When the Professor reached his 70th year, he became uncomfortable with his own Bateman’s purpura, those asymmetrical, irregular purple lesions that afflict the elderly. His skin seemed thin and wrinkled. He had just overcome the bullous pemphigoid blisters hiding among the folds of his groin. At least that was an improvement over his last incidence of pustular furuncles, which continually seeped. He also had a profound rectal prolapse in which the rectum turned inside out, so that instead of being a nice conical cavity as the rectum ought to be, its lining projected from the anus like a dark red finger. One of the Professor’s turtle boys was inordinately fond of sucking on it when he was allowed. It was also accompanied by the frequent sensation or urge to defecate. Notwithstanding, his symptoms also included constipation, rectal fullness, the passage of mucus through the rectum, and rectal bleeding.
When the Professor lived in the southern part of Africa, he encountered the Afrikaans idea of mors dood, meaning “very seriously dead.” A fly that has been swatted into absolute paste on the kitchen table and requires scraping to remove the fly pâté is mors dood. A fly that you swat and it pops up in the air and falls dead on the floor is merely dood. It is a way of life or nonlife that permeates Africa like the endless cloud of charcoal fire that enshrouds the continent. There are no cat burglars in Africa, only knife-, screwdriver- or gun-toting turtle boys who find it far easier to kill a fast-asleep occupant of a house when the boy wants a can of mushrooms from the kitchen. Dead robbery victims cannot identify them. Judging by their reproductive rate, turtle boys are somewhat faster than rabbits or guinea pigs.
And it is this that explains the Professor’s confusion over an apparently dead turtle boy in the garden of his laboratory building one day. At 16:50 the bloody church bells had started ringing, summoning the Professor home to the first of what would eventuate into several rounds of arrack. Down the steps he went with one of his colleagues. As they turned toward their vehicles, they came to a flower garden.
“Oh dear,” the Professor said, “another bloody dead turtle boy in the garden. But maybe he’s just drunk.”
“No, he’s not drunk,” the colleague said. “He’s eintlik mors dood! His eyes are open but the pupils have rolled up into his head.”
Several uniformed policemen arrived and set up red-and-white-striped hazard tape—the kind used to outline crime scenes—and pretended that they knew what they were doing. Off the Professor and colleague went, worrying about what horrible damage this dead turtle boy had inflicted on the Barleria and Clivia blossoms and the Hypoestes shrubs.
The next morning, the corpse was gone, and the flowers and shrubs had only suffered minor contusions. Still, one could see the depression among them that the wide body had made.
The Professor engaged the security chap, who had been one of the main hazard-tape festooners the evening previous.
“What actually happened with that dead turtle boy yesterday?”
“Professor, I am very, very sorry to report that that he was only in an alcoholic coma. Too much arrack.”
“What did you chaps do with him?”
“Just carried him back to his post in grounds and gardens. And today he will have a lekker babelaas, a big hangover.”
The Professor said, “What was perplexing was that his knees were bent. I figured that if you are flat on your back and dead, you probably would have relaxed your knees to be more comfortable. Also, there was no sign of fly strike, no maggots that I could see.”
“Well, Professor, you should know that when it comes to the slow-motion gene pool, even the flies are retarded.”
“Yes, I suppose you are right. I remember a few years ago we found a turtle boy in the quarry who already had a corpse pong and there was not a fly in sight. Then there was the one I found at the bottom of the stairs next to the lift, headlong dood. He was ventral-side down with his knees bent as if trying an aerial genuflection. It somehow lacked effect. Practically all that we could do is flare the nares for corpse pong and hunt the flies. Failing that, we assume sleep, alcoholic coma, or forgetfulness, but not death.”
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