I remained standing at the T-junction and my attention shifted to where the two waterways met. I wondered where the birds were today. By now, the sun rays would have come through the leaves and woken the birds, causing an eruption of an electrifying orchestra. There was not a single bird-song. That part of the equatorial rainforest norm was missing.
My arms hung loose and lifeless, I could not feel them. I tried to, but I could not lift my arms nor move my legs. I was not terrified; I only felt stuck and this alarmed me a little because the mud was not deep. When I drew breath, it was slow, restrictive, and my chest was constricted. Something large of several layers like a heavy coil of thick, soft, rubber hung around my neck and shoulders. It weighed me down. I was tall for a teenager, but my thin, weak and small shoulders were crushed by this weight. I thought it was a heavy towel as we often hung towel around our necks to keep warm while fishing. I shut my eyes.
And then it moved, so suddenly. I realised this was not a towel. It was a large snake, a python! A different set of knots, the horrid kind, started tightening inside me. On me, I saw the coils move and could feel it tightened.
My eyes re-focused. The snake’s colour reflected that of the greyish mud, faint yellow like a banana skin, and the brown mangrove tree bark. I could see the diamond-shaped outline of each scale. It was detailed vividly in intricate patterns on its centre spine above my breasts and just beneath my chin. The scale patterns, beautiful and seamless, disappeared under the next coil. I became more aware, alarmed and numbed by the weight, closeness and firmness of its grip. I shifted my eyes ahead beyond the mangrove. It did not make sense to scream and it seemed too hard to remember how to scream. I refused to imagine where the snake’s head would be, I did not want to meet it nor look into its eyes. Now I remember how that poor pig must have felt when the python took it behind our house. Was this the same snake?
I waited for a few more minutes and I sensed the snake was not trying to kill me. That was strange. It seemed comfortable the way it restricted and detained me, and I was afraid to move and disturb it. The dank smell re-appeared and honed the swamp stink. I could not feel the mosquitos. I wondered if that stink was the snake. Its weight became too much and I wondered how long I would be standing there in the mud, carrying the snake.
Then, a single call of a Sock-ngkwing bird, the spirit bird, pierced the silence and my eardrums. I moved to the bird’s cry. The python tightened its grip, and squeezing .. and I screamed just like the bird, feeling my body become alive. I moved my arms and legs. I flipped over and woke up with my bed sheet tight around my neck. It was THAT dream. Before I went to high school, in my early teens, I had this dream so many times. It was always the same dream. I shuddered. Still tense and terrified, I went to see grandma.
I re-told the dream to my grandmother; she looked at me for a long time. Her eyes searched, speaking to my face, without words.
“There is a decision you have to make, a path you have to choose. What is stopping you from choosing, is your fear”, she said.
I looked at Tinang, afraid.
“Don’t be afraid” she said and hugged me. I shut my eyes and fell against her soft, tattered, spun rayon dress. Grandma’s scent of Chinese White Flower lotion, mixed with mustard and chewed betel-nut soon erased the swamp stink. I had thought about this dream interpretation often when I was growing up, and it always frightened me because I knew what it was, but it was not a single thing; it was many…