It was that time when the weaver birds fly home in yellow clouds and the bats come out to breakfast on the evening insects. If I hadn’t happened to glance to my right at just that moment, I wouldn’t have noticed the shiny black body against the lighter brown of a hollow log. I made some inarticulate noise and my friends stopped in their tracks. We all edged closer, taking in the glossy scales covering the rope of muscle. She must have felt the change of vibration as we stopped walking because the body moved backward, revealing more and more snake.
After two or three metres with more to come, I felt a twinge of uneasiness as the possible species dwindled to two and I realised how close we were all standing. I heard a very English loathing for melodrama in my own voice.
“Um,” I said, “there’s a slight chance this is a spitting cobra. Perhaps we could move back a bit?”
Neither Niamh nor Fergus were strikingly athletic in build, but they moved as though leaping back was an Olympic sport. I backed up to what I thought was a safe distance and got my camera ready.
The snake’s head emerged from the log. She regarded us with the mild irritation of a celebrity coming out of a pub to find a couple of curious people pointing camera phones. Just enough to half spread her hood, showing the two yellow bars identifying her as an Egyptian rather than a spitting cobra. Little enough to remind us she didn’t need to make the point. Wide enough to remind us that if she wasn’t queen of all she surveyed, she held absolute power over anything within striking distance. We gawped our obeisance for a long moment.
She decided we’d got the message and slid away into the undergrowth, translating the complex process of walking on hundreds of ribs into a shimmer of light across her black skin.
We’d known there were cobras in the forest, but no amount of knowledge can match the belief that comes with seeing. The look she’d granted us would always make the place a little richer.