From Sensible Knaves

            The mute led his group up the tiny side streams and along the old rhino trails they had covered earlier. In each case, he pushed half a kilometre or more further than they had penetrated in the course of their original search. Finding a small dark man, possibly standing motionless to avoid them in the shadows of a forest was not easy. If he were lying somewhere unconscious or dead, their task was even more difficult.
            Eventually in the late afternoon, they discovered an old wallow they had not seen before. It was relatively deep and located in a tiny clearing. At one end was a rudimentary platform of four longitudinal poles, wedged into trees and tied to saplings about three metres off the ground. Immediately below it lay Rat’s body. His eyes and mouth were open as if he had suffered a stroke or heart failure. Perhaps caught by nightfall or unwilling to rejoin the others, he had constructed his simple platform to sleep upon. He had died in the night, falling off his poles in his death convulsion, having watched over an old wallow, keeping wake with the local spirits for the ghost of its owner.
            The body shocked the party sufficiently for them to fall silent. Bernard and the mute poked at it a little. Rat had died many hours earlier. His body was cold and wet and stiff. It did not look as if Rat had fallen asleep or was now at peace, rather that he had been dropped from a greater height than the platform and lay crumpled and broken.
            “What are we going to do with him?” said Suk.
            Of the four, she was the most moved.  Bernard had never liked Rat and what he represented, the pillage of the fauna of the forest. For the mute, Rat had long been among the enemy and, until his final warning,  an affront to the rangers’ pride and honour. Kuad thought that Rat was a dirty old man and despised him.
            To Suk, Rat deceased looked small and pathetic. She found the sight of anything recently dead moving, part of the general sadness of things. This almost hormonal reaction had intensified in Suk since the birth of her children whom she now longed to see again and cherish and protect.
            “Are we going to carry him out?” she said.
The others looked surprised.
            “No,” said Kuad.
            Rat had lost weight over the week or so they had been in the forest. It was possible now that he weighed less than Suk but even forty kilos of an emaciated man would be difficult to hump out of the forest. They would have to carry him over four days or more, taking turns and some carrying double loads. His body would begin to decompose.
            “He’ll stink,” said both Kuad and Bernard, simultaneously in their particular languages.
            “If we carry him with us, we’ll have to eviscerate him,” said Bernard.
            “Eviscerate?” said Suk.
            “Take his guts out,” said Bernard. Nobody was enthusiastic about that except Bernard, harbouring pro-rhino and anti-Rat feelings.
            “We should leave him on his platform to moulder away,” said Suk. “Quite soon, he will go back to the forest he was part of.”
            Kuad said that they should burn Rat’s body to hasten the process. However, there was little fuel around that would not be sodden or green and it would take a long time to barbecue Rat.
            “His bones will be left anyway,” said Bernard. “It’s very difficult to burn bones.”
            “He’s nothing but bones anyway,” said Kuad, after translation.
            “We could carry them out,” said Suk.
            “Why do we need to carry him or his bones out at all?” said Bernard. “He doesn’t exist in an official sense.”
            So they decided to leave Rat in the forest. They considered burying him but the hill forest had very little top or even subsoil and they had nothing to dig with except Rat’s own little machete. If burial were an option, they would have to bury him deep or pigs or bears would eat him and porcupines later gnaw at his bones. It seemed heartless to let pigs eat up Rat’s body although no one had objections to bacteria doing the same.
            “We could wrap him in a groundsheet and pull him into a tree,” said Suk. “In time he will rot away and his bones fall out and down.”
            “Or just wedge him there without the groundsheet,” said Bernard.
            In the end, they decided to leave Rat on his platform. With some difficulty, and dropping him once, the mute and Bernard pulled and pushed him up to his rickety structure. This partly collapsed under the strain of the mute’s weight and so once Rat’s body was on the platform, Suk as the lightest was sent up to complete the obsequies. She tried to arrange his limbs in a formal death position but rigor mortis had set in. So she left him as he had died, lying on his side on the four sapling poles, with one arm dangling down stiffly between them. Suk took his machete, small for a small man, and worn by much sharpening to a hook, and laid it near his hand on the platform. The mute passed her up a little of his own tobacco and paper and a lighter which she tucked into a pocket.
 The mute then poured the last of his rice spirit into a pitcher plant cup and handed it up to Suk who placed it upright, wedged between two of the poles near Rat’s head.
            Both Bernard and Kuad, separately and silently, thought that Rat did not deserve the rice spirit.
            Suk scrambled down gingerly and so they left him.

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