Chapter 4

The Way of the Crutch

"Hold your Shinai high, like this."

My teacher held his wooden sword above his head, his arms slightly bent at the limbs.

Straining to maintain my balance, I tried to copy him, feeling my legs scream in protest.

But I bore with it. I wasn't going to brag about knowing Kenjutsu anymore.

"Good, good! Keep your balance! Now, come at me and strike!"

I run towards him with a two-legs-at-a-time-sort of running, and smashed my wooden sword as hard as I could.

Once,

Twice,

Thrice, maintaining my balance through them all.

We passed each other, smashed our swords against each other once, turned, and lowered them.

We bowed to one another, a polite none-verbal "thanks for the match".

Just then, I felt my knees bend, and my body start sinking to the ground.

Before I fell, I leaned heavily on my Shinai, trying to catch my breath.

"You really have improved."

I felt something soar upwards inside of me as I heard my Master say that. I looked at him, and couldn't suppress a smile.

"Don't show that you're so self-satisfied, Jonas. It's part of the Japanese code in all martial arts."

I nodded, walking over to my wheelchair and sitting down in it.

"This time, I'll not give up."

I was sitting in my bed room reading Manga, trying to relax after the harsh training. It consisted simply of running towards your opponent and smashing your Shinai against his or her head, hand, wrist or torso, and the amount of points given depended on where you hit.

Naturally, hitting the head, gave you the highest points.

My mother was really happy that I'd started at something I really enjoyed doing, but she was really worried when I told her we didn't use armor.

"Don't worry, mum; we don't hit too hard."

Nils and Karianne were really enthusiastic. I recalled the day when the three of us hung out together for the first time.

It always gave me such a warm feeling to think about it. It was three weeks ago since that special day when Karianne had called me, asking to hang out at the café.

"Hey, Karianne; can I ask you something?"

"Sure!"

We were sitting at a bench together in the small break. Nils was ill that day, and we both felt how he wasn't around.

"The other people in class talk about us as if we're common outsiders….how do you feel about it?"

Karianne looked down at her feet and didn't reply.

She bit her lip, and I was worried if her sore lips would start bleeding.

"I've gotten more or less used to it, they never call me, and never have called me once. It's nothing new that they do not think of me as one of them."

I felt how I recognized all too well from my own life experiences what she was talking about.

"I feel the same way."

I felt Karianne's hand on mine, suddenly, and I felt my heart beating faster.

Somehow, I managed to meet her eye. There was something in them I'd never seen in anyone's eyes before.

A few minutes passed in silence, disturbed only by the sound of the bell, which we ignored completely.

"I wonder if I should start at Kyudo."

"Kyudo? Japanese Longbow-shooting? Aren't they extremely tall?"

"Yeah! I love them! They're so beautiful!"

I'd watched some movies of it at Youtube. It looked really difficult.

"Difficult, but not impossible."

I said to myself, smiling.

"Hey, Johnny?"

"Yeah?"

"Would you like…."

Karianne didn't say anything else, but simply stopped in mid-sentence, as if someone had abruptly turned off her voice.

"What?"

She didn't reply, but looked as if she was thinking of something that wasn't of little importance. I was really curious, but I didn't press the matter.

I didn't want to be a pushy guy who made life annoying to others.

Instead of replying, I felt her hand tighten around mine, and Karianne leaned her head on my shoulder.

I felt my heart beating faster, but nothing of it felt uncomfortable.

"What do you mean he's going to stay in the hospital for an undecided date?!"

My spoon of sausage soup stopped halfway up to my mouth.

My mother had been talking to the people at the hospital for about three minutes, until something seemed to explode inside of her.

"We are really sorry, miss, but its hard to say anything certain at this time of his illness."

I could tell a very nasty word starting with an "f" was about to come out of my mother's mouth, but she seemed to think better of it.

"Forgive me; it's just that he has been at the hospital for a month already, and he hasn't been home once."

"I understand you, miss, and I assure you we are doing our very best to deal with all the problems. We will contact you as soon as we know anything certain about his release date."

My mother hung up after a short "thank you", and she walked back to the dinner table, sitting down with her soup, but didn't seem like she managed to eat more.

I didn't know what to say either.

Later that day, I was sitting in my room with my pajamas on. I was hugging Teddy Bear, a small, violet home-made teddy bear which my brother had given me when I was a baby.

He was really worn out, with stitches all over him, and I had lost count with how many times we'd sewn his eyes back on or changed them.

He was my favorite teddy bear.

I thought about a lot of things that night.

Sick people, healthy people, people who apparently are so healthy they freak out when they cough, the people in my old class and my new class, muffins, teddy bears, donuts.

"I miss my old class, but now it's become possible to be in the new one.

I'd been in that class for quiet a while now, and I was wondering how I I'd managed to actually get a friend when it seemed so hopeless to begin with.

Sometimes, I felt so small, with everything towering over me like skyscrapers. Sometimes, I felt like I could take on the world. I wonder where it all came from, in the end.

I remembered Karianne's hand on mine, and her head on my shoulder. I'd been filled with a feeling I'd never had before.

"I wonder what she was going to say…"

I wondered if she would ever tell me, what I would like to do or whatever it was.

With that strange last thought, I drifted off to sleep.

The next day, in the big break, Nils, Karianne and I were sitting on a green bench close to the school gates. We'd all eaten our lunch, and we were talking about the coolest Role-Playing Game we knew of: Final Fantasy VII. What I loved to do the most in that game, was to try to achieve the most powerful attacks as early as possible.

To do that, you needed to have a wide knowledge of how each type of attack in the game and what type of training each attack required to be improved effectively.

