As I tie the laces on my trusty red Converse shoes it feels like I have a million butterflies fluttering around my stomach. I’m nervous and excited at the same time. I turned 19 three weeks ago and I’m about to enroll to the Norwegian Business School. I haven’t lived in Norway since I was a toddler and now I’m back in my hometown; Oslo and today is the first day of school.
My father is journalist and he works as a foreign correspondent for a Norwegian press agency. Mom is a freelance photographer that often works for the same agency as Dad. When I was only three years old my father got his first assignment abroad; in London and we moved there. Later Washington D.C, Los Angeles and Brisbane were added to the list of cities we’ve lived in. For the past seven years my family has called Pretoria, South Africa home.
I have never felt a strong connection to Norway. I was so young when we left and we have only been back for visits once or twice a year. My passport says I’m Norwegian, but I honestly feel more South African. I have lived there since I was twelve and we’ve really settled in there. I think I shocked everyone; family and friends, when I announced that I wanted to go to college in Norway. I even surprised myself a little when I made the decision.
An hour later I have made it through a long queue to get my information packet and I’m headed to the auditorium where the enrollment ceremony will be held. From what I’ve read about it on the student union website it’s pretty much an orientation meeting.
By the time I arrive in the auditorium it’s starting to fill up, but luckily there are several available seats on the back row. For some reason I have always preferred to sit in the back of the classroom or auditorium. I slide into the third seat from the aisle, put the envelope I with my information packet down on the desk in front of me and dig out my notebook and a pen from my well-worn leather messenger bag. Before I place the bag on the floor under my seat I double-check that I’ve turned off the sound on my iPhone.
A soft clicking sound catch my attention a few minutes later and I look up to see a man making his way toward the available aisle seat next to me. He is on forearm crutches and I assume he wear braces on his legs. I can’t stop myself from watching him as he plants the crutches in front of him and swing his legs forward so they land even with the crutch tips. He makes it look easy and his fluid almost graceful movements mesmerize me.
From I was young I’ve been fascinated by people using wheelchairs, braces, crutches...; and as I’ve grown older my attraction has narrowed down to paraplegic men. There’s something about the contrast between their strong upper bodies and thin, motionless legs that I find incredibly sexy. I would’ve been attracted to this guy if he was in a wheelchair, but braces and crutches are just incredibly hot.
It doesn’t hurt that he is devastatingly handsome; straight nose, chiseled jaw, slightly shaggy dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes that are framed by a pair of stylish horn rimmed glasses. He is dressed in a pair of dark, loose fitting jeans and a plain navy blue V-necked t-shirt that hugs him in all the right places and reveals a lean, yet muscular upper body. His feet are clad in a pair of Nike sneakers.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” Suddenly he is right next to me and the sound of his deep baritone voice startles me slightly.
“It’s all yours,” I announce while I smile at him and hope I sound less flustered than I feel. I also hoped I didn’t mess up my Norwegian too much. It’s kind of rusty; English is my first language and although my parents have tried to always speak Norwegian at home I’m not native fluent.
“Thanks,” he say as he lower himself down so he is sitting on the side of the seat with his legs straight out in front of him. Then he slide his arms out of the cuffs of his crutches and lean them against the empty seat between us before he removes his backpack and places that on the same seat. Finally he unlocks his braces and uses his hands to swing his legs in front of the seat. After shifting his weight quickly and very subtly he reaches for his backpack and get a notebook, pencil case and a bottle of water out of it.
He turns and smiles at me and I have a feeling he’s about to say something, but the lights in the auditorium dim and music start coming from the speakers around the room and we both turn our attention to the big screen above the podium.
After the ceremony in the main auditorium is over we are divided into groups based on our majors and whisked off to other, smaller auditoriums to get more course specific information. The guy on crutches vanishes surprisingly fast and when I enter the auditorium my class was told to meet in he was nowhere to be seen. I feel a bit silly, but I really hoped he’d be in my class.
The rest of the week is a blur of activities. In addition to starting classes there are lots of activities to help people get to know each other. I’m surprised by how hard people are partying. Some of my fellow students are drunk every night that week. It’s not something that appeals to me and I think I’m seen as boring by many because I don’t drink as much and leave the parties early so I’ll be able to focus at school the next day.
