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This report is taken from PN Review 246, Volume 45 Number 4, March - April 2019.

Snakes and Stiltwalkers

Letter from Trinidad
Of Snakes and Stiltwalkers
Vahni Capildeo
The driveway sloped down to the west-facing boundary of the house, a half-height, green-painted brick wall inset with a row of black-painted metal railings. These railings were thick with bougainvillea. Along the lower part of the wall, the wanted and unwanted shrubs and vines were trimmed to a common height, but too mixed up for the eye to disentangle stem from vine or leaves from brickwork. The electric gate stood between two pillars at the end of the driveway. It had begun to malfunction. It opened and closed at random. Sometimes one side approaching quicker than the other was triggered by the other side into flying open again. Sometimes both sides closed, slowly, but stopped just before they shut tight.

The men who were mending the electric gate had found a snake. There are rare reptiles on the island. Ideally an expert is called, and the thing is rescued. There are poisonous reptiles on the island, including the fer-de-lance, one of the few snakes anywhere that will turn and charge an intruder on its territory, rather than slinking away. The men were keen to do their job well. They called the lady of the house to see the snake. What did the senior lady of the house say? ‘Kill it quickly,’ perhaps? ‘Please deal with it’? In any case, she felt the kind of terror and extreme disgust that are inseparable from each other. She may not have said anything. She passed as quickly as she could, on her nerve-damaged legs, into the ...

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