. I flung it off me, leaped back with a shout, and fell into the mosquito net.

The bat had stopped its eerie screeching, but, as I groped around on the floor for the torch, I was very conscious that both bat and snake were hanging silently above me somewhere. My hand encountered the torch. I switched it on. The snake was clinging to the rafter by its tail and the bat, still wedged in its mouth, was swinging around at about the level of my navel. It was flapping weakly.

I put both of them out of their misery with a strong forehand drive, this time keeping a tight grip on my torch. Using the racquet with a sort of frying-pan action, I shovelled the two corpses out of the window. It took me quite some time to get back to sleep.

When James Lloreno brought in my morning tea by the dawn’s early light, he inspected my ripped mosquito net with some surprise. When I explained about my nocturnal encounter he was unimpressed and completely lacking in sympathy. Looking from the window at the two corpses down below, he said: “Not very big snake, Boss. We get plenty big snakes in Philippines. You like I make a Snake and Bat Pie today, Boss?”

James was not quite so philosophical when he had his own encounter with a snake a few weeks later. I had been playing badminton with our Bugis workers in Kampong Ulu. I walked back to the house in the gathering darkness through a tropical downpour, umbrella in one hand and torch in the other.

At the top of our front steps James Lloreno was awaiting me. He was deathly pale and obviously worried. He had, he said, been bitten on the ankle by a large snake about 10 minutes before, at around 7pm, on the path just outside the kitchen. He had stepped on it in the darkness. It had wrapped itself round his leg and sunk its fangs into his ankle. He had fought it off and fled. Sure enough, he had a puncture mark on his leg, which confirmed that this was not one of his usual flights of imagination.

Unfortunately, he had not killed the snake but he described it as being about 50 feet long, as thick as his waist and a yellowish green colour. Allowing for James’ usual exaggeration, there were only two snakes in our area, which could grow to over 14 feet in length – the reticulated python and the hamadryad, also known as the king cobra.

The python has a darkish pattern all over its body, whilst the hamadryad has a yellow patch on its throat. Since a hamadryad can rear up to one-third of its length, makes a very loud hissing noise and expands its hood when disturbed, a person would normally be left in very little doubt if attacked by an angry hamadryad. I was fairly certain therefore that James had been bitten by a python. He was equally certain that it must have been a hamadryad.


 

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