I watch as Jonas grabs the magazine from his lap and flips through it; when he reaches the page with our picture on it he sighs and mutters, “Fuck…” He leans back in his chair and rakes his free hand through his hair as he scans the article. When he’s done he rolls back a few feet and gestures for me to enter; “Come in here, will ya?”
I’m tempted to turn and walk away, but I hesitantly walk in to his apartment and close and lock the door behind me. As I slip off my boots and coat Jonas wheels wordlessly into the living room where he tosses the magazine onto the coffee table. I follow him and when I pass the dining table I notice it’s filled with schoolbooks and paperwork. His MacBook Air is as up and running too. He’s obviously cramming for the end-of term exams, just like I’ve been doing most of the time lately.
I flop down on the couch. Jonas remains in his wheelchair; he parks so he’s facing me and flicks the brakes on.
“I seriously thought I was off the gossip magazine radar these days,” Jonas says with a heavy sigh after a few beats of tense silence. He's leaning forward, forearms resting on his thighs.
“I never expected to see a picture of myself in a gossip magazine. I didn’t realize that you’re some sort of a celebrity.”
“I’m not a celebrity, but as you know my father is a well-known businessman and a public figure. My family’s social circles include lots of well-known people; both business connections and people from the entertainment industry. Some media coverage is inevitable.”
“Honestly, I’m not sure if I can deal with that,” I say. It’s the truth. I’m a rather private person.
“This is the first time I’ve been in the media in…I don’t know how long. Years. The tabloids find my younger brothers more interesting because they tend to do crazy shit.”
“Well, my youngest brother was on Paradise Hotel a year or so ago. And my other brother thought it was a good idea to be on Big brother a few years back. I’ve always been the least interesting one, I worked as a carpenter and never embraced the ‘socialite’ lifestyle like the rest of my family.” He air-quoted socialite, then he dropped his hands back into his lap.
“Still, they obviously find you interesting enough to write about you from time to time. And they’ve obviously snooped around since they know so much about me.”
“I suppose there’s not much going on and they figured it would fill a page. And since your father is a well-known author and respected journalist your face has some news value too I guess. You told me yourself his last book sold well and his documentaries on NRK have been well received. He is pretty well known here you know.”
“I know,” I sigh, as I flop against the back of the couch. My father has done several documentaries for the Norwegian national broadcaster, NRK, over the years, some of them have caused a lot of debate, and I’m well aware that his books have sold well too. “I’m just not comfortable with it at all.”
“I don’t like it either, but look on the bright side; it’s actually a pretty nice pic of the two of us,” Jonas says. He has grabbed the magazine and is showing me the picture.
“Yeah, I know,” I say. “I actually had the same thought as you about the pic.”
“And they haven’t made up some crazy ass story; what’s written there is the truth. For an article in a gossip magazine it’s actually not bad,” Jonas says.
“I guess you’re right,” I concede. Jonas is right. It’s not bad and it doesn’t reflect negatively on either of us. It could definitely be worse.
Jonas smiles tentatively. “So we’re good?”
“Yeah, we’re good. Honestly, I feel a little silly now. For getting so worked up.”
He chuckles. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not crazy about it myself, but since I grew up in a family that has always been somewhat in the spotlight I’m kind of used to it and I try to just ignore it unless they write blatant lies.”
“Well, I’d better let you get back to your studies,” I say, standing up.
“How about some dinner? I’ve been at it most of the day and my brain feels kind of fried. I’m also hungry, all I’ve eaten today is a sandwich.”
“I’d like that. I’ve been studying most of the day too. I’m looking forward to being done with finals,” I say.
“Tall me about it. What keeps me going is the knowledge that D-day is only a couple of weeks away.”
“D-day?” I ask, puzzled. I’m not quite following him.
“Departure day,” Jonas clarifies.
“Oh, that’s right,” I say. Our trip to South Africa is approaching fast, but we’ve both been so focused on studying for end-of-term finals and several mandatory assignments that planning the trip has faded into the background. “I’m glad you’re looking forward to it.”
“I have a feeling this is going to be the best Christmas I’ve had in years,” he says with a smile. Then he changes the subject. “So, how about dinner?”
“Sounds great,” I say. “But I’m not really dressed to go out.” My outfit pretty much matches Jonas’ ratty sweatpants and faded t-shirt, except I’m wearing a pair of worn jeans instead of sweats with an old plaid flannel shirt I stole from Dad a few years ago.
