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A man called ove a novel, p.14
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       A Man Called Ove: A Novel, p.14

           Fredrik Backman
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  This, of course, gave further cause for irritation. When she wasn’t breaking out in a sweat she was freezing. And as soon as Ove tired of arguing with her and agreed to turn up the radiators by a half step she started sweating again, and he had to run around and turn them back down again. She also ate bananas in such quantities that the people at the supermarket must have thought Ove had started a zoo.

  “The hormones are on the warpath,” Rune said with an insightful nod during one of the nights when he and Ove sat in the outside space behind his house, while the women kept to Sonja and Ove’s kitchen, talking about whatever it is women talk about.

  Rune told him that he had found Anita crying her eyes out by the radio the day before, for no other reason than that it “was a nice song.”

  “A . . . nice song?” said Ove, perplexed.

  “A nice song,” Rune answered.

  The two men shook their heads in mutual disbelief and stared out into the darkness. Sat in silence.

  “The grass needs cutting,” said Rune at last.

  “I bought new blades for the mower.” Ove nodded.

  “How much did you pay for them?”

  And so their friendship went on.

  In the evenings, Sonja played music for her belly, because she said it made the child move. Ove mostly just sat in his armchair on the other side of the room and pretended to be watching television while she was doing it. In his innermost thoughts he was worried about what it would be like once the child finally decided to come out. What if, for example, the kid disliked Ove because Ove wasn’t so fond of music?

  It wasn’t that Ove was afraid. He just didn’t know how to prepare himself for fatherhood. He had asked for some sort of manual but Sonja had just laughed at him. Ove didn’t understand why. There were manuals for everything else.

  He was doubtful about whether he’d be any good at being someone’s dad. He didn’t like children an awful lot. He hadn’t even been very good at being a child. Sonja thought he should talk to Rune about it because they were “in the same situation.” Ove couldn’t quite understand what she meant by that. Rune was not in fact going to be the father of Ove’s child, but of an altogether different one. At least Rune agreed with Ove about the point of not having much to discuss, and that was something. So when Anita came over in the evenings and sat in the kitchen with Sonja, talking about the aches and pains and all those things, Ove and Rune made the excuse of having “things” to talk about and went out to Ove’s shed and just stood there in silence, picking at various bits on Ove’s workbench.

  Standing there next to each other behind a closed door for the third night running without knowing what they were supposed to do with themselves, they agreed that they needed to get busy with something before, as Rune put it, “the new neighbors start thinking there’s some sort of monkey business going on in here.”

  Ove agreed that it might be best to do as he said. And so it was. They didn’t talk much while they were doing it, but they helped each other with the drawings and measuring the angles and ensuring that the corners were straight and properly done. And late one evening when Anita and Sonja were in the fourth month, two light blue cribs were installed in the prepared nurseries of their row houses.

  “We can sand it down and repaint it pink if we get a girl,” mumbled Ove when he showed it to Sonja. Sonja put her arms around him, and he felt his neck getting all wet with her tears. Completely irrational hormones.

  “I want you to ask me to be your wife,” she whispered.

  And so it was. They married in the Town Hall, very simply. Neither of them had any family, so only Rune and Anita came. Sonja and Ove put on their rings and then all four of them went to a restaurant. Ove paid but Rune helped check the bill to make sure it “had been done properly.” Of course it hadn’t. So after conferring with the waiter for about an hour, the two men managed to convince him it would be easier for him if he halved the bill or they’d “report him.” Obviously it was a bit hazy exactly who would report whom for what, but eventually, with a certain amount of swearing and arm-waving, the waiter gave up and went into the kitchen and wrote them a new bill. In the meantime Rune and Ove nodded grimly at one another without noticing that their wives, as usual, had taken a taxi home twenty minutes earlier.

  Ove nods to himself as he sits there in the Saab looking at Rune’s garage door. He can’t remember when he last saw it open. He turns off the headlights of the Saab, gives the cat a poke to wake it up, and gets out.

  “Ove?” says a curious, unfamiliar voice.

