The Fifth Woman, p.1Henning Mankell
Table of Contents
About the Author
Also by Henning Mankell
The Fifth Woman
Africa – Sweden: May – August 1993
Skåne: 21 September – 11 October 1994
Skåne: 12 – 17 October 1994
Skåne: 17 October – 3 November 1994
Skåne: 4 – 5 December 1994
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Epub ISBN: 9781407064420
Published by Vintage 2009
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Copyright © Henning Mankell, 2000 and 2003
English translation © Steven T. Murray, 2003
Henning Mankell has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on The subsequent purchaser
First published in Great Britain in 2003 by The Harvill Press
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About the Author
Henning Mankell is the prize-winning and internationally acclaimed author of the Inspector Wallander Mysteries, now dominating bestseller lists throughout Europe. He devotes much of his time to working with Aids charities in Africa, where he is also director of the Teatro Avenida in Maputo.
Steven T. Murray has translated numerous works from the Scandinavian languages, including the Pelle the Conqueror series by Martin Andersen Nexø and three of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels. He is Editor-in-Chief of Fjord Press in Seattle.
ALSO BY HENNING MANKELL
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Man Who Smiled
One Step Behind
The Return of the Dancing Master
Before the Frost
Chronicler of the Winds
The Eye of the Leopard
I Die, But the Memory Lives On
Young Adult Fiction
A Bridge to the Stars
Shadows in the Twilight
When the Snow Fell
“I saw God in a dream and He had two faces. One was soft and kind like a mother’s face, and the other looked like the face of Satan.”
From The Fall of the Imam, by Nawal El Saadawi
“With love and care the spiderweb weaves its spider.”
Africa – Sweden
May – August 1993
The letter arrived in Ystad on 19 August 1993. Since it had an African stamp and must be from her mother, she hadn’t opened it immediately. She wanted to have peace and quiet when she read it. From the thickness of the envelope she could tell there were many pages. She hadn’t heard from her mother in over three months and there must be plenty of news by now. She left the letter lying on the coffee table, deciding to wait until evening. But she felt vaguely uneasy. Why had her mother typed her name and address this time? No doubt the answer would be in the letter. It was close to midnight when she opened the door to the balcony and sat down among all her flowerpots. It was a lovely, warm August evening. Maybe one of the last of the year. Autumn was already at hand, hovering unseen. She opened the letter and started to read.
Only when she had read the letter to the end, did she start to cry. By then she knew that the letter was written by a woman. It wasn’t just the handwriting, there was also something about the choice of words, how the woman had described as mercifully as possible the gruesome truth of what had occurred. There was no mercy involved. There was only the act itself. That was all.
The letter was signed by Françoise Bertrand, a police officer. Her position was not entirely clear, but she was employed as a criminal investigator for the country’s central homicide commission. It was in this capacity that she had learned of the events that took place one night in May in a remote desert town in North Africa.
The facts of the case were clear, easy to grasp, and utterly terrifying. Four nuns, French citizens, had been slaughtered by unknown assailants, their throats slashed. The killers had left no traces, only blood; thick, congealed blood everywhere.
But there had also been a fifth woman, a Swedish tourist, who happened to be visiting the nuns on the night the assailants appeared with their knives. Her passport revealed that her name was Anna Ander, 66 years old, in the country on a tourist visa. With the passport was an open-return plane ticket. Since it was bad enough that four nuns had been murdered, and since Anna Ander seemed to have been travelling alone, under political pressure the police decided not to mention the fifth woman. She was simply not there on that fateful night. Her bed was empty. Instead, they reported her death in a traffic accident and then buried her in an unmarked grave. All traces of her were erased. And it was here that Françoise Bertrand entered the picture. Early one morning I was called in by my boss, she wrote in the long letter, and told to drive out to the convent. By this time the Swedish woman was already buried. Françoise Bertrand’s job was to destroy her passport and
Anna Ander had supposedly never arrived or spent any time in the country. She had ceased to exist, erased from all official records. Françoise Bertrand found a travel bag that the investigators had overlooked, lying behind a wardrobe. Inside were letters that Anna Ander had begun to write, and they were addressed to her daughter in a town called Ystad in faraway Sweden. Françoise Bertrand apologised for reading these private letters. She had asked for help from an alcoholic Swedish artist she knew in the capital, and he had translated the letters for her. Françoise wrote down the translations as he read them to her, and a picture gradually began to take shape.
Even then she already had pangs of conscience about what had happened to this fifth woman. Not only about the fact that she was brutally murdered in the country that Françoise loved so much. In the letter, she tried to explain what was happening in her country, and she also told something about herself. Her father was born in France but came to North Africa with his parents as a child. There he grew up, and later married a local woman. Françoise, the oldest of their children, had always had the feeling of having one foot in France and the other in Africa. But now she no longer had any doubt. She was an African. And that was why she was tormented by the strife tearing her country apart. That was also why she didn’t want to contribute to the wrongs against herself and her country by erasing this woman, by refusing even to take the responsibility for Anna Ander’s presence. Françoise Bertrand had begun to suffer from insomnia. Finally she decided to write to the dead woman’s daughter and tell her the truth. She forced herself to act in spite of the loyalty she felt to the police force, but she asked that her name be kept secret. I’m telling you the truth, she wrote at the end of her long letter. Maybe I’m making a mistake by telling you what happened. But how could I do otherwise? I found a bag containing letters that a woman wrote to her daughter. Now I’m telling you how they came into my possession and forwarding them to you.
