A man called ove a novel, p.10
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       A Man Called Ove: A Novel, p.10

           Fredrik Backman
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  “Yes,” says the three-year-old.

  “We’re not doing any bloo—we’re not doing any voices!”

  “Maybe you’re no good at reading stories,” notes the seven-year-old.

  “Maybe you’re no good at listening to them!” Ove counters.

  “Maybe you’re no good at TELLING THEM!”

  Ove looks at the book, very unimpressed.

  “What kind of sh—nonsense is this anyway? Some talking train? Is there nothing about cars?”

  “Maybe there’s something about nutty old men instead,” mutters the seven-year-old.

  “I’m not an ‘old man,’” Ove hisses.

  “Clauwn!” the three-year-old cries out jubilantly.

  “And I’m not a CLOWN either!” he roars.

  The older one rolls her eyes at Ove, not unlike the way her mother often rolls her eyes at Ove.

  “She doesn’t mean you. She means the clown.”

  Ove looks up and catches sight of a full-grown man who’s quite seriously got himself dressed up as a clown, standing in the doorway of the waiting room.

  He’s got a big stupid grin on his face as well.

  “CLAAUUWN,” the toddler howls, jumping up and down on the bench in a way that finally convinces Ove that the kid is on drugs.

  He’s heard about that sort of thing. They have that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and get to take amphetamines on prescription.

  “And who’s this little girl here, then? Does she want to see a magic trick, perhaps?” the clown exclaims helpfully and squelches over to them like a drunken moose in a pair of large red shoes which, Ove confirms to himself, only an utterly meaningless person would prefer to wear rather than getting himself a proper job.

  The clown looks gaily at Ove.

  “Has Uncle got a five-kronor piece, perhaps?”

  “No, Uncle doesn’t, perhaps,” Ove replies.

  The clown looks surprised. Which isn’t an entirely successful look for a clown.

  “But . . . listen, it’s a magic trick, you do have a coin on you, don’t you?” mumbles the clown in his more normal voice, which contrasts quite strongly with his character and reveals that behind this idiotic clown a quite ordinary idiot is hiding, probably all of twenty-five years old.

  “Come on, I’m a hospital clown. It’s for the children’s sake. I’ll give it back.”

  “Just give him a five-kronor coin,” says the seven-year-old.

  “CLAAUUWN!” screams the three-year-old.

  Ove peers down with exasperation at the tiny speech defect and wrinkles his nose.

  “Right,” he says, taking out a five-kronor piece from his wallet.

  Then he points at the clown.

  “But I want it back. Immediately. I’m paying for the parking with that.”

  The clown nods eagerly and snatches the coin out of his hand.

  Minutes later, Parvaneh comes back down the corridor to the waiting room. She stops, confusedly scanning the room from side to side.

  “Are you looking for your girls?” a nurse asks sharply behind her.

  “Yes,” Parvaneh answers, perplexed.

  “There,” says the nurse in a not entirely appreciative way and points at a bench by the large glass doors leading onto the parking area.

  Ove is sitting there with his arms crossed, looking very angry.

  On one side of him sits the seven-year-old, staring up at the ceiling with an utterly bored expression, and on the other side sits the three-year-old, looking as if she just found out she’s going to have an ice cream breakfast every day for a whole month. On either side of the bench stand two particularly large representatives of the hospital’s security guards, both with very grim facial expressions.

  “Are these your children?” one of them asks. He doesn’t look at all as if he’s having an ice cream breakfast.

  “Yes, what did they do?” Parvaneh wonders, almost terrified.

  “They didn’t do anything,” the other security guard replies, with a hostile stare at Ove.

  “Me neither,” Ove mutters sulkily.

  “Ove hit the clauwn!” the three-year-old shrieks delightedly.

  “Sneak,” says Ove.

  Parvaneh stares at him, agape, and can’t even think of anything to say.

  “He was no good at magic anyway,” the seven-year-old groans. “Can we go home now?” she asks, standing up.

  “Why . . . hold on . . . what . . . what clown?”

  “The clauwn Beppo,” the toddler explains, nodding wisely.

  “He was going to do magic,” says her sister.

  “Stupid magic,” says Ove.

  “Like, he was going to make Ove’s five-kronor coin go away,” the seven-year-old elaborates.

  “And then he tried to give back another five-kronor coin!” Ove interjects, with an insulted stare at the nearby security guards, as if this should be enough of an explanation.

