A man called ove a novel, p.24
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       A Man Called Ove: A Novel, p.24

           Fredrik Backman
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  “You don’t have to buy anything. I only want one thing anyway.”

  Ove folds up the invitation and puts it in the back pocket of his trousers. Then, with a degree of authority, presses the palms of his hands against his sides.


  “Mum says it’s too expensive anyway so it doesn’t matter,” she says without looking up, and then shakes her head again.

  Ove nods conspiratorially, like a criminal who has just made a sign to another criminal that the telephone they are using is wiretapped. He and the girl look around the hall to check that neither her mother nor her father have their nosy ears around some corner, surreptitiously listening to them. And then Ove leans forward and the girl forms her hands in a funnel round her face and whispers into his ear:

  “An iPad.”

  Ove looks a little as if she just said, “An awyttsczyckdront!”

  “It’s a sort of computer. There are special drawing programs for it. For children,” she whispers a little louder.

  And something is shining in her eyes.

  Something that Ove recognizes.



  Broadly speaking there are two kinds of people. Those who understand how extremely useful white cables can be, and those who don’t. Jimmy is the first of these. He loves white cables. And white telephones. And white computer monitors with fruit on the back. That’s more or less the sum of what Ove has absorbed during the car journey into town, when Jimmy natters on excitedly about the sorts of things every rational person ought to be so insuperably interested in, until Ove at last sinks into a sort of deeply meditative state of mind, in which the overweight young man’s babbling turns to a dull hissing in his ears.

  As soon as the young man thundered into the passenger seat of the Saab with a large sandwich in his hand, Ove obviously wished he hadn’t asked for Jimmy’s help with this. Things are not improved by Jimmy aimlessly shuffling off to “check a few leads” as soon as they enter the shop.

  If you want something done you have to do it yourself, as usual, Ove confirms to himself as he steers his steps alone towards the sales assistant. And not until Ove roars, “Have you been frontally lobotomized or what?!” to the young man who’s trying to show him the shop’s range of portable computers does Jimmy come hurrying to his aid. And then it’s not Ove but rather the shop assistant who needs to be aided.

  “We’re together.” Jimmy nods to the assistant with a glance that sort of functions as a secret handshake to communicate the message, “Don’t worry, I’m one of you!”

  The sales assistant takes a long, frustrated breath and points at Ove.

  “I’m trying to help him but—”

  “You’re just trying to fob me off with a load of CRAP, that’s what you’re doing!” Ove yells back at him without letting him get to a full stop, and menacing him with something he spontaneously snatches off the nearest shelf.

  Ove doesn’t quite know what it is, but it looks like a white electrical plug of some sort and it feels like the sort of thing he could throw very hard at the sales assistant if the need arises. The sales assistant looks at Jimmy with a sort of twitching around his eyes that Ove seems adept at generating in people with whom he comes into contact. This is so frequent that one could possibly name a syndrome after him.

  “He didn’t mean any harm, man,” Jimmy tries to say pleasantly.

  “I’m trying to show him a MacBook and he’s asking me what sort of car I drive,” the sales assistant bursts out, looking genuinely hurt.

  “It’s a relevant question,” mutters Ove, with a firm nod at Jimmy.

  “I don’t have a car! Because I think it’s unnecessary and I want to use more environmentally friendly modes of transportation!” says the sales assistant in a tone of voice pitched somewhere between intransigent anger and the fetal position.

  Ove looks at Jimmy and throws out his arms, as if this should explain everything.

  “You can’t reason with a person like that.” He nods and evidently expects immediate support. “Where the hell have you been, anyway?”

  “I was just checking out the monitors over there, you know,” explains Jimmy.

  “Are you buying a monitor?” asks Ove.

  “No,” says Jimmy and looks at Ove as if it was a really strange question, more or less in the way that Sonja used to ask, “What’s that got to do with it?” when Ove asked her if she really “needed” another pair of shoes.

  The sales assistant tries to turn around and steal away, but Ove quickly puts his leg forward to stop him.

  “Where are you going? We’re not done here.”

  The sales assistant looks deeply unhappy now. Jimmy pats him on the back, to encourage him.

  “Ove here just wants to check out an iPad—can you sort us out?”

  The sales assistant gives Ove a grim look.

  Okay, but as I was trying to ask him earlier, what model do you want? The 16-, 32-, or 64-gigabyte?”

