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We arrived at Berkhamsted station at five to nine, with 20 minutes to spare before the next train to Euston. It was a blazingly hot day, so we were both wearing T-shirts, shorts and sandals, and were both covered in sun-cream. I got the tickets, and walked back to Hannah, and we then went up to the platform in the lift. A middle-aged couple got in with us, and failed to disguise completely their glances at Hannah. Well, she is extremely good-looking, with long, wavy red hair and freckles, pale skin, big, limpid blue eyes, full lips. pert breasts, and a slim figure, but I’m not altogether sure that was the reason. Hannah, who is used to being glanced at, gave them a smile.
When the lift opened, we walked along the platform a little way, then waited. Hannah said “Lift me up.” I put the brake of her wheelchair on, then put my hands under her armpits.
“No, properly,” she said, “arms under my armpits, round my back, lift me up all the way, and hold me there.”
I lifted her legs up one by one, and put the footrests up, put her feet on the floor, and did as she asked, feeling without seeing the glances in our direction from behind me, and hearing muttered comments I couldn’t quite make out.
“Is your bum sore?” I asked quietly.
“No”, she replied, rather more loudly than was really necessary, “I just wanted a cuddle from my gorgeous husband!”. I smiled. She is mischievous, and likes occasionally to deliberately embarrass me in public. I held her there for a minute or two, enjoying the feel of her limp body against mine.
“I’m sure that’s not a gun in your pocket, big boy!”, she said, rather too loudly again.
I lowered her back into her chair, positioned her slender torso between the padded body-stabilisers, with her arms on the outside of them, lifted up her feet again, put her footrests down and her feet on them, then arranged her hands on her lap, one beautiful, dainty hand on each thin, flabby thigh. Normally, she uses her power-chair with the chin-control, but just occasionally suggests the manual chair, pushed by me, that she used to use when she still had enough strength in her arms to propel it herself. She knows I get a kick out of doing as much as possible for her, including pushing her in the manual chair.
The train arrived on time, at nine fifteen, so I pushed her towards the nearest door, and, when they opened, turned her round and pulled her on backwards, then moved her over to the opposite side, so that other people could get in. I heard a woman whisper “Poor girl!” to her husband.
We got to Euston just before ten, where I wheeled her down the platform and through the barrier, after which she said quietly
“I think my bag needs emptying.”
In the disabled toilet, I pushed up the left leg of her loose-fitting, knee-length shorts, unstrapped the catheter bag, which was rather full, detached it from the tube, which I plugged, emptied it into the bowl, re-attached it, strapped it back to her thigh, and pulled her shorts leg back down. She assured me that her pad was still clean – it is fortunate that she has full feeling throughout her body, as she knows when her bag, or the pad she wears in case of accidents, needs attention.
I’ve known Hannah since we were 11, and started at William Cowper school together, and have loved her almost as long. She was the little red-haired girl to my Charlie Brown, Kartal Escort except that she returned my feelings. She was tall, slim, and sporty, playing netball for the school. I used to watch the games sometimes, admiring her lithe athleticism. One day, when we were 16, she seemed slower than usual, and tripped up twice in the first half, falling and bashing her head on the ground the second time. She didn’t reappear for the second half, and afterwards, as I walked home with her, I asked her if she was ok. “Yeah. Well, no.” she replied. “I don’t know what went wrong – I kept tripping over my feet.” I noticed, and mentioned, that she seemed to be walking a little awkwardly. “It’s my ankles” she replied, “they seem to be weak.”
Her parents took her to the Doctor after two days with no improvement. She assured them, and her, that it was probably nothing, and would clear up of its own accord, but if not, they should come back to see her again.
Six months later, her feet and ankles were completely paralysed, and her feet floppy, so that she had to lift them high to clear her toes of the ground. She couldn’t balance when standing still, and had to hold on to something solid, or someone’s arm, to avoid falling over. Various specialists and tests could not identify any known condition – she did not fit any of the muscular dystrophies, and anyway had shown the first symptoms too late in life, and it obviously wasn’t MS. A virus similar to polio was briefly considered, but soon dismissed, as was motor neurone disease and psycho-somatic illness: the one thing that was clear was that this was physical. She was supposed to use two walking-sticks at school, but adolescent vanity prompted her sometimes to leave them behind in the cloakroom. She had plenty of friends to offer her an arm – and sometimes the arm was mine, as we had been an established boyfriend/girlfriend pair since well before that fateful Netball match. I realised, to my shame at the time, that I found her holding my arm and walking slowly and with difficulty, rather arousing.
A year later, by her 18th birthday, her knees were becoming unreliable, and she had to use crutches whether she liked it or not. One day, as we walked to school together, her holding my right arm with her left, and using one of her crutches on her right arm, me holding the other one in my left hand, she tearfully told me that if I wanted to break up, she’d understand. I stopped, turned to face her, gave her a long kiss, and told her I loved her, and wouldn’t dream of it.
By the time she was 19, her knees had gone completely, and her hips were becoming weak. She had to use a wheelchair most of the time, but occasionally managed short distances with a walking-frame. Her lower legs were by now noticeably atrophied. Once, as we had a late-night snog on her parents’ settee, she confessed that she had to wear an incontinence pad in case of accidents.
She turned 20 completely paralysed below the rib-cage, although she retained full feeling throughout her body. The paralysis being flaccid, her legs had become very thin and atrophied. One autumn day that year, I asked her to marry me. At first, she tearfully refused, but I persisted, and she soon agreed. My parents, fond though they were of Hannah, had understandable doubts about the wisdom of my marrying a paraplegic whose condition was likely Tuzla Escort to deteriorate further, but they could see that we were in earnest, as could her parents. As it happened, the disease then went into abeyance, and she remained a paraplegic with full use of her upper body. We were married the following Spring, shortly after our 21st birthdays, and moved into an adapted ground-floor flat.
