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Sunday, January 1, 2012
As I tie the laces on my trusty red Converse shoes it feels like I have a million butterflies fluttering around my stomach. I’m nervous and excited at the same time. I turned 19 three weeks ago and I’m about to enroll to the Norwegian Business School. I haven’t lived in Norway since I was a toddler and now I’m back in my hometown; Oslo and today is the first day of school.
My father is journalist and he works as a foreign correspondent for a Norwegian press agency. Mom is a freelance photographer that often works for the same agency as Dad. When I was only three years old my father got his first assignment abroad; in London and we moved there. Later Washington D.C, Los Angeles and Brisbane were added to the list of cities we’ve lived in. For the past seven years my family has called Pretoria, South Africa home.
I have never felt a strong connection to Norway. I was so young when we left and we have only been back for visits once or twice a year. My passport says I’m Norwegian, but I honestly feel more South African. I have lived there since I was twelve and we’ve really settled in there. I think I shocked everyone; family and friends, when I announced that I wanted to go to college in Norway. I even surprised myself a little when I made the decision.
An hour later I have made it through a long queue to get my information packet and I’m headed to the auditorium where the enrollment ceremony will be held. From what I’ve read about it on the student union website it’s pretty much an orientation meeting.
By the time I arrive in the auditorium it’s starting to fill up, but luckily there are several available seats on the back row. For some reason I have always preferred to sit in the back of the classroom or auditorium. I slide into the third seat from the aisle, put the envelope I with my information packet down on the desk in front of me and dig out my notebook and a pen from my well-worn leather messenger bag. Before I place the bag on the floor under my seat I double-check that I’ve turned off the sound on my iPhone.
A soft clicking sound catch my attention a few minutes later and I look up to see a man making his way toward the available aisle seat next to me. He is on forearm crutches and I assume he wear braces on his legs. I can’t stop myself from watching him as he plants the crutches in front of him and swing his legs forward so they land even with the crutch tips. He makes it look easy and his fluid almost graceful movements mesmerize me.
From I was young I’ve been fascinated by people using wheelchairs, braces, crutches...; and as I’ve grown older my attraction has narrowed down to paraplegic men. There’s something about the contrast between their strong upper bodies and thin, motionless legs that I find incredibly sexy. I would’ve been attracted to this guy if he was in a wheelchair, but braces and crutches are just incredibly hot.
It doesn’t hurt that he is devastatingly handsome; straight nose, chiseled jaw, slightly shaggy dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes that are framed by a pair of stylish horn rimmed glasses. He is dressed in a pair of dark, loose fitting jeans and a plain navy blue V-necked t-shirt that hugs him in all the right places and reveals a lean, yet muscular upper body. His feet are clad in a pair of Nike sneakers.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” Suddenly he is right next to me and the sound of his deep baritone voice startles me slightly.
“It’s all yours,” I announce while I smile at him and hope I sound less flustered than I feel. I also hoped I didn’t mess up my Norwegian too much. It’s kind of rusty; English is my first language and although my parents have tried to always speak Norwegian at home I’m not native fluent.
“Thanks,” he say as he lower himself down so he is sitting on the side of the seat with his legs straight out in front of him. Then he slide his arms out of the cuffs of his crutches and lean them against the empty seat between us before he removes his backpack and places that on the same seat. Finally he unlocks his braces and uses his hands to swing his legs in front of the seat. After shifting his weight quickly and very subtly he reaches for his backpack and get a notebook, pencil case and a bottle of water out of it.
He turns and smiles at me and I have a feeling he’s about to say something, but the lights in the auditorium dim and music start coming from the speakers around the room and we both turn our attention to the big screen above the podium.
After the ceremony in the main auditorium is over we are divided into groups based on our majors and whisked off to other, smaller auditoriums to get more course specific information. The guy on crutches vanishes surprisingly fast and when I enter the auditorium my class was told to meet in he was nowhere to be seen. I feel a bit silly, but I really hoped he’d be in my class.