  Ove looks at the sales assistant as if he feels the latter should stop regurgitating random combinations of letters.

  “There are different versions with different amounts of memory,” Jimmy translates for Ove as if he were an interpreter for the Department of Immigration.

  “And I suppose they want a hell of a lot of extra money for it,” Ove snorts back.

  Jimmy nods his understanding of the situation and turns to the sales assistant.

  “I think Ove wants to know a little more about the differences between the various models.”

  The sales assistant groans.

  “Well, do you want the normal or the 3G model, then?”

  Jimmy turns to Ove.

  “Will it be used mainly at home or will she use it outdoors as well?”

  Ove pokes his flashlight finger into the air and points it dead straight at the sales assistant.

  “Hey! I want her to have the BEST ONE! Understood?”

  The sales assistant takes a nervous step back. Jimmy grins and opens his massive arms as if preparing himself for a big hug.

  “Let’s say 3G, 128-gig, all the bells and whistles you’ve got. And can you throw in a cable?”

  A few minutes later Ove snatches the plastic bag with the iPad box from the counter, mumbling something about “eightthousandtwohundredandninetyfivekronor and they don’t even throw in a keyboard!” followed by “thieves,” “bandits,” and various obscenities.

  And so it turns out that the seven-year-old gets an iPad that evening from Ove. And a lead from Jimmy.

  She stands in the hall just inside the door, not quite sure what to do with that information, and in the end she just nods and says, “Really nice . . . thanks.” Jimmy nods expansively.

  “You got any snacks?”

  She points to the living room, which is full of people. In the middle of the room is a birthday cake with eight lit candles, towards which the well-built young man immediately navigates. The girl, who is now an eight-year-old, stays in the hall, touching the iPad box with amazement. As if she hardly dares believe that she’s actually got it in her hands. Ove leans towards her.

  “That’s how I always felt every time I bought a new car,” he says in a low voice.

  She looks around to make sure no one can see; then she smiles and gives him a hug.

  “Thanks, Granddad,” she whispers and runs into her room.

  Ove stands quietly in the hall, poking his house keys against the calluses on one of his palms. Patrick comes limping along on his crutches in pursuit of the eight-year-old. Apparently he’s been given the evening’s most thankless task: that of convincing his daughter that it’s more fun sitting there in a dress, eating cake with a lot of boring grown-ups, than staying in her room listening to pop music and downloading apps onto her new iPad. Ove stays in the hall with his jacket on and stares emptily at the floor for what must be almost ten minutes.

  “Are you okay?”

  Parvaneh’s voice tugs gently at him as
if he is coming out of a deep dream. She’s standing in the opening to the living room with her hands on her globular stomach, balancing it in front of her as if it were a large laundry basket. Ove looks up, slightly hazy in his eyes.

  “Yeah, yeah, of course I am.”

  “You want to come in and have some cake?”

  “No . . . no. I don’t like cake. I’ll just take a little walk with the cat.”

  Parvaneh’s big brown eyes hold on to him in that piercing way, as they do more and more often these days, which always makes him very unsettled. As if she’s filled with dark premonitions.

  “Okay,” she says at last, without any real conviction in her voice. “Are we having a driving lesson tomorrow? I’ll ring your doorbell at eight,” she suggests after that.

  Ove nods. The cat strolls into the hall with cake in its whiskers.

  “Are you done now?” Ove snorts at it, and when the cat looks ready to confirm that it is, Ove glances at Parvaneh, fidgets a little with his keys, and agrees in a low voice:

  “Right. Tomorrow morning at eight, then.”

  The dense winter darkness has descended when Ove and the cat venture out into the little walkway between the houses. The laughter and music of the birthday party well out like a big warm carpet between the walls. Sonja would have liked it, Ove thinks to himself. She would have loved what was happening to the place with the arrival of this crazy, pregnant foreign woman and her utterly ungovernable family. She would have laughed a lot. And God, how much Ove misses that laugh.

