Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Last Breath

Most people believe that your last breath marks your transition from life to death. That may be so, I don't want to get into a philosophical discussion about what is living and what is dead, but I do want to point out that sometimes there is another breath, long after death, that people tend not to know about. I'm going to start by saying that dead things smell bad. And big dead things smell really bad. And if you've caught me in a particular mood here you've probably heard me complain about how awful it is to pass by a dead cow. The smell is repulsive. Unfortunately, this being the starving season, so far from the rains of last year, cows are now regularly dying from lack of food and water. It's disappointing to see farmers loose such a valuable resource, that and it smells gross.

I can't figure out if cows usually just die on the outskirts of villages, in the now dry ephemeral streams where they can spend their last moments envisioning lifesaving torrents of water, or if farmers carry them there so that the cows aren't dead in the middle of villages. Probably a mixture of both. Either way, right now there are two dead cows right next to the master farmer garden where I have my big tree pepiniere. The one cow has been decomposing there now for over two weeks and although it still smells, I can now at least venture into the corner closest to where it lies if necessary. The other one is fresh, one or two days old. It's bad, the curdling smell of rotting flesh distracts me while I try to water. My stomach shrinks up and reminds me painfully that I do not want to eat. My nose feels like it's been a little damaged by the putrid air it has to filter. But that's nothing compared to the last breath that is about to come.

When I get to the garden the cow is bloated. It's stomach is huge and disproportionate and reminds me of a blister. But when the breeze suddenly carries with it a scent that is too audacious to ignore, the stomach is back to a normal size. The final breath has dropped.

What exactly was in that stomach, I'm not sure, but what escaped it was stench. Stench so awful that Souleman and I gave up watering. The already disgusting smell of death mixed with what you might imagine the farts of a room full of sweaty overweight men with compromised digestive tracts from eating nothing except beer, beans, and Cheetos while they stay up all night playing video games. Picture the lowest tide, but for some reason a steamy layer of dead fish lines the hot and humid beach, the stench sticking to your body, carried on flies who try to get in to your ears and eyes. As if you opened a fridge full of only rotting leftovers and spoiled milk after cracking two dozen bad eggs in your kitchen where you've recently eaten a package of strong French cheese. It was bad. Thankfully I believe that sigh of sulfurous doom was the true last breath that this cow will ever exhale.

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