Her condition remained stable until we were both nearly 23. Then, one day, she said to me in the evening
“I think the disease is back.”
Her hands had become weak, so that she couldn’t grip her wheelchair rims very well. She began using palm cuffs on her hands to help her grip them, but before long, she had to use a power-chair with a T-style joystick on the right arm-rest, and not long after that, she had to have a chin-control and padded body-stabilisers fitted, as, by her 25th birthday, she was completely paralysed below the neck, except, mercifully, that she could breathe unaided and support her head. We are now nearly 28, and the disease is once more in abeyance. We know that there is no possibility of any recovery, but hope that the disease makes no more advance for many years, or better still, not at all.
We headed for the taxi rank, all London black cabs being wheelchair-accessible nowadays, and were greeted by the driver of our black cab, which was maroon (they’re called “black cabs” whatever the colour – daft, but there it is), an overweight, cheerful man of about 40, who got the ramp out for us, and chatted in broad cockney all the way to the London Eye. We were booked for a 12 noon ride, and had plenty of time to spare, so I bought us both “99” ice creams, and held Hannah’s for her to lick while I licked mine, then took out her chocolate flake and held it for her to bite.
When our turn came, the operator stopped it briefly so that we could get on. We were followed by another couple, about the same age as us, she in a small-wheeled manual chair pushed by him, and apparently the survivor of a devastating right-sided stroke. She was rather fat, quite pretty, and had long, auburn hair. It soon became apparent that she was unable to speak, and from the way her husband talked to her, repeating things and keeping it simple, and the somewhat vacant look on her face and pointless fiddling with her clothes with her left hand, I got the impression that she was away with the fairies, poor woman.
At the very top of the ride, I photographed Hannah with all London spread out behind her, and the other man did the same with his wife. The four of us chatted as we descended – well, three of us did: the other woman smiled vacantly and made occasional meaningless sounds. They were called Susan and David, and were from Watford, it transpired: he was 31, and she was 30. They had been married six years previously, and she had had a stroke on the second day of their honeymoon. She emerged from a five- week coma in the condition we saw her in, and she spent most of her time being cared for in a special unit, where he visited her every day after work. On a good day, she knew who he was. He brought her home every weekend. Hannah and I told them our story.
After bidding each other goodbye and wishing each other well – Hannah made a point of saying goodbye to Susan by name, and was rewarded at the second attempt with a sweet Anadolu Yakası Escort smile – they went off in one direction, while we headed for the Founder’s Arms, an excellent riverside pub near Shakespeare’s Globe, for lunch and drinks, before heading over the Millennium bridge towards St Pauls. At the Northern end, Hannah asked me to lift her up and change her position, assuring me that this time it was necessary, as her bum was getting hot, and she was generally uncomfortable. I did so, taking the opportunity to give her a few affectionate pecks on the cheek, before lowering her back down, and lifting and manipulating each limb in turn.
We headed for the Eastern end of St Pauls, where the disabled entrance was, and were surprised and pleased to see Susan and David ahead of us. I called out to them, and David turned towards us, greeted us again, and then turned Susan’s chair towards us. When she saw us, she looked surprised, pointed to us, and made happy burbling noises.
“You remember Hannah and Richard?” said David.
We both said hello to her, and she continued burbling happily. Later, David said that Susan’s short-term memory was shot to pieces, and she forgot most things within an hour, so we must have made an impression on her for her to recognise us, as she obviously did. We looked around together as a foursome, Hannah reminisced wistfully about climbing up to the very top of the dome, where there was a small exterior platform, when she’d visited with her parents when she was 14, Sue continued making happy noises, and Dave (we were already calling them Dave and Sue, and Dave was calling us Rick and Han, at our invitation) later told me that he sometimes wondered if Sue thought she was making comprehensible speech when she burbled away. Sue appeared to be impressed by the huge, vulgar tomb of Wellington in the crypt, and throughout had a look of child-like wonder on her face.
We all headed for Euston, and caught the same early-evening train. At Watford Junction, we bid our new friends a fond farewell, and promised to keep in touch, having exchanged email addresses.
The next morning, Sunday, after the lengthy rigmarole of changing, showering, and dressing Hannah, lifting her into her usual power-chair with the chin-control, and making breakfast and feeding her and myself, I checked our emails. Though it was still only 7:50, there was one from Sue and Dave.
“Hi – hope you got back safely”, it read. “It was great to meet you yesterday. Sue is much more with it and aware today than usual – I think the stimulation of the day, and meeting you, was good for her. Thank you, Hannah, especially, for your kind attention to Sue throughout: many people ignore her, or talk about her to me in her presence. You didn’t, which was lovely. I attach two photos – the photo of Sue that I took at the top of the Eye, and the photo of you two that I took at Euston. Sue still seems to remember you – her face lit up and she got quite excited when I showed her the attached photo of you both.”
It was signed, rather touchingly, “Sue and Dave”, though really it was just from Dave, of course.
I showed the email to Hannah, and then we replied
“Hi – thanks for the email. We had a great time in London, especially meeting you both. I attach our photo of Hannah at the top of the Eye, and the one we took of you both at Euston. We must meet again before long – I’ll phone you.
Hi – this is Hannah, typing with a mouth-stick – slow, but it works. We had a great day yesterday, topped off by meeting you both. It was lovely to meet you, Sue, and I look forward to meeting you again soon.
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