The rest of the week is a blur of activities. In addition to starting classes there are lots of activities to help people get to know each other. I’m surprised by how hard people are partying. Some of my fellow students are drunk every night that week. It’s not something that appeals to me and I think I’m seen as boring by many because I don’t drink as much and leave the parties early so I’ll be able to focus at school the next day.
Over the next couple of weeks I settle into life at school. It’s pretty busy, but I find most of my subjects interesting and dive eagerly into my studies. The social side of things isn’t great. I’m still treated as a bit of an outsider, most of the activities my fellow students invite me along to involved partying and drinking, which is just not my thing.
I miss my friends and family back in South Africa and try to find time to Skype with my friends there almost daily. I sometimes regret not joining my best friend who is studying at the University of Cape Town. I see the guy on crutches around a few times, but only from a distance. The sight of him makes my heart skip a beat (or three) and I wish I could work up the courage to approach him.
About a month after the start of the semester I’m sitting in the cafeteria, eating lunch. Normally I bring a packed lunch, but today a salad from the salad bar was just too tempting. It’s peak lunch hour and most of the tables are occupied. I’m reading an email from a friend back in South Africa on my iPhone while eating and don’t really pay attention to what’s going on around me.
“Hi!” A vaguely familiar male voice startles me slightly. I put my phone down and look straight into the face of the guy on crutches. It takes me a moment to realize he’s seated in a wheelchair.
“Uhh…hi,” I manage to squeak out. Smooth, Sigrid. Very smooth, I berate myself.
“You probably don’t remember me, I sat next to you at the enrollment ceremony,” he starts, he seems a bit unsure of himself.
“I remember,” I reply lamely. I’m not sure what to say and I desperately want him to like me.
“Would you mind if I join you? It’s packed here and…” his voice trails off. When I don't reply immediately he quickly adds; “Or are you waiting for someone?”
“Oh…no. I’m not waiting for anyone. Please join me.”
“Thanks,” he says with a smile. I watch as he slides a chair out of the way to make room for his wheelchair and rolls up to the table. When he’s settled in he grabs the sandwich and water bottle he has in his lap and place the items on the table in front of him. Then he opens the sandwich wrapper and wolfs down the first half lightning fast. I can’t stop a small laugh from escaping me.
“I didn’t have time for breakfast this morning,” he says after wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“I have to admit I rarely eat breakfast,” I reply. I’m not a breakfast person, never have been. “It’s a bad habit of mine.”
“I’m Jonas by the way,” he introduces himself and extendeds his right hand across the table.
I grasp his hand and reply with a smile; “I’m Sigrid. Nice to meet you.”
“Sigrid? You’re Norwegian?” He sounds genuinely surprised. It’s not the first time I get this reaction when I introduce myself.
“I was born here, by Norwegian parents, but my dad’s job meant I’ve spent most of my life living abroad. We moved to London when I was about three and kept moving around.”
“Really? So how many places have you lived?”
“After London we moved to Washington D.C, Los Angeles, Brisbane and for the past seven years we’ve lived in Pretoria, South Africa. Honestly I’ve never felt a strong tie to Norway, I’ve just visited a time or two every year, but can’t remember living here.”
“So why did you chose to come here for college? I’m sure there are schools in South Africa? And I know for a fact that the climate there is nicer than here.“ Jonas has finished his sandwich and is leaning forward, his forearms resting on the table. He seems genuinely interested in learning about me. Stay cool and don’t freeze up and act like a moron, I tell myself
“Figured I’d get to know my home country and try to learn the language properly. My grandparents live here in Oslo and they were ecstatic when they heard I’d decided to go to school here.”
“I bet they were. They probably missed you when you were younger.”
“Definitely. What about you? I mean, I can hear that you’re Norwegian, but are you from the area?” I decide to turn attention away from me since I’m eager to learn more about him.
