Tag Archives: pregnancy

Lo le Roux – Travelling Midman (# 1)

midwifeThey 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.

“Midman?”

“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.”

***

images (42)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…

Fanny’s Surprise (# 30)

images (97)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.

images (96)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?”

Vetfaan nods.

“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…

Fanny’s Surprise (# 28)

“I thought so.” Gertruida, who will never admit surprise, sits back with a knowing smile. “She had the look.”

“What look?”

“The pregnant look, Boggel. Women who are expecting, look different. And they get moody.”

“I bow, madam, to your superior knowledge.” Boggel knows her well enough not to pry any further. “And now they’re off to see Oudoom? That’d be interesting – her being Catholic and all that.”

“I don’t think Oudoom has ever managed so many problems in such a short time.” She lifts her glass in a mock salute. “But of course, he’s not the one I’m worried about. Servaas can be very narrow-minded sometimes. Even worse – he’s got his black suit on today. It spells trouble.”

***

Servaas, as head elder (and the only one) of the congregation, sits stiffly next to Oudoom. On the other side of the table, Vetfaan and Fanny share worried frowns and anxious looks. They’ve just told Oudoom about the pregnancy, and want to get married as soon as possible.

“Wait a minute.” Servaas has his brows knitted together again – it’s a bad sign. “If you’re pregnant, that means you had….sex? ” He whispers the last word. “Before marriage? Before?”

Fanny feels the muscles in Vetfaans shoulders bunch up.

“Yes, Servaas. We did that thing you can’t even say. It’s a horrible, despicable, loathable act between two people in love.” The veins on his forehead stand out as he speaks. “And you know what? It was one of the holiest moments of my life. Maybe you never loved anybody as much, and I pity you for that. And now, now you’re addressing Fanny and ignoring me – as if she did something wrong. Remember the incident when Jesus came upon the adulterous woman? The one the crowd wanted to kill?

“You’re that same crowd, Servaas. You’re standing there, stone in hand, ready to kill the sinner. Now, let me ask you…what did the crowd say or do to the man involved?” He pauses, breathing hard. “Let me tell you: he doesn’t even get a mention. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Not a single word. They were ready to take the woman’s life, while the man probably bragged about his conquest in the nearest bar…”

“Now, Vetfaan, maybe…” Oudoom tries to calm the big man, but he’s not having any of it.

“No, Oudoom, I’m sorry. The Bible is full of stories about inappropriate sexual conduct. We read about so many whores – and then we read about David. The women get slandered, but David was ‘a man of God’. Men get excused, but women get blamed for sinning. And yet, one prophet was told to marry a woman of ill repute – to be a symbol of God’s union with a sinning community. Go read Hosea, Servaas.

“And don’t you ever, ever insinuate that Fanny is a whore, Servaas. By all that’s holy, I swear you’ll regret it.”

Servaas doesn’t want to back down. “Don’t you get riled up, Vetfaan. Right is right. Wrong is wrong, All I’m saying is that there’s no such thing as a small sin. And sex before marriage is a sin. Full stop.”

Vetfaan gets up to tower above the old man. Oudoom wants to intervene again, but a furious glance from Vetfaan makes him sit back. Where’s Mevrou when I need her…?

“You go get your Bible, old man. And then you show me where it says sex before marriage is wrong. The Book teaches us about fidelity, but then we read about Solomon’s vast harem. I’m not going to argue about nonsense, Servaas. I’m telling you to get off your high horse. This,” he points at Fanny, “is the woman I love. She was brought up as a Catholic and we had sex before we got a piece of paper to say we’re committed to each other. If you can’t live with that, then so be it. I’m not asking you to understand or condone anything. I’m telling you we’re getting married, and that’s it. Either Oudoom agrees to confirm our loyalty to each other, or I’ll get a magistrate to do so. Is that clear?”

Fanny tries to keep a straight face, but Vetfaan’s outburst brings back the guilt she feels about the evening with Henry Hartford III. As she bursts out in tears, her raw howl of anguish fills the room. Vetfaan swirls around to try and calm her down.

“No…Fanie…sniff!…Servaas is right. There’s something I must confess…”

***

When she stops talking, nobody says anything for a long time. Vetfaan, ashen-faced, stares at Fanny with the saddest eyes. Servaas sits back in triumph, satisfied that his opinion was vindicated. Oudoom gets up quietly to fetch the bottle of brandy he hides behind the books on the shelf.