  He walks up towards the parking area with the cat. Checks all the signposts by giving them a good kick. Tugs at the garage doors. Makes a detour over the guest parking and then comes back. Checks the trash room. As they come back between the houses alongside Ove’s toolshed, Ove sees something moving down by the last house on Parvaneh and Patrick’s side of the road. At first Ove thinks it’s one of the party guests, but soon he sees that the figure is moving by the shed belonging to the dark house of that recycling family. They, as far as Ove knows, are still in Thailand. He squints into the gloom to be sure that the shadows are not deceiving him, and for a few seconds he actually doesn’t see anything. But then, just as he’s ready to admit that his eyesight is not what it used to be, the figure reappears. And behind him, another two. And then he hears the unmistakable sound of someone tapping with a hammer at a window that’s covered in insulation tape. Which is how one minimizes the noise when the glass shatters. Ove knows exactly what it sounds like; he learned how to do it on the railways when they had to knock out broken train windows without cutting their fingers.

  “Hey? What are you doing?” he calls through the darkness.

  The figures down by the house stop moving. Ove hears voices.

  “Hey, you!” he bellows and starts running towards them.

  He sees one of them take a couple of steps towards him, and he hears one of them shouting something. Ove increases his pace and charges at them like a human battering ram. He has time to think that he should have brought something from the toolshed to fight with, but now it’s too late. From the corner of his eye he notices one of the figures swinging something long and narrow in one fist, so Ove decides he has to hit that bastard first.

  When there’s a stabbing feeling in his breast he thinks at first that one of them has managed to attack him from behind and thump a fist into his back. But then there’s another stab, from inside. Worse than ever, as if someone were skewering him from the scalp down, methodically working a sword all the way through his body until it comes out through the soles of his feet. Ove gasps for air but there’s no air to be had. He falls in the middle of a stride, tumbles with his full weight into the snow. Perceives the dulled pain of his cheek scraping against the ice, and feels how something seems to be squeezing the insides of his chest in a big, merciless fist. Like an aluminum can being crushed in the hand.

  Ove hears the running steps of the burglars in the snow, and realizes that they are fleeing. He doesn’t know how many seconds pass, but the pain in his head, like a long line of fluorescent tubes exploding, is unbearable. He wants to cry out but there’s no oxygen in his lungs. All he hears is Parvaneh’s remote voice through the deafening sound of pulsating blood in his ears. Perceives the tottering steps when she stumbles and slips through the snow, her disproportionate body on those tiny feet. The last thing Ove has time to think before everything goes dark is that he has to make her promise that she won’t let the ambulance drive down between the houses.

  Because vehicular traffic is prohibited in the residential area.



  Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.

  People had always said that Ove was “bitter.” But he wasn’t bloody bitter. He just didn’t go around grinning the whole time. Did that mean one had to be treated like a criminal? Ove hardly thought so. Something inside a man goes to pieces when he has to bury the only person who ever understood him. There is no time to heal that sort of wound.

  And time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps. Afternoons in the sun with someone’s hand clutched in one’s own. The fragrance of flowerbeds in fresh bloom. Sundays in a café. Grandchildren, perhaps. One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future. And it wasn’t as if Ove also died when Sonja left him. He just stopped living.

  Grief is a strange thing.

  When the hospital staff refused to let Parvaneh accompany Ove’s stretcher into the operating room, it took the combined efforts of Patrick, Jimmy, Anders, Adrian, Mirsad, and four nurses to hold her back, and her flying fists. When a doctor told her to consider the fact that she was pregnant and cautioned her to sit down and “take it easy,” Parvaneh overturned one of the wooden benches in the waiting room so that it landed on his foot. And when another doctor came out of a door with a clinically neutral expression and a curt way of expressing himself about “preparing yourselves for the worst,” she screamed out loud and collapsed on the floor like a shattered porcelain vase. Her face buried in her hands.

  Love is a strange thing. It takes you by surprise.

  It’s half past three in the morning when a nurse comes to get her. She has refused to leave the waiting room. Her hair is one big mess, her eyes bloodshot and caked with streams of dried tears and mascara. When she steps into the little room at the end of the corridor she looks so weak at first that a nurse rushes forward to stop the pregnant woman crumbling to pieces as she crosses the threshold. Parvaneh supports herself against the doorframe, takes a deep breath, smiles an infinitely faint smile at the nurse, and assures her that she’s “okay.” She takes a step into the room and remains there for a second, as if for the first time that night she can take in the full enormity of what has happened.

  Then she goes up to the bed and stands next to it with fresh tears in her eyes. With both palms she starts thumping Ove’s arm.

