We were collected by an Airport Security Guard (with Daniel’s wheelchair thank goodness) and escorted off the plane first. “Can you manage?” he asked Daniel, wondering whether he needed to be pushed or not.
“No, thanks” he replied “that is fine but could you help my fiancée with the cases?”
I looked at him and smiled. Well I suppose he was my fiancée even if none of our families knew it yet.
By the time we got through to the immigration gate, our suitcases were ready for us. In fact we were escorted right through immigration to the hire care company, helped into the car and off we drove to the hotel.
I had booked a luxurious Tel-Aviv hotel for two nights. My grandmother wanted us to stay with her and I explained to her on the phone that this was just not possible.
“Look” she had argued “your mother explained to me about Daniel and from what I can gather about his parents’ home, my home is a mansion in comparison”.
“Yes I know grandma” I argued “but I thought we can have two nights in luxury and then we can drive to the hospital. I will see you every day when he is doing is training and then after that we will drive to the Moshav to meet his uncle. If you came to England more, we could all see more of you?”
“You know that that is not possible” she retorted.
“Why?” I asked knowing full well.
“I can’t stand your father. I’m admitting it right to your face. He is not worthy of her. She could have married a doctor – if she would have found one”.
“Grandma it is enough now. Daddy and mummy have been married for thirty years and are happy. Just leave it”.
“Firstly he married my daughter and then he took her completely away? When you have your own daughter you will know how that feels”.
One thing I haven’t told you about my grandmother is that she never got to grips with the Hebrew language. She spoke to her children and grandchildren in German (including me) and got around Tel-Aviv speaking in a type of pigeon English which everyone seems to understand.
“Will your grandma dislike me too do you think?” Daniel asked as we sped away from the airport and along a dusty highway.
“No” I sighed. “Only my father”.
We arrived at the hotel and as soon as the door of the room was firmly closed, I opened the door of the balcony and sniffed the air.
The balcony looked onto the see which glistened and twinkled under the navy blue starry sky. “Dan” I called to him “just come and look at this.”
“It is pitch black outside” he answered. “What is there to see?”
He came outside and just starred. “It is just beautiful and smell the air. There is nothing like it.”
“Oh Daniel I know” I said hugging him. “That is just what I always think. What you are saying makes me have goose bumps right down my spine”.
“Ok” he said “now it is going to have to be official. Tonight is too special”. I looked at him.
“Sara, will you marry me AGAIN?”
He asked me just like that. I looked at him. “This time I have actually asked your father for your “hand in marriage”.
I fell into his arms. “I love you so much. What did my father say when you asked him and when did you do it?”
“Well he opened a bottle of champagne. They were both delighted. He suggested actually that we could get married here??”
“Here?” I asked
“Yes” he confirmed. “My parents are waiting for the word and they will come over. Your father suggested that perhaps my uncle could marry us on the Moshav. You see, he wants your grandma to see us get married”.
I shook my head in disbelief. “We must tell her how much my father wants her at the wedding. I don’t suppose she will care she is very stubborn. What about your brother and sister and what about my sister?”
“Well” he said mysteriously. “I have spoken to our both sets of parents and what we thought was, if we got married here, we could have a massive party when we get home.”
I thought for a moment. “Can it be done?”
“Well, as you know. I can do anything. I have been thinking about this for a while. Your mother is arriving next week. All you have to do is go and chose a dress.”
“Really?” I said. “Everyone is okay with it?”
“Well, my parents are up for anything and your father is absolutely thrilled that you are getting married in Israel. I am almost positive that your sister will come for a couple of days and they are probably organising the party for when we get back as we speak”.
I went to bed happy and made my delighted phone calls in the morning.
After the best meal of the day which for anyone that has visited Israel will know is breakfast we made our way to my grandmother’s house.
Her house was in walking distance from the hotel. A small enclave of white brick houses amongst a circle of hotels. Each home owner has been offered millions for the sale of their house. The owners of these houses on the whole had bought the house from new and were all over eighty. The hotel owners were waiting for them to die to extend their empires.
