It was early afternoon but the sky was a heavy grey with the occasional threatening rumble of rain. Staccato explosions or 'bamboo-bombs' sounded in the jhum fields on the neighboring mountain. These sounds traveled far in the clammy stillness of noon. I sat in a long hall with rectangular glass windows set within white metal frames. These windows looked out at the tall gold-green bamboo crowding outside. The cicadas kept up their sleepy orchestra, a sound that resembled the 'whirrrr' of a creaky old bicycle speeding down-slope, pedals locked in position.
On one side of the grey-floored hall was a kitchen- a rickety table, a soot-crusted fireplace and a square cement space for washing utensils. Last night's dinner- soggy papad, spicy fish chutney, rice and a few unwashed utensils cluttered the table. Next to the table was a door, white like the rest of the hall, except for two outdated calendars. A rosy-cheeked peach-faced Jesus stared down at us mortals with bored glassy blue eyes.
I'd had grand plans of grinding all the groundnut and packing the scattered luggage for we were to return to camp that evening. I was using a mixture of crushed groundnut and tinned fish as bait to trap rodents. Crushing groundnuts without an electric mixer demands a return to the Stone Age. I had no choice but to pound groundnuts with a heavy stone at an excruciating rate of 5gm nuts over 5 long minutes. And while I did this, the stubborn jumpy nuts would hop across the room and attract fiery red ants who would very casually, proceed to attack me.
That afternoon, the lazy droning of bees was lulling me to sleep. Fighting drooping eyelids, I set out to rummage the food sack in the kitchen. Lumbering towards the kitchen, I caught sight of a long rope-like structure hanging down the kitchen door, staring intently at me. Startled, I took a step back.
It was a snake.
I must have alarmed it, for it stretched its slender neck and slithered on to the table, weaving a graceful path through the utensil mess. Having reached the end of the table, it reached towards the cement box. Here, it paused, then struck up a defensive S-pose, flattening its body and flashing an iridescent blue. It looked even more fascinating in this posture, with a bronze head and a yellow throat to match. I respectfully took a step back.
The striped keelback slinkered atop more utensils, climbed into the fireplace, slid up a log and then reached for the chimney with half its body suspended in mid-air. Within merely five seconds, the entire snake had disappeared up the chimney, its slim tail flicking a nonchalant goodbye to the open-mouthed human standing a mere meter away.