A Man Called Ove: A Novel, p.19Fredrik Backman
A MAN CALLED OVE AND A BENDER
Seriously, where are we going?!” Parvaneh wonders, out of breath.
“To fix something,” Ove answers curtly, three steps ahead of her, with the cat half jogging at his side.
Parvaneh stops and catches her breath.
“Here!” Ove calls out and stops abruptly in front of a little café.
A scent of fresh-baked croissants comes through the glass door. Parvaneh looks at the parking area on the other side of the street where they left the Saab. In the end they could not have parked closer to the café. At first Ove had been absolutely convinced that the café was at the other end of the block. That was when Parvaneh had suggested they could possibly park on that side, but the notion was abandoned once they found that parking cost one kronor more per hour.
Instead they had parked here and walked all around the block looking for the café. Because Ove, as Parvaneh had soon realized, was the sort of man who, when he was not quite certain where he was going, just carried on walking straight ahead, convinced that the road would eventually fall into line. And now when they find that the café is directly opposite the spot where they parked, Ove looks as if this was his plan all along. Parvaneh mops some sweat off her cheek.
A man with a ragged, dirty beard is leaning against a wall halfway down the street. He has a paper cup in front of him. Outside the café Ove, Parvaneh, and the cat meet a slim boy aged about twenty who has what looks very much like black soot around his eyes. It takes Ove a moment to realize it’s the boy who was standing behind the lad with the bicycle when Ove met him the first time. He looks a little cautious; although he smiles at Ove, Ove can’t think of anything to do but nod back. As if wanting to clarify that while he has no intention of returning the smile, he is prepared to acknowledge receipt of it.
“Why didn’t you let me park next to the red car?” Parvaneh wants to know as they open the glass door and step inside.
Ove doesn’t answer.
“I would have managed it!” she says self-confidently.
Ove shakes his head wearily. Two hours ago she didn’t know where the clutch was; now she’s irritated because he won’t let her squeeze into a narrow parking space.
Once they’re inside the café, Ove sees from the corner of his eye how the slim soot-eyed boy offers the sandwiches he’s hiding to the vagrant.
“Hi there, Ove!” a voice calls out so eagerly that it cracks into falsetto in the high notes.
Ove turns around and sees the lad from the bike shed. He’s standing behind a long, polished counter at the front of the premises, wearing a baseball cap, Ove notes. Indoors.
The cat and Parvaneh make themselves at home, the latter mopping sweat from her forehead although it’s ice-cold in there. Colder than outside in the street, actually. She pours herself some water from a pitcher on the counter. The cat unconcernedly laps up some of it from her glass when she isn’t looking.
“Do you know each other?” Parvaneh asks with surprise, looking at the youth.
“Me and Ove are sort of friends.” The youth nods.
“Are you? Me and Ove are sort of friends too!” Parvaneh grins, tenderly imitating his enthusiasm.
Ove stops at a safe distance from the counter. As if someone might give him a hug if he gets too close.
“My name’s Adrian,” says the youth.
“Parvaneh,” says Parvaneh.
“You want something to drink?” he asks them.
“A latte for me, please,” says Parvaneh, in a tone of voice as if she’s suddenly having her shoulders massaged. She dabs her forehead with a napkin. “Preferably an iced latte if you have it!”
Ove shifts his weight from his left foot to his right and peers around the premises. He’s never liked cafés. Sonja, of course, loved them. Could sit in them for an entire Sunday “just looking at people,” as she put it. Ove used to sit there with her, reading a newspaper. Every Sunday they did it. He hasn’t put his foot in a café since she died. He looks up and realizes that Adrian, Parvaneh, and the cat are waiting for his answer.
“Coffee, then. Black.”
Adrian scratches his hair under the cap.
“So . . . espresso?”
Adrian transfers his scratching from hair to chin.
“What . . . like black coffee?”
“If it’s with milk it’s not black coffee.”