  “Ove HIT the clauwn, Mum,” the three-year-old titters as if this was the best thing that ever happened in her whole life.

  Parvaneh stares for a long time at Ove, the three-year-old, seven-year-old, and the two security guards.

  “We’re here to visit my husband. He’s had an accident. I’m bringing in the children now to say hello to him,” she explains to the guards.

  “Daddy fall!” says the three-year-old.

  “That’s fine.” One of the security guards nods.

  “But this one stays here,” confirms the other security guard and points at Ove.

  “I hardly hit him. I just gave him a little poke,” Ove mumbles, adding, “Bloody fake policemen,” just to be on the safe side.

  “Honestly, he was no good at magic anyway,” says the seven-year-old grumpily in Ove’s defense as they leave to visit their father.

  An hour later they are back at Ove’s garage. The Lanky One has one arm and one leg in casts and has to stay at the hospital for several days, Ove has been informed by Parvaneh. When she told him, Ove had to bite his lip very hard to stop himself laughing. He actually got the feeling Parvaneh was doing the same thing. The Saab still smells of exhaust when he collects the sheets of newspaper from the seats.

  “Please, Ove, are you sure you won’t let me pay the parking fine?” says Parvaneh.

  “Is it your car?” Ove grunts.


  “Well then,” he replies.

  “But it feels a bit like it was my fault,” she says, concerned.

  “You don’t hand out parking fines. The council does. So it’s the bloody council’s fault,” says Ove and closes the door of the Saab. “And those fake policemen at the hospital,” he adds, clearly still very upset that they forced him to sit without moving on that bench until Parvaneh came back to pick him up and they went home. As if he couldn’t be trusted to wander about freely among the other hospital visitors.

  Parvaneh looks at him for a long time in thoughtful silence. The seven-year-old gets tired of waiting and starts walking across the parking area towards the house. The three-year-old looks at Ove with a radiant smile.

  “You’re funny!” she declares.

  Ove looks at her and puts his hands in his trouser pockets.

  “Uh-huh, uh-huh. You shouldn’t turn out too bad yourself.”

  The three-year-old nods excitedly. Parvaneh looks at Ove, looks at the plastic tube on the floor of his garage. Looks at Ove again, a touch worried.

  “I could do with a bit of help taking the ladder away. . . .” she says, as if she was in the middle of a much longer thought.

  Ove kicks distractedly at the asphalt.

  “And I think we have a radiator, as well, that doesn’t work,” she adds—a passing thought. “Would be nice of you if you could have a look at it. Patrick doesn’t know how to do things like that, you know,” she says and takes the three-year-old by the hand.

  Ove nods slowly.

  “No. Might have known.”

  Parvaneh nods. Then she suddenly gives off a satisfied
smile. “And you can’t let the girls freeze to death tonight, Ove, right? It’s quite enough that they had to watch you assault a clown, no?”

  Ove gives her a dour glance. Silently, to himself, as if negotiating, he concedes that he can hardly let the children perish just because their no-good father can’t open a window without falling off a ladder. There’d be a hellish amount of nagging from Ove’s wife if he went and arrived in the next world as a newly qualified child murderer.

  Then he picks up the plastic tube from the floor and hangs it up on a hook on the wall. Locks the Saab with the key. Closes the garage. Tugs at it three times to make sure it’s closed. Then goes to fetch his tools from the shed.

  Tomorrow’s as good a day as any to kill oneself.



  She had a golden brooch pinned to her dress, in which the sunlight reflected hypnotically through the train window. It was half past six in the morning, Ove had just clocked off his shift and was actually supposed to be taking the train home the other way. But then he saw her on the platform with all her rich auburn hair and her blue eyes and all her effervescent laughter. And he got back on the outbound train. Of course, he didn’t quite know himself why he was doing it. He had never been spontaneous before in his life. But when he saw her it was as if something malfunctioned.

  He convinced one of the conductors to lend him his spare pair of trousers and shirt, so he didn’t have to look like a train cleaner, and then Ove went to sit by Sonja. It was the single best decision he would ever make.

  He didn’t know what he was going to say. But he had hardly had time to sink into the seat before she turned to him cheerfully, smiled warmly, and said hello. And he found he was able to say hello back to her without any significant complications. And when she saw that he was looking at the pile of books she had in her lap, she tilted them slightly so he could read their titles. Ove understood only about half the words.

