I can’t stop a smile from spreading across my face as Dad drives through the gate and parks in front of the double garage at our house on Edward Street, and when I see the ramp that comes off the side of the 2 steps up to the front door my smile widens.
My parents have been aware of Jonas’ disability for a while and Dad promised me to make sure the house is accessible to him. It shouldn’t be too bad; apart from the Master suite and Dad’s study everything is on the ground floor. The floors are all tiled or hardwood and there aren’t many rugs throughout the house.
As soon as Dad kills the engine I hurry to the boot of the car and gets Jonas’ wheelchair out. It’s the first time I’m assembling it, but I’ve seen him do it many times and it’s pretty straightforward. The wheels lock on easily and I raise the backrest and finally I put the cushion in place. I push it over to rear door on the drivers side, where Jonas is waiting. He smiles as I place the chair next to him. After slightly adjusting it’s position he tells me to secure the brakes and moments later he has managed a fairly graceful transfer.
“Thanks,” he says as he puts his feet on the footrest and quickly shifts his weight. Then he releases the brake and wheels to the rear of the car where my parents have started to unload our luggage. He quickly grabs his backpack and puts it on his back and then he grabs the small suitcase I brought as a carryon and places it in his lap. I’m about to protest, but the look in his eyes tells me to shut up and let him take care of it.
Dad grabs the large bag I know holds Jonas’ KAFO’s and crutches, as well as his supply of catheters and other things he needs and Mom grabs his suitcase. I grab my own suitcase and a few moments later we’re following him inside. Jonas makes it up the ramp without any problems and he pops a quick wheelie to get over the front door threshold.
“Nice house,” he comments as we follow my parents down the hall toward the bedrooms. I’m a bit surprised when they pass my room, but moments later I get the explanation.
“I had Lettie prepare the guestroom for you. Figured you’d be more comfortable in there since the bed is bigger and it has an en suite bathroom.”
“Oh…thanks, Mom,” I say, a little surprised that my parents take it for granted that we’re sharing a room and not making a big deal about it. They are pretty cool and accepting, but this is a step or three ahead of what I expected.
Mom and Dad leave our luggage on by the foot of the bed and leave us alone so we can unpack and get settled in. As she leaves the room Mom tells us that she has a tray of sandwiches ready if we’re hungry. Jonas’ stomach growls in reply, causing us all to laugh. Apparently the plane breakfast didn’t fill him up.
As soon as the door closes behind my parents Jonas excuses himself and heads into the bathroom with his backpack in tow. I busy myself with unpacking our suitcases and when he comes out of the bathroom nearly half an hour later I have put our clothes away in the closet and dresser and I have stowed our empty suitcases in my room. I’ve left the bag with Jonas’ crutches, braces and other stuff for him to sort out himself.
“That bathroom is surprisingly accessible,” he says as he grabs a pair of shorts and a t-shirt from the closet after I’ve showed him how I've organized our belongings.
“So, it’ll work for you?”
“Yeah, definitely,” he says as he transfers from his chair to the bed and starts to take off his jeans. Fifteen minutes he’s back in his wheelchair, dressed in a pair of blue swim trunks and a white V-necked t-shirt that hugs him in all the right places. He has flip-flops on his feet. I’ve put on a bikini with a pair of denim shorts and a black tank top over it and I’m wearing flip flops as well.
“Ready?” I ask him as he does a quick weight shift.
“Yeah, I guess so. I hate wearing shorts, my legs are so skinny,” he says with a sigh. “But it’s too damn hot here to wear jeans.”
“Your legs are fine, babe,” I say, kissing him.
“Whatever,” he says as he follows me through the door and down the hall. We find my parents seated by a table on the covered back porch.
“Are you all settled in?” asks Mom.
“Yeah, we’re good,” I reply.
“And…um…will it be okay for you, Jonas?”
“It’s very accessible, Margrethe. Thanks,” he says with one of his disarming smiles. It seems to put Mom at ease.
“We also put in a ramp on the side of the porch, so you can access the pool area without having to go through the front door and around the house,” Dad says, pointing to said ramp.
“I really appreciate that,” Jonas says. “I really hope you didn’t have too many expenses on my behalf.”
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Dad says. “Just the wood. Themba, our gardener, did the work. This will be your home for the two of the next three weeks and hopefully this won’t be the only time you visit us.”