  “You’re not dying on me, Ove,” she weeps. “Don’t even think about it.” Ove’s fingers move weakly; she grabs them with both hands and puts her forehead in the palm of his hand.

  “I think you’d better calm yourself down, woman,” Ove whispers hoarsely.

  And then she hits him
on the arm again. And then he sees the wisdom of keeping quiet for a while. But she stays there with his hand in hers and slumps into the chair, with that mix of agitation, empathy, and sheer terror in those big brown eyes of hers. At this point he lifts his other hand and strokes her hair. He has tubes going up his nose and his chest moves strenuously under the covers. As if his every breath is one long impulse of pain. His words come out wheezing.

  “You didn’t let those sods bring the ambulance into the residential area, did you?”

  It takes about forty minutes before any of the nurses finally have the guts to go back into the room. A few moments later a bespectacled young doctor wearing plastic slippers who, in Ove’s view, has the distinct appearance of someone with a stick up his ass, comes into the room and stands dozily by the bed. He looks down at a paper.

  “Parr . . . nava . . . ?” He broods, and gives Parvaneh a distracted look.

  “Parvaneh,” she corrects.

  The doctor doesn’t look particularly concerned.

  “You’re listed here as the ‘next of kin,’” he says, glancing briefly at this emphatically Iranian thirty-year-old woman on the chair, and this emphatically un-Iranian Swede in the bed.

  When neither of them makes the slightest effort to explain how this can be, other than Parvaneh giving Ove a little shove and sniggering, “Aaah, next of kin!” and Ove responding, “Shut it, will you!” the doctor sighs and continues.

  “Ove has a heart problem. . . .” he begins in an anodyne voice, following this up with a series of terms that no human being with less than ten years of medical training or an entirely unhealthy addiction to certain television series could ever be expected to understand.

  When Parvaneh gives him a look studded with a long line of question marks and exclamation marks, the doctor sighs again in that way young doctors with glasses and plastic slippers and a stick up their ass often do when confronted by people who do not even have the common bloody decency to attend medical school before they come to the hospital.

  “His heart is too big,” the doctor states crassly.

  Parvaneh stares blankly at him for a very long time. And then she looks at Ove in the bed, in a very searching way. And then she looks at the doctor again as if she’s waiting for him to throw out his arms and start making jazzy movements with his fingers and crying out: “Only joking!”

  And when he doesn’t do this she starts to laugh. First it’s more like a cough, then as if she’s holding back a sneeze, and before long it’s a long, sustained, raucous bout of giggling. She holds on to the side of the bed, waves her hand in front of her face as if to fan herself into stopping, but it doesn’t help. And then at last it turns into one loud, long-drawn belly laugh that bursts out of the room and makes the nurses in the corridor stick their heads through the door and ask in wonder, “What’s going on in here?”

  “You see what I have to put up with?” Ove hisses wearily at the doctor, rolling his eyes while Parvaneh, overwhelmed with hysterics, buries her face in one of the pillows.

  The doctor looks as if there was never a seminar on how to deal with this type of situation, so in the end he clears his throat loudly and sort of brings his foot down with a quick stamping motion, in order to remind them of his authority, so to speak. It doesn’t do much good, of course, but after many more attempts, Parvaneh gets herself into order enough to manage to say: “Ove’s heart is too big; I think I’m going to die.”

  “It’s me who’s bloody dying!” Ove objects.

  Parvaneh shakes her head and smiles warmly at the doctor.

  “Was that all?”

  The doctor closes his file with resignation.

  “If he takes his medication we can keep it under control. But it’s difficult to be sure about things like this. He could have a few more months or a few years.”

  Parvaneh gives him a dismissive wave.

  “Oh, don’t concern yourself about that. Ove is quite clearly UTTERLY LOUSY at dying!”

  Ove looks quite offended by that.

  Four days later Ove limps through the snow to his house. He’s supported on one side by Parvaneh and on the other by Patrick. One is on crutches and the other knocked up; that’s the support you get, he thinks. But he doesn’t say it; Parvaneh just had a tantrum when Ove wouldn’t let her back the Saab down between the houses a few minutes ago. “I KNOW, OVE! Okay! I KNOW! If you say it one more time I swear to God I’ll set fire to your bloody sign!” she shouted at him. Which Ove felt was a little overly dramatic, to say the least.

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