“Now listen,” he says, still searching for words, “don’t let us get carried away here. First of all: I don’t care much about the differences we humans like to tag our faith with. Originally there was one God and one faith. Then some people started telling each other their faith – their church – is the right one. Now we have thousands and thousands of churches, faiths and religions. I wonder what God thinks of that. After all – there can only be one God, one Creator. My idea is that it is important to live your faith by showing others kindness, compassion, respect. That’s what God wants – not this plethora of churches vying for the attention of people in search of God. And you know what drives most churches? Not faith, my friends. Money. Power. That’s what. I think God cringes when He sees what we have done with His commandments.

“So, Servaas, her being a Catholic simply means she’s also looking for the answers, just like we are.” Oudoom hands out the glasses with the neat brandy, even serving a very small portion to Fanny.  “Now…as for the evening with Henry? That’s more difficult.”

“At that stage Fanny knew how much Vetfaan loved her. It was wrong. A mistake. But…don’t we all make mistakes? Henry Hartford was a troubled young man. He could manipulate his way into any situation. He used and abused people…and then he saved Fanny’s life…. by sacrificing his own. That tells me a lot – he wanted you, Fanny, to have the future he couldn’t have himself. In giving his life, he blessed the union between you and Vetfaan. I think he had  a moment of clarity and honesty, and he knew…

“So, Vetfaan, if Henry gave his life – tell me – what are you prepared to give?”

“But Dominee…” Servaas is still upset.

“No Servaas, this is not the time to come with your own preconceived ideas. The Bible teaches us about love and forgiveness. To a certain extent, the question I asked Vetfaan is the same question I direct to you. Both of you: are you brave enough to live your faith…or do you read your Bible only to get handy arguments against your fellow men and women? Select verses to feed your sick egos? Don’t, gentlemen, be hypocrites. Love. Forgive. And live in peace. You’re so busy with loving your own little egos, that loving thy neighbour means nothing to you. Quite frankly, I’m disgusted…” The speech leaves the clergyman breathless. Where did that come from?

Servaas sits back suddenly, struck by the enormity of what Oudoom has just said. The Bible is a guide to living a pure life, a kind life – and nobody is so perfect, so holy, to be able to adhere to every letter of the Book. His self-righteousness disappears in a flash.

Fanny dares not look up. Why did she tell them? She should have stayed quiet, and a lot of the anguish would have been spared. Sobbing softly, she storms from the room.

Vetfaan sinks his head into his hands and nearly misses the motions Servaas is making with his hands. Go after her, they tell him, go after her you bloody fool! Now!

Big Question… Listen to the video and then answer the question:

There are two types of crowds. The one is ready to throw stones. The other joins Rod and Amy in singing.  There’s no middle ground;  you can belong to only one of the two…the question is: which?

Fanny’s surprise (# 27)

Vetfaan’s thoughts galvanise his inert body to life. His hands let go of the steering wheel and his legs propel him around the vehicle, to kneel next to the nauseous Fanny.

“Are you all right?”

She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, her eyes red and teary.

“I’m feeling on top of the world, you idiot! Look at me! I’m the epitome of sparkling, vivacious health. Not a bloody thing wrong with me. I just love vomiting, that’s all!” The smouldering fury in her eyes suddenly softens as she sees the impact of her outburst.”…Oh….I’m sorry. Really. Don’t known what came over me…”

Vetfaan sits down on the soft sand to inspect the woman he loves. Now, with the tussled hair and the wry smile of apology, she is more beautiful than ever. When he opens his mouth to say something – anything – she holds up a hand.

“No, don’t say anything, Fanie.” She’s back in control again – it’s the old Fanny speaking with the soft voice and the demure eyes again. “ I’m….late. You know? That evening in Japan…”

Vetfaan gapes at her, fighting for breath. “You sure?”

“No, Fanie. I’m not sure of anything!” The eyes are blazing again. “It could have been the hundreds of men I’ve met in the meantime. Maybe Oudoom, even. You know me: Fanny-the-good-time-girl. I have no morals – I sleep with everybody. Don’t ask stupid questions, dammit!”

