LEWISTON – Here’s your hygiene tip of the day: If you want to get in and out of the shower as quickly as possible, try going nose-to-nose with a ball python while you’re lathering up.
It happened to Khadija Bile Thursday afternoon at her Maple Street apartment. Bile was halfway through her shower at about 5 p.m., when the 3-foot serpent crawled from a ceiling tile above her.
For a moment, snake and woman regarded each other in the steam and spray.
“It was just hanging there, right in front of my face,” Bile said. “I was shocked. Then I ran out of the bathroom and toward the door. I was naked, but I didn’t know what to do.”
When she recovered her senses, Bile pulled some clothes on and called for help. The snake, perhaps as startled as anyone by the encounter, retreated back above the ceiling tiles.
Enter Lewiston police Cpl. Kevin Cramp. As a small, timid crowd gathered inside Bile’s apartment, the cop began poking at the ceiling in the bathroom. There was nothing above the first panel. There was nothing above the second. A few tiles wouldn’t budge at all.
Then Cramp felt resistance under one tile directly over the shower head.
“I’d say it’s right up there,” Cramp said.
The officer was right. After lifting the tile with a broom handle and shining a flashlight, Cramp could see the python retreating up a pipe. The snake settled in one spot and remained there.
“That’s a big snake,” Cramp said. “Big enough for me, anyway.”
The police academy offers no training in the handling and removal of exotic snakes. Cramp called the building landlord as well as an animal control expert.
Now comes Richard Burton, a nuisance wildlife specialist with Maine Animal Damage Control. When he arrived, he already had two raccoons in cages in the back of his truck, victims of an earlier capture. He was not intimidated by a measly bathroom snake.
Burton spent perhaps 10 seconds removing the ceiling tile. It took half that time for him to reach up with gloved hands and pull down the offending creature, which coiled around his wrist but did not attempt to strike.
The half dozen people cowering in the kitchen squealed.
“Is it big?” Bile wanted to know. “Is that a big snake?”
“God, no,” said Burton. “Some pythons get up to 12 feet long.”
He held the snake so Bile and her friends could see it. More squealing and backing away. Bile was relieved to have the snake under control, but she was not entirely free of stress.
“I’m still scared,” she said. “There could be another one. What if there’s another one?”
Burton allowed that, sure, since most exotic snakes he captures are escaped or released pets, there could be another hiding somewhere. He lifted more ceiling tiles, aimed a flashlight, and found nothing.
“You’re all set,” he said.
The python was dropped into a bag and Burton said he would call a friend in the animal rehabilitation business to take care of it. Before climbing into his truck, he had one final word of caution for Bile and her neighbors: If they were really concerned about snakes running amok in their apartment building, he said, they should probably check their toilet bowls before sitting down upon them.
Snakes don’t limit themselves to the warmth of the shower spray. They are also like to travel inside pipes.