  Suddenly an unknown woman, clearly the owner of the unfamiliar voice, has stuck her head into the garage. She’s about forty-five, wearing tatty jeans and a green windbreaker that looks too large for her. She doesn’t have any makeup on and her hair is in a ponytail. The woman blunders into his garage and looks around with interest. The cat steps forward and gives her a threatening hiss. She stops. Ove puts his hands in his pockets.

  “Ove?” she bursts out again, in that exaggerated chummy way of people who want to sell you something, while pretending it’s the very last thing on their mind.

  “I don’t want anything,” says Ove, nodding at the garage door—a clear gesture that she needn’t bother about finding another door, it’ll be just fine if she walks out the same way that she came.

  She looks utterly unchastened by that.

  “My name is Lena. I’m a journalist at the local newspaper and, well . . .” she begins, and then offers her hand.

  Ove looks at her hand. And looks at her.

  “I don’t want anything,” he says again.


  “I suppose you’re selling subscriptions. But I don’t want one.”

  She looks puzzled.

  “Right. . . . Well, actually . . . I’m not selling the paper. I write for it. I’m a journalist,” she repeats slowly, as if there were something wrong with him.

  “I still don’t want anything,” Ove reiterates as he starts shooing her out the garage door.

  “But I want to talk to you, Ove!” she protests and starts trying to force herself back inside.

  Ove waves his hands at her as if trying to scare her away by shaking an invisible rug in front of her.

  “You saved a man’s life at the train station yesterday! I want to interview you about it,” she calls out excitedly.

  Clearly she’s about to say something else when she notices that she’s lost Ove’s attention. His gaze falls on something behind her. His eyes turn to slits.

  “I’ll be damned,” he mumbles.

  “Yes. . . . I’d like to ask y—” she begins sincerely, but Ove has already squeezed past her and started running towards the white Škoda that’s turned in by the parking area and started driving down towards the houses.

  The bespectacled woman is caught off guard when Ove charges forward and bangs on the window and she throws the file of documents into her own face. The man in the white shirt, on the other hand, is quite unmoved. He rolls down the window.

  “Yes?” he asks.

  “Vehicle traffic is prohibited in the residential area,” Ove hisses and points at each of the houses, at the Škoda, at the man in the white shirt, and at the parking area.

  “In this Residents’ Association we park in the parking area!”

  The man in the white shirt looks at the houses. Then at the parking area. Then at Ove.

  “I have permission from the council to drive up to the houses. So I have to ask you to get out of the way.”

  Ove is so agitated by his answer that it takes him many seconds just to formulate some swear words by way of an answer. Meanwhile, the man in the white shirt has picked up a pack of cigarettes from the dashboard, which he taps against his trouser leg.

  “Would you be kind enough to get out of the way?” he asks Ove.

  “What are you doing here?” Ove blurts out.

  “That’s nothing for you to worry yourself about,” says the man in the white shirt in a monotone voice, as if
he’s a computer-generated voice mail message letting Ove know that he’s been placed in a telephone line.

  He puts the cigarette he’s shaken out in his mouth and lights it. Ove breathes so heavily that his chest is pumping up and down under his jacket. The woman gathers up her papers and files and adjusts her glasses. The man just sighs, as if Ove is a cheeky child refusing to stop riding his skateboard on the sidewalk.

  “You know what I’m doing here. We’re taking Rune, in the house at the end of the road, into care.”

  He hangs his arm out the window and flicks the ash against the wing mirror of the Škoda.

  “Taking him into care?”

  “Yes,” says the man, nodding indifferently.

  “And if Anita doesn’t want that?” Ove hisses, tapping his index finger against the roof of the car.

  The man in the white shirt looks at the woman in the passenger seat and smiles resignedly. Then he turns to Ove again and speaks very slowly. As if otherwise Ove might not understand his words.

  “It’s not up to Anita to make that decision. It’s up to the investigation team.”

  Ove’s breathing becomes even more strained. He can feel his pulse in his throat.

  “You’re not bringing this car into this area,” he says through gritted teeth.

  His fists are clenched. His tone is pointed and threatening. But his opponent looks quite calm. He puts out the cigarette against the paintwork of the door and drops it on the ground.

  As if everything Ove had said was nothing more than the inarticulate raving of a senile old man.

  “And what exactly are you going to do to stop me, Ove?” says the man at long last.

