Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Outsiders - Chapter 12

NOTE: This chapter is written from Jonas' POV. 

By lunchtime we’ve seen blue wildebeest, waterbuck, zebras, impala, springbok and more giraffes.  We drive up a dirt road and Bjørn parks in a small parking area by a metal link fence with a gate in it.
“It doesn’t look like much from here, but when we get up to the picnic area you’ll see why we chose this picnic site for lunch,” Margrete says before she jumps out of the car. Sigrid and Bjørn also gets out and start getting stuff out of the back; the large cooler with food, a picnic basket and some other things. I wish I could carry something, but when I’m tall I’m not able to carry stuff, unless it’s in a backpack.
I push those thoughts to the back of my head as I open the car door and pull my crutches from the floor and lean them against the open door. Then I grab my legs under the knees and move them so I’m sitting sideways with my feet dangling about a foot above the ground. After taking a deep, steadying breath I grab the crutches and after I’ve got a secure grip on them I pull myself up to a standing position. As my legs straighten I hear the knee joints lock. When I look up I notice Sigrid looking at me with a smile on her face.
“Would you mind grabbing my camera and the wheelchair cushion for me?” I ask her, blushing slightly. I hate asking for assistance, but I know that sometimes there is just no way around it.
“Of course, babe,” she replies, then she stands on her tiptoes and places a kiss on my lips. While she grabs my things I start making my way toward the gate. By the time I reach the gate she hurries in front of me and holds it open as I crutch trough.  I follow her up the path toward the picnic area. It’s a bit rougher than I like, and steeper, so I struggle a bit. By the time I finally make it to the top of the small hill my shoulders are aching from the strain. Apparently it’s evident on my face too; Sigrid looks at me with a worried look on her face.
“You okay?”
“Fine,” I say gruffly. Truth is that I kind of shot my wad making it up that hill. I’m glad being on a game drive mostly means sitting still in the car, so I can relax after lunch. After I’ve made it down that damn hill again. Sometimes I hate the limitations of my disability.
Margrethe and Bjørn are already busy setting up the picnic site.  When they see us approaching Margrethe hurries to set up one of the foldable camping chairs they’ve brought and Sigrid places the wheelchair cushion on the seat. I thank them and gratefully lower myself into the chair. I notice Sigrid watches as I release the knee joints on my braces and adjust my legs and when I’m done she comes over with a bottle of water for me.
“Thanks, babe,” I say as I take it from her. She sets up a chair next to me and after a few beats of silence she breaks it.
“Are you having a good time?”
“Do you even have to ask that? I had a great time in Rietvlei, but this is something else. It’s amazing. I just hope we see elephants by the end of the day.”
“We’re pretty much guaranteed to. I’ve never been to Pilanesberg without seeing plenty of elephants. I’m surprised we haven’t seen any yet.”
“Sigrid is right, Jonas,” Bjørn interjects. “We’ll see elephants. I’ll be very surprised if we leave here without seeing any.”
“That’s good,” I say with a smile. Sigrid and her parents turn their attention to preparing lunch for us and I sit there and enjoy the view of the lake. Although I know we’re not really far from civilization I feel like I’m in the middle of the wilderness and it’s a great feeling.  Before I was injured I loved hiking and often spent the weekends hiking in the forests around Oslo. It’s one of the things I miss the most from my pre-injury life.
When we settle back into the car after we’ve eaten lunch I’m tired.  Getting down the hill from the picnic area to the car was more of a challenge than I like and my arms and shoulders are aching.
“Are you okay?” Sigrid asks when I wince slightly as I roll my shoulders a little.
“I’m fine. Just kind of shot my wad getting up and down that hill. I’ll definitely be using my chair for next few days, probably for the rest of our stay here.”
“That’s fine,” Sigrid assures me. “We don’t have any plans that require you to be tall.”
We head back down the road and continue our drive around the park.  Over the next couple of hours we visit the hide by Mankwe dam and drive around some more. At the hide we see several birds, including a couple of different kingfishers and weaver birds.  We also see hippos, well the top of their heads, from the hide.  When we continue our drive around the park we add white rhinos and baboons to the list of animals we’ve seen today.
It’s almost three in the afternoon when we finally spot the first elephants at a distance, but when we get closer there’s a whole family down by the edge of a small dam.  The icing on the cake is when we spot a lion eating its prey; it looks like either an impala or a springbok, not far from the road when we get close to the gate we’re leaving the park from. We sit in the car for almost 20 minutes and watch before we drive towards the gate.  It’s a great end to one of the most amazing days I’ve ever experienced.
I actually feel somewhat rested when we make it back to Pretoria around nine in the evening. I nodded off not long after we left Pilanesberg and I’ve slept through the entire drive back to town. Sigrid wakes me up and I’m surprised to see my wheelchair waiting for me next to the car.
“You said you were tired from crutching around all day so I figured I’d get you your chair,” she says in a way of an explanation when she sees the puzzled look on my face.