I was just about to knock on the door when I heard a call from above. My grandmother was waiting for us on the balcony. “Sara” she called “Daniel – come up. I’ve left the door open”.
Daniel got in reasonable easily. My grandmother had placed some cardboard over the one step leading into the house and somehow it worked.
“Grandma” I said cuddling her. I introduced her to Daniel and she hugged him. Looking at my grandmother I felt wistfully sad that the strong woman I had always known was shrinking into a wizened old lady.
“So?” she asked “what do you think. I have lost quite a few kilos. Don’t I look good?” she said as she spun round a little too energetically.
“You look wonderful grandma!” I told her.
“and you Daniel, was I what I was expecting.”
“Even better.” He answered in perfect German.
“I didn’t realise that you spoke German?” I asked him.
“Of course and French. You don’t spend years at public school without being at least bilingual. All I have to do is learn Hebrew now and I will be okay.”
“Well not for me” my grandmother answered. “I only speak German and English, but only if I have to.”
We spent a long and glorious day with her. She cooked, we talked and first and foremost she was happy with my choice of a husband.
“And next week” she said as we left “while he is in the hospital come to me and we will get you a wedding dress alright”. I hugged her. “I would love that.”
“What did you think?” I asked Daniel.
He thought for a moment. “I tell you what I think, we sat there and she spoke and made a fuss of both of us. I thought “I am so pleased to have a grandma again!””
“Oh that is so nice. I am totally used to it and you haven’t had one for years have you?”
“Not since I was about seven I think when my grandmother died. She is very special. If that is what I have to look forward to in my old age, I am happy. Let’s go back and order some drinks and sit on the balcony.” I happily obliged.
As we sat on the balcony Daniel became reflective.
“The next two weeks are going to be very difficult. I don’t think you realise”.
“I do. It will be very difficult physically and mentally for you and I want to share it with you. I already told you that.”
“Not in the beginning” he replied “I told you I don’t want you to see me “helpless”. Let me just get a grasp on the situation.”
“Alright” I said reluctantly “I do understand where you are coming from and I have looked at the brochures. The rooms aren’t actually that bad, a little basic perhaps but no worse than a kibbutz.”
“I just worry about you that’s all?”
“Why? I should be worried about you??”
“Because this is all about me. This has cost so much money to get this brace fitted and we could have spent it on a house or ...”
“For goodness sake” I said sighing “this is our future and let’s get you as fit as possible. We both own a property and if we wanted to move we could just sell them both. Stop worrying about things like this.”
“and I haven’t bought you a ring yet” he added.
“I think you are panicking and having second thoughts about tomorrow. Just stop for a moment. I don’t care about a ring for a start (although a little one would be nice). If you don’t want to go to the hospital tomorrow, we won’t go. We can just have a holiday”.
“I do want to go” he said sipping his drink “don’t take any notice of me”.
“I’m not” I said.
The next morning we drove to the hospital which was about forty five minutes from Tel-Aviv. As we went through the huge white gates and drove to our parking space I could see that this whole property was accessible in every way. We walked through the gates and it seemed that even the staff were in wheelchairs.
We booked into our room which was apparently a “delux” version which came with an accessible hot tub outside. Daniel had just about enough time to unpack his suitcase when he was whisked off to start the training. As I didn’t relish the thought of driving back again to Tel-Aviv, I decided to put on my bikini and climb in the hot tub and listen to my i-player.
I was not sure how long as I was lying there but I suddenly became aware that I was watched.
I looked up and saw a girl in her early twenties with long flowing Indian like hair just touching her waist and dark Asiatic eyes. She stared at me.
“Are you Israeli?” she asked in Hebrew.
“Yes” I replied “but I have lived in England nearly all my life “and you?”
“Yes” she said “I am”.
“Who is on this program, you or your friend?”