Adrian moves a couple of sugar bowls on the counter. Mainly to have something to do, so he doesn’t look too silly. A bit late for that, thinks Ove.
“Normal filter coffee. Normal bloody filter coffee,” Ove repeats.
“Oh, that. . . . Well. I don’t know how to make it.”
Ove points aggressively at the percolator in the corner, only barely visible behind a gigantic silver spaceship of a machine, which, Ove understands, is what they use for making espresso.
“Oh, that one, yeah,” says Adrian, as if the penny has just dropped. “Ah . . . I don’t really know how that thing works.”
“Should have bloody known. . . .” mutters Ove as he walks around the counter and takes matters into his own hands.
“Can someone tell me what we’re doing here?” calls Parvaneh.
“This kid here has a bicycle that needs repairing,” explains Ove as he pours water into the carafe.
“The bicycle hanging off the back of the car?”
“You brought it here? Thanks, Ove!”
“You don’t have a car, do you?” he replies, while rummaging around a cupboard for coffee filters.
“Thanks, Ove!” says Adrian and takes a step towards him, then comes to his senses and stops before he does something silly.
“So that’s your bicycle?” Parvaneh smiles.
“Kind of—it’s my girlfriend’s. Or the one I want to be my girlfriend . . . sort of thing.”
“So me and Ove drove all this way just to give you a bike so you can mend it? For a girl?”
Adrian nods. Parvaneh leans over the counter and pats Ove on the arm.
“You know, Ove, sometimes one almost suspects you have a heart. . . .”
“Do you have tools here or not?” Ove says to Adrian, snatching his arm away.
“Go and get them, then. The bike’s on the Saab in the parking lot.”
Adrian nods quickly and disappears into the kitchen. After a minute or so he comes back with a big toolbox, which he quickly takes to the exit.
“And you be quiet,” Ove says to Parvaneh.
She smirks in a way that suggests she has no intention of keeping quiet.
“I only brought the bicycle here so he wouldn’t mess about in the sheds back home. . . .” Ove adds.
“Sure, sure,” says Parvaneh with a laugh.
“Oh, hey,” says Adrian as the soot-eyed boy appears again a moment later. “This is my boss.”
“Hi there—ah, what . . . sorry, what are you doing?” asks the “boss,” looking with some interest at the spry stranger who has barricaded himself behind the counter of his café.
“The kid’s going to fix a bicycle,” answers Ove as if this were something plain and obvious. “Where do you keep the filters for real coffee?”
The soot-eyed boy points at one of the shelves. Ove squints at him.
“Is that makeup?”
Parvaneh hushes him. Ove looks insulted.
“What? What’s wrong with asking?”
The boy smiles a little nervously.
“Yes, it’s makeup.” He nods, rubbing himself around his eyes. “I went dancing last night,” he says, smiling gratefully as Parvaneh with the deftness of a fellow conspirator hauls out a wet-wipe from her handbag and offers it to him.
Ove nods and goes back to his coffee-making.
“And do you also have problems
“No, no, not with bicycles anyway. And not with love either, I suppose. Well, not with girls, anyway.” He chuckles.
Ove turns on the percolator and, once it begins to splutter, turns around and leans against the inside of the counter as if this is the most natural thing in the world in a café where one doesn’t work.
“Bent, are you?”
“OVE!” says Parvaneh and slaps him on the arm.
Ove snatches back his arm and looks very offended.
“You don’t say . . . you don’t call it that,” Parvaneh says, clearly unwilling to pronounce the word again.
“Queer?” Ove offers.
Parvaneh tries to hit his arm again but Ove is too quick.
“Don’t talk like that!” she orders him.
Ove turns to the sooty boy, genuinely puzzled.
“Can’t one say ‘bent’? What are you supposed to say nowadays?”
“You say homosexual. Or an LGBT person,” Parvaneh interrupts before she can stop herself.