“Thank you,” I say gratefully as I adjust the position of my chair slightly before I transfer to it. My arms feel like jelly and I realize it’s not the most graceful transfer I’ve ever done as I place my feet on the footrest and adjust my legs slightly. Sigrid is helping her parents bring everything from the car inside and I’m grateful I didn’t have an audience for that transfer. I take a deep breath and then I wheel to the back of the car. I grab my backpack and don it and then I place the smaller picnic basket in my lap and make my way to the kitchen where I leave it on the table and then I head to the bedroom to get out of my braces and use the bathroom.
. . .
The next morning I’m woken up early by the hadedas. I try to go back to sleep, but to no avail. I’m wide-awake and decide to get up.  I sit up in bed and pull the covers back carefully so I don’t disturb Sigrid, who is still fast asleep. I lift my legs over the edge of the bed and pull my wheelchair closer before I transfer.  My arms and shoulders are still sore after crutching around yesterday, but I still manage a fairly smooth transfer without jostling the bed too much. Sigrid stirs a little, but to my relief she rolls back onto her side and seem to drift off again.
After I’ve done my morning routine in the bathroom I pull a sweatshirt over my head, grab my phone and iPad and head for the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.  I’m about to finish my second mug when Margrethe walks into the kitchen followed by Bjørn. 
“Good morning,” I greet them. “There’s coffee in the pot.”
“Good morning,” Bjørn greets me as he takes a seat at ‘his’ place by the table and Margrethe walks over to the coffee maker.
“Good morning, Jonas. I’m surprised you’re up already. I figured you’d sleep in today since you were up so early yesterday,” Margrethe comments as she pours two mugs of coffee and sets them on the table. She tops up my mug before she takes a seat next to her husband.
“It’s a habit that has stuck with me from when I worked in construction. My workdays usually started at seven in the morning, which meant getting up at 5:30 and sometimes even earlier to be at the building site on time. I don’t get up that early anymore tho, but I normally struggle to sleep past seven, even if I have the day off.”
“That’s not the worst habit to stick with,” Bjørn says with a smile. “Although I’m sure Sigrid doesn’t agree.”
“She doesn’t always approve of me getting up early,” I say with a chuckle. The truth is that Sigrid likes to cuddle in the mornings, but I don’t tell her parents that.
“So, what are your plans for today?” Margrethe asks, changing the subject.
“We’re just going to hang out here today as far as I know. We only have a few days left of our vacation and I think a few days of r’n’r before we head back north sounds good. We’ll be busy with school when we return to Norway, we’ve both got demanding schedules the coming semester.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Margrethe replies with a smile on her face. “I’m glad you’ll be spending some time here, with us, before you leave.”
I suddenly feel brave and decide to ask the question I’ve wanted to ask pretty much since I got here.  “How do you really feel about me as a partner for Sigrid?” I blurt out. I feel my cheeks going red as soon as the words leave my mouth.
“What do you mean?” Bjørn asks, looking confused. “We really like you and we see how happy Sigrid is when she’s with you.”
“Well, most parents don’t dream of knight in shining wheelchair for their daughter…” I say with a shrug.
“Jonas that really doesn’t matter to us. Have we said or done anything to make you think like that?” Margrethe asks with concern lacing her voice.
“No, not at all. You’ve made me feel very welcome from I got here and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you. It’s nice to see how a “normal” family works, since mine is so far from that.” I air-quote normal. “It’s just a thought I haven’t been able to push out of my mind. I’m disabled and significantly older than Sigrid. Some parents wouldn’t be thrilled about either of those things.”
“To be honest I was worried about the age difference,” Bjørn says. “When Sigrid told us you’re almost 10 years older than her I wasn’t thrilled. After getting to know you I have no problem with it. And I don’t have a problem with your disability. If Sigrid is okay with it that’s all that’s matter.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” I say. They clearly have no idea their daughter is more than okay with my disability.
“Sigrid mentioned you don’t have much contact with your family,” Margrethe says. “That there was some kind of fallout between your father and you.”
I sigh. “You know who my parents are, right?”
They both nod. “Yes.”
“They never approved of my choice to go into construction work. I think Dad expected me to go to business school and follow in his footsteps. He was very peeved when I chose a vocational course in high school and our relationship became even more strained when I ended up making a career of it. I think dad hoped it was just a ‘phase’ I’d get over.”
“So, you haven’t had any contact with your family since then?”