“Well, thanks. It does mean a lot to me.”
Dad nods and changes the subject; “So, what are your plans for the next few weeks? You’re going down to Cape Town for New Years Eve, right?”
“I’m just along for the ride,” Jonas chuckles. “I’ve left the itinerary completely up to Sigrid.”
“I was thinking that tomorrow we go to Rietvlei. Jonas is eager to see some African wildlife, but we’ll save Pilanesberg ‘til we get back from Cape Town. On Monday I figured we could go into Pretoria and see the Union Buildings and maybe drive out to the Fourtrekker monument. Apart from that I haven’t made solid plans, figured we’d just see what happens and we both need to relax too. School has been crazy for us lately, with heaps of assignments and exams.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” says Mom. “It will just be the four of us for Christmas. On Christmas Eve I’ll make the traditional Norwegian pork rib and sausage dinner, but apart from that I haven’t planned any typical Norwegian Christmas foods. I don’t think it works in this hot weather. I hope that’s okay.”
“No problem for me,” Jonas says. “Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of Christmas food. I like to have the traditional stuff on Christmas Eve, but that’s enough for me.”
“We’re on the same page then,” Dad says. “If it was up to me we’d just do a braai for Christmas dinner, but these two ladies insists on traditional food.”
“It’s one day of the year, Bjørn,” Mom says, shaking her head. “You can do your braais the remaining 364 days of the year. On Christmas Eve we eat Norwegian Christmas food. That’s final.”
Mom excuses herself to fetch the sandwiches from the kitchen and as Dad and Jonas dive into a discussion about Norwegian politics I follow her to see if she needs help with anything. I’m relieved that the visit have gotten off to a good start and my parents both seem to like Jonas.
“I could get used to this,” Jonas says with a grin. We’re in the pool, sitting on the steps at the shallow end of it.
“Yeah, I might not want to go back to Norway when our vacation is over.”
“Me neither,” I say with a chuckle. “I knew going here was kind of risky.”
“So, what’s your plan for tomorrow?”
“Like I said at lunch I figured we’d drive out to Rietvlei and spend the day there. We can bring a picnic lunch and just drive around the game reserve.”
“Sounds good,” he says, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me in for a kiss.
The next morning I wake up from the sound of the shower running and I’m alone in bed. Jonas is already doing his morning routine. I grab my iPhone and check the time; 8 AM. He’s actually about an hour behind his normal schedule, which surprises me since he’s very adamant about keeping his routines, no matter what day it is. Then I remember that South Africa is actually an hour ahead of Norway, so he’s right on schedule.
When he wheels out of the bathroom about 15 minutes later he’s only wearing a pair of black boxer briefs. His hair is slightly damp and curls at the ends; I think he looks oh-so-yummy. His broad shoulders and toned arms and chest are magazine worthy and I realize that I’ll be seeing him shirtless a lot while we’re here as there is plenty of pool-time in our future.
“Morning, babe,” he greets me when he sees I’m awake.
“Good morning. Sleep well?” I ask as I get out of bed.
“Yeah. The birds here are loud though, they woke me up around five in the morning.”
“You’ll get used to it,” I assure him. “I don’t even hear it anymore.”
“So the plan today is to go to Rietvlei, right?” he asks.
“Yep. We’ll eat breakfast with Mom and Dad, then we can prepare a picnic basket and head there. It’s only a twenty minute drive or so from here. Oh, and I want to stop at the pie shop a few blocks away and get some pies too. I’ve been craving them since I left in July.”
“You and your pies,” Jonas chuckles. “Um, should I wear braces today? Or will I be fine in my chair.”
“We’ll spend most of the day in the car, but for our lunch break you’ll be better off if you’re tall. You can’t really get to the picnic tables in your chair I think.” I’m a little embarrassed that I’m not entirely sure how accessible things are. I wish I’d paid more attention.
“Hmmm… I guess I should go with braces then,” he says. “But then I’ll have to wear long pants.”
“Why? To hide them? Or do you have to wear KAFO socks under them?”
“I don't have to wear socks, they're padded. But yeah, I like to keep them out of sight,” he says with a shrug.
“You can’t exactly hide your chair. Or your crutches for that matter. Why do you care if your braces show? Just wear shorts.”
He sighs heavily and leans forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. “I guess you have a point,” he agrees after a few beats of silence.
