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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Snake
by Rory Allen

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I was driving along the coast of Salalah, a city on the Indian Ocean south of Oman. As this city is affected by the monsoons the coastline has an abundance of coconut trees and other lush vegetation that produces exotic fruits. One has the feeling of being in the tropics rather than in The Arabian Gulf. Indeed Salalah was at one time the centre of the Frankincense trade and it is in this region, only, that Frankincense, the gold standard of the Ancient World, is grown. It is from here also, long ago in an age shrouded in the mists of time, where the caravans of the Ancient World started their journeys northwards with their precious cargoes. This was in a time when such figures as the Queen of Sheba ruled The Yemen, the original home of all Arabs, and had palaces and courtiers in Salalah.

My journey along the coast took me past a nature conservation area that was fenced off. However there was a gate with a noticeboard outside. I drove my car to the gate, stopped and got out to read the notice. Being in Arabia, the notice was both in English and Arabic. I read the notice and was surprised to find out that its main content was a quotation from The Koran. To paraphrase its contents this is what it said: "Every creature, animal, bird or insect, is part of God's creation and as such require respect from Man, who is God's first creation." I was impressed and also surprised by the similar teachings in our own Bible and in other religions such as Buddhism. I was also reminded of the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.

I got back into the car and continued my journey along the coast when I chanced upon a hotel. Feeling in need of a rest and some refreshment I went into the hotel and inquired as to whether there was a restaurant or coffee shop. The receptionist led me outside to an expanse of green lawns that backed onto the Indian Ocean where waves of brilliant sky-blue were crashing onto the shoreline. Adjacent to the path was a small pile of boulders, and as we were approaching I saw the unmistakeable shape of a snake slithering and disappearing into this pile of boulders.

On my return from the beachside café, coming upon the same pile of boulders, I saw the head and neck of the snake peering around and surveying the general area. I noticed that the snake was an Arabian Cobra, a highly venomous snake, potentially fatal. The voice of my education was trying to tell me to kill the snake yet my mind was drawn back to the notice outside the Conservation Area and I thought how this snake was actually in its home probably protecting its young. Another thought came to my mind at that very instant; if all animals, birds and insects are part of God's creation, as Human Beings are, did not God also impart to them the same characteristics that he imparted to The Human Race? If that is the case, was this snake only acting on the instincts given by God, protecting her home and family? With these thoughts I walked carefully around the snake and back into my car for I had a job to do. It was as mundane as a visit to the bank.

Having entered the bank I engaged in conversation with a bank clerk and asked him if he had enjoyed his Eid, the Islamic equivalent of The Christian Easter.

"Oh Yes," he replied. I then told him I had just seen a snake. "Where?" he asked.

"In a local hotel," I replied, "perhaps you visited it during Eid."

"Oh no," he said, "when we are free we spend all our time at home with our family. Life is nothing without the home, family and love. A man can own 10,000 camels but without a home, family or love he is a very poor man with great emptiness in his soul. For every creature in God's Universe needs a home. It is of no importance if his home is a palace or a bamboo hut, its value is equal."

I was moved by the simplicity, honesty and the priorities of life reflected in the sentiment of this casual conversation. I thought to myself, yes, every creature and every person created in God's Universe does need a home and no, it is of no importance if this home is a mighty empire or a small strip of land or even a pile of boulders.

As I was driving off home into the blood red Arabian sunset I could not help but think how similar the faiths of Christianity and Islam are and why is it that in the world today they seem at such odds with each other. Perhaps we should take heed of the notice outside the Conservation Area and respect all God's creatures, which includes Man himself. For if there were this mutual respect then there would be no wars. Or is it now too late and have the religions and governments of The World been hijacked by those false prophets whom we were warned against in The Torah, The Bible and The Koran? For if that is the case "as sure as night follows day" Armageddon too will follow on the heels of these false prophets.

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