“Neither am I and I don’t really feel like making the effort to change my clothes. I figured we could call for a delivery.”
“Sounds great,” I say, settling back on the couch while Jonas wheels over to the dining table and grab his iPad before he returns to the living room where he joins me on the couch. He opens the JustEat app and asks me what I’m in the mood for.
“Something spicy,” I reply quickly.
“Thai?” he asks me, with a knowing smile on his face. He’s well aware of my love for Thai cusine.
“Oh, that sounds great,” I say. “Green curry with chicken for me.”
“Way ahead of you,” Jonas says with a laugh, holding up the iPad to show me he has already put in an order for that.
I shake my head and roll my eyes at him. “How presumptuous of you, what if I’d said I want Pad Thai?”
“I know that ‘aint gonna happen,” he says confidently as he completes the order and puts the iPad down on the coffee table and wraps his arm around my shoulders and pulls me close to him. “Even though this evening got off to a rocky start I’m glad you’re here,” he says, kissing the crown of my head.
“I’m glad I’m here too,” I say, turning my head so we’re face to face, pressing my lips against his.
Little over two weeks later we’ve finished the first part of our journey to South Africa; from Oslo to Zürich and we’re waiting to disembark the plane. After talking with his physical therapist and his occupational therapist from rehab he has opted to use his wheelchair, which meant he had to swap from his chair to an aisle chair by the gate in Oslo and his chair was put in the cargo bay of the plane. He had expressed that he didn’t expect it to be waiting for him in Zürich, that it was likely to be some piece of shit wheelchair belonging to the airline. I had grabbed the cushion for him; to be sure it didn’t go missing.
We are both pleasantly surprised when he is finally wheeled off the plane in an aisle chair; his chair is waiting for him right outside the plane. I put the cushion in place and it doesn’t take him long to transfer to it. I notice he looks relieved to be in his own chair again. After thanking the travelers assistance staff for their help we head up to the terminal. We have almost four hours until our flight to Joburg departs, so we have lots of time. We decide to check out the offerings in the Swiss Business lounge.
“So far so good,” Jonas says as we settle down at a table in the lounge half an hour later. “I just hope the rest of the trip goes this smoothly.”
“Me too,” I say. “Now, how about some food?”
“I'm a little hungry, but I really don’t want to risk a bowel accident, so I’ll stick to a drink.”
Bowel and bladder management during the flights has been Jonas’ greatest concern since he can’t access the toilet on the plane. He’s been to see his urologist and the advice was to wear an indwelling catheter with a leg bag and travel with his bowels as empty as possible. He did a through bowel routine this morning and took some Imodium as a precaution. As an added layer of protection, in case of a worst-case scenario, Jonas is very reluctantly wearing an adult diaper. We’re both apprehensive about the long flight ahead of us, but the fact that the first leg of the trip has gone well is a good sign.
“Okay. What can I get you to drink?”
“If they have smoothies of some kind that would be great. That’s a little filling.”
At the buffet I’m happy to find they have a couple of varieties of fruit smoothies; including Jonas’ favorite mango and passion fruit. I grab a bottle of that for him and grab a sandwich and a bottle of water for myself and then I head back to the table where he’s waiting for me.
“Jonas, wake up babe,” I say, gently nudging his shoulder. It’s almost 7 in the morning and the plane is scheduled to land in just over two hours. They have just turned up the cabin lights and announced that breakfast will be served soon.
He took a sleeping pill right after take off from Zürich, before dinner was served, and passed out pretty quickly. I ate dinner and after a quick trip to the restrooms I had also tried to get some sleep. To my surprise I had actually succeeded; the lie flat business class seats made surprisingly comfortable beds and an added bonus is that the business and first class sections off the plane are much quieter than economy class usually is. There are no fuzzy toddlers in this part of the plane.
Jonas’ eyes crack open slowly and he groans. “Is it morning already?” he asks, his voice thick with sleep.
“Yep, they’ll serve breakfast in about half an hour and it’s about two hours to go ‘til we land.”
“Really…? Sheesh, that sleeping pill knocked me out good. Did you manage to get some sleep?”
“Yep, it definitely knocked you out. You passed out almost instantly,” I chuckle. “And yes, I got some sleep too.”
“Great,” he says, adjusting his seat so he’s sitting upright. “I’m starving, so breakfast sounds really good.”
