Neon and the Snake

by Adriana Alarco de Zadra


“Beware of snakes!” tells me a boy named Neon who walks along a path in the middle of the eucalyptus forest. A fertile valley with terraces and fields can be seen in the bushes. The plateau is surrounded by mountains that hide their peaks under peregrine clouds. It has just rained and the road is muddy. He smiles at the sight of my scrambled and wavy hair. With my feminine curiosity, I observe him with benevolence.

“My name is Neon. My daddy says that it is because my mother when she gave birth was under the neon light that was brought to town the day I was born.”

I hear it, funny. I choose a stick from the bush and also make myself a cane with my knife, as I see Neon does.

“Here I am, always, you know, because this shrub does my goats good, and when they have eaten all the leaves from below, I cut off the branches from above and drop them; then they gobble everything up. Then, I take them to the river to quench their thirst but I don’t let them drink much. The river, you know, is treacherous. Sometimes it rises so high that it can take them away from you and sometimes it drops so low that just a trickle arrives, but there is always water and it never dries up completely. The river is good because it brings water.”

Of course, water is indispensable for life. That’s why I discover up the hill, the town with its adobe houses, surrounded by floripondios and aloes that go up the slope near the river.

“Since the arrival of those machines that make so much noise, the goats are frightened. The truth is that I liked it better before when there was no one anywhere because it was so quiet and so beautiful, and everything you can see around was mine. But now, I can’t go down there because they shout at me and scare me with those funny noises. There, they arrive like birds and they don’t like me approaching with the goats, because they are moving stones, and the clearing once killed a goat because of the tremendous rock that fell from the top.

It’s dangerous. Neon seems like an intrepid boy, but he should be more responsible. He must not approach our Camp.

“On the other hand, I’m not so poor because now I have shoes. Why are you looking at my feet? Don’t you believe me? I don’t wear them every day, but I do have shoes even though I don’t wear them, so they don’t get dirty or break. I only put on my shoes and other trousers when ‘daddy’ takes me to the village. If they see me like this, they will say that I am the son of no one, well…

“My old man is so angry at you all that he hits me when he drinks aguardiente, but deep down, he is good and takes me to the village at night to make me a man and buys me half a glass of beer, pork rinds and tamales of corn.”

I repeat in my thoughts that it is very dangerous to approach the Landing Camp. He must look for other occupations.

“What do I do all day? Well, you see, as I said before, there are snakes around here and you have to be careful. ‘Daddy’ hunts them, you know? With a stick with two points, carefully. Then, he takes out the poison and sells it to the apothecary. Many of these serpents have already been frightened by so many strangers and the machines that thunder. Once, he almost killed a snake but it escaped. I didn’t scream, though I was afraid when he whistled at me, with his tongue sharp enough outside to sting me. The truth, the truth, is that I think he recognized me, that he knew that I was me and that’s why nothing else stung me.”

I suppose that the snakes of the area recognize the natives and bite only the people they don’t like. We’ll have to see how they know who’s who.

“How do snakes recognize me? Don’t you know that snakes are just born out of one’s hair? That each snake is a hair? Don’t laugh, because I didn’t believe either until I saw that damned snake looking at me as if she knew who I was. I’ve already done the test once, because they grow in water.

“One day, in a puddle left by the river, I put a handful of hair that I pulled out of my head, so that I could make a baby and some snake would be born. I went to see and look at you! One afternoon, I passed by there and what do I find? A snake in the puddle that had grown out of my hair! From this hair of mine, from me! It was a Neon snake, like me… that’s what I called it.”

Somewhere, I’m going to find a serpent who has the amazing name of Neon. It probably is not one of our own people. It must be of another species like this Neon boy.

“That’s why I say he didn’t bite me that time, because he surely recognized me, that it was I who gave him life and didn’t want to bite me. But, I’m leaving now. If the goats get away, I have to sweat then to bring them back. Good-bye, and beware of snakes because they bite even their own relatives!”

I said goodbye to Neon and poured one of my curly viper hairs into the first puddle of rainwater I found. After a while, I saw a small snake sticking its head out of the shore. Is it my daughter? I wonder. Surely, if what Neon says is true, I answer myself. But it’s better if I don’t touch her or get close to her or screw up with the stick, because, as the boy says, they even bite their relatives!

Back at the Intergalactic Exploration Base, I relate my experience. As much as I try to convince them, no one believes that there is a snake out there, in the puddle of rainwater, that was born this morning from me. It’s a disappointment that they think I’m still too small. Although it is true that snakes are born of hair, I do not explain how this Andean boy, so simple and pure, has guessed our mythical idiosyncrasy. Reflecting on the fact of leaving part of my essence on this planet so far away, I am invaded by the intimate satisfaction of having generated a copy of myself. Even if my companions doubt it, my facsimile, my offspring will develop in this distant and enduring world.

Then, happy to have procreated for the first time, I go in front of the mirror to contemplate myself and I comb with fruition my entangled and serpentine Medusa hair.

Adriana Alarco de Zadra was born in Lima, Perú, in 1937. During her life she has travelled a lot for studies and for her husband’s work. She has published six books for adults, works on geography and literature, eleven booklets for children and one science fiction ebook. She won prizes for children dramas, worked as a teacher, secretary and translator and presided the Ricardo Palma Foundation in Lima for ten years. Now as a widow she lives in Italy near her daughters and grandchildren, paints with oil colors and writes stories.