RPG was something you could say I was addicted to.

Nils and Karianne laughed, and we made a high-five.

"So much has happened in so little time."

Later that day after school, the three of us stood by the school gates, wondering what we were going to do now, on a Friday.

"How about we went home to my place and made some Mexican food or something? Maybe Tortillas or something?"

"Sure! That'll be great! I'll get the basics!"

Nils said, jumping up and down.

"Cool! I'll fetch the vegetables and other things we might want to have in them!"

"I'll get something to eat afterwards. How about some Muffins or something?"

"Johnny, if you say "or something" once more, I'll freak out!"

We burst out laughing.

"Cool! Lets get to it!"

Some hours later, we'd made the food and were eating it (naturally).

"Hey, Nils, whatcha wanna do when you're finished with Junior High?"

"I dunno, start Senior?"

More laughter. Suddenly, Karianne started coughing. Apparently, she'd been right in the middle of sipping her Cola when she started laughing. I hurriedly put her food away from her lap and safely on the table and Nils hit her back gently.

She nodded a thanks, her eyes watering from the experience.

"Hang in there, Karry."

Nils said, and I felt something leap inside of me at the sheer feeling of spending time with them. It was the most wonderful feeling I'd ever had. I wanted to tell them how I felt, but…I couldn't find the words for it.

Two days later was a Sunday, the day when all Christians went to church and you could hear church bells all over the place.

But as far as I was concerned, I had no time for that.

I was sitting in the taxi, heading towards a cafe downtown.

When the taxi stopped at the designated place, i took my crutches, (for some unknown reason, I'd put the crutches' stings for winter on early this year) and crossed the street into Kaffebrenneriet. It was my one of my favorite places, maybe the favorite when I preferred to be alone.

It had been wonderful on the Friday, naturally; maybe that's why I wanted to be for myself now.

conveniently enough, there was hardly any people in the cafe now.

I ordered the usual hot chocolate with cream and a cookie, and sat in my usual corner, pondering.

I started to get a feeling I'd never had before, and I had a feeling it was due to a certain person I had just met.

I'd never felt this way before.

I finished the hot chocolate and the cookie, stood up and went outside again.

The sky was dark-blue, with stars starting to show. The temperature was just right for a little stroll, so I decided to walk some before I fetched a taxi home.

I'd been walking for perhaps about ten minutes, and passed a couple of extremely rowdy and loud kids about my own age.

For some reason, they reminded me of a certain someone in my class who annoyed me like hell.

I passed them, not scared to look them in the eye as they gave me the usual stare.

I walked on for a few moments, shaking the silly thoughts out of my head, when i heard one of them calling after me, the usual crap.

I stopped, looking at them with one eye, not bothering to turn completly towards them.

"What did you say, boy?"

"Deaf too, are you? You need to learn some manners towards more fortunate ones."

I turned around slowly, looking at him straight in the eye.

He was about as tall as me, with short blonde hair, as if he was trying to copy Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies; it looked ridiculous.

I noticed that the Malfoy-pretender and his fellow both were holding a bottle of beer.

"Trying beer for the first time, kid?"

I wasn't surprised to notice that my voice was completely calm, but what I noticed, was how icy cold it sounded.

I felt something I'd never felt before. No, maybe I'd felt it all along.

The kids, both as tall as I was, walked closer to me, lifting their empty bottles.

"Foolish loser. You would even assault a handicapped person."

I pictured my eyes to be scathing and arrogant, reflecting my words.

"No one will know, or care."

The Malfoy-pretender walked closer to me. I noticed how my legs automatically went into Kendo stance, and I let my left crutch fall to the ground, pushing it behind me.

I put the sting at the end on my crutch on. It was brand new, and therefore very sharp.

"I'm in a bad mood right now, so I'll consider this warning enough. If you want to fight, I won't hold back."

The Malfoy-pretender laughed, a forced, high-pitched laughter that made me smile. The other boy, however, didn't try to hide his insecurity.

I laughed quietly.

"You're about to learn the difference between "weak" and "handicapped", boy."

How I'd longed to get to use my Kenjutsu at a bully. I was aware of how not-nice it was, but it was the only way to describe it.

The Malfoy-pretender walked quickly, straight at me.

Just as he was about to lift his bottle, I side-stepped him and gave him a vertical slash, hitting the nose.

Blood spurted out of it, naturally.

The kid fell to the ground, clutching his nose which continued to bleed.

I cast a glance at the last one, feeling something cold and dangerous fill me.

It must have been reflected in my eyes, for the boy turned tail and fled the scene.

"You would even abandon your friend?"

I called after him, but he wouldn't turn back.

I looked down at my defeated bully, who now looked up at me with wide eyes. There was blood all over his face and some on his hands.

"How do you feel, being abandoned at a time of great need?"

After a few moments, I thought I could see tears well up in the boy's eyes.

"It is not a good feeling, is it?"

The boy started to cry. I understood all too well how he felt.

I kneeled down at his side, extending my hand.

"Get up, kid. There's no reason for you to lie in the dirt, anymore."

He looked up at me, and took my hand shakily. I lifted him up.

"You'd better take that to the hospital, and dispose of that comrade as the disgusting, stinking shit he is."

None of us said anything for a few moments. But then the bully spoke.

"I'm sorry I ridiculed you."

His voice was thick, but he looked at me with eyes not like what I'd seen before.

"You'd better stop doing it, but I shouldn't have to tell you that."

The boy nodded, sniffing.

"Run along now, kid. head over to the doctor."

He walked away from me, mumbling a thanks, and I watched him as a hopefully former bully was out of my life, even if he'd just been part of it for a small part.

I walked all the way home that night.