The strange incident of the cyclist and the snake
The snake writhed painfully, slowly, trying to comprehend the terrible disaster. Enticed out of hibernation by the warmer weather, still slow and sleepy from the long winter, it was fatally attracted by the hot tarmac. The road was quiet when it glided out of the undergrowth. Completely unaware of the danger, it lay there, soaking up strength from the sun and revelling in the heat. We will never know how long it basked contentedly in the warmth. Traffic was light on this early spring afternoon, but not light enough for the drowsy snake. With what must have been a terrible, terrifying roaring vibration, a passing car brutally broke its back, tore its belly open and smeared its guts across the road.
Moments later I arrived on the scene. The road was steep so I was moving quite slowly as I came up to it, on the inside of a right-hand bend. The snake looked up at me, its eyes still bright, unblinking, its upper body weaving sinuously to and fro, unharmed and beautiful above the shocking bloody mess mashed into the road surface. I swerved to avoid it, shaken by its sudden appearance.
The image stuck with me long afterwards during the climb and kept coming back at odd moments in the following days. It had only lasted one or two seconds, but the glimpse into the dying snake’s eyes had touched me.
What expression, what feelings did I detect in that fleeting moment? It seems ridiculous to ascribe feelings to an expressionless reptile, yet I am sure sure the snake had communicated with me. It had kept its head quite still, one gleaming eye fixed on me even as the rest of its upper body continued to wind slowly back and forth. There was something profound, even dignified in the dying snake’s slow and graceful movements of its upper body, beautifully untouched in such brutal contrast to its ripped and broken lower body.
Strangely, the snake showed no fear. Perhaps it had all happened too quickly. The impression that stays with me was of the reptile’s surprise and disbelief at the sudden calamity. I hope the next car put it quickly and cleanly out of its misery.