Vetfaan gets up and walks off into the veld. Wow! What the hell is happening? Where did this temper come from? The mood swing from angry to soft? Is this what pregancy is all about? If it is, then it’s a wonder that there the human race survived so far! He stops to stare at two eagles, soaring high above.

They mate for life, too… The thought strikes him with considerable force. If Fanny is pregnant… He walks back to her to sit down again.

“I’m so sorry,” he says softly.

“Not more than me, you oaf! Look what I’’ve done! One night. One single night. One moment of ecstacy. And you know how I’m going to pay for this? A lifetime of misery, that’s what. If I carry this child to full term, I’m going to face the consequences for years and years to come.” She starts sobbing and when Vetfaan puts an arm around her shoulders, she brushes it away. “You’ve done enough damage, Fanie. Don’t make it worse.”

“Okay. You’re upset. Even me, the stupid oaf, can see that. Me, the perpetrator of the ultimate crime, understand that  this is all my fault. Despite my incredible lack of intelligence, I realise my part of this horrible situation.” He’s angry now, and his voice is edged with hurt. “But now you listen to me: if you’re pregnant, we’re in this together…”

“Of course you are! You, the magnifcent manly sperm donor, is going to be the mother of a cripple…”

“Oh shut up! Don’t be like that! Stop it. You’re making the most beautiful thing that ever happened to you into a tragedy. It’s great news! Come on, cheer up.” He suddenly realises what she said. “…What do you mean – a cripple?”

She sighs as she leans against his broad chest. “I’m sorry, Fanie. Really.  I don’t know how to handle these mood swings – they get me down. Catches me unawares. We must talk. Maybe on the farm? And…I want to have an avocado pear. I don’t suppose…?”

Vetfaan rocks back, laughing at the idea that one can find an avocado in the Kalahari. “We can go back to Sammie’s. to see if he’s got some? Or I can drive to Upington – we’ll certainly get some at the Spar.”

“Oh you big, hulky bear!” She reaches up to plant a kiss on his cheek. “I know you will. I’ll settle for an egg and bully beef sandwich. You can do that, can’t you?”

***

“Haemophilia? The bleeding thing?” Vetfaan watches as she wipes the plate with the last crust of the toast. “They treat that these days, don’t they?”

images (92)“It’s better than before, that’s for sure. Stiil, those boys get bleeding into their joints, causing deformity and loss of function. They can’t play rugby, Fanie.”

“Then he’ll play the violin…carefully. Listen, I know this is such a big thing for both of us, but hey, whetever happens, we’ll handle it. We’ll talk to Gertruida. She’ll know all the medical facts. Other than that, it’s up to genetics – and God’s grace. One thing is certain: if you – or I – try to handle this alone, we’ll never make it. But…if we face this together, at least we retain the one thing that’s almost as important: us. I don’t want to lose that. Please Fanny? Can’t we…?

He doesn’t get to finish the sentence. She kisses him with such passion that he blushes.

When at last he gets his breath back, he manages to ask: “What was that about?”

“I’m going to be a mommy, Fanie. You’re going to be a daddy. Don’t you think it’s great?”

“Indeed I do. I’m not quite sure whether I’ll live that long, that’s all. There’s a real possibility that you’ll decapitate me before that, especially if you go on the way you are right now.”

She buries her head under his chin, avoiding his eyes. How can she tell him about Henry Hartford? That night after she talked to the sponsors and Gertruida’s DVD was flashed on the screen, she really believed he loved her. She remembers her thought at the time: He of few words, but a heart of gold…

They had dinner afterwards.He ordered champagne. Then…then…the evening didn’t end there. It was a mere two days after her return from Yokohama. And now…now she’s pregnant. What if Henry was subfertile, and not infertile? He had admitted – quite some time ago when their parents were planning the wedding – that the chances of him fathering a child were extremely slim. What, exactly, does that mean? That it isn’t impossible that she might be carrying his child? And she now can’t be sure, how can she? There’s no way of knowing now, not with Henry dead and buried.

“Oh Fanie.”

“Ag, come on, Fanny. It’s our child, my love. We’ll make it work, you’ll see. Hush now. Shhhh…”

She tries to speak, but the words just won’t come. How I wish, she thinks, that things weren’t so complicated…

If one day you should ever disappear
Always remember these words
If one day we had to say goodbye
And our love should fade away and die
In my heart you will remain here
And I’II sing a hymn to love

Fanny’s Surprise (# 26)

“What’s this thing with women, Boggel? One moment they’re blowing hot, the next you’re skidding along head-first on the ice. Look at Fanny now. Yesterday she was full of sweet words and hugs – and today she might as well be somewhere on Mars…or even in another galaxy.  I don’t understand it.”

