The Rosie Project Page 20

\Call me.\

10

The next morning, I returned with some relief to the routine that had been so severely disrupted over the past two days. My Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday runs to the market are a feature of my schedule, combining exercise, meal-ingredients purchase and an opportunity for reflection. I was in great need of the last of these.

A woman had given me her phone number and told me to call her. More than the Jacket Incident, the Balcony Meal and even the excitement of the potential Father Project, this had disrupted my world. I knew that it happened regularly: people in books, films and TV shows do exactly what Rosie had done. But it had never happened to me. No woman had ever casually, unthinkingly, automatically, written down her phone number, given it to me and said, \Call me.\ I had temporarily been included in a culture that I considered closed to me. Although it was entirely logical that Rosie should provide me with a means of contacting her, I had an irrational feeling that, when I called, Rosie would realise she had made some kind of error.

I arrived at the market and commenced purchasing. Because each day\s ingredients are standard, I know which stalls to visit, and the vendors generally have my items pre-packaged in advance. I need only pay. The vendors know me well and are consistently friendly.

However, it is not possible to time-share major intellectual activity with the purchasing process, due to the quantity of human and inanimate obstacles: vegetable pieces on the ground, old ladies with shopping buggies, vendors still setting up stalls, Asian women comparing prices, goods being delivered and tourists taking photos of each other in front of the produce. Fortunately I am usually the only jogger.

On the way home, I resumed my analysis of the Rosie situation. I realised that my actions had been driven more by instinct than logic. There were plenty of people in need of help, many in more distress than Rosie, and numerous worthy scientific projects that would represent better use of my time than a quest to find one individual\s father. And, of course, I should be giving priority to the Wife Project. Better to push Gene to select more suitable women from the list, or to relax some of the less important selection criteria, as I had already done with the no-drinking rule.

The logical decision was to contact Rosie and explain that the Father Project was not a good idea. I phoned at 6.43 a.m. on returning from the run and left a message for her to call back. When I hung up, I was sweating despite the fact that the morning was still cool. I hoped I wasn\ developing a fever.

Rosie called back while I was delivering a lecture. Normally, I turn my phone off at such times, but I was anxious to put this problem to bed. I was feeling stressed at the prospect of an interaction in which it was necessary for me to retract an offer. Speaking on the phone in front of a lecture theatre full of students was awkward, especially as I was wearing a lapel microphone.

They could hear my side of the conversation.

\Hi, Rosie.\

\Don, I just want to say thanks for doing this thing for me. I didn\ realise how much it had been eating me up. Do you know that little coffee shop across from the Commerce Building - Barista\s? How about two o\clock tomorrow?\

Now that Rosie had accepted my offer of help, it would have been immoral, and technically a breach of contract, to withdraw it.

\Barista\s 2.00 p.m. tomorrow,\ I confirmed, though I was temporarily unable to access the schedule in my brain due to overload.

\You\ e a star,\ she said.

Her tone indicated that this was the end of her contribution to the conversation. It was my turn to use a standard platitude to reciprocate, and the obvious one was the simple reflection of \You\ e a star\. But even I realised that made no sense. She was the beneficiary of my star-ness in the form of my genetics expertise. On reflection, I could have just said \Goodbye\ or \See you\, but I had no time for reflection. There was considerable pressure to make a timely response.

\I like you too.\

The entire lecture theatre exploded in applause.

A female student in the front row said, \Smooth.\ She was smiling.

Fortunately I am accustomed to creating amusement inadvertently.

I did not feel too unhappy at failing to terminate the Father Project. The amount of work involved in one DNA test was trivial.

We met at Barista\s the next day at 2.07 p.m. Needless to say, the delay was Rosie\s fault. My students would be sitting in their 2.15 p.m. lecture waiting for my arrival. My intention had been only to advise her on the collection of a DNA sample, but she seemed unable to process the instructions. In retrospect, I was probably offering too many options and too much technical detail too rapidly. With only seven minutes to discuss the problem (allowing one minute for running to the lecture), we agreed that the simplest solution was to collect the sample together.

We arrived at the residence of Dr Eamonn Hughes, the suspected father, on the Saturday afternoon. Rosie had telephoned in advance.

Eamonn looked older than I had expected. I guessed sixty, BMI twenty-three. Eamonn\s wife, whose name was Belinda (approximately fifty-five, BMI twenty-eight), made us coffee, as predicted by Rosie. This was critical, as we had decided that the coffee-cup rim would be an ideal source of saliva. I sat beside Rosie, pretending to be her friend. Eamonn and Belinda were opposite, and I was finding it hard to keep my eyes away from Eamonn\s cup.

Fortunately, I was not required to make small talk. Eamonn was a cardiologist and we had a fascinating discussion about genetic markers for cardiac disease. Eamonn finally finished his coffee and Rosie stood up to take the cups to the kitchen. There, she would be able to swab the lip of the cup and we would have an excellent sample. When we discussed the plan, I suggested that this would be a breach of social convention, but Rosie assured me that she knew Eamonn and Belinda well as family friends, and, as a younger person, she would be allowed to perform this chore. For once, my understanding of social convention proved more accurate. Unfortunately.


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