“Oh” I said thinking for a moment “my fiancée. What about you?” realising stupidly that it was in fact probably her as she was in a wheelchair.
“It is me of course” she answered. “Do you mind if I come in your hot tub too. I haven’t got one. My name is Nurit by the way.”
“Sara” I said “and go ahead”.
Nurit expertly manoevered into the hot tub.
“How long have you been engaged if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Well only since the other day actually but we had been talking about it for a while.”
“you knew him before his accident?” she asked
“No” I replied “I met him afterwards.”
“You didn’t mind?”
“No” I answered a little sharply. “Why are you asking me so many questions?”
“I just wondered that’s all. I have been like this since I was 17. I was in a motor cycle accident which was totally my fault by the way and I have never managed to have a decent relationship.”
“You are very attractive” I told her. “Why can’t you? Saying that, I had lots of terrible relationships before I met Daniel?”
“I have theory about that” said Nurit. “Have you only just arrived here?” she asked.
“This morning” I confirmed “and already Danny has started the training”.
“Yes” she confirmed “there is no point wasting time. Later on when you go down for dinner look around. You will see lots of men with wives, girlfriends, fiancées like you but very little women with the same.”
“Why is that then?” I asked.
“They warned me in the hospital years ago. Beware of devotees. I mean that I have been out with lots of men and they have been totally fascinated with my body, delighted with it in fact but at the end of the day, do you know what really turned them on?? Really, really turned them on??”
“I have absolutely no idea?” I answered warily not sure if I wanted to hear the answer. “You are very pretty though”
“They got turned on by my paralysis. They loved it that I couldn’t move. They loved it that they thought they could domineer me. What turned them on was for me to be useless, unable, disabled. One took away my chair and wanted me to crawl to him, another one ....”
“I am so sorry Nurit” I said practically in tears. “It is not like that for us, not one little bit. I just try to ....”
“I am not suggesting it is like that for one moment I am just telling you how it is for me. I am going now she said and with that she got out of the water and left.”
Daniel came back later and was totally exhausted and slept for two hours. When he woke up I asked him how it went.
“Well” he said sitting up “they said that I was very fit and was perfect for the trial”.
“I didn’t realise it was a trial” I said “you paid for this”.
“Apparently your aunt got me in this quickly because I am on a trial. Good part is I don’t have to pay but bad part is, they may not accept me. They have chosen me because of my injury level and fitness.”
“Did they say that they would keep you on the trial though?” I asked
“Yes, as long as I work hard it will be fine. Don’t worry but I am totally exhausted. I have never worked so hard in all my life. I wore the brace and of course it can move me, but I still can’t feel it and I have to concentrate and sometimes I feel my mind wandering off. It is really difficult.”
“I met someone today” I told him tentatively. “She is next door actually. An Israel girl called Nurit. She told me something really strange actually.”
“Really?” he said too tired to listen. “She explained to me that most of the men who are interested in her are called “devotees” and they are only interested in her only because she can’t walk. That is what turns them on.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I have heard of this. They told us about this in rehab. Some of the guys there said they wanted to meet some” he said laughing.
“But actually it is not funny” I told him “I think these men are totally perverted. Is that why you don’t want me to watch you use the brace? Is that why I can only see you use the brace when you know how to use it.”
“What are you talking about now?” he asked me.
“What are you talking about now?” he asked me.
“What I mean is, you don’t want me to see you struggling in case it turns me on or something like that.”
“Sara” he said getting angry “that is not true and it is utter rubbish. I wanted you to see me walking. I wanted you to walk into the room and see me standing there – you know like a surprise. It has got nothing to do with “turning you on” or any rubbish like that. You don’t even react to my disability, never mind it turning you on. Why do you listen to people???? Well?”
I looked at him. “I am so sorry. It is just that I listened to what she said. I am still a little bit stunned”.
He kissed me. “Don’t worry about it. Don’t you realise, it is a good thing. We have had our first row.”