“You’ll have to get used to it, Vetfaan. The intricacies of the female thought process will forever be hidden to the male’s mind. They have trigger points for happy, sad, angry, hurt and rejection that just doesn’t exist in men. We are like the old wind-up toys we had when we were young; they’re like the modern games on computer. There’s no comparison between the two. The technology  changed. Of course, seeing that Adam was the prototype, Eve must have been an upgrade.”

“Don’t joke,” Vetfaan sighs as he points to his empty glass, “The old Ford pickup is such a straight-forward machine. It needs petrol, a battery and clean spark plugs – and it’ll take you anywhere. I had a look at one of the new BMW’s in Upington the other day, and couldn’t figure out where the radiator was.”

“Still, the basics remain remarkably the same. Look: what do you want in a relationship? “ Boggel pushes over the cold beer. “Only one word: respect. All the other emotions rest on that one single thing; it is the petrol that keeps the engine running. You can’t love somebody that doesn’t respect you. You can’t be loyal or trust someone who thinks you are worthless. Commitment, compassion, companionship? Without respect, it’s impossible.

“Now, with women it is the same. You respect her, and you’ve got a chance.” Boggel spreads his arms wide, smiling wryly. “Soo… if she is distant today, respect that. Be kind. Don’t push too hard – but don’t pull away either. Distance, Vetfaan, is what kills relationships. If you want this thing to work, you have to be near enough to be there for her – but also far away enough to give her space to work out whatever is bothering her.”

***

Gertruida lives within a much more complicated mind than Boggel will ever guess at. Her vast encyclopaedic  memory banks are the result of a unique combination of intelligence genes, a photographic memory and years of reading everything she can lay her hands on.  Ask her about the working of the brain in a man, and she’ll draw a straight line (usually after wetting her finger in Kleinpiet’s beer) on the counter top.

“Connect A with B. That’s it.”

However, both she and Boggel are only halfway correct: ask Kleinpiet…

“It is true that men are blessed with a much more logical circuit in their brains. When it comes to making gears fit and engines turn, men can focus exclusively on the problem and concentrate all their energies to one single task. Women keep on running a number of other programs in their minds, which causes them to spend thinking energy on a lot of unnecessary issues at critical times. This, my friends, is the defect they try to hide. No exclusive focus. Men are streets ahead of them in that department.”

Which just goes to show: nobody has a clue…

***

Vetfaan drives back to the farm in silence. Next to him Fanny stares out at the barren veld, occasionally wiping a tear from a rosy cheek.

Vetfaan has no idea what to do, or what to say. Okay, so he’ll respect her silence. Okay, he’ll give her space… But what does that solve? Anything…?

The road to the farm is a twisting two-tracked path across the thick sand, forcing the driver to keep up the speed in order to maintain momentum. Too slow, and you’ll get stuck. Too fast, and the vehicle will veer off into the veld.

That’s when, at last, the little light bulb above Vetfaan’s head suddenly glowed brightly.

“You’re a sandy track, Fanny.” He glances over to see if she heard. “I understand that now. To use Boggel’s word, I respect that; and I don’t want to rush you at all. But, whatever is bothering you right now…well, it won’t go away if we don’t talk about it. If we lose momentum, we’ll get stuck. If I push too hard, we’ll lose our way. Now, I’m not sure what brought this mood on; but if we can’t get those pistons to fire again, we’re going nowhere.”

She draws her feet up, onto the seat, to hug her knees against her chest. Gertruida would have likened it to an upright foetal position.

“Do you want children, Fanie? A boychild to follow in Pappa’s footsteps?”

The question catches Vetfaan completely off-guard.

“Shouldn’t we get married, first? And before that, we must get engaged. And before that, I must ask your hand in marriage.” He tugs on the steering wheel to keep the wheels in the tracks. “But to answer the question: babies should be planned, as far as I’m concerned. It’s an issue to be decided between two people, not just one. So…if I ask you, if you say yes, if we get married, and if we wanted a child, we can think about trying. It’s not about me or the farm, Fanny. It’s about us.”

