An African Story (3)
'The cow's making that noise all the time,' said Judson.
'Good, and I'll shoot you if you get up now,' said the old man. 'You'll shoot me?'
'I said I'll shoot you if you get up now.'
A gentle noise came from where Judson lay, a strange sound as if a child were trying not to cry, and in the middle of it, Judson's voice. 'I've got to move; please let me move. This chewing!'
'If you get up,' said the old man, 'I'll shoot you in the stomach.' For another hour or so the crying continued, then quite suddenly it stopped.
Just before four o'clock, it began to get very cold and the old man shouted, 'Are you cold out there, Judson? Are you cold?'
'Yes,' came the answer. 'So cold. But I don't mind because the cow's not chewing any more. She's asleep.'
The old man said, 'What are you going to do with the thief when you catch him?'
'I don't know.'
'Will you kill him?'
A pause. 'I don't know. I'll just grab him.'
'I'll watch,' said the old man. 'It should be fun.' He was leaning out of the window with his arms resting on the sill. Then he heard the soft noise under the window, looked out and saw the black Mamba, sliding through the grass towards the cow, going fast and holding its head just a little above the ground as it went.
When the Mamba was five meters away, the old man shouted, 'Here he comes, Judson; here he comes. Go and get him.'
Judson lifted his head quickly and looked up. As he did so he saw the Mamba and the Mamba saw him. There was a second, or perhaps two, when the snake stopped, pulled its head back and raised the front part of its body in the air. Then the stroke. Just a flash of black and a slight thump as it hit him in the chest. Judson screamed, a long high scream which did not rise or fall, but remained constant until gradually it faded into nothingness and there was silence. Now he was standing up, tearing open his shirt, feeling for the place in his chest, crying quietly and breathing hard with his mouth wide open. And the old man sat quietly at the open window, leaning forward and never taking his eyes away from the scene below.
Everything happens very quickly when one is bitten by a snake, by a black Mamba, and almost at once the poison began to work. He fell to the ground, where he lay on his back, rolling around on the grass. He no longer made any noise. It was all very quiet, as if a man of great strength were fighting with someone whom one could not see, and it was as if this invisible person were twisting him and not letting him get up, stretching his arms through the fork of his legs and pushing his knees up under his chin.
Then he began pulling up the grass with his hands and soon after that he lay on his back kicking gently with his legs. But he didn't last very long. He gave a quick shake, twisted his back, then lay on the ground quite still, lying on his stomach with his right knee underneath his chest and his hands stretched out above his head.
Still the old man sat by the window, and even after it was all over, he stayed where he was and did not move. There was a movement in the shadow under the little tree and the Mamba came forward slowly towards the cow. It came forward a little, stopped, raised its head, waited, and slid forward again right under the stomach of the cow. It raised itself into the air and began to drink. The old man sat watching the Mamba taking the milk of the cow, and once again he saw the gentle movement of its body as it sucked out the liquid.
While the snake was still drinking, the old man got up and moved away from the window.
'You can have his share,' he said quietly. 'We don't mind you having his share,' and as he spoke, he glanced back and saw again the black body of the Mamba curving upwards from the ground, joining the underneath of the cow.
'Yes,' he said again, 'we don't mind you having his share.'
- THE END -