Françoise Bertrand had enclosed the unfinished letters and Anna Ander’s passport.
Her daughter didn’t read the letters. She put them on the floor of the balcony and wept for a long time. Not until dawn did she get up. She went inside and sat motionless at the kitchen table, her head completely empty. But then suddenly everything seemed simple to her. She realised that she had done nothing but wait all these years. She hadn’t understood that before: the fact that she had been waiting, or why. Now she knew. She had a mission, and she didn’t need to wait any longer to carry it out. It was time. Her mother was gone. A door had been thrown wide open.
She stood up and went to get her box with the slips of paper she had cut up, and the big ledger she kept in a drawer under her bed. She spread the folded slips of paper on the table in front of her. She knew there were 43 of them. She started unfolding the slips, one by one.
The cross was on the 27th one. She opened the ledger and ran her finger down the column of names until she reached the right row. She stared at the name she had written there and slowly a face materialised before her. Then she closed the book and put the slips of paper back in the box.
Her mother was dead. She no longer had any doubt. And now there was no turning back. She would give herself a year to work through her grief, and to make all her preparations. She went back out onto the balcony, smoked a cigarette and gazed out over the waking city. A rain storm was moving in from the sea.
Just after 7 a.m. she went to bed. It was the morning of 20 August 1993.
21 September – 11 October 1994
Just after 10 p.m. he finally finished. The last stanzas had been difficult to write; they took him a long time. He had wanted to achieve a melancholy, yet beautiful expression. Several attempts were consigned to the waste-paper basket. Twice he’d been close to giving up altogether, but now the poem lay before him on the table – his lament for the middle spotted woodpecker, which had almost disappeared from Sweden. It hadn’t been seen in the country since the early 1980s – one more species soon to be wiped out by humankind.
He got up from his desk and stretched. With every passing year, it was harder and harder to sit bent over his writings for hours on end.
An old man shouldn’t be writing poems, he thought. When you’re 78 years old, your thoughts are of little use to anyone. But at the same time, he knew this was wrong. It was only in the Western world that old people were viewed with indulgence or contemptuous sympathy. In other cultures, age was respected as the period of enlightened wisdom. He would go on writing poems as long as he could lift a pen and his mind was clear. He was not capable of much else. A long time ago he had been a car dealer, the most successful in the region. He was known as a tough negotiator. He had certainly sold a lot of cars. During the good years he had owned branches in Tomelilla and Sjöbo. He had made a fortune large enough to allow him to live in some style. But it was his poetry that really mattered to him. The verses lying on the table gave him a rare satisfaction.
He drew the curtains across the picture windows that faced the fields rolling down towards the sea, which lay out of sight. He went over to his bookshelf. He had published nine volumes of poetry. There they stood, in a row. None of them had sold more than a single, small printing. Not more than 300 copies. The unsold copies were in cardboard boxes in the basement. They were his pride and joy, although he had long ago decided to burn them one day. He would carry the cardboard boxes out to the courtyard and put a match to them. The day he received his death sentence, whether from a doctor or from a premonition that his life would soon be over, he would rid himself of the thin volumes that no-one wanted to buy. No-one would throw them onto a rubbish heap.
He looked at the books on the shelf. He had been reading poems his whole life, and he had memorised many. He had no illusions; his poems were not the best ever written, but they weren’t the worst, either. In each of his volumes, published roughly every five years since the late 1940s, there were stanzas that could stand beside the best. But he had been a car dealer by profession, not a poet. His poems were not reviewed on the cultural pages. He hadn’t received any literary awards. And his books had been printed at his own expense. He had sent his first collection to the big publishing houses in Stockholm. They came back with curt rejections on pre-printed forms. One editor had taken the trouble to make a personal comment. Nobody would want to read poems that were only about birds. The spiritual life of the white wagtail is of no interest, the editor had written.
After that, he wasted no more time on publishers. He paid for publication himself: simple covers, nothing lavish. The words between were what mattered. In spite of everything, many people had read his poems over the years, and many of them had expressed their appreciation to him. Now he had written a new one, about the middle spotted woodpecker, a lovely bird no longer seen in Sweden.
The bird poet, he thought. Almost everything I’ve written is about birds: the flapping of wings, the rushing in the night, a lone mating call somewhere in the distance. In the world of birds I have found a reflection of the innermost secrets of life.
He picked up the sheet of paper. The last stanza had worked. He put the paper back on the desk. He felt a sharp pain in his back as he crossed the large room. Was he getting sick? Every day he listened for signs that his body had begun to betray him. He had stayed in good shape throughout his life. He had never smoked, always eating and drinking in moderation. This regime had endowed him with good health. But soon he would be 80. The end of his allotted time was approaching. He went out to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee from the coffee machine, which was always on.
The poem he had finished writing filled him with both sadness and joy. The autumn of my years, he thought. An apt name. Everything I write could be the last. And it’s September. It’s autumn. On the calendar and in my life.
He carried his coffee back to the living room. He sat down carefully in one of the brown leather armchairs that had kept him company for 40 years. He had bough
He closed his eyes and suddenly remembered “The 10,000-krona Question” TV programme of the late 1950s, or maybe it was the early 1960s. TV was still black-and-white back then. A cross-eyed young man with slicked-back hair had chosen the topic “Birds”. He answered all the questions and received his cheque for 10,000 kronor, an incredible sum in those days.
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