by Jenny Young
Marina’s scar was invisible. It was inflicted before she was born. Nobody noticed it except her best friend, Gabby.
“I hate Father’s Day!” Marina’s sharp face wore its habitual scowl. “All those poised, confident girls out for dinner with their fathers ..” She spat on the dusty ground next to the concrete school bench.
“You’re not the only one without a father, you know.” Gabby looked down as she doodled in the sand.
Marina almost said, “But I don’t come from a broken family,” but she stopped herself. It would be unkind to remind Gabby that her father had walked out when she was two. She looked at her friend’s blonde ponytail shining like gold in the sunlight. She wished she was pretty and blonde like Gabby.
Marina felt her insides doing cartwheels while she gathered herself to tell her friend what she could barely keep to herself anymore. She took a deep breath of air dusty from Gabby’s scribblings.
“Gabby, can you keep a secret?” Marina looked at her hands, lacing her fingers together then twisting them into unnatural positions.
“Durr! Did I tell anybody it was you that slashed Angelique’s backpack straps with a scalpel? Did I rat on you when Daniella’s bracelet from her father ended up in the dustbin? How can you ask me a question like that? What kind of friend do you think I am?”
“Calm down. It’s just that I haven’t told anybody … and I’m scared.”
Gabby nodded. “Gotcha. Now what is this big secret?”
Marina twisted her short dark curls. “Well, you know I have been seeing a counsellor, right?”
“Oh yeah! After your third detention in a month your Moms decided to take action. I feel for you.”
“It was Debbi who actually found Eleanor and made the appointment.”
“Which one is she again? I can never remember. Is she the tall dark one who’s your biological mother?”
“No,” said Marina, “That’s June. Debbi is pretty and blonde with blue eyes. Anyway, last Monday after Father’s Day I confessed to Eleanor that I sometimes wished I had a father who thought I was beautiful and clever. She said it was normal for girls like me to fantasize about a father figure and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it.”
“Did that help?”
“No. It made me feel that there was something less than normal about ‘girls like me.’ Then I thought that I actually do have a biological father – the man who donated the sperm for June’s pregnancy. Maybe one of my Moms would tell me who he is.”
“So did you ask them?”
“Well June didn’t want to talk about it but Debbi told me about him. He studied medicine with them at the Universitas hospital in Bloemfontein where Debbi and June met. His name is Dave Saunders. I googled him. He’s a dermatologist in Pretoria.”
“Wow.” Gabby’s eyes opened wide at this exciting development. “That’s not even all that far from Sandton. What are you going to do?”
“I’ve already done it.” Marina felt breathless. “I did the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. I sent him an e mail. I introduced myself and asked if he remembered Debbi and June.”
“And..” Gabby leaned forward expectantly. Her doodling was long forgotton.
Marina took a folded paper from her top blazar pocket. “I’m meeting him tomorrow.” She unfolded the letter and smoothed it out on her lap. She read aloud. “Dear Marina, of course I remember Debbi and June. When Debbi asked if I would help, I did it as a gift for someone I loved. I would love to meet you. Can you make Wednesday 30th June at 10am?”
“I am so happy for you.” Gabby gave her friend a big bear hug.
“I’m going to bunk school tomorrow and catch the Gautrain to Pretoria. His rooms are about five blocks from the station.”
“What are you going to wear?”
“Trust you to think about clothes at a time like this.” Marina gave her friend a playful push. “Do you have any suggestions?”
“You’ve got so many lovely clothes. I sometimes think your Moms try to outdo each other in buying you gifts. How about that jade green silk blouse with some nice black slacks? That colour brings out the golden flecks in your hazel eyes,” said Gabby.
“You really think so? I was thinking maybe something that won’t make me look too tall and thin and flat.”
“Team it up with a jacket and you’ll look sophisticated and grown up,” suggested Gabby. “Hey, here comes June, I think, to fetch you.”
Sure enough a sporty red BMW drew up outside the school. Marina picked up her bag and walked to the car. “I’ll tell you all about it on Thursday,” she said over her shoulder. “Wish me luck. “ She climbed in and waved as the car pulled off.
That night Marina unpacked her school bag and put all her books and stationery under her bed. Then she carefully packed what she needed. She barely slept and when she did, she dreamed she was climbing a steep hill to get to a treasure. Each time she climbed a little way she lost her footing and slid down again.
Debbi woke her with coffee. The steamy exotic smell wafted in and out of the dream.
“Morning Sweetheart,” she said. “June got a call in the middle of the night and had to go to the hospital. One of her patients went into cardiac arrest. I’m taking you today.”
Marina quickly went into her morning routine, taking glugs of coffee every time she moved from her bathroom back to her bedroom and thinking about what lay ahead.
There was a panicky moment when Debbi offered to pack her lunch but Marina managed to avert that one.
Once Debbi had dropped her outside the school and waved goodbye, Marina walked quickly to the Gautrain Bus stop and caught the 7.45 bus to the Sandton Gautrain station. She would change in the bathroom there. Engine fumes from the open window and the jarring of the bus made her feel nauseous.
The train ride didn’t help. Marina had her back to the engine and the acceleration combined with the high pitched electric noise just seemed to tie her insides in knots. She hoped the five block walk would relax her.
It didn’t. With each step Marina could feel her breakfast bouncing. The early morning traffic noise just compounded her discomfort.
When she got to the Medical centre she consulted the information board and headed for the thirteenth floor. She didn’t have long to wait before the efficient receptionist said, “You can go in now. Doctor is waiting for you.”
Marina took a deep breath to settle her stomach and walked in.
Doctor Saunders looked just like his photo on the website. What surprised her though, was how tall he was when he stood up to greet her. His hazel eyes seemed confused.
“Marina? You don’t look a bit like…” He stopped. Then started again. “You look just like….” His face seemed to crumple. “Excuse me. I won’t be a moment.” He hurried to a small room at the far end of the office. Marina heard him blow his nose then she heard the toilet flush.
The nausea threatened to erupt. Marina had to swallow a couple of times before she could quell it. It was all a mistake. He thought she was Debbi’s daughter. That’s who he wanted to see. What a mess. Perhaps she should just quietly leave.
Before she could move Doctor Saunders came back. “I’m so sorry,” he said. It was more of a shock than I expected. I never realised. A test tube of sperm is one thing, a beautiful fifteen year old daughter is quite another. You look so much like my mother when she was younger. She died in January.” His face looked unstable again but he managed to settle it. He took a photo out of his jacket pocket. “That’s her. She was an amazing woman. I miss her so much. Don’t you think she was beautiful? And so intelligent.” He showed Marina the photo. She saw an older woman with dark curly hair and hazel eyes. “You are just like her. I bet you are top of your class.”
Marina looked down. She didn’t want to tell him her teachers said she was under-achieving. But all that was going to change. She was going to take charge of her life. She had a father who thought she was beautiful and clever.
“If it’s OK with Debbi and June, I’d like to make contact. Can you give me their e mail addresses? We three used to be good friends.” He looked wistful and uncertain. “I don’t know what happened.”
Marina’s heart was light and an unaccustomed smile hovered across her face. “Sure thing,” she said.
It wasn’t a healing but it was a start.