Jonas tells me he landed on a pile of bricks and sustained a spinal cord injury, but he doesn’t go into detail. We’re just getting to know each other and I figure he’ll tell me when he’s ready. Our conversation moves on to safer grounds and we find out that we have similar tastes in music and movies; we share several favorites.
“Do you have any plans Friday evening?” he asks me as we start gathering our trash. We both have lectures in about 15 minutes and it’s time to get moving.
“Not really. Why do you ask?”
“A friend of mine runs a music club downtown and there’s a new band playing on Friday. He says they’re very good. Wanna join me?”
“That sounds great,” I reply. Don’t sound over-eager Sigrid.
“Cool,” Jonas says. To my pleasure he seems genuinely happy that I accept his invitation. He leans back in his chair and digs his phone out of his jeans pocket. “What’s your number?”
“I can’t remember,” I admit. “Just got this number a few weeks ago. What’s yours? I’ll call you.”
“That works,” he agrees and gives me his number. I punch it in as he says it and then I hit the call button. A couple of minutes later we’ve both saved the other’s number and we say goodbye. He wheels off in the opposite direction of me and I can’t help admiring his strong arms and shoulders as he pushes the rims of his chair.
The rest of the week moves by at a snails pace; Friday can’t come soon enough. I’m busy with schoolwork, but my social life is still depressingly non-existent. I run into Jonas a couple of times, but we don’t have time for more than exchanging a few quick words.
Thursday evening I’m sitting in my couch, watching some TV and trying to kill time when my phone rings; when I see Jonas’ name on the screen it brings a smile to my face.
“Hello,” I say, trying to sound calm and composed.
“Hi there. I hope I’m not interrupting something,” he says.
“Nah, I was just watching TV.”
“Are you still up for the concert tomorrow evening?”
“Absolutely,” I say.
“Cool! I talked to my buddy earlier and he said the band probably starts playing before around nine or ten. I figured we could grab a bite to eat before we head to the club.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” I say.
“What do you like to eat?”
“I’m not picky. I’m not a big fan of sushi, but apart from that I’m open to most things.”
“Hmm… There’s a really good burger place I’ve wanted to go back to for a while. Would that work for you?”
“Sounds great. Wanna meet there?”
“I can pick you up, just give me your address.”
“Yeah, I’ve never been much of a drinker and it’s nice to not have to worry about getting a cab.”
“Ah, ok” I give Jonas my address and we agree he’ll pick me up at six tomorrow evening. We won’t see each other at school; I don’t have lectures on Fridays and my study group isn’t meeting so I’ve planned to stay at home and study and catch up on my laundry.
I spend most of Friday fussing about what to wear for my date with Jonas. I know we haven’t really named it a date, but a guy is taking me to dinner and a concert. To me it counts as a date and I’m picking up various signals from Jonas that indicates that he likes me and is interested in more than friendship Why else would he invite me to a concert the first time we talk, right?
At 5:45 in the afternoon I’m dressed in a pair of black skinny jeans and a beige silk tunic. I head into the bathroom to touch up my makeup and when that is done I slip into a pair of black ankle boots, grab my black leather jacket and my bag and head downstairs.
When I step outside Jonas is already waiting for me; his car is a fairly new black Mitsubishi Outlander. He rolls down the widow and greets me as soon as he sees me.
“Good evening,” he says with a smile. “Jump in.”
I didn’t need to be asked twice and slide into the passenger seat. Jonas looks yummy; dressed in a pair of dark jeans and a charcoal V-neck sweater with a white t-shirt under it. The sweater is just tight enough to show off toned upper body. I’ve noticed that he generally dresses well; at school he usually opts for jeans and t-shirts.
“Hi! Thanks for picking me up,” I say as I buckle my seatbelt.
“No problem. How was your day?” Jonas asks as he pulls into traffic. Like I expected he uses hand controls to drive and I notice his wheelchair is in pieces in the back seat. His crutches are there too; tangled with the pieces of the disassembled wheelchair.
