Helaina Alati was browsing the spice aisle of an Australian supermarket when she came face-to-face with a huge snake.
And in a coincidence appropriate for Oz, the spice shopper wasn’t phased in the least because she happened to be a snake catcher.
The head of the 10-foot-long non-venomous diamond python emerged through a space in a shelf above the spice jars in the Sydney store.
“I was in the spice aisle just looking for something to put on my chicken that night so I didn’t initially see it because it was curled up way back behind the little jars of spices,” Alati said Wednesday. “I kind of turned to my right and it poked its head out.”
Alati — who is a trained snake catcher — said the snake’s head came to within 8 inches of her own.
“Thankfully, I have a background in snakes so I was pretty calm about it. It definitely shocked me a little bit because I wasn’t expecting it,” she said.
Supermarket chain Woolworths confirmed in a statement that a “slippery and rare customer was spotted in the spice aisle” on Monday morning at its store in the suburb of Glenorie on Sydney’s northwest outskirts.
“Once it was sighted, our team members reacted quickly and calmly to cordon off the area for the safety of customers,” the statement said.
Alati said she used her phone to video the snake as it extended its body from the shelf into the aisle before reporting the intruder to supermarket staff.
“I said: ‘I’ll go get my snake bag.’ I think they thought I was a bit crazy to be honest. I don’t think they knew what to say when I said, ‘There’s a 10-foot python in your aisle,'” Alati said.
She retrieved a snake bag from her home, returned to the store, “tapped him on the tail and he just slithered in”.
She then released it away from houses in bushland – a natural habitat for the species around Sydney.
A trained snake handler, Ms Alati has conducted at least 20 snake rescues before. She says her friends have previously joked about her being “the snake girl”, referencing a zoo scene in a Harry Potter film where the boy wizard finds that he can talk to snakes.
Ms Alati says she can’t speak Parseltongue like Harry, but “that scene’s been mentioned to me a few times”.
“They kind of just gravitate to me, like maybe they just sense that I’m the kind of person into caring and protecting animals,” she said.
“To be honest, it’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in a little while given lockdown. The staff were all taking photos of it
Australia’s largest city has been in a lockdown since June to fight a Delta outbreak. Grocery shopping is one of the few reasons people are allowed to leave their homes.
Ms Alati said she suspected the snake had been in the shop overnight, probably initially in the ceiling where diamond pythons like to nestle.
It had probably lurked on the shelf all morning as “dozens of people… passed it and grabbed spices”, she added.