“Don’t get all excited about it, airplane breakfasts usually aren’t great,” I say, speaking from experience. I think there should be a law against serving omelettes as breakfast on planes. In my experience they have the consistency of a rubber and taste like cardboard. It’s just gross.
“Right now I don’t care if it tastes like cardboard, I just need something to fill my stomach.” His stomach growls audibly as he finishes his sentence, causing us both to chuckle. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast yesterday, so…”
“I know babe,” I say, leaning over to kiss his cheek. “But no bowel issues makes it worth it, right? I’m so glad this trip has gone well so far.”
“Me too,” he says, giving my hand a squeeze.
“I know Mom and Dad have planned a big braai for us this afternoon, but we should have a few hours to settle in and relax before that.”
“A what? Braai?”
“Oh, it’s a South African term for a barbecue. Lots of meat and some side dishes. South Africans are quite the carnivores,” I chuckle.
“Sounds nice,” he says, suddenly there’s an edge to his voice.
“Yeah, should be. Are you okay? You suddenly seem kind of tense.”
“Just realized that I’ll be meeting your parents soon. Can’t deny that I’m a bit nervous about it. Never was a fan of ‘meet-the-parents’ and this is the first time I meet a girlfriend’s parents after my accident. I’m not what most people would see as a perfect partner for their daughter.”
“Mom and Dad aren’t most people and they know who you are and I’ve told them about your disability. They don’t care. They want me to be happy, that’s what matters to them. How many times do I have to tell you this?”
He just sighs and leans back in his seat. Before we can talk any more the flight attendants announce that breakfast is about to be served.
Yet again we’re pleasantly surprised to find Jonas’ wheelchair waiting for us just outside the airplane when we finally disembark. One thing I’ve discovered is that travelling with a paraplegic partner means a lot of hurrying up to wait. We were the first to board and the last ones off on both of our flights.
After Jonas is settled into his wheelchair he thanks the lady from travellers assistance that was waiting with it and declines any further assistance. When she has left he asks me to give him the backpack he has brought as his carry on luggage and he quickly dons it. With practiced flicks of his wrists he releases the brakes on his chair and we set off toward the main terminal.
“Damn, it’s hot here,” Jonas comments as we make our way through the rather barren corridors; the walls are white and the only decoration is some billboards with ads on them.
“Welcome to South African summer,” I say with a chuckle. “Sure beats Norwegain winter if you ask me.”
“Definitely,” he says with a grin. “Just a bit of a shock, since it was freezing in Oslo when we left yesterday.”
We chat lightly as we make our way to the queues at immigration and slowly wind our way toward the counter. We get through immigration without any problems and soon we both have stamps in our passports and are on our way to baggage claim.
We have barely passed through customs and entered the arrivals area when Mom runs up to me hand pulls me in for a bear hug.
“Sigrid! We’ve missed you so much!” she squeals happily. A moment later my father pulls me in for one of his bone crushing hugs and echoes Mom’s statement. When he releases me he looks at Jonas.
“Are you going to introduce us to your boyfriend, Sigrid?” he asks with a teasing smile.
“Of course, just wanted to get the hugging out of the way first,” I say, nudging dad with my elbow. “Mom, Dad, this is Jonas Østgaard. Jonas, these are my parents; Margrethe and Bjørn.”
“So nice to meet you both,” Jonas says as he shakes hands with them. “Thanks for inviting me.”
“It’s our pleasure,” Mom says lightly. “Sigrid has been talking about you non-stop lately, so I’m looking forward to getting to know you.”
I feel my cheeks reddening. “I don’t talk about you non-stop,” I scoff, placing my hand on Jonas’ shoulder as he introduces himself to Dad. I’m pleased to see that my parents seem unfazed by Jonas’ disability. I was pretty sure it would be fine, my parents are pretty open minded, but there has been a little bit of insecurity that’s been bothering me since we made the plans.
I look over at Jonas, who’s looking out of the window of Dad’s Land Rover Discovery with rapt attention. He’s clearly taking in the scenery; he has been rather quiet since we got into the car in the parking garage at O.R. Tambo. I grab his left hand and give it a squeeze. That gets his attention: he turns his head so he’s facing me and squeezes my hand back.
“Taking in the scenery?” I ask him.
“Yeah, gotta admit it’s sort of unreal that I’m actually in South Africa.”
“I’m glad you’re here with me,” I say, leaning over to kiss his cheek.
“Me too,” he says quietly.
...to be continued...