“I grew up in Lillestrøm, but I’ve lived in the city for the past ten years.”
“So you know the city well?”
“Yeah, I’d say so.”
“Awesome! If you don’t mind I might pick your brain for some insider tips,” I say, feeling incredibly brave and cheeky. I’m rewarded with a smile that would make nine-out-of-ten-dentists proud.
“I don’t mind at all,” Jonas says with a grin. Then he changes the subject again. “What’s your major?”
“Business management. I opted for a degree that is taught in English. What about you?”
“Accounting. It’s sort of surreal to me that I'm a student ‘cause I’ve never been much of an academic. Three years ago I worked as a carpenter and owned a construction company that was doing pretty well.”
“What happened?” I blurt out without thinking. As soon as the words escaped my mouth I regret them. He obviously wasn’t in a wheelchair when he worked as a carpenter.
“I fell off the scaffolding at a construction site.”
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.
Should I tell Jonas I’m a devotee? And how will he react if I tell him? Those two questions keep coming up in my mind whenever I think of him. I’ve been dreaming about dating someone like him for years, but I’ve never really thought about what to tell the guy. Part of me thinks being honest and telling him right away is the best policy, but I’m afraid it will freak him out. I’m hesitant to make any decisions.
I’ve only seen Jonas briefly a couple of times since our date; we’re both busy with lectures and assignments and our schedules don’t match. Today is Thursday and we’re meeting for lunch. I can’t wait to spend some time with him again.
I’m already sitting at a table in the cafeteria when Jonas arrives. I admire him as he approaches; he’s on his crutches and he’s dressed in a pair of beige chinos and a navy blue polo shirt. He smiles as he sees me and I impulsively stand up and greet him with a kiss. He stiffens a bit, and I wonder if it’s too much, too soon. After all; we’ve only been on one date. When I feel the corners of his mouth lifting as I press my lips to his I relax.
“Hey there,” he says as we pull apart, a teasing glint is evident in his deep brown eyes. “Happy to see me?”
“Yeah, very,” I reply as I sit back down.
“I’m happy to see you too,” Jonas says as he lowers himself to a chair. I watch as he unlocks his braces and positions his legs. When he’s all settled he digs a bottle of water and a sandwich out of his backpack.
“Do you have any plans this weekend?” he asks me after he has taken a few bites of his sandwich.
I shake my head, I’ve just taken a big bite of my wrap and I don’t want to speak with my mouth full of food. That’s just disgusting.
“Wanna come over to my place on Saturday? I’ll make some lunch and we can hang out and get to know each other better. And if we’re not sick of each others company by dinner time I’ll take you out to dinner.”
“Sounds great,” I reply happily. We didn’t really talk that much on our first date and most of our conversation was pretty superficial. I think we were both nervous and afraid of prying too much, I know I was. Still am. I’ve got a lot of questions I’d like to ask him about his disability, but from the way he talked about it the first time we had lunch together I got a feeling that he’s not too keen on talking about it. Although Jonas appears to be confident there’s definitely insecurity and vulnerability there as well.
Friday evening I send my best friend Natalie a WhatsApp message and ask if she has time to talk – I need some advice from her. Five minutes later we’re Skyping.
“How did your big “I-hope-it’s-date” thing last Friday go?” she asks me eagerly. I might have mentioned it to her a time or three…
“It was great. Jonas is a great guy, but he’s a bit withdrawn. He seems kinda unsure of himself, I can’t really explain it. I have a feeling he hasn’t really dated since before he was injured.”
“So what did you do? You went to the concert, right? Did you eat before?”
I gave her a quick run-down of our evening; the food hall, our dinner at Døgnvill, the concert and finally the conversation in the car outside my apartment.
“So, anyway… Just before I got out of his car I offered to pay for my part of the evening and he said that since he’d asked me on a date he was paying. Back at the restaurant he just said that he’d asked me out, didn’t mention date. I think I must’ve looked kind of stunned, ‘cause he told me it could just be a friend’s night out if that what I wanted.”
