I am acutely conscious of driving myself daily. As if an invisible pair of spurs were digging in and propelling me forth. It’d be easy, too easy, to succumb to the slipperiness of empty hours in a far away place. Who’d know?. Nothing to hang onto and pull myself up by. I don’t have a real job, not one with a boss and an office; I can write in pajamas in bed assuming I’ve fought hard enough for the commission in the first place. My children are all but grown up, they provide reassuring background noise via Skype and email, phone and Whatsapp (mum, please can I borrow fifty quid; mum could you read my personal statement; ma when did you say Gran’s birthday was) but the urgency of their demands is filtered by distance. I miss them and I miss the punctuation their presence lent to my days. Now I look for stepping stones in my day, prompts to lead from one occupation to another, in lieu of the fullstops and dashes, hyphens and semi colons that school runs and swimming galas and book week once provided.
Today began with a walk in the rain, the cloud strung low in the valley like smoke. Have I ever walked in the rain in Africa I wonder? Willingly. Wittingly. Donning boots and jackets and sporting an incongruous pink brolly and setting out purposefully into the wet. As opposed to being caught in a tropical storm, the kind that races in and catches you unaware as the sky tips from brilliant sunshine to bruised blue in minutes. I felt absurdly English.
I felt less absurdly English when I encountered a snake up the house whilst I was chivying fundis and gardeners and pulling up weeds (having abandoned my secateurs for now …). I stepped back and exclaimed loudly. I didn’t think any self respecting snake would take up residence here, in the mist and the rain and the cold. But there he was, tightly curled, waiting for the sun (he’s got a long wait …). A foothold.
He lent, that bright yellow and black snake, a purpose to the morning as I sought, via social media, the internet, to identify him. I conclude, Mathilda’s Horned Viper, a rare find and amongst the world’s newest snakes: identified less than two years ago by a British conservationist. Something in me feels a small thrill: that I have seen something so few have?
But is it enough that that was almost all (if you discount the nagging of plumbers and painters) I did with my morning? Of what significance is one small sighting? But I am not here to change The World. I am here only to change mine, to keep mine turning. The snake provided – in the void in which I rattle – something new to talk about, something to read up on. A bright little focus.
The rain continues to fall so that the day is soft and green. The lilies I have planted will thrive. The rosemary hedge will take root. The soil around the agapanthus that I plan to lift and split and redistribute in new beds will grow soft and yielding.
And Mathilida’s Horned Viper will wait coldly for the sun …