  “You like reading?” she asked him brightly.

  Ove shook his head with some insecurity, but it didn’t seem to concern her very much. She just smiled, said that she loved books more than anything, and started telling him excitedly what each of the ones in her lap was about. And Ove realized that he wanted to hear her talking about the things she loved for the rest of his life.

  He had never heard anything quite as amazing as that voice. She talked as if she were continuously on the verge of breaking into giggles. And when she giggled she sounded the way Ove imagined champagne bubbles would have sounded if they were capable of laughter. He didn’t quite know what he should say to avoid seeming uneducated and stupid, but it proved to be less of a problem than he had thought.

  She liked talking and Ove liked keeping quiet. Retrospectively, Ove assumed that was what people meant when they said that people were compatible.

  Many years later she told him that she had found him quite puzzling when he came to sit with her in that compartment. Abrupt and blunt in his whole being. But his shoulders were broad and his arms so muscular that they stretched the fabric of his shirt. And he had kind eyes. He listened when she talked, and she liked making him smile. Anyway, the journey to school was so boring that it was pleasant just to have some company.

  She was studying to be a teacher. Came on the train every day; after a couple miles she changed to another train, then a bus. All in all, it was a one-and-a-half-hour journey in the wrong direction for Ove. Only when they crossed the platform that first time, side by side, and stood by her bus stop, did she ask what he was doing there. And when Ove realized that he was only five or so kilometers from the military barracks where he would have been had it not been for that problem with his heart, the words slipped out of him before he understood why.

  “I’m doing my military service over there,” he said, waving vaguely.

  “So maybe we’ll see each other on the train going back as well. I go home at five. . . .”

  Ove couldn’t think of anything to say. He knew, of course, that one does not go home from military installations at five o’clock, but she clearly did not. So he just shrugged. And then she got on her bus and was gone.

  Ove decided that this was undoubtedly very impractical in many ways. But there was not a lot to be done about it. So he turned around, found a signpost pointing the way to the little center of the tiny student town where he now found himself, at least a two-hour journey from his home. And then he started walking. After forty-five minutes he asked his way to the only tailor in the area, and, after eventually finding the shop, ponderously stepped inside to ask whether it would be possible to have a shirt ironed and a pair of trousers pressed and, if so, how long it would take. “Ten minutes, if you wait,” came his answer.

  “Then I’ll be back at four,” said Ove and left. He wandered back down to the train station and lay down on a bench in the waiting hall. At quarter past three he went all the way back to the tailor’s, had his shirt and trousers pressed while he sat waiting in his underwear in the staff restroom, then walked back to the station and took the train with her for an hour and a half back to her station. And then traveled for another half hour to his own station. He repeated the whole thing the day after. And the day after that. On the following day the man from the ticket desk at the train station intervened and made it clear to Ove that he couldn’t sleep here like some loafer, surely he could understand that? Ove saw the point he was making, but explained that there was a woman at stake here. When he heard this, the man from the ticket desk gave him a little nod and from then on let him sleep in the left-luggage room. Even men at train station ticket desks have been in love.

  Ove did the same thing every day for three months. In the end she grew tired of his never inviting her out for dinner. So she invited herself instead.

  “I’ll be waiting here tomorrow evening at eight o’clock. I want you to be wearing a suit and I’d like you to invite me out for dinner,” she said succinctly as she stepped off the train one Friday evening.

  And so it was.

  Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.

  On Saturday evening he put on his father’s old brown suit. It was tight around his shoulders. Then he ate two sausages and seven potatoes, which he prepared in the little kitchenette in his room, before doing his rounds of the house to put in a couple of screws, which the old lady had asked him to do.

  “Are you meeting someone?” she asked, pleased to see him coming down the stairs. She had never seen him wearing a suit. Ove nodded gruffly.

  “Yeah,” he said in a way that could be described as either a word or an inhalation. The older woman nodded and probably tried to hide a little smile.

  “It must be someone very special if you’ve dressed yourself up like that,” she said.

  Ove inhaled again and nodded curtly. When he was at the door, she called out from the kitchen.

  “Flowers, Ove!”

  Perplexed, Ove stuck his head around the partition wall and stared at her.

  “She’d probably like some flowers,” the old woman declared with some emphasis.

  Ove cleared his throat and closed the front door.