“Why is that a good thing?”
“Because we get to make up. Now, pass my my Viagra.”
“Are you sure you’re not too tired” I asked shyly.
“Am I ever ...”
The days went on. Daniel was training and using the brace and I spent the day with my grandmother. We spent the day shopping, drinking coffee and then finally she bought me a wedding dress.
“I don’t think you should get something so formal” she announced “as you will be getting married here. It is not so fancy here, especially if you are getting married on a Moshav”.
“I don’t want anything “fancy”” I confirmed to her. “I want something flowing. I always wanted to get married on the beach with bare feet and flowers in my hair”.
“Well I think that might be a little difficult for Daniel but in any case wherever you get married will be very spiritual and beautiful and you can still wear flowers in your hair if you wish”.
We walked in to a wedding shop and I glanced around in disgust. “Grandma these dresses are all white, plasticy polyester with horrible bits sown on. I want something, I don’t know. I may know it when I see it”.
We walked out. “I found you very embarrassing Sara” my grandmother complained. “Walking out of a shop. You see you are very spoilt now that you are are English”.
Suddenly I glanced across the road. There in the window was a long, very pale blue maxi dress. At a closer glance it was pale blue chiffon with little crystals sewn on to it.
“Look at that” I said pointing at the dress. “I can wear that with silver sandals and little white flowers in my hair.”
“It is blue” my grandmother said simply.
“Very pale aquamarine” I corrected
“I thought white” she said
“I hardly qualify and that is a very old fashioned concept. Just let me try it on.”
We walked into the shop and came out ten minutes later with my wedding dress. “Yes it is very beautiful on you” she confirmed. “We will keep it at my house so that Daniel will not see it. We don’t want any bad luck.”
That evening I went back to the hospital. I got a text from Daniel. Come to Room 131. I walked in the room with anticipation and saw him standing for the first time holding the frame. I ran up to him and put my hands around his neck and kissed him. He let go of the frame with one hand and put his one arm around my waist.
“This is what I have been waiting for” he said and kissed me and then quickly put his arm back on the frame.
“me too” I told him “and I didn’t even realise it”.
“Look at this” he said proudly as he walked across the gym holding onto the frame.
“It is fabulous” I told him. “Your movements seem really natural. Eventually will you be able to walk without the walker but just with the electrodes or something like that?”
“One day” said the instructor “but more work needs to be done and more has to be explored. At the moment Daniel should practice using this brace and use it daily. Eventually he can use it more and more and his muscles will be exercised. It is all good. Now, watch Daniel take all the mechanics off and go back to your room to rest for dinner.
A few days later we were on the road to the Moshav where Daniel’s uncle was a Rabbi.
“How do you feel now that you are upright? I mean can you notice any difference with anything? Is it good for your ego? How do you feel? I asked him.
He thought for a moment as he took a large swig of the bottle of water that we were both sharing. “I feel great to be upright and I didn’t think I would even care but apart from that, I honestly can’t feel any difference. To walk along and concentrate where my feet are treading is to hard and takes such .....”
“but you are pleased that you did it are you?” I asked feeling guilty for pushing him into it.
“Yes, because ultimately it is better than sitting all the time but it is not a cure, you know that don’t you?”
I nodded. “Did you ever meet that girl that I spoke to, Nurit??”
“Yes I did actually. Why?”
“Because what she said to me really made me think that’s why?”
“Well you ...” he said searching for the words “you, I am sure, I hope, see me as being me and attractive etc and you love me for what I am don’t you? Why, from what she said to you, so if I was on the floor and I couldn’t move, would this turn you on, would you find that attractive?”
I shook my head. “Well then what are you worried about? I don’t know who is more sick. The men that she is talking about or her for teasing you because that is what she did. She couldn’t bear the thought that we are both happy.”
“I’m sorry but you wanted me to be honest with you didn’t you? You always want me to say how I feel?”
“Yes” he said “but we are okay.”
TO BE CONTINUED