  The way he flings out his name makes Ove look as if someone just shoved a mallet in his gut. He stares at the man in the white shirt, his mouth slightly agape and his eyes scanning to and fro over the car.

  “How do you know my name?”

  “I know a lot about you.”

  Ove only manages by a whisker to pull his foot out of the way of the wheel as the Škoda moves off again and drives down towards the houses. Ove stands there, in shock, staring after them.

  “Who was that?” says the woman in the windbreaker behind him.

  Ove spins around.

  “How do you know my name?” he demands.

  She takes a step back. Pushes a few evasive wisps of hair out of her face without taking her eyes off Ove’s clenched fists.

  “I work for the local newspaper—we interviewed people on the platform about how you saved that man. . . .”

  “How do you know my name?” says Ove again, his voice shaking with anger.

  “You swiped your card when you paid for your train ticket. I went through the receipts in the register,” she says and takes a few more steps back.

  “And him!!! How does HE know my name?” Ove roars and waves in the direction in which the Škoda went, the veins on his forehead bulging.

  “I . . . don’t know,” she says.

  Ove breathes violently through his nose and nails her with his eyes. As if trying to see whether she’s lying.

  “I have no idea. I’ve never seen that man before,” she promises.

  Ove rivets his eyes into her even harder. Finally he nods grimly to himself. Then he turns around and walks towards his house. She calls out to him but he doesn’t react. The cat follows him into the hall. Ove closes the door. Farther down the road, the man in the white shirt and the woman with glasses ring the doorbell of Anita and Rune’s house.

  Ove sinks onto the stool in his hall. Shaking with humiliation.

  He had almost forgotten that feeling. The humiliation of it. The powerlessness. The realization that one cannot fight men in white shirts.

  And now they’re back. They haven’t been here since he and Sonja came home from Spain. After the accident.



  Of course, the bus tour was her idea. Ove couldn’t see the use of it. If they had to go anywhere, why not just take the Saab? But Sonja insisted that buses were “romantic,” and that sort of thing was incredibly important, Ove had learned. So that’s how it ended up. Even though everyone in Spain seemed to think they were somehow exceptional because they went around yawning and drinking and playing foreign music in restaurants and going to bed in the middle of the day.

  Ove did his best not to like any of it. But Sonja got so worked up about it all that in the end it inevitably affected him too. She laughed so loudly when he held her that he felt it through his whole body. Not even Ove could avoid liking it.

  They stayed in a little hotel, with a little pool, and a little restaurant run by a man whose name, as Ove understood it, was Schosse. It was spelled “José” but it seemed people weren’t too particular about pronunciation in Spain. Schosse couldn’t speak any Swedish but he was very interested in speaking anyway. Sonja had a little book in which she looked things up, so she could say things like “sunset” and “ham” in Spanish. Ove felt it didn’t stop being the butt end of a pig just because you said it another way, but he never mentioned this.

  On the other hand he tried to point out to her that she shouldn’t give money to the beggars in the street, as they’d only buy schnapps with it. But she kept doing it.

  “They can do what they like with the money,” she said.

  When Ove protested she just smiled and took his big hands in hers and kissed them, explaining that when a person gives to another person it’s not just the receiver who’s blessed. It’s the giver.

  On the third day she went to bed in the middle of the day. Because that was what people did in Spain, she said, and one should adopt the “local customs of a place.” Ove suspected it was not so much about customs as her own preferences, and this suited her very well as an excuse. She already slept sixteen hours out of twenty-four since she got pregnant.

  Ove occupied himself by going for walks. He took the road leading past the hotel into the village. All the houses were made of stone, he noted. Many of them didn’t appear to have thresholds under their front doors, and there were no decent window seals to be seen. Ove thought it slightly barbaric. One couldn’t bloody build houses like this.

  He was on his way back to the hotel when he saw Schosse leaning over a smoking brown car at the side of the road. Inside sat two children and a very old woman with a shawl around her head. She didn’t seem to be feeling very well.

  Schosse caught sight of Ove and waved at him in an agitated manner with something almost like panic in his eyes. “Sennjaur,” he called out to Ove, the way he’d done every time he’d spoken to him since their arrival. Ove assumed it meant “Ove” in Spanish, but he hadn’t checked Sonja’s phrase book so carefully. Schosse pointed at the car and gesticulated wildly at Ove again. Ove stuck his hands into his trouser pockets and stopped at a safe distance, with a watchful look on his face.