“Pretty good. Got most of my laundry done and did some studying too. What about you? Have a good day?”
“It was okay. I’m not very happy with my study group and the morning session with them was a bit frustrating. A very good lecture in the afternoon made up for it.” Jonas shrugs a bit as he finishes the sentence.
“I don’t really like my study group either. I’m pretty sure I could get more and better work done on my own,” I say emphatically. None of the people on my study group are disciplined students and five weeks into the semester I’m becoming very frustrated with picking up their slack.
“No kidding! There’s not much we can do about it though, since it’s mandatory.”
“Yeah,” I sigh. Then I add in a happier tone; “But apart from that I like school. My major has more interesting subjects than I anticipated. How do you feel about your classes so far?”
“Pretty interesting. I’m already familiar with some things; I picked up a few basics while I ran my own business, but now I’m gaining more in-depth knowledge.”
Jonas navigates through the city with ease and soon we pull into a parking garage and he parks in one of the handicapped spaces near the entrance. I step out of the car and walk around to the driver’s side to wait for him. I wonder if he plans to use his wheelchair or if he plans to be on his feet. When he untangles the crutches from the pieces of wheelchair in the back seat I get my answer.
I try not to stare as he plants the crutches in front of him and with some effort he pulls himself to his feet. He steadies himself on his left crutch and slams the door shut and locks the car and slips the keys into his jeans pocket. He has a little black nylon pouch in his hand and he looks like he doesn’t quite know what to do with it.
“Want to put that in my bag? I’ve got room,” I say, gesturing to it.
“Umm… sure,” he says. Hands it to me, seems like he’s self-conscious about it. I have an idea what’s in it; it’s probably catheters and some other medical stuff. I put it in my bag without making any comments. ”Ready?” He asks me when the pouch is tucked into my bag and out of sight.
“Yep,” I reply. I follow him out of the parking garage and into the elevator. A couple of minutes later we’re in a courtyard and I realize we’re at the food hall in Oslo.
“Have you visited the food hall before?” Jonas asks me.
“Nope. I’ve wanted to, but I haven’t gotten around to it.”
“The burger place I mentioned is over there, Døgnvill. If you want to we can quickly go into the food hall, we have time. I made a reservation for 6:45 and it’s only 6:15 now.”
My first thought is to decline; I’m worried he might get tired from crutching around, but then I figure he wouldn’t have offered if he weren’t up for it. “Sure, I’d like that,” I say with a smile.
He sets off toward the entrance in a brisk pace; I notice that instead of landing his feet even with his crutch tips he lands them ahead of them.
Over the next 25 minutes we stroll around the food hall at a more casual pace; Jonas switches back to landing his feet even with his crutch tips as soon as we are inside.
As we walk around he points the places he’s says are his favorites and I’m very excited to discover they have a pie shop. Back in South Africa I often grab a pie as a quick meal on the go, most grocery stores have them in their deli section, but the only pies I’ve found here are the rather disgusting frozen kind.
“This is the best burger I’ve ever eaten,” I say after I’ve finished the first couple of mouthfuls of my cheddar & bacon burger.
“This is pretty good too,” Jonas says about his Italian themed burger; topped with Gorgonzola cheese, Parma ham and fig marmalade.
“Really? I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to burgers,” I admit.
“I kinda’ figured that,” he says with a slightly teasing grin on his face. “So, how do you like Norway so far? Do you feel more like a native?”
“Apart from everything being ridiculously expensive I think it’s okay. Think I’ll miss the South African climate when it gets colder. Especially since the seasons there are opposite of here.”
“But you don’t really get winter there, do you?”
“Not what you’d call winter. Temperatures get pretty low at night, sometimes below freezing. It’s not great ‘cause houses in SA are built for warm weather, since the climate is generally warm.”
“That makes sense,” Jonas says, then he takes a sip of his coke.
“I wish I could go home over fall break, to see the Jacarandas in Pretoria in bloom. They’re stunning.”