  For more than fifteen minutes he stood waiting for her at the station in his tight-fitting suit and his new-polished shoes. He was skeptical about people who came late. “If you can’t depend on someone being on time, you shouldn’t trust ’em with anything more important either,” he used to mutter when people came dribbling along with their time cards three or four minutes late, as if this didn’t matter. As if the railway line would just lie there waiting for them in the morning and not have something better to do.

  So for each of those fifteen minutes that Ove stood waiting at the station he was slightly irritated. And then the irritation turned into a certain anxiety, and after that he decided that Sonja had only been ribbing him when she’d suggested they should meet. He had never felt so silly in his entire life
. Of course she didn’t want to go out with him, how could he have got that into his head? His humiliation, when the insight dawned on him, welled up like a stream of lava, and he was tempted to toss the flowers in the nearest trash can and march off without turning around.

  Looking back, he couldn’t quite explain why he stayed. Maybe because he felt, in spite of it all, that an agreement to meet was an agreement. And maybe there was some other reason. Something a little harder to put his finger on. He didn’t know it at that moment, of course, but he was destined to spend so many quarter hours of his life waiting for her that his old father would have gone cross-eyed if he’d found out. And when she did finally turn up, in a long floral-print skirt and a cardigan so red that it made Ove shift his weight from his right foot to his left, he decided that maybe her inability to be on time was not the most important thing.

  The woman at the florist’s had asked him what he wanted. He informed her gruffly that this was a bit of a bloody question to ask. After all, she was the one who sold the greens and he the one who bought them, not the other way around. The woman had looked a bit bothered about that, but then she asked if the recipient of the flowers had some favorite color, perhaps? “Pink,” Ove had said with great certainty, although he did not know.

  And now she stood outside the station with his flowers pressed happily to her breast, in that red cardigan of hers, making the rest of the world look as if it were made in grayscale.

  “They’re absolutely beautiful,” she said, smiling in that candid way that made Ove stare down at the ground and kick at the gravel.

  Ove wasn’t much for restaurants. He had never understood why one would ever eat out for a lot of money when one could eat at home. He wasn’t so taken with show-off furniture and elaborate cooking, and he was very much aware of his conversational shortcomings as well. Whatever the case, he had eaten in advance so he could afford to let her order whatever she wanted from the menu, while opting for the cheapest dish for himself. And at least if she asked him something he wouldn’t have his mouth full of food. To him it seemed like a good plan.

  While she was ordering, the waiter smiled ingratiatingly. Ove knew all too well what both he and the other diners in the restaurant had thought when they came in. She was too good for Ove, that’s what they’d thought. And Ove felt very silly about that. Mostly because he entirely agreed with their opinion.

  She told him with great animation about her studies, about books she’d read or films she’d seen. And when she looked at Ove she made him feel, for the first time, that he was the only man in the world. And Ove had enough integrity to realize that this wasn’t right, that he couldn’t sit here lying any longer. So he cleared his throat, collected his faculties, and told her the whole truth. That he wasn’t doing his military service at all, that in fact he was just a simple cleaner on the trains who had a defective heart and who had lied for no other reason than that he enjoyed riding with her on the train so very much. He assumed this would be the only dinner he ever had with her, and he did not think she deserved having it with a fraudster. When he had finished his story he put his napkin on the table and got out his wallet to pay.

  “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, shamefaced, and kicked his chair leg a little, before adding in such a low voice that it could hardly even be heard: “I just wanted to know what it felt like to be someone you look at.” As he was getting up she reached across the table and put her hand on his.

  “I’ve never heard you say so many words before.” She smiled.

  He mumbled something about how this didn’t change the facts. He was a liar. When she asked him to sit down again, he obliged her and sank back into his chair. She wasn’t angry, the way he thought she’d be. She started laughing. In the end she said it hadn’t actually been so difficult working out that he wasn’t doing his military service, because he never wore a uniform.

  “Anyway, everyone knows soldiers don’t go home at five o’clock on weekdays.”

  Ove had hardly been as discreet as a Russian spy, she added. She’d come to the conclusion that he had his reasons for it. And she’d liked the way he listened to her. And made her laugh. And that, she said, had been more than enough for her.

  And then she asked him what he really wanted to do with his life, if he could
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Comments 2

admin 5 July 2018 23:55
love that one
Aiman 28 July 2018 09:13
Such a beautiful piece of work. Makes my heart swell up two sizes, overwhelmed.
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