“Ah, you can say what you want, it’s cool.” The boy smiles as he walks around the counter and puts on an apron.
“Right, good. Good to be clear. One of those gays, then,” mumbles Ove. Parvaneh shakes her head apologetically; the boy just laughs. “Well then,” says Ove with a nod, and starts pouring himself a coffee while it’s still going through.
Then he takes the cup and without another word goes outside and across the street to the parking area. The sooty boy doesn’t comment on his taking the cup outside. It would seem a little unnecessary, under the circumstances, when this man within five minutes of his arrival at the boy’s café has already appointed himself as barista and interrogated him about his sexual preferences.
Adrian is standing by the Saab, looking as if he just got lost in a forest.
“Is it going well?” asks Ove rhetorically, taking a sip of coffee and looking at the bicycle, which Adrian hasn’t even unhooked yet from the back of the car.
“Nah . . . you know. Sort of. Well,” Adrian begins, compulsively scratching his chest.
Ove observes him for half a minute or so. Takes another mouthful of his coffee. Nods irritably, like someone squeezing an avocado and finding it overly ripe. He forcefully presses his cup of coffee into the hands of the boy, and then steps forward to unhitch the bicycle. Turns it upside down and opens the toolbox the youth has brought from the café.
“Didn’t your dad ever teach you how to fix a bike?” he says without looking at Adrian, while he hunches over the punctured tire.
“My dad’s in the slammer,” Adrian replies almost inaudibly and scratches his shoulder, looking around as if he’d like to find a big black hole to sink into. Ove stops himself, looks up, and gives him an evaluating stare. The boy stares at the ground. Ove clears his throat.
“It’s not so bloody difficult,” he mutters at long last and gestures at Adrian to sit on the ground.
It takes them ten minutes to repair the puncture. Ove barks monosyllabic instructions; Adrian remains silent throughout. But he’s attentive and dextrous and in a certain sense does not make a complete fool of himself, Ove has to admit. Maybe he’s not quite as fumbling with his hands as he is with words. They wipe off the dirt with a rag from the trunk of the Saab, avoiding eye contact with each other.
“I hope the lady’s worth it,” says Ove and closes the trunk.
Now it’s Adrian’s turn to look nonplussed.
When they go back into the café, there’s a short cube-shaped man in a stained shirt standing on a stepladder, tinkering with something that Ove suspects is a fan heater. The sooty boy stands below the stepladder with a selection of screwdrivers held aloft. He keeps mopping the remnants of makeup around his eyes, peering at the fat man on the ladder and looking a little on the nervous side. As if worried that he may be caught out. Parvaneh turns excitedly to Ove.
“This is Amel! He owns the café!” she says in a suitably gushing manner. She points to the cubic man on the ladder.
Amel doesn’t turn around, but he emits a long sequence of hard consonants that, even though Ove does not understand them, he suspects to be various combinations of four-letter words and body parts.
“What’s he saying?” asks Adrian.
The sooty boy twists uncomfortably.
“Ah . . . he . . . something about the fan heater being a bit of a fairy . . .”
He looks over at Adrian, then quickly turns his face down.
“What’s that?” asks Ove, wandering over to him.
“He means it’s worthless, like a homo,” he says in such a low voice that only Ove catches his words.
Parvaneh, on the other hand, is busy pointing at Amel with delight.
“You can’t hear what he’s saying but you sort of know that almost all of it is swear words! He’s like a dubbed version of you, Ove!”
Ove doesn’t look particularly delighted. Nor does Amel.
He stops tinkering with the fan heater and points at Ove with the screwdriver.
“The cat? Is that your cat?”
“No,” says Ove.
Not so much because he wants to point out that it isn’t his cat, but because he wants to clarify that it’s no one’s cat.
“Cat out! No animals in café!” Amel slashes at the consonants so that they hop about like naughty children caught inside the sentence.