“Things were strained and we only saw each other for the mandatory family get-togethers around the holidays and for birthday parties and stuff like that.  Apart from that we didn’t have any contact. My brothers and I have never been close. I’m a few years older and have never embraced the ‘socialite’ lifestyle they love.” I pause to have a sip of my coffee and gather my thoughts. “Anyway… Three years ago I fell of the scaffolding at a building site. For the first couple of days after it happened I was pretty much unconscious.  The doctors pumped me full of painkillers and I had surgery to fuse my spine together.  About three days after the accident my parents appeared. I was a mess both physically and emotionally, just a few hours before they showed up I’d been told I’d never walk again, and I was desperate for some support.  It didn’t take me many seconds to realize the support I needed wouldn’t come from my parents. Long story short; my father told me it was my own fault that I’d gotten injured since I’d been ‘reckless’ enough to work in construction instead of going to business school and coming to work for him. My mother didn’t say much, except mumbling something about how a wheelchair ramp would ruin the front of their house and needing to get in touch with their architect to look at it. I told them to leave and told my father not to contact me again until he was ready to apologize for what he said. That still hasn’t happened.”
“Oh my,” Margrethe says as she places a hand on my forearm. “So you went through the recovery and rehabilitation alone, without support from your family? That must have been hard.”
“I have some great friends that helped me through it.  In retrospect I realize I was naïve to expect my parents to be supportive, they never have been. We had nannies and au pairs that took care of us kids when we were growing up; we rarely spent time together as a family, that only happened on special occasions. I have to admit I’m jealous of Sigrid…”
Before I finish the sentence I feel her arms wrap around my shoulders and she leans down and kisses me on the cheek. I release my brakes, back away from the table, pull her into my lap and wrap my arms around her.
“You’re jealous of me? Why?”
“Because you have great parents that care about you.”
“They’re pretty great, aren’t they?” she says, smiling at Bjørn and Margrethe.  Then she pecks me on the lips before she stands up and walks over to the coffee maker on the counter.
“I sure think so,” I say. “I really wish my family was more like yours.  I grew up never lacking anything materialistic; I had expensive clothes, the latest technology and fancy sporting equipment…. They took us on vacations to exotic locations. I know many of my friends were jealous of me. But what I really wanted was my parents to pay some attention to me, I wished they’d spend time with me and acknowledge my existence.”
“It baffles me how some people seem to think they can substitute spending time with their kids and interacting with them with material things. When Sigrid was younger our finances were pretty tight for a while, since we were both working freelance and living costs were high in the cities we were living in, but I don’t think she suffered because she didn’t have the newest clothes or the biggest doll house. We treated her to experiences instead of material things.”
“I definitely didn’t suffer,” Sigrid states firmly. “I’ve never felt I lacked anything.”
“I’ll definitely apply your parenting philosophy if I ever become a father,” I say to Bjørn and Margrethe. I kind of regret saying it though, because I know it’s unlikely to happen. I’m definitely going to need some medical assistance to have any chance to make it happen.
“I’m with you on that,” Sigrid says, kissing me on the cheek. I decide to steer the conversation away from where it’s heading. Although Bjørn and Margrethe are great I really don’t feel like discussing crip mechanics with them at this point.
“Judging from your condo in Cape Town and this place you’re doing pretty well these days,” I say as I glance around the spacious kitchen that looks like it has recently been remodeled. And it’s not a cheap remodel. The countertops are made of a shiny granite and the appliances are high-end.
“By the time we moved here both of us had pretty good careers and regular, well paid assignments.  We’re lucky to be earning Norwegian salaries and living here. As you’ve probably realized by now the cost of living is much lower here than back in Norway.”
“That I’ve realized,” I say with a chuckle. “And Norway is ridiculously expensive. I know Sigrid was shocked at first.”
“I bet. Last time I was in Oslo I paid more for a pretty basic one-course meal for myself and a couple of pints of beer than I did for a three-course dinner for Margrethe and me at a nice restaurant here.”
“Going out is very expensive,” I agree. “I live on Tjuvholmen and the restaurants around there are generally overpriced tourist-traps. I prefer to get away from the areas filled with tourists when I go out. The food is generally cheaper and better quality at the smaller places a bit outside the city center.”
We continue to chat while Sigrid and Margrethe prepare breakfast and I thoroughly enjoy the light mood and how they make me feel like I’m part of the family. I hadn’t realized just how much I’ve missed being part of a family, even my dysfunctional one, over the past few years. 



6 comments:

  1. Nice to see it from Jonas' point of view. Well written.

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  2. Oh, I almost forgot about this wonderful story. What a super pleasant surprise!! Please keep on updating!

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  3. It has been too long since I've visited these characters! Glad for the latest update! I look forward to more as you get around to it. You are doing an awesome job of writing!

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  4. Yeah!!! Thanks for the update. Quality is better than quantity.
    Tc

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  5. Love Jonas. So happy Sigrid's parents are so accepting.

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  6. Yea, so glad you were able to get back to this story, which i adore

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