A sharp scream came from the direction of our kitchen, where Mummy had shooed me out of earlier as she was preparing to fry up some heh bi (dried shrimps) and Chinese chives pancakes for a late morning snack. As I reached the doorway, I saw her standing on a stool by our dining table, her face ashen. She shouted at me to stop, then pointed to what looked to me at first like a thick coil of rope on the floor by the cutlery cabinet. It was a snake – fat and brown with pale yellow markings.

She told me to run next door and ask Pakcik Atan for help. I ran as fast as my chubby five-year-old legs could take me, shouting Pakcik’s name as I went and wishing that Papa was at home instead of at work.

Pakcik appeared at his front door, clad in a plain white singlet and blue chequered sarong. ‘Amoi, kenapa bising-bising?’ he teased me as he always did. The words tumbled out of me. Well, actually all I managed to stutter was ‘ular, ular!’ – luckily I had learned the Malay word for it at kindergarten – while pointing towards my house.

Pakcik disappeared into his kitchen without a word and returned with a parang and a karang guni, then we ran back to my house with Pakcik’s wife and kids hot on our heels. Pakcik told me to us in the living room while he crept into the kitchen. Our families had been neighbours for several years and were always at each other’s homes for one reason or another so Pakcik knew the layout of our house well.

I remember being as scared as I was intrigued. A snake! In my house! I’d only ever seen one on TV and in books – we didn’t have a zoo in our town. Pakcik’s kids were just as excited as I was, and kept asking me what the snake looked like.

I described it as best as I could, in my then-limited Malay and bits of English, and I think I even threw in some Chinese words. Makcik had to keep telling us not to make too much noise so as not to disturb Pakcik or worse, the snake.

After what felt like forever, Pakcik and Mummy emerged looking relieved. Pakcik had the snake safely tied up in the sack and the colour had returned to Mummy’s cheeks.

What an exciting morning, and how lucky were we to have Pakcik Atan come to our rescue! The family moved to another state a few years later and we eventually lost touch, but I will always remember Pakcik Atan as a hero – sarong, parang and all. Most of all, I miss that friendship that our families shared. Those were the days when everyone in the neighbourhood knew each other; these days, I have trouble identifying who lives in which unit at my apartment block.

How well do you know your neighbours, past or present, and what are your fondest memories of them? Please share your story in the comments section below.

Image above by Tim Good from Flickr (Creative Commons License)