Unwanted New-Year Visitors

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Walter Onnoghen

SATURDAY COUNTERPOINT 

By Femi Akintunde Johnson

“Unless the Lord had been my help,My soul would soon have settled in silence.”

–––Psalm 94:17

What you are about to read is not a Nollywood script rooted in one of Nigeria’s tropical villages. It is not an attempt at humour , satire or some literary device. Some of our friends we initially shared this encounter with were bemused, thinking it was an elaborate dig at creative writing. No, it happened to my family and me… a real and hair-raising danger…in two gulps! Follow me…

Friday, January 11, 2019, she knocked on our door about 2a.m. (pre-dawn)! In near panic but somehow subdued: “Daddy, please come to the boy’s room!” I had merely dozed for about an hour before the awakening, and so was groggy with sleep and worry. Apparently, she didn’t want to alarm her Mum, and yet it was urgent for me to intervene… “There’s tchtch in the room!” My brain registered “thief in the house”! And I started calculating our last encounter with a thief… “God, wetin we do these people sef …?” was the thought tormenting my dislocated mind, until she screamed the reality, aided by a more agitated voice further behind: “There’s a snake in the house, and Kehinde needs your help!!” My eyes cleared, my brain buckled up. Snake! Oh, I hate and dread snakes.

The room I entered was in a more vigorous mess than I had ever seen it, with Kehinde standing on the bed, pointing at the opposite wall where he had used two of his painting stuff to barricade the unwanted visitor! Momentarily, I smiled at the irony that he could sacrifice any of his stuff for such a killing… likely to damage the works. He must have thought his Dad was overwhelmed by the occasion. In some shock. But he screamed for a stick, anything to use…then petrol, kerosene, any inflammable to smoke it out. All his demands were backed with hysteria!

So, first was to calm the ruckus, and see if it was really a snake…in the room…at two midnight…or a heightened artistic mind deprived of good long sleep. How can a snake be in a room in the centre of a city like Lagos… no  bush , no brushes, no trees…? Then, I saw the thing…dust brown with some deeper hues at its back…coiled and trapped. I recoiled… amazed, shocked, frightened and mesmerised – all at once. But, something pushed me into action.

We got a pestle (the ‘child’ of the big mortar our Grandma used in pounding yam)… a tiny portion of petrol (no diesel or kerosene was available). He sprinkled it on the snake, alongside his art stuff, while I was to strike the matches, and cremate the infernal rogue who had stolen our sleep and peace… Pliik … Pliik … Pliik … Each attempt had the stick petering out before it could ignite the bonfire …. Either tired of our panicked tantrums, or realising the danger of being bathed in fuel, the snake surged out of the corner, slithering alarmingly over the floor across to the other side. Instead of smashing the pestle on its back, or hit it with anything available, we also flew in different directions… I was so mesmerised by the actuality of a brown two-foot snake (yes, I measured it!) in that tiny room that all I could do was watch its incredible panic, and pray it would not go towards my people outside.

It made an unfortunate decision: it lodged at a corner underneath what served as an all-purpose commode: a study, an ealsel , a bookcase, wardrobe, store, etc.

A now-composed Kehinde started smashing the last sighting point, and wanted to pour three litres of fuel on it and burn the object of his annoyance to hell. I appealed to him to calm down, and use very little fuel, for that “ointment” is uncontrollable if not well-handled, and also, we should get buckets of water laced with detergent handy before roasting it. Others were already Google-ing “how to kill a snake in a living room”… so, all sorts of suggestions added to the cacophony.

My greatest fear was the snake escaping our watch, and not knowing where it was lodging… Then, sleeping and even living in the house would be a relentless nightmare. “God, we have to get this ‘thing’,” I prayed continually.

Though, he eventually used less than half of what he probably planned to use… when he lit the area in one strike, the ferocity of the fire caused another stampede. Whao … fueled fire in harmattan, even under controlled environment, is a dangerous spectacle. Many horrible, forgettable thoughts seared my brain as we battled to control the inferno. He was stunned at the rapid spread and the intensity of smoke… His first reaction was: “It’s finished…let’s leave…let’s leave, Dad…”. This was after the buckets of soapy water had quelled just a section…the follow-up water by our “fire-women” was plain (Abeg, never use ordinary water to quench any fire outbreak) and it acted like additional fuel …. By now, we had forgotten the snake, it was how to prevent the entire house from “catching” fire that consumed us.

But God intervened…the hungry fire lost its appetite with more soaked towels, and more soapy water…and the bold, frenetic, almost acrobatic acts of my son in beating “sense” into the fire. Then, crazily (on hindsight) I isolated the last tongues of fire around the snake’s hideout. Bagger must die!  

When the fire simmered, and we lifted the charred stuff it was hiding under, the snake had turned to a “barbecue”!

So, few minutes after 3a.m. , we sat outside… wet, trembling, excited, exhausted, grateful…  thanking and praising God for the double victories. We swapped stories and yabis around our actions and behaviours in the one-hour midnight drama. And not a soul around us knew what we escaped!

Unable to sleep any more, we could not help but continue to magnify the acts and mercies of God in our lives, and hope this narrative provides some sort of vicarious experience to others when such incident comes up.  We could easily have lost infinitely more than we lost to the fire, or got biten in multiple places (I count about three times we fell sprawling on the soapy surface of the tiled floor) – or, God forbid, both the snake and fire taking desperate pot-shots at us…in fact, the potential for tragedy was quite high. But here we are, still standing, and we are alive, to the glory of God.

Much later, we received all sorts of concerned homilies and palliatives – how to keep snakes out of living quarters. We found out from worried friends and family members all kinds of antidotes and attack mechanisms: place drops of honey in likely inlets around the house…or use papers soaked in honey… the smell of honey, bitter kola (Orogbo in Yoruba), garlic, etc, can drive snakes to death, literally!

 Someone suggested that since at 24-26 inches long, it might be the young one of a careless mother, we should, therefore, conduct an extensive search, especially the ceiling areas…and then fumigate regularly. Another popular advice was the sprinkling of “holy-water” around the house, since snakes usually stay away from human habitation, this might be a “spirit”-led emissary from the banks of hell, and only the Holy Spirit can stop them in their tracks.

 Whatever it was that attracted the slithering visitor, it is a grateful and thoughtful heart that is narrating what could easily have been something unspeakable. Compliments of the season!