“Jacarandas?” Jonas sounds as dumbfounded as he looks.
“Jacarandas are big trees. Before they get leaves in the spring they bloom with purple flowers. Most streets in Pretoria are lined with Jacarandas; it’s a stunning sight,” I explain as I dig out my iPhone and open the Facebook app. A few moments later I hand the phone to him. “Here are some pictures from last year’s Jacaranda season.”
“Wow! That’s stunning!” He exclaims as he scrolls though the album.
“It is,” I say wistfully.
“But we’ll get some stunning fall colors here that probably makes up for it a little.”
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to that,” I say. Then we both turn our attention back to our burgers and eat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes. Jonas breaks the silence.
“Have you been in Norway during the winter?” he asks.
“Yeah, we’ve been here for Christmas a few times. I like snow, but I might change my mind when I have to live with it for months,” I chuckle.
“It might,” Jonas agrees. “I’m not a huge fan of winter myself, at least not for the past few years. Oslo isn’t the most accessible city to begin with and add icy sidewalks and heaps of snow to the equation and it’s an absolute nightmare to get around.”
“That doesn’t sound good at all,” I reply, not sure what to say. “You’d love the South African climate.”
“It does sound awesome. I hope to visit sometime.”
I almost invite him to come home with me for Christmas break, but I manage to restrain myself. It’s the second time we spend time together. Too early to ask him to meet your parents, I tell myself. Instead I reply; “I hope you do too.”
After we finish our food a waiter clears the table and Jonas asks for the check.
“I need to use the bathroom,” he says as he grabs his crutches that are leaned against the wall behind him and pulls himself to his feet. I hear a slight click as the knee joints of his braces lock.
“Uh, can I have my pouch?” he asks me; a slight blush creeps up on his cheeks. I grab it and hand it to him. He hooks the little loop on the end over the grip of his right crutch and sets off toward the restrooms. He probably needs to cath himself. I wonder what he’d think if he knew how much I know about spinal cord injuries and how he’d react to me being a devotee . Should I tell him? Or is it better not to? Don’t get ahead of yourself, Sigrid. He hasn’t expressed any romantic interest in you. Yet. Take one step at the time. Before my mind can wander any further the waiter appears with the check and I grab it and pull up the calculator app on my phone to figure out what we each owe.
Jonas returns a few minutes later. He puts the pouch down on the table and I grab it and tuck it back into my bag as he lowers himself to his chair. I notice some people stares as he unlocks his braces and adjust his legs. They avert their glances when I glare at them.
“I did the math while you were gone,” I tell him. I’ve already put down money for my part of the check and I slide the little tray over to him. He grabs the bills I’ve put there and hands them back to me.
“Tonight is my treat,” he says firmly. “I asked you out, so I pay.”
I try to object, but soon realize it’s an argument I’m not going to win. I thank him instead.
“My pleasure,” he says as he pulls his wallet from his pocket and gets a card out. A moment later the waitress reappear with a card machine in her hand and Jonas pays the bill.
The concert is good. The music is too loud to allow any conversation, and we turn our attention to the stage. The club is packed and we sit next to each other at a small table in the back. At some point during the concert Jonas wraps his left arm around my shoulders and I lean my head on his shoulder. It just feels right.
Just after midnight the concert is over and a DJ takes over. We agree to call it a night; we’re both tired after a long week. We make it back to Jonas’ car and the short drive back to my apartment is quiet; the radio plays softly in the background.
Jonas pulls up to the curb outside my building and puts the car in park. He turns toward me with a smile on his face.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” I say with a smile of my own. “Are you sure you don’t want me to pay for my half of things?”
“I asked you on a date, I pay. You’re not going to win this argument,” he says.
“Tonight was a date?” I say, my voice hopeful.
He blushes shyly, clearly embarrassed by his little slip up. Then he quickly adds; “If you want it to be. If not it was just two friends having a good time together.”
“Date,” I say, then I lean over the center console to kiss him on the cheek. He turns his head and our lips meet.