Charles Howard, the snake-man.

Charles Howard, the snake-man.

During the next week, I introduced Charles Howard (Jed, as I called him) to the local soils and vegetation. Each day we went out to dig new test holes and to describe the ones dug the previous day. There were two things that I insisted on: no snakes in my camp and no poker for money – only for matches. So, in the years that I knew him, I never lost a cent to Jed.

But I must have lost several forests of matches.

Each evening, we would go to the local cantina in Mopeia, Mozambique, near the north bank of the Zambezi River, or sit drinking and talking around my campfire. He had recently come down from Zambia where his father had farmed on the Kafue flats. He had always collected gogos, as he called the little animals and scaly creatures that were his passion. He once reared a young jackal that never touched their own poultry, but used to go five kilometres to collect a neighbour’s chicken whenever he was hungry.

Southern African Python

Southern African Python

Another incident involved a python. Jed never slept in any sort of clothing, so, naked, at just before dawn, one morning, he went to investigate a kafuffle in the hen house. By torchlight, he could make out that a huge python had hold of one of their Rhode Island Reds and was in the process of swallowing it. Pythons are easy to catch, Jed told me, and he did so, but it was by far the largest that he had ever tackled. Although he could control the tail with one hand and the neck, if that’s the bit behind the head, with the other, the rest wrapped around him. He couldn’t move. Wearing nothing but the python, he became aware of guffaws and giggles behind him as dawn had broken and the whole labour force was walking past him on their way to work. But nobody dared approach to help him until, at last, the tractor driver lent a hand.

      From the farm, Jed would go up to Lusaka once a week to do the farm shopping. Naturally, he would finish the day at the hotel bar where the other young farmers had gathered. On one occasion he had stopped to pick up a puff-adder on the road. He had put it in the glove box and forgotten about it. His battered station wagon had, (strangely enough), been in an accident and the passenger door was tied up with wire. When he came out of the pub, much later, he found the wire cut, and the door open, but none of his shopping had been touched. Perhaps not surprisingly.

      The glove box was also open.

      Soon after Zambian Independence (1966), Jed was in a pub in Lusaka whose patronage had become increasingly darker. This was not a situation that bothered Jed, as he got on with most people regardless of colour or creed, and Jed was not an aggressive man. However, some locals objected to a white man drinking there. He was badly beaten up and told to drink elsewhere. After a week in hospital with broken ribs and jaw and several more weeks at home recuperating, Jed went back.

Inside his shirt was a huge black mole-snake, vicious looking, but harmless. It would rise up out of his shirt collar when he tickled it. This time he was not his usual amiable, easy-going self. He insulted them, but to no effect; eventually resorting to calling them kaffirs as he tried his best to provoke them.

      Nobody took any notice of his invective; all were as friendly as could be.

      “They were so darned nice to me; I never got the chance to scare the pants off them in revenge.” Jed gave his dry chuckle.

      Almost too soon, Jed had to head north to his own area and set his camp up a hundred kilometres away. I found that we had established a real friendship, but it didn’t stop me from being wary of his gogos.

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 4 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom' and 'Medicinal Purposed Only', all from Southern Africa.
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