Rain

Today it is raining and it looks as if it will never stop. After six weeks of glorious tropical sunshine, I had forgotten the leak in the roof. When I woke up this morning to the ceaseless pattering of rain on the tiled roof and drew up the blind to see a falling curtain of water, I remembered that the repair man had never turned up and I had forgotten to phone the landlord to complain. But who thinks about their roof in day after day of beautiful unending sunshine?

The weather is really the best thing about this country, at least until today. I came here to be with my husband who has to be here for his work. At least that was the idea, but since we came out I have seen very little of him. He often goes away for a week or two at a time to far parts of this country which, he says, are so uncivilised as to be totally unsuitable for women and children. Are there whole villages of men? I ask in pretended innocence. I know women must live in these places with their families but his objections seem to have something to do with bathrooms. The villagers bathe at wells or in rivers, both off limits to white women and children.

My daughter Anna loves it here. She loves this rented house with its long veranda and huge garden, so much more space to play than at home. Everything looks new and exciting, the trees, the flowers, the people, all so different from at home. I mop up the water on the floor, I moved the rug as soon as I found out about the leak so nothing is damaged. I put a bucket under the leak and add a new sound to the noise of the rain, a loud drip, drip, drip into the bucket. I go to see if Anna is awake; she is staring out of her window at the rain.

"Look, Mummy, it's raining! I thought it didn't rain here." She has forgotten those first two days when I found out about the leaking roof. I thought I was going to hate this country, the heat and the flies and the rain that never seemed to stop. But Anna loved it from the start.

After breakfast she wants to rush out as usual into the garden but I tell her not now, not until the rain stops. I say I will play a game with her and her eyes light up. "We can play Snakes and Ladders!" and off she runs to get the box. I empty the bucket into the sink and replace it under the leak. I phone the landlord who says he will send someone over as soon as possible, but he can't promise that it will be today. When I have finished on the phone, Anna is waiting impatiently with the Snakes and Ladders box. We set up the board and counters and play game after game, I get bored with this kind of thing much sooner than she does.

Then two things happen. There is a break in the clouds and the sun comes out as the rain slows from a torrent to a scattering of glistening drops. I see through the window a van pull up outside, a man gets out and starts removing a ladder from the roof. By a miracle the roofer is here!

Anna rushes out to watch the man set up his ladder and climb up onto the roof. At first she is shy and stays close to the door, but soon she goes closer until she is almost touching the ladder. I see her grasp the ladder and fearlessly set her little foot on the first rung. I go out and bring her back in , explaining the dangers of climbing up ladders that go as high as the roof. Of course she doesn't believe me, she's only three, she doesn't think anything could really hurt her. Mum is trying to stop the fun as usual. To distract her I suggest yet another game of Snakes and Ladders.

She lands almost at once on the tail of a snake. "Up the Snake now, Mum!" "No, Anna, it's down the snake." "No, up the snake!" So I let her go up the snakes, but when she comes to a ladder, she wants to go up the ladders too. At this rate the game is over very quickly and Anna wins, which puts her in a good mood. This is a good time to stop and make some lunch.

When I come back with the lunch she has run out into the garden again. I look out of the window, afraid that she is trying to climb the ladder again. But she is not even near the ladder, she is staring fascinated at something on the grass, something like a coil of brown rope. Then it moves and I see what it is.

I cannot move, I am cold with fear and my heart is beating much too fast. I don't dare to call to her in case she makes a sudden movement and frightens it. It moves slowly, lazily, coiling and uncoiling and slithering over itself. I see the roof man climbing quickly down the ladder. He jumps past the last few rungs and runs towards Anna, a length of timber like a club in his hand. He smashes this down on the snake, two, three, four times. The snake writhes and stops, writhes and stops until at last it is dead, battered into harmlessness. I see Anna's face crumple and dissolve in furious tears as I run, calling her name, across the grass to take her into my arms.

The roof man is sweating with the heat and exertion. "Don't cry, Miss," he says. "Bad snake is dead now, don't be afraid." But it's not fear that is making Anna cry. To me he says "Very dangerous snake, very poisonous. Lucky I saw him and killed him before he hurt your little girl." I thank him over and over again, holding Anna tight.

When we go into the house she is very quiet. She doesn't eat much lunch and I'm too shaken up to eat anything myself. I explain when we are both calm that the man only killed the snake because he was afraid it would bite her and hurt her. She listens quietly and I am not sure if she really understands, but when I have finished she takes the box with the Snakes and Ladders game and empties out her toy box, puts the Snakes and Ladders at the bottom and buries it under a heap of dolls and trains and teddy bears.