They were expecting the midwife, of course, somebody to help durng the final phases of Fanny’s pregnancy. Her time was fast approaching and Vetfaan had asked Gertruida about giving birth at home.
“Well, you know, there’s the problem of the twins. One at a time is maybe more natural, but twins might lead to complications. These days, most doctors would consider a caesarian section under these circumstances. And, may I add, we’re hours away from Upington – if anything goes wrong…”
“Ja, but you know Fanny. Her mind is made up. She says she’s from sturdy stock and that her family has always had their babies at home. Sooo…”
“Then you’ll have to get the best midwife in the country. But don’t say I didn’t warn you..”
After that, Vetfaan phoned Doctor Welman in Upington, who also gave him a speech about the babies’ safety before reluctantly supplying a number. “You won’t find anybody more competent”, those were his words.
It’s difficult to describe Lo le Roux. The high cheekbones, the monk’s rim of hair, the pointed nose of chronically inflamed adenoids, the receding chin and the bandy legs of the five-foot-four frame combine to create a caricature which at first makes you gasp – then look again if it isn’t a joke.
“I’m here,” the effeminate voice announces as the swing doors snap shut, “you sent for me.”
Even Gertruida doesn’t understand – a real rarity. “And who, may I ask, are you?”
“I’m here for the delivery.”
“Then either leave it at the back door, or at Sammies. Who is it for?”
“For….” the voice hesitated as a small hand fished a piece of paper from a breast pocket. Tiny eyes scrutinised the note before reading: “For Franny, wife of Vetfaan, care of Rolbos. Ask at Boggel’s Place..”
It’s difficult to listen to the soprano voice without grinning at the lisp..
“Oh?” Boggel gasped. “You’re the midwife?”
“No sir, I am not.” An edge to the squeaky voice makes them all look up. “I’m not a woman. I’m a midman. Got that?”
Realisation dawns. Frowns deepen. Kleinpiet gasps.
“Yes. That’s what I am. I do deliveries. At home. Preferably in the bath. Lukewarm water. Natural. As it should be.” As if in explanation, he adds, “We all came from the sea…originally.”
“You catch babies in a bath?” Precilla stares at the bandy legs of the midman, thinking he might have another reason for his methods.
“Hey, Precilla,” Servaas whispers, “he can’t even catch a pig with those legs.”
Surprisingly, the stranger hears him. “When you catch pigs, sir, the idea is to stop them. In my profession, the general idea is to allow nature to take her course, and let the object of your efforts escape to freedom. And stop staring at my legs. It’s a sore point.”
“Oh.” Boggel struggles to find words. “Well, come on then, sit down. What’ll it be?”
‘Rum. Neat. One ice. Triple.” The strange little man hoisted himself on to one of the stools and drummed his short fingers on the counter.
“Well, I’m Gertruida…” She goes on to introduce the rest. “And you are…”
“Lorenzo le Roux. Call me Lo. And I don’t like talking to strangers.”
Now this, everybody knows, is not how things happen in Boggel’s Place. You can be grumpy, sad, happy, quiet, upset, depressed, frustrated or even angry – but thou shalt not be rude to thine fellow drinkers. It is not done. Never.
Gertruida sits back to inspect the little man with a look you’d get from the speedcop outside Upington, when you try to tell him he doesn’t know how his speed trap works. (Only one person in all history has managed to do this successfully – Gertruida, of course.) This little man obviously has a chip on his shoulder, but that isn’t what worries her. The question in her mind is whether he is competent enough to manage the imminent birth; mother and twins? By the looks of it, she isn’t satisfied at all; and a triple Rum…neat? Is he an alcoholic as well?
“Have you seen the mother?”
Lo sits staring at the drink, shakes his head, plays with the ice cube.
“I don’t know,” Gertruida says after the midman left. This statement causes everybody to look up sharply. Gertruida not knowing? Unheard of. “And I definitely can’t say I’m happy. A midman? Never heard of such a thing.”
Being Lorenzo le Roux has never been easy. He can’t remember, of course, but ever since his birth, faces peeked into his cot – only to withdraw quickly. His unmarried parents fought tooth and nail about custody – neither wanted him. In the end he grew up with his grandfather – an astute Calvinist and a secret drinker. Lo – the strangely assembled boy – and Gramps – the weirdly constructed personality – were the outcasts in the sleepy town of McGregor, where Gramps eked out a living by selling the few eggs his hens produced in their backyard. Gramps attended every church service held in the town: funerals, weddings, and both services on Sundays.
Gramps taught the young Lo a few things: drinking rum was one of them. The other was never to give up hope.
“Look,” the old man told him, “you have to believe in stuff. In God, especially. Also in your hens. And, of course, in a bit of good luck.” No matter how drunk Gramps were, they’d sit around the rickety kitchen table every night while they prayed for a better life.
Lo didn’t think this to be strange – it was the only life he knew. So, after prayers one evening (he was thirteen at the time) he asked Gramps whether he thought it was right to heap all the responsibility for their future on God.
“Shouldn’t we do something as well, Gramps? After all, the Bible is full of examples where people had a hard time because they didn’t do what God expected of them. The old Israelites spent ages in the desert and Samson was killed. Maybe that’s why we have so many problems?”
Gramps peered at the boy with his watery eyes, smiled his sad smile and ruffled his hair. “You’re a clever one, aren’t you?” This was said kindly, like adults do when they talk to minors who understand nothing. “I’ll tell you what: if you come up with a plan, we’ll do it. Until then we’re in God’s hands, child. Never forget that.”
That’s when Lo started saving his pocket money (a meagre fifty cents per week). After five months, he produced his twenty one Rand, and asked Gramps to buy a Lotto ticket.
“Combine our birthday dates, and play those numbers.” To make sure the old man didn’t give in to the temptation to buy more rum, Lo accompanied Gramps to the café, where he oversaw the transaction which made them the proud owners of one Lotto ticket.
They didn’t win the grand prize because they only had five of the six numbers correct. But…five numbers paid out R200,000 that time, a veritable fortune and the single factor that changed Lo’s life.
Gramps said God works like that: He won’t give you more than you need. But, he said, it proves his point: the Lord provides…
“What makes a man become a midwife?” Precilla signals for another beer. “Surely it isn’t normal.”
Indeed. But then again, nothing about Lo fits into the conventional way of doing things. Like in all our lives, normal is a relative concept…