Chapter no 13

A Man Called Ove


Ove’s funny,” titters the three-year-old with delight.

“Yeah,” the seven-year-old mumbles, not at all as impressed. She takes her little sister by the hand and walks with grown-up steps towards the hospital entrance.

Their mother looks as if she’s going to have a go at Ove, but seems to decide that there’s no time for that. She waddles off towards the entrance, one hand on her pouting belly, as if concerned that the child may try to escape.

Ove walks behind, dragging his steps. He doesn’t care that she thinks “it’s easier just to pay up and stop arguing.” Because it’s actually about the principle. Why is that parking attendant entitled to give Ove a ticket for questioning why one has to pay for hospital parking? Ove is not the sort of man who’ll stop himself from roaring: “You’re just a fake policeman!” at a parking attendant. That’s all there is to say about it.

You go to the hospital to die, Ove knows that. It’s enough that the state wants to be paid for everything you do while you’re alive. When it also wants to be paid for the parking when you go to die, Ove thinks that’s about far enough. He explained this in so many words to the parking attendant. And that’s when the parking attendant started waving his book at him. And that