While Rolbos whoops it up in Boggel’s Place, Vetfaan and Fanny slips outside for a moment of calm quiet. It’s been a hectic day, filled with so many emotions and feelings. Truth be told: when they approached Oudoom, they thought they’d just ask him to marry them at some convenient date. The cascade of amazing events following their discussion – and Fanny’s confession – still dazes the two of them.
“Are you okay, Fanie?”
He looks at her with some surprise. “I’m fine, Fanny. Really. Just been an overwhelming day, don’t you think.”
“I’m sorry…” Her lip starts trembling again.
“Shhh…” His arm finds its way around her shoulders. “Life is never a straight line. We wander through Life like the sheep browse the veld on the farm. Here. There. Ahead. Back. You know, I have a past as well? And if we want to build a future, we must understand the past…
“There was a girl, Fanny. A wonderful, exquisite woman I fell in love once, a long time ago. And there was Mary Mitchell, the girl Boggel lost his heart to and I fell in love with.” Fanny listens quietly as Vetfaan tells her about the almost-loves of his life.
“Life is one long search, Fanny. We stumble along, looking for faith and hope and love and a lot of other things. Along the way we land up in many, many dead-ends – but we have to do that in order to find the right path. How else shall we find it…? Remember that song: Climb every Mountain? We have to open many doors before you find the right room…”
She rests her head against his broad chest. Vetfaan – her Fanie – is sometimes such a contradiction in terms. On occasion his natural shyness makes him fumble with words – and then suddenly he puts on his philosopher’s hat and blows her away with his insight.
“We can have some tests done…?” She’s talking about paternal DNA, to make sure.
“We’ll leave for Cape Town tomorrow.” He’s talking about haemophilia. “Gertruida says they can check out everything there. She gave me the number of a laboratory. Once we know, we can make peace with whatever the situation is.”
“But…Fanie? What if – what if the tests are not good?” Meaning Henry, of course.
“Then we’ll just have to live with it, won’t we?” Back to haemophilia. “I mean, there’s not much else to do, is there? Facts are facts – like droughts and floods. Or broken tractors. Face the problem, handle it and get over it, that’s what I always say…”
Imagine that happening to the first team to land on Mars. Houston sending out a string of messages; the Mars Explorer interpreting it differently? The result can only be chaos. Men in bulky suits land on the wrong spot, get marooned and perish. The situation isn’t so far-fetched. Attend any parliamentary session in Cape town: politicians talk and talk – but nobody understands a word of what they are saying. The result, like with the men on Mars, is all too predictable.
“So you’ll accept whatever they say, Fanie?”
“Of course, sweetest.”
“Oooh… I love you, Fanie…”
“Gertruida says they can treat it these days, Fanny. We’ll be okay, you’ll see. If it’s a boy, we’ll learn…”
The technician in the Mars Explorere slaps his cheek once. Hard. Of course! That’s what Houston meant. He saves the mission…
(Three weeks later)
They wait patiently in the reception area. Their appointment is at 10 am, and they’re early. Three weeks previously, the gynaecologist did a Chorionic villus sampling – a delicate little procedure where a bit of the membrane surrounding the foetus was sampled. In the meantime, they had endless discussions with Oudoom, Gertruida and even Servaas. If the tests turned out to be positive for haemophilia, they have two choices: terminate the pregnancy – or face the situation, especially if it is a boy. Vetfaan stood firm: they won’t even think of a termination of the pregnancy (I still have my tractor, Fanny. I don’t throw things away).
When they eventually get ushered into the austere office of the researcher, Fanny feels dizzy. She’s still experiencing mood swings and feels excessively tired these days. She always thought expecting a baby would be the highlight of her life, but now isn’t so sure any more. She’s tired, picking up weight again and irritable. Gertruida told her to relax – the baby will pick up on her feelings – and that only made it worse.
Dr Gene Woodcock is a short but chubby man who can never find a white coat short enough to fit his frame and wide enough to cover his middle. He looks, for all the world, like the one of the Seven Dwarfs that went to medical school. He’s called Doc for that very reason, and not because of his long string of degrees.
Despite his awkward build, he is one of the most respected academics in the world of foetal-maternal health. His research into genetic disorders has advanced the science of prenatal diagnosis tremendously.
Vetfaan likes the man – he reminds him a bit of Boggel.
“Yes…ah…you’ve had counselling, yes?” Woodcock doesn’t do small talk. He wants to make sure this couple has been prepared for this meeting, like all couples should when they visit his laboratory. He hates these consultations. Some couples are changed forever due to his findings. No, give him a test tube and a microscope – it’s much easier than telling a mother-to-be that her child is abnormal.
“Yes, Doctor.” Fanny’s voice is strained. “They were extremely thorough in explaining everything – especially the possibilities and probable consequences.” She’s slightly out of breath at the end of the sentence.
“Oh…good.” He glances down at the file and looks up in surprise. “You’re the couple from Rolbos?”
“Oh, then please convey my best wishes to Gertruida, will you? One of the most intelligent women I’ve ever met. Would love to see her again. Tell her I said so.” He riffles through the documents he brought along. “Ah yes. Interesting. Very interesting.” He fixes Fanny with a curious stare. “You know you’re expecting twins, don’t you?”
Fanny’s hand flies up as if to stop the words from reaching her ears. Vetfaan doesn’t know if he should laugh or cry.
“No? Ah…oh. Oh my. I thought they told you as much after the sonar. Well…” Woodcock sighs – he’ll have to talk to the team; they should have informed the couple. It’s so hard to get reliable help these days! “Well, you are. Boy and girl. Non-identical twins.”
“Wha…” Fanny’s pale cheeks have blanched to almost white. “Twins? Not identical? Two babies? Boy. Girl?”
“Yes. Indeed. Congratulations.”
“But I don’t understand, Doctor…” Vetfaan shakes his head. Is it possible…?
“Oh, you know how it is. Two eggs. Two sperms. Two babies. Simple. Get an extra cot, that’s all. In for a penny…”
“Wait!” Fanny tries to make sense out of it all. “That means…that means the baby girl is okay… And the boy?”
“A very good question, madam. You see – sampling the chorion like we do, it is difficult to predict everything to a 100% accuracy. Ah..well, we break the tissue down to be separate cells. One sample goes for male/female distinction. The other is analysed for the haemophilia gene. Separately they give reliable results. But…in the case of twins, things become more complicated. Did the sample come from baby A or baby B? It’s impossible to be sure, see?”
“But…what did the test show then?” Fear grips Fanny’s heart. This is impossible!
“So far we know the gene is present. It might have come from the girl, in which case we have a carrier – like we expected. But if it came from the boy…”
“Listen.” Vetfaan gets up to pace the small space behind the chairs. Then he points a trembling finger at the doctor. “That means you don’t know? That we’ve wasted our time? That, after all this effort and emotion and expense, we are still where we were? No certainty?’
Woodcock blushes. “Ah..yes. You’ve summed it up, I’m afraid.”
“Come, Fanny. Let’s go. I’m finished here. We’ve wasted our time.” He holds out a hand and helps her up. They leave without greeting.
The astronaut gets out of the robotic vehicle to inspect the blown fuse on the motor. Even with the best planning in the world, small things have the ability to wreck the most sophisticated project. And if your mishap happens when you’re out of radio range, the result can be fatal.
Vetfaan will never set foot on Mars, nor will he understand the intricate problems associated with space travel. He doesn’t have to – he has much more complicated problems on earth.
And there’s no Houston to call, either…