Ove looks with interest at the fan heater above Amel’s head. Then at the cat on the bar stool. Then at the toolbox, which Adrian is still holding in his hand. Then at the fan heater again. And at Amel.
“If I repair that for you, the cat stays.”
He offers this more as a statement than a question. Amel seems to lose his self-possession for a few moments. By the time he regains it, in a way he could probably not explain afterwards, he has become the man holding the stepladder rather than the man standing on the stepladder. Ove digs about up there for a few minutes, climbs down, brushes the palm of his hand against his trouser leg, and hands the screwdriver and a little adjustable wrench to the sooty boy.
“You fixed!” cries Amel suddenly as the fan heater splutters back to life.
In an effusive manner, he grabs Ove’s shoulders.
“Whiskey? You want? In my kitchen I have the whiskey!”
Ove checks his watch. It’s quarter past two in the afternoon. He shakes his head while looking a little uncomfortable, partly about the whiskey and partly because of Amel, who is still holding on to him. The sooty boy disappears through the kitchen door behind the counter, still frenetically rubbing his eyes.
Adrian catches up with Ove and the cat on their way back to the Saab.
“Ove, mate, you won’t say anything about Mirsad being . . .”
“My boss,” says Adrian. “The one with the makeup.”
“The bent person?” says Ove.
“I mean his dad . . . I mean Amel . . . he doesn’t know Mirsad is . . .”
Adrian fumbles for the right word.
“A bender?” Ove adds.
Adrian nods. Ove shrugs. Parvaneh comes wagging along behind them, out of breath.
“Where did you get to?” Ove asks her.
“I gave my change to him,” says Parvaneh, with a nod at the man with the dirty beard by the house wall.
“You know he’ll only spend it on schnapps,” Ove states.
Parvaneh opens her eyes wide with something Ove strongly suspects to be sarcasm. “Really? Will he? And I was sooo hoping he would use it to pay off his student loans from his university education in particle physics!”
Ove snorts and opens the Saab. Adrian stays where he is on the other side of the car.
“Yes?” Ove wonders.
“You won’t say anything about Mirsad, will you? Seriously?”
“Why the hell would I say anything?” Ove points at him with exasperation. “You! You want to buy
A MAN CALLED OVE AND A SOCIETY WITHOUT HIM
Ove brushes the snow off the gravestone. Digs determinedly into the frozen ground and carefully replenishes the flowers. He stands up, dusts himself off, and looks helplessly at her name, feeling ashamed of himself. He who always used to nag at her about being late. Now he stands here himself, apparently quite incapable of following her as he’d planned.
“It’s just been bloody mayhem,” he mumbles to the stone.
And then he’s silent again.
He doesn’t know what happened to him after her funeral. The days and weeks floated together in such a way, and in such utter silence, that he could hardly describe what exactly he was doing. Before Parvaneh and that Patrick backed into his mailbox he could barely remember saying a word to another human being since Sonja died.
Some evenings he forgets to eat. That’s never happened before, as far as he can remember. Not since he sat down with her on that train almost forty years ago. As long as Sonja was there they had their routines. Ove got up at quarter to six, made coffee, went off for his inspection. By half past six Sonja had showered and then they had breakfast and drank coffee. Sonja had eggs; Ove had bread. At five past seven, Ove carried her to the passenger seat of the Saab, stowed her wheelchair in the trunk, and gave her a lift to school. Then he drove to work. At quarter to ten they took coffee breaks separately. Sonja took milk in her coffee; Ove had it black. At twelve they had lunch. At quarter to three another coffee break. At quarter past five Ove picked up Sonja in the school courtyard, hoisted her into the passenger seat and the wheelchair into the trunk. By six o’clock they were at the kitchen table having their dinner, usually meat and potatoes and gravy. Ove’s favorite meal. Then she solved crosswords with her legs drawn up beneath her on the sofa while Ove pottered about in the toolshed
A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman / History & Fiction / Humor have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on95 votes