“Well, I’m going to shower. Make up your mind while I’m in there, k?”
When I come out of the bathroom about twenty minutes later Jonas isn’t in our room and his wheelchair is left behind next to the bed. He has opted to go tall today and I wonder if he’s wearing shorts or jeans. It’s already pretty warm, so I hope he has been sensible enough to wear shorts.
I quickly get dressed in a pair of linen shorts and a plain white t-shirt with a deep V-neck. I pull my hair into a high ponytail and pad barefoot down the hall toward the kitchen. I love the feeling of our cool tiled floors under my feet.
“Good morning, Sigrid,” Mom greets me as I round the corner and enter the kitchen. I spot Jonas and my dad sitting at the table on the covered porch, both reading newspapers and they have mugs of coffee in front of them.
“Morning, Mom,” I say. I walk over to where she is standing at the stove and give her a quick hug. “Anything I can do to help you?”
“I think I’ve got it mostly covered, but you can start carrying things outside,” she says, gesturing to a basket filled with bread and a tray sitting on the kitchen island.
I pull into the parking lot at Pick n Pay in Waterkloof and I’m relieved that it’s pretty quiet. I park at the end of a row, to make sure Jonas won’t have any problems getting in and out of the car.
“So, this is pie-heaven?” he asks me as he grabs his crutches from the back seat.
“Yeah, we’ll get the pies from the pie shop over there,” I say, pointing to the London Pie trailer at the opposite end of the parking lot. “But I wanna drop by the bottle store and grab some beer and the supermarket for bottles of water.”
I wait for Jonas to get out and join me; as he rounds the front of the car I feel a wave of heat surging through me. He’s dressed in a pair of knee-length beige cargo shorts and a pale blue t-shirt and his feet are clad in Nike running shoes. His braces are clearly visible from his ankles to just above his knees and I find it hard not to stare.
“You really like this, don’t you?” he asks, using his left crutch tip to gesture to his legs.
“You know me,” I say, as I place a peck on his lips. He shakes his head and smiles wryly.
“So, bottle store? Is that like a liquor store?” he asks me as we head toward the shop.
“Yeah, they sell beer, wine and liquor. In South Africa you can’t buy any alcohol at the supermarket, you have to go to a bottle store.”
“Really? I thought Norway was strict.”
“Well, I still think Norway is stricter. The bottle stores have pretty generous opening hours and they’re allowed to trade on Sundays.”
“Ah, I see. That’s good.”
In the bottle store we pick up a couple of six-packs of Castle, a local beer, and then we head over to the supermarket to get some water. When we’re done at the supermarket stop by the pie shop and pick up a few different pies before we head back to the car. I put the water and a six-pack of beer in the cooler in the trunk while Jonas gets settled back into the front passenger seat.
We haven’t driven far into the game reserve before we spot our first animals; a couple of bleesbuck standing on the side of the road and Jonas is thrilled. I find it amusing that he’s like an excited little kid. Wonder how he’ll react when we see zebras.
“There’s a hide down there,” I say, pointing to a small wooden building at the edge of the lake in the middle of the reserve. “Wanna go out and see if we can spot some birds? And maybe some hippos too?”
“Sure,” Jonas says with a smile. “There are hippo’s here?”
“Yeah and crocodiles,” I confirm as I park the car by the hide. I’m happy that we’re alone.
I take a picture of Jonas by the sign that warns us to be ‘Beware of Dangerous Animals’ and then I walk behind him down the path that leads to the hide. I love watching when he’s using his crutches and braces and having the braces in plain sight is an added bonus.
Once we’re inside the hide Jonas shifts his right crutch into his left hand and wraps his right arm around me. I lean into him and we just stand there quietly looking out at the lake. After a few minutes we decided to return to the car; we didn’t see any hippos or crocodiles, but quite a few birds.
We continue our drive toward the picnic area and to my delight it doesn’t take long for us to spot two rhinos on the side of the road. We have a clear view of them and Jonas eagerly grabs his DLSR camera and snaps several photos.
“Cool, right?” I say as I set the vehicle in motion again.
“Awesome! I love it,” he says with a wide grin, placing his camera back in his lap.
By the time we arrive at the picnic spot almost an hour later we have seen plenty of zebras, a herd of eland and two ostrich. Jonas has taken about a bazillion pictures and is still acting like an excited little kid. I can’t wait to bring him to Pilanesberg.