An African Fairy Story
Crawling from the hole beneath its tree one hot afternoon, snake moved across the hot ground and curled its way round the door of the hut, where inside grandmother was telling the children a story.
All the young children sat around her. Only Jessica saw the snake come in. She sat staring at it, transfixed, but did not call out or tell the others, as the snake curled up in one corner and stared at Jessica, unblinkingly. Jessica was sure it would bite her if she took her eyes off it, or worse, it might disappear and make its home in grandmother’s slippers.
The rest of the children listened as grandmother told her story.
" When he was a young boy Steven and his sister Danya left home looking for their mother. It was a hot summer’s day just like this one and they turned in every direction calling "Mother, where are you?" A snake disturbed by the noise decided that because no one was looking after the children that he should look after them.
He called out to them, but the only reaction he got was a stunned silence.
What snake did not know is that children sometimes forget they can talk to all living things, and when they grow up they forget how altogether.
At first the children were afraid of him but he managed to calm them. He convinced them that snakes are not as bad as grown ups make them out to be. To prove it, he invited them into the hole in the ground, where he lived. At first they did not want to follow. Steven was scared of the dark, but he was more thirsty than scared. The hole looked cool and it looked like a good place to hide from grown-ups.
Once inside there was a long tunnel that led to the snake’s house. Some parts were very narrow, but it wasn’t nearly as dark as Steven had thought. Besides he had to be brave for his little sister. The tunnel was lit by fireflies that buzzed from side to side like fairies from his grandmother’s stories.
They proved impossible to catch and made his sister giggle.
When they arrived at the snake’s house he made them something cold to drink that was both bitter and sweet. It was smooth and cool and made them feel better. He gave Steven a very smart hat that he said was magic. To Danya he gave a pennywhistle, and he showed her how to play. Every time she played on it, the snake would fall asleep, so they were sure the flute was a magical one.
Many times they would visit the snake’s house usually when the grown-ups were not looking as grown-ups don’t understand such things. They would sometimes drink tea, or the snake would tell them stories or give them difficult but fun tasks, like puzzles to do.
Sometimes Danya would play her pennywhistle until the snake fell into a deep sleep, before they would return again to the world of people.
They never did tell grown ups about the snake even when they became grown ups themselves and when they were too old to fit down the snake hole to visit, but all of them lived happily ever after."
So grandmother finished her story. They begged her for another. Age and life had made her weary though and she could be as stubborn as the children sometimes.
It was just as she said, "Next time children", when the hut filled with a scream. One of one of the youngest children, a bully of a boy, had seen the snake.
His name was Clarence. He liked to pull the wings off butterflies while they are still alive.
All the other children screamed, some because Clarence had, some as they also saw the snake in the corner, but mostly because they didn’t know what was going on.
Quick as lightning Clarence grabbed a stick and hit the snake on the head, killing it instantly. Soon other boys joined in until the body of the little snake was broken even though it was in one piece.
Grandmother bent down, picked up the snake and shoe-ed the children all away. They ran to tell the grown ups what al the excitement was about.
Only Jessica stayed in the shadows of the hut, too scared because of all the screaming to move.
She watched grandmother pick up her walking stick and walk slowly, painfully out across the courtyard. Jessica was nearly eight, but had never seen grandmother leave the kraal. So she hid in the doorway and watched as the old lady went through the gate and started to climb the hill.
Half way up she paused beside a thorn tree. She looked around to see if anyone was watching but Jessica made sure she could not be seen. Grandmother put the dead snake into a dark hole in the ground and reaching into the folds of the clothes, closest to her heart, she took out a pennywhistle and started to play.
Tim Narraway 2003