‘Your visor, Mabel.’ Themba was holding out a face mask with plastic visor to pathologist Mabel Ackerman. Mabel took it from him because what Themba said was ‘your visor, Mabel’, but what Mabel heard from looking at the man, was: ‘Take your damn, visor, young lady. And why don’t you go ahead and try to fight me on this…’
Mabel grew up with a stricter than hell father…she reads the lingo…
She affixed the visor properly on her face and turned her attentions to the body of young Phelo Leeuw. Found in the dry, hot Pretoria veld, tied to a tree and gnawed on by wild animals. She stared at the dark coloring covering his entire neck. Apart from animal marks on his body, nothing points overtly to cause of death. But she knows she’ll find it inside.
Mabel starts the autopsy with the usual Y-incision. The foggy tunnel starts forming in her gaze and for about 90 minutes she didn’t see or hear anything but the innermost parts of an 8-year old boy. She slowed down when examining the boy’s neck.
‘Themba, look here.’
Themba moved closer to where she was bending over the small boy.
‘His neck. It’s swollen. There is significant edema here. And if you look closely…there seems to be darkened spots on both sides of his neck. I’m gonna do a dissection.’
Mabel conducted a careful examination of the neck.
‘What is that?’ Themba asked.
‘The worst soft tissue damage I’ve ever seen. I’m sure there’s gross cerebral edema. The swelling must have narrowed the jugular and carotid so that this kid didn’t have any good stuff going to his brain.’
Mabel’s tunnel returned and she saw the silhouette of a human body…perfect anatomical outline. Then she saw blood vessels, muscles, systems…all working in perfect sync.
‘It’s like…like…he was man-handled by his neck.’ She froze.
‘Themba, get the hair clipper.’ This time it was Mabel sounding strict and fatherly.
The clipper? You want his hair off? Now?’
‘So who was it? Which one of you killed your son?!’ Mabel was screaming at Phelo Leeuw’s parents in the morgue’s waiting room.
‘Easy Mabel,’ said Themba. He was standing right behind Mabel. At the time, he wasn’t sure if he was protecting Mabel, or the boy’s parents.
‘Excuse me?’ Phelo’s father, Jacob, was looking at her but his body was turned away from her, facing Themba. His gold Tag Heuer seemed as polished as his diamond rings.
‘Tram lines on your son’s head. Who hit him? You ma’am?’ Mabel focused her anger for a moment on moma Leeuw. The woman sat on the waiting room couch, head bowed. Her hands were nervously rubbing each other but the woman never looked up.
This one is abused too…
‘Or you. Sir.’ She spit out the word ‘sir’ like it was rotten food.
Jacob Leeuw looked at Themba.
‘Oh, he’s not gonna help you. Did you hit your son?’
‘He had entrenched tram lines on the back of his head. Your kid was hit repeatedly on the back of his head. What did he do? Did he talk back?’ Mabel started screaming.
‘Did he fail a test? What did an 8 year-old little boy do to justify you hitting him on the head?!’
Silence descended on the room and all Mabel could hear was the thumping of her own heart. She had lost her temper and descended into screaming. She hated that. This could ultimately jeopardize the case and she knew it. But when Mabel lost her temper, her primal instincts took her reason to a side room and shot it in the head.
‘Hey! I’m talking to you?! What did he do to deserve this?’ Mabel’s curly hair rocked wildly in all directions as if her lost temper was the only thing taming the wild bunch.
‘What did he…’
‘He threw up.’ Jacob Leeuw responded calmly. He put both his hands in his pants’ pockets. ‘In my car.’
‘Come again?’ Mabel felt like a big fist had punched her in the gut. ‘He vomited in your car?’
‘Sir, I should warn you, you have rights not to incriminate yourself or talk to us,’ said Themba.
Jacob Leeuw looked at Themba, then at Mabel and finally turned his whole body toward Mabel.
‘It was an accident. He threw up in my car because he had too much ice cream. I told him, I told him ‘hey, if you do that, I will punish you’ and then he did it. I punished him. He must learn to listen to me.’
Moma Leeuw started to weep.
Mabel didn’t know why her car rolled over to Pretoria East Anglican Church. She also didn’t know what she was expecting by sitting in the church, staring at the beautifully crafted wooden cross and colorful glass-stained windows.
Mabel recognized the voice. She felt the Black Wolf stir but willed the anger to smother the Wolf.
Father Peter’s dark blond hair was lying flat across his forehead and made him look tired. Well, the black circles underneath his eyes also helped. His face made her feel sad. She didn’t understand why.
‘The piss in.’
‘That’s one I haven’t heard before.’ Father Peter smiled. It was warm and forgiving.
‘I’m livid. I’m sorry.’
‘I’d imagine someone in your profession gets angry often.’
‘I lost my temper and I might have put a case in danger. A case in which a kid was murdered.’
‘Eish. That’s a tough one.’
Silence. Mabel suddenly felt foolish for being there. She had no business in a church.
‘For what it’s worth. Thank you.’
Father Peter was now sitting directly in front her; turned in her direction. His words caught her a bit off guard. She looked at his face. A face that feels…familiar somehow. She wondered if he was mocking her.
‘For?’ she finally said.
‘For being angry. For losing your temper.’
‘Are you a real minister?’
Father Peter chuckled and deep lines lined the corner of his eyes and ran down his cheeks. A welcome addition to the usual deep frown lines.
A man who fights a lot and a man who smiles a lot, Mabel thought.
‘I’m an Anglican bishop. And yes. I’m real.’ He pinned her down with fierce eyes. ‘Mabel, we live in a country where a woman or girl…sometimes a baby…is raped every second. I know the stats say every ten seconds, but you and I know the truth. We inhabit this wild earth where human life has taken a back seat to things of much less value. If I lose my ability to become enraged at these things…well…then I’ve become part of the world.’
‘That’s cute. But I still work on dead kids every day. Some who’ve been killed by their parents.’
Mabel regretted her words. The anger was dissipating and shame was setting in.
‘Sorry, I know you’re right.’
‘Don’t be sorry, Mabel. You feel human emotions…appropriate ones under the circumstances. I’d rather you be human than anything else.’