Over the next couple of weeks I settle into life at school. It’s pretty busy, but I find most of my subjects interesting and dive eagerly into my studies. The social side of things isn’t great. I’m still treated as a bit of an outsider, most of the activities my fellow students invite me along to involved partying and drinking, which is just not my thing.
I miss my friends and family back in South Africa and try to find time to Skype with my friends there almost daily. I sometimes regret not joining my best friend who is studying at the University of Cape Town. I see the guy on crutches around a few times, but only from a distance. The sight of him makes my heart skip a beat (or three) and I wish I could work up the courage to approach him.
About a month after the start of the semester I’m sitting in the cafeteria, eating lunch. Normally I bring a packed lunch, but today a salad from the salad bar was just too tempting. It’s peak lunch hour and most of the tables are occupied. I’m reading an email from a friend back in South Africa on my iPhone while eating and don’t really pay attention to what’s going on around me.
“Hi!” A vaguely familiar male voice startles me slightly. I put my phone down and look straight into the face of the guy on crutches. It takes me a moment to realize he’s seated in a wheelchair.
“Uhh…hi,” I manage to squeak out. Smooth, Sigrid. Very smooth, I berate myself.
“You probably don’t remember me, I sat next to you at the enrollment ceremony,” he starts, he seems a bit unsure of himself.
“I remember,” I reply lamely. I’m not sure what to say and I desperately want him to like me.
“Would you mind if I join you? It’s packed here and…” his voice trails off. When I don't reply immediately he quickly adds; “Or are you waiting for someone?”
“Oh…no. I’m not waiting for anyone. Please join me.”
“Thanks,” he says with a smile. I watch as he slides a chair out of the way to make room for his wheelchair and rolls up to the table. When he’s settled in he grabs the sandwich and water bottle he has in his lap and place the items on the table in front of him. Then he opens the sandwich wrapper and wolfs down the first half lightning fast. I can’t stop a small laugh from escaping me.
“I didn’t have time for breakfast this morning,” he says after wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“I have to admit I rarely eat breakfast,” I reply. I’m not a breakfast person, never have been. “It’s a bad habit of mine.”
“I’m Jonas by the way,” he introduces himself and extendeds his right hand across the table.
I grasp his hand and reply with a smile; “I’m Sigrid. Nice to meet you.”
“Sigrid? You’re Norwegian?” He sounds genuinely surprised. It’s not the first time I get this reaction when I introduce myself.
“I was born here, by Norwegian parents, but my dad’s job meant I’ve spent most of my life living abroad. We moved to London when I was about three and kept moving around.”
“Really? So how many places have you lived?”
“After London we moved to Washington D.C, Los Angeles, Brisbane and for the past seven years we’ve lived in Pretoria, South Africa. Honestly I’ve never felt a strong tie to Norway, I’ve just visited a time or two every year, but can’t remember living here.”
“So why did you chose to come here for college? I’m sure there are schools in South Africa? And I know for a fact that the climate there is nicer than here.“ Jonas has finished his sandwich and is leaning forward, his forearms resting on the table. He seems genuinely interested in learning about me. Stay cool and don’t freeze up and act like a moron, I tell myself
“Figured I’d get to know my home country and try to learn the language properly. My grandparents live here in Oslo and they were ecstatic when they heard I’d decided to go to school here.”
“I bet they were. They probably missed you when you were younger.”
“Definitely. What about you? I mean, I can hear that you’re Norwegian, but are you from the area?” I decide to turn attention away from me since I’m eager to learn more about him.
“I grew up in Lillestrøm, but I’ve lived in the city for the past ten years.”
“So you know the city well?”
“Yeah, I’d say so.”
“Awesome! If you don’t mind I might pick your brain for some insider tips,” I say, feeling incredibly brave and cheeky. I’m rewarded with a smile that would make nine-out-of-ten-dentists proud.
“I don’t mind at all,” Jonas says with a grin. Then he changes the subject again. “What’s your major?”
“Business management. I opted for a degree that is taught in English. What about you?”
“Accounting. It’s sort of surreal to me that I'm a student ‘cause I’ve never been much of an academic. Three years ago I worked as a carpenter and owned a construction company that was doing pretty well.”
“What happened?” I blurt out without thinking. As soon as the words escaped my mouth I regret them. He obviously wasn’t in a wheelchair when he worked as a carpenter.
“I fell off the scaffolding at a construction site.”