Fanie!” The unexpected shout almost makes Vetfaan swerve off the road. “Stop! Stop now!”

“I…I can’t, Fanny. Not here. The sand is too thick.”

Her hand flies to her mouth and for a second, her cheeks bulge.

“Fanie, if you don’t stop now, I’ll vomit all over your dashboard. Stop! Now!”

A few seconds later Vetfaan sits frozen with his hands clamped around the spokes of the steering wheel, listening to the retching outside. Slowly, ever so slowly, he feels the blood draining from his face. Even the male mind can connect different sets of dots; and now, with realisation dawning, Vetfaan lets his head sink to his hands.

What’ll Oudoom say…?

Weekly Writing Challenge: Shifting Perspectives

http://www.keepthetailwagging.com/are-we-over-vaccinating-our-pets/let-sleeping-dogs-lie/Listen, just because I’m a dog, doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I follow the news too, you know? The little transistor on Boggel’s counter is on most of the time. And most of the time it’s turned down real soft, so the people can hear each other while they talk about the weather and other unimportant things. I find that a bit stupid; if you’ll excuse my saying so; the only weather out here, is drought. Talking about it won’t make it rain, will it?

Dogs have better ears than humans. If fact, there are a lot of things we do better than them. My nose is far superior, for one thing. And dogs don’t use guns to kill each other. We don’t need politics. We don’t have bank accounts. No matter what life throws at us, we’ll always find a comfortable spot in the sun and sleep it off. Being human must be hard, to say the least.

Take pregnancies, for instance. The guys at the bar were talking about (you guessed it!) the drought a minute ago, when the radio said some princess is expecting a baby. Now I ask you: how important is that? Females are supposed to have babies. If they don’t, there’d be nobody around in a few years’ time. And now, just because a clever girl managed to put a leash on somebody who was born in a palace, the whole of England is talking about her morning sickness.

People are crazy. The radio didn’t say much about Syria and Sudan and the Congo and the killing that went on today – but it went on and on about some poor baby that’ll become king in twenty or thirty year’s time; maybe even longer.

“Hey, you guys, Vrede is moping again.” Vetfaan leans over the counter to look at Vrede, who is resting on Boggel’s cushion down there.

“Dogs don’t mope, Vetfaan. They sleep and eat and … do other things. Stop humanizing the poor creature. Here, give him a piece of biltong.” Gertruida hates to be interrupted.  She is busy telling the little crowd in the bar about the ruling party’s congress near Bloemfontein, and wants to get back to her subject. “Well, as I was saying: they’re going to spend millions on that congress. The delegates will stay in the five-star hotels, eat in the posh restaurants and hire flashy cars. Then they’ll nurse hang-overs while they decide to nominate the president for president – again. Nothing will change. It’s such a waste of money.”

There. They’re at it again. Talking about things they can’t change. One day. I’d like it if somebody said something that made a difference. We dogs don’t work like that. We accept things. If it’s wet outside, we stay inside. If it’s cold, we settle in front of the fire. But people! They’ll talk and talk about circumstances, even though it won’t change anything. That congress and the pregnancy are prime examples: whoever will be king or president, won’t stop the world turning, will it? It’s like the drought – it’ll only end when the rains come.

Me? I’ll just close my eyes and doze off a little.

***

Maybe Vrede is right. If we removed the simple, nonsensical things we say to family and friends from our conversations, an eerie silence will settle in the world. Millions of people will stare at the blinking cursor on their Facebook page, trying to figure out how to say something that’ll add value to the lives of others. Telephone companies will go bust. The flashing of little lights on Google’s huge computers will slow down – and stop. Trash cans will fill up with iPhones and Blackberries. The drums in Africa will fall silent.

Maybe then, for the first time ever, we’d be able to hear each other. Like Vrede below the counter in the bar, we won’t worry what some Bulldog in Cape Town barked about, or what some cute Corgi is expecting. We’ll be listening for the distant thunder that’ll announce the rain, or the patter of drops on the tin roof. We’ll hear the music of the evening’s breeze. We’ll share joy and pain without trying to sound important. And we’ll say only important words, like I love you, or I’m sorry.

Maybe, even, we’ll stop killing each other.

Ah well. Like Vrede, we can dream, can’t we? It really should be a dog’s world, after all.