  “Hospital!” Schosse shouted again and pointed at the old woman in the car. In fact, she didn’t look in very good shape, Ove reaffirmed to himself. Schosse pointed to the woman and pointed under the hood at the smoking engine, repeating despairingly, “Hospital! Hospital!” Ove cast his evaluating eye on the spectacle and finally drew the conclusion that this smoking, Spanish-manufactured car must be known as a “hospital.”

  He leaned over the engine and peered down. It didn’t look so complicated, he thought.

  “Hospital,” Schosse said again and nodded several times and looked quite worried.

  Ove didn’t know what he was expected to say to that; clearly the whole matter of car makes was considered quite important in Spain, and certainly Ove could empathize with that.

  “Saaaab,” he said, therefore, pointing demonstratively at his chest.

  Schosse stared in puzzlement at him for a moment. Then he pointed at himself.


  “I wasn’t bloody asking for your name, I was only sayi—” Ove started saying, but he stopped himself whe
n he was met on the other side of the hood by a stare as glazed as an inland lake.

  Obviously this Schosse’s grasp of Swedish was even worse than Ove’s Spanish. Ove sighed and looked with some concern at the children in the backseat. They were holding the old woman’s hands and looked quite terrified. Ove looked down at the engine again.

  Then he rolled up his shirtsleeves and motioned for Schosse to move out of the way. Within ten minutes they were back on the road, and Ove had never seen anyone so relieved to have his car fixed.

  However much she flicked through her little phrase book, Sonja never found out the exact reason why they weren’t charged for any of the food they ate in José’s restaurant that week. But she laughed until she was positively simmering every time the little Spanish man who owned the restaurant lit up like a sun when he saw Ove, held out his arms, and exclaimed: “Señor Saab!!!”

  Her daily naps and Ove’s walks became a ritual. On the second day, Ove walked past a man putting up a fence, and stopped to explain that this was absolutely the wrong way to do it. The man couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying, so Ove decided in the end that it would be quicker to show him how. On the third day he built a new exterior wall on a church building, with the assistance of the village priest. On the fourth day he went with Schosse to a field outside the village, where he helped one of Schosse’s friends pull out a horse that had got stuck in a muddy ditch.

  Many years later it occurred to Sonja to ask him about all that. When Ove at last told her, she shook her head both long and hard. “So while I was sleeping you sneaked out and helped people in need . . . and mended their fences? People can say whatever they like about you, Ove. But you’re the strangest superhero I ever heard about.”

  On the bus on the way home from Spain she put Ove’s hand on her belly and he felt the child kicking—faintly, as if someone had prodded the palm of his hand through a very thick oven mitt. They sat there for several hours feeling the little bumps. Ove didn’t say anything but Sonja saw the way he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand when he rose from his seat and mumbled something about needing the bathroom.

  It was the happiest week of Ove’s life.

  It was destined to be followed by the very unhappiest.



  Ove and the cat sit in silence in the Saab outside the hospital.

  “Stop looking at me as if this is my fault,” says Ove to the cat.

  The cat looks back at him as if it isn’t angry but disappointed.

  It wasn’t really the plan that he would be sitting outside this hospital again. He hates hospitals, after all, and now he’s bloody been here three times in less than a week. It’s not right and proper. But no other choice was available to him.

  Because today went to pot from the very beginning.

  It started with Ove and the cat, during their daily inspection, when they discovered that the sign forbidding vehicular traffic within the residential area had been run over. This inspired such colorful profanities from Ove that the cat looked quite embarrassed. Ove marched off in fury and emerged moments later with his snow shovel. Then he stopped, looking towards Anita and Rune’s house, his jaws clamped so hard that they made a creaking sound.

  The cat looked at him accusingly.

  “It’s not my fault the old sod went and got old,” he said more firmly.

  When the cat didn’t seem to find this to be in any way an acceptable explanation, Ove pointed at it with the snow shovel.

  “You think this is the first time I’ve had a run-in with the council? That
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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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