Her unsmiling, unhappy face popped through the doorway, and then out again, to the front desk. The phone rang, and with a huff, she answered it, dealt with the call. I was feeling that something was going on, but what? I pulled a text book out of the library, and sat down again, looking (I hoped) as if I were researching some case. Her head popped into view again, she took a breath as if to say something, and then disappeared again. Finally she walked in.
“There’s an alpaca needs vet checking, and blood collecting, and Peter’s too far away to be able to do it, and it needs to be done now!” she blurted out. “You’d better go and do it. These are VERY valuable animals, so make sure you do a good job.” She thrust a bit of paper with an address towards me, gave a sniff dripping with frustration and disapproval, and turned on her heel.
I got myself together, and walked out through the waiting room to my truck. Her dark eyes followed me, glaring, a palpable pressure on my back as I stepped out the door. The constant weight of her displeasure lifted off my shoulders as I shut the door and turned the key. The old truck kicked into life, and I took off, simply happy to be out on the road, and away from the pit of gloom and misery that was the main clinic.
It was a long drive, plenty of time to enjoy the day. The sun, a clear, burning spark in the huge blue bowl of the sky, an early autumn day, warm, dry, and a sense of deep contentment washed through me. I had an afternoon to myself! I’d never seen an alpaca before – they were the next big thing, people were paying tens of thousands for them, and a baby one was worth a lot of money as soon as it hit the ground. Hence the examination and blood collection, for insurance purposes. I meandered from the flat sandy coastal plains, up into more hilly country, with the twisted beauty of trees dancing across the landscape. Finally I pulled up at the farmhouse, and a cheery fellow in a stained hat and well worn work clothes unfolded himself from the steps, taking my hand in a firm grasp, and introducing himself, quietly.
“They’re just down the back,” he informed me. “Could you give me a lift?
“Sure,” I replied.
I had to collect the pile of worksheets and papers from the passenger seat to make a clear space for him, and we rolled off up the hill. He was a man of few words, but the silence was companionable, comfortable.
“There they are,” he said.
I pulled over, and killed the clatter and racket of the diesel engine. The silence of the bush, embellished with occasional bird calls, embraced us. I gathered a stethoscope, a syringe, vacutainers for the blood, and went over with him to the alpaca, and her cria. She looked at me with big, liquid eyes, and I looked back with a little trepidation. I knew they were inclined to spit big gobs of foul smelling spit on people!
“She’ll be ok,” he told me, with a quiet smile. “I’ll hold her, you check the little one over.”
The little one was asleep, and I squatted down. As I touched her, she opened her eyes, and gently stretched, but stayed there, all curled up. I checked her all over, listened to her heart, took her temperature, all fine. As I did so, the head of her mother gently and anxiously danced around my vision, as her long neck craned here and there, and she carefully observed what I was doing to her baby. She sniffed at me, and gently checked me out. Finally, I got the man to help me hold the little one, and drew out a couple of tubes full of blood from her gently pulsing jugular vein.
“She seem totally fine,” I told him. I just need to fill in all the paperwork for you, and get the bloods processed, but I can’t see any problem.”
He just nodded, a man of few words. He had a deep happiness about him though, and nothing needed to be said.
I got back in the truck, and cruised gently back towards the home base. I was even out of reach of the two way radio, a rare and wonderful thing. It wasn’t too long before the boss’s wife’s voice crackled and cut through my revery, though…
“Edward! Can you hear me? I’ve been calling you for ages! There’s a calving to do on your way home, they’ve been waiting for an hour now, and I need you to get there right now! Are you there?” Her displeasure was clear in the tone, abrasive and cutting. She signed off with an audible sniff, and I replied after a moment or two, stealing a last little bit of peace before being sucked back into the vortex of work.