“So what did you say?”
“I told him I wanted it to be a date and then we kissed. He’s a great kisser.”
“So, you’re dating now?”
“I guess so. We had lunch together yesterday and he invited me over to his place tomorrow. I’m so happy, Natalie! I mean, he’s my dream guy! Tall, dark, handsome…”
“And paralyzed,” Natalie interjects. She’s one of the few people that know about me being a devotee. It’s not something I’ve told a lot of people. “Have you told him about your ‘thing’ for disabled guys?”
“No, I haven’t. Sheesh, we’re just getting to know each other. We’ve been on one date and had lunch together at school a couple of times… I’m not sure when I should tell him – and if I should tell him. What if he thinks I’m a total freak?”
“What if he thinks is cool? I really think you should tell him and sooner rather than later. Let me ask you something; would you be attracted to him if he wasn’t disabled?”
“Yeah, we really clicked. His disability is just a bonus, the icing on the cake…”
“There you go. Make sure to get that point across and I bet you’ll be fine.”
I sigh. Natalie keeps insisting I should tell Jonas about being a devotee as soon as possible. After I say I’ll think about it we move on to chatting about other things; mainly school and she catches me up on what’s going on with some of my other friends in South Africa. We chat for almost an hour before we finally bid each other goodbye.
Not long after I end my conversation with Natalie my cellphone rings; it’s Jonas. I take a deep cleansing breath before I answer the phone, hoping I don’t sound as giddy as I feel about him calling.
“Hello.” Eloquent Sigrid, I berate myself.
“Hey. Hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”
“No, not at all. I just ended a Skype call with my best friend back in South Africa a few minutes ago.”
“Ah, cool. Gotta love technology,” he says with a chuckle.
“Yeah, definitely. Glad we have Skype, ‘cause phone calls to South Africa are ridiculously expensive.”
“I bet. I just realized I forgot to give you my address yesterday. Figured it would be good for you to know where I live since you’re coming over to morrow.”
“I didn’t think about it either,” I say. “I definitely need your address so I can put it into the map app on my phone.”
“I can pick you up,” he offers.
“No. Thanks for offering, but I really need to familiarize myself with the city. I’m sure I can catch a bus or a tram to where you live.”
“Yeah, you can just take the 21 bus down to Aker brygge. I live on Tjuvholmen, it’s just a 5 minute walk from the bus stop,” he says.
“Oh, awesome! I can figure that out,” I say. The 21 bus stops at the bus stop down the street from my apartment. We chat a little longer before we say good night.
I’m surprised that he lives on Tjuvholmen; it’s one of the most expensive areas in Oslo and right at the waterfront. It’s not really suitable for a student’s budget, so I wonder how he can afford it.
A few minutes after noon on Saturday Jonas buzzes me in to his building and I take the elevator up to his third floor apartment. When I arrive at his front door quickly straighten out my clothes before I push the doorbell. Jonas opens the door almost immediately; he’s in his wheelchair and looks a little insecure. I’ve only seen him in his chair a couple of times; he seems to prefer crutches and braces when he’s out and about. The wheelchair is a compact manual model; rigid frame painted in a dark grey metallic with low backrest and no armrests or push handles. His sock clad feet rest on a single footrest.
“Hi,” I say with a bright smile.
“You made it,” he says in a way of a greeting, also smiling. I bend down and kiss him hello and when I stand back up he rolls back a little and gestures for me to come in. I step into his apartment and watch as he closes and locks the door. He’s dressed a pair of loose fitting jeans that have been through the wash a few times and a plain white t-shirt that hugs him in all the right places and shows off his tan. His hair is a little mussed and there’s a dark shadow on his jaw that suggests he hasn’t shaved today. Damn, he’s hot!
