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Pierre van Rooyen

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Doggie-paddling with cobras.

 

What’s going on?’ my sister asked a girl clinging to the rail next to us.

A big dangerous snake,’ her mother intervened.

A cobra,’ the father explained. ‘It’ll bite someone if we don’t kill it, probably a child.’

The cobra swam out of range and the man with the stick pushed his way off the jetty and raced along the shore inside the railings. He came toward us.

There’s it,’ Maudie whispered, a finger pointing at a cluster of reeds. ‘Ooh Tadpole, hold me. I getting scareder and scareder.’

Then I saw the reptile. The head and eighteen inches of its body was raised clear of the water. From the diameter of its body there was probably another four feet on the surface, so the man with the stick had nearly six feet of cobra on his hands. It swam fast and rippled the surface as it came toward us leaving a wake trailing behind. The head was dirty yellow in the moonlight and it moved agitatedly from side to side. The eyes were black. The forked tongue darted in and out of its jaws.

Kill it!’ the woman next to me shrieked.

The cobra tried coming ashore causing a wail of yells from the crowd, some people making a break away from the fence with children scooped into their arms. Maudie and I were already as high as we could get without toppling over the uppermost railing.

That’s a dam’ big snake,’ my sister blurted.

The man with the stick pranced for another attack. He swiped the branch at the water and missed. The snake hesitated then tried coming ashore again. Again the man swung the branch and again he missed. The cobra didn’t falter. In near frenzy he repeatedly swiped at the water. One attempt touched the snake’s body. It shot away and swam along the perimeter of the lake, moving fast.

Set the dogs onto it,’ someone behind the fence shouted.

The man with the stick cursed and trailed the cobra along the shore.

Head the damned thing off,’ he yelled at another man who had cut himself a staff too. ‘Chase it back here. I’ll do the sodding thing in yet.’

I was engrossed in what was going on and didn’t notice a new development to the drama.

Hey! Who’s that idjit swimming out there in the dark?’

I peered at the lake and sure enough, there was someone in the water. The swimmer came our way.

Damn fool,’ the woman next to me commented. She was one of those who had fled earlier when the cobra swam for the shore.

Don’t come here, buffoon. Clear out, damn it,’ the man with the stick threatened, waving the swimmer away with his branch.

I got a angry snake on the loose here. You come any closer my friend and you’re dead meat, I tell ya. He’ll get you for sure.’

The head in the water edged toward the cobra.

Get out of it, damn it. Didn’t you hear? There’s a snake in the water just in front of you.’

 

From the novel Saturdays Are Gold. In UK being sold as YA, but really, this is an adult novel featuring child protagonists. Set in 1940s Johannesburg, conceived to challenge Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but compared by readers with To Kill a Mockingbird. Yah, well maybe. Closer to literary than commercial. Got a fab review from Panama of all places.

 

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