“What is that ungodly noise?” asked Professor Serame Mokoena in his haughty accent, glasses resting Old Londony on the tip of his nose.
“Probably some med students, Professor,” replied Rhona. “There should be a group starting their forensic rotation today. I think.”
And like the smell of good coffee on a melancholy morning, Mabel filled the office of the Chief of Forensic Services in Pretoria with an air of vivaciousness seldom seen by people who work with the dead all day.
“Morning morning! I’m Mabel. Mabel Ackerman. Like the clothing shop but without the ‘s’.” With that, Mabel liberated a loud chuckle through large, white teeth. The chuckle seemed to escalate to hysterics, only to be reigned in by the unexpected clapping of her hands.
For a moment, silence.
“I beg your pardon?” Mokoena didn’t seem at all delighted.
“I’m Mabel, Doc! We spoke on the phone last week? I’m your new pathologist. Howzit?” She extended a hand toward Prof Mokoena, whose gaze remained steadfastly unimpressed. He didn’t move.
“Miss Eckhart, would you excuse us please?”
Rhona, only too happy to leave the stuffy office, got up quickly but sneaked a warm smile in the general direction where Mabel stood, hand still extended.
Mokoena spoke slowly: “Miss Ackerman, this is an office of professionals. We conduct serious business here and therefore behave ourselves in a manner that reflects that standing.
Mabel felt two warm hands encircling her neck, squeezing all the blood back into her head. She slowly pulled back her hand and held it with the other, as if to comfort it from the cruel rebuke.
“Doc, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“You may refer to me as Professor Mokoena. My assistant Rhona will take you to your office and give you what you need. Your first autopsies begin tomorrow morning at 07:00.”
Mabel left the office with the same speed with which she entered, but with much less enthusiasm.
Rhona Eckhart’s seat behind her desk provided her a full on view of the passage that runs through the Department of Forensic Medicine. She’s always thought this was a very opportune situation as it gave her the best possible chance of keeping ‘undesirables’ out of Professor Serame Mokoena’s office. She’s been his assistant for four and a half years now and he’s no less of an enigma than he was when she first started. Threatened at gunpoint she would not be able to explain what exactly he does all day…
She noticed movement in the passage near Prof Mokoena’s office. The young woman who bounced into his office earlier was standing against the wall with her forehead pressed up against the brick. She seemed to be talking to herself. For a moment Rhona could do nothing but stare at this strange figure. The woman…the girl…seemed lost. She couldn’t possibly be old enough to be a pathologist. She was short and curvy with the largest, wildest and tightest head of black curls Rhona had ever seen. She was wearing a white sundress with what seemed to be little flowers printed on it, an off pink cardigan and bright green pumps. Very un-forensicy.
The head of curls jumped up and looked around like a child looking for Easter eggs.
A friendly face. Thank Jesus, because I was on my way to my car now. Mabel was looking at a smiling auburn haired woman in her fifties. The friendly stranger sat up straight and Mabel couldn’t help but wonder if this woman had been a ballerina in her younger days, normal people don’t sit up that straight.
“Hi, I’m Mabel!” Her curls were bouncing again and she could feel her freckled nose wrinkling into a smile.
“I’m Rhona. We also spoke on the phone last week, welcome Mabel. I’m Professor Mokoena’s assistant, but you should feel free to let me know if there’s anything you need.”
“Gosh Rhona, after that introduction I need a paramedic to clean the wounds and give me a rabies shot!” Mabel exploded into laughter, enjoying her own little joke.
Rhona seemed shocked and not quite sure if she should join in the laughter or take an Ativan. She picked up the phone instead…only to put it down again.
“So does he hate all young people or only women?”
“He’s adamant on being called ‘proooooofessor’, but he called me ‘Miss Ackerman’ despite knowing I’m a forensic path. What up?”
“And why doesn’t he do autopsies, he’s the chief?”
“How do you know he doesn’t do autopsies anymore?” Rhona felt a slight sense of panic. The chief has indeed not been doing autopsies, to the chagrin of the other members of staff who have had to pick up his slack.
“Have you seen pathologists’ offices?! There are usually more dockets in there than in a police station and p-m reports all over the place. That man didn’t have so much as a post-it on his desk.” Reading Rhona’s face, Mabel knew this was not a topic to pursue too adamantly.
“Rhona katrona, where is my office? Point me in the direction so I can get out of your hair and I can go sit and cry a little…”