I follow him into what turns out to be a pretty spacious open-planned kitchen and living room. I notice that the kitchen is wheelchair-accessible; lowered counters and no upper cabinets. The room is furnished with a dining room table with eight chairs around it and a large grey couch with a chaise lounge on one end with a glass and steel coffee table in front of it. Opposite of the couch a huge flat screen TV hangs on the wall. The place is definitely a man’s apartment, but I like it.
My eyes drift to the one wall is basically floor to ceiling windows with a sliding door that opens out to a large balcony. He has a sea view and straight across the bay is the Akershus fortress.
“Nice place,” I say. “And amazing view.”
“It’s not too shabby,” he replies, a smile tugging at his lips. “Make yourself comfortable on the balcony. I’ve almost got the food ready.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
He hesitates for a second, then he puts me to work on setting the dining table on the balcony. He has already set out plates, cutlery and glasses on the kitchen island, as well as two placemats and a basket with napkins and various sauces, oils and spices.
“This apartment is a notch or three above the typical student accommodation,” I say with a smile. We’ve finished eating lunch and after we cleared the table and put the leftover food away we’ve both settled in on the couch Jonas’ balcony.
Jonas chuckles. “Yeah, I know. My construction company did part of the work on this building and I bought the apartment early on, long before construction actually started, at a great price. There’s no way I could afford it at the price it would go for today. I originally bought it as an investment, I planned on selling it with a profit.”
“How long have you lived here?”
“Little over two years. Still miss my old place sometimes; it was in an old building up at Majorstua. It was a total mess when I bought it and I did most of the work myself. It had lots of original features; high ceilings, some exposed brick… Unfortunately it was on the 4th floor and there’s no elevator in the building. Couldn’t move back there after my accident, so I had some work done in this place while I was in rehab and moved in here when I was discharged.”
“Ah, I see. This place seems to be very good in terms of accessibility.”
“Yeah. The basics were already in place, so I didn’t need to do much, I replaced the kitchen and made some adjustments in the master bathroom and that was it really. It’s great, but still I miss the character my old place had,” he says with a wistful smile.
“Yeah, I get that. I wish my place had more character, it’s kind of non-descript. All white walls and IKEA furniture.”
“Are you allowed to paint? Adding some color can make a big difference.”
“I’d have to check with my parents, but I don’t think they’d mind. As long as I don’t paint in some insane color.”
“You live in your parents apartment?” Jonas asks.
“Yeah, they bought it when they were newlyweds and when we moved to London they decided to let it. The last tenant’s lease expired this summer and they didn’t renew it since I was moving here. I’m glad I haven’t had to negotiate the crazy real estate market.”
“That’s definitely a good thing,” Jonas says. “I know many students struggle to find somewhere to live. And the prices are insane.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard some horror stories from people in my class. I really shouldn’t be whining about white walls.”
Jonas chuckles. “No, you shouldn’t,” he says. Then he changes the subject. “Do you come from a big family?”
“No, I’m an only child. How about you?”
“I’ve got two brothers, I’m the oldest.”
We continue to talk about our families and I soon find myself sharing stories from my childhood and teens; little tidbits from the different places I’ve lived in and Jonas is listening attentively, occasionally commenting or asking questions.
“Are you familiar with the term ‘devotee’?” I ask tentatively a little later in the afternoon. A few glasses of wine have given me the courage to broach the subject. I’m still not sure it’s a good idea, but I figure honesty is the best policy.
“A little. While I was in rehab I did some online research about spinal cord injuries and I came across a couple of devotee websites. From what I understood it’s basically a person that’s attracted to people with disabilities. Initially I thought it seemed weird, creepy…” he pauses briefly, seems like he needs to gather his thoughts. Then he turns and looks at me. “Why do you ask? Are you trying to tell me something?” he asks, his voice is flat and he doesn’t reveal any emotion.
I nod. “Yeah. I am. And you think I’m creepy.” I feel like such an idiot and I can feel my cheeks reddening. “I’ll get out of here.” I stand up and gather my tote bag and stuff my cardigan haphazardly into it and head toward the front door. Tears are welling up in my eyes. Fuck, fuck, fuck… I knew it! I should’ve kept my mouth shut.
“Sigrid! Wait! Don’t leave!” Jonas wheels up to me just as I’m about to unlock his front door. I notice his glasses are a little askew on his nose and his feet aren’t as neatly aligned on the footplate as they were earlier. He has obviously hurried when he transferred back to his chair. “Can we please talk about this?”
“What’s the point? You think I’m a creep,” I say. Damn, I just want to get the hell out of here. This is humiliating.
“I never said that. You made that conclusion in your mind,” Jonas says gently.
“You said you think devotees are creepy.”
“I said that initially I thought it seemed creepy.”
“Right…” I shuffle my feet, not sure what to say or do. This conversation is definitely taking an unexpected turn.
“Hear me out, please?” he pleads. I nod and tentatively follow Jonas back to the balcony. I sit down on the edge of the couch and he remains seated in his wheelchair across from me. This is weird twist. He’s begging me to stay, despite that he thinks I’m a creep.
“So you’re attracted me because I’m paralyzed?” he asks. He doesn’t show much emotion; maybe he seems a little curious.
“No! It’s not like that at all. Yes, your disability was the first thing I noticed, and then I noticed your good looks. I like tall, dark men with a bit of a rugged look. And as we’ve gotten to know each other I’ve become more attracted to you because of the person you are. The disability thing is more of bonus, if that makes sense. I know it’s weird, but from I was a young child I’ve been fascinated by people using crutches, wheelchairs…my Barbie dolls had plenty of accidents that required toilet paper casts…” I realize I’m rambling and clamp my mouth shut.
There’s an awkward silence before Jonas speaks. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly; he seems to be thinking.
“When I learned about devotees I was still in rehab, I wasn’t adjusted to my disability at all. I was struggling to accept everything that comes with a spinal cord injury and that someone could actually find it attractive was totally mind boggling to me. I thought that devotees had to be creeps. Freaks,” he sighs and rakes a hand through his hair. Then he pushes his glasses up his nose, they’ve slipped a little. When he’s done he leans forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. “Anyway, I didn’t go back to those websites and I just focused on rehab and then trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. After a couple of failed attempts at dating I started to wonder if I’d ever find a woman that’s cool with every aspect of my disability.”
“What happened?” I blurt out when he doesn’t carry on.
“They basically freaked out when I told them a bit about crip mechanics… They were okay with the mobility issues, at least I thought they were, but when they learned about the rest of the package they couldn’t get out of here soon enough. I was pretty depressed and basically decided I was done with dating, tried to convince myself I was fine with being single. One evening I was surfing the net and I ended up back on some of the devotee sites. I read some stories on there and I started to think that maybe it’s not a bad thing.”
“Really?” I ask, disbelief lacing my voice. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
“Yeah. You’re familiar with crip mechanics, right? You know there’s more to my disability than the mobility issues?”
I nod. He continues before I can say anything. “Bowel and bladder routine, skin checks, range of motion exercises… And you’re cool with that?”
“I am,” I reply with a tentative smile.
“I knew you were something special from the moment I sat down next to you at the enrollment ceremony,” he says, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something told me that I should get to know you.”
“Yeah, just took me a while to work up the courage to approach you.”
“I was still working up the courage to approach you when you asked if you could join me for lunch,” I admit. “I’d seen you around, but didn’t really have a reason to go up to you, so I didn’t.”
“Well, here we are. I like you a lot, Sigrid. And I’m really attracted to you. I’m pretty sure you feel the same way about me. Am I right?”
“Yeah, definitely,” I reply, grinning.
“I’m glad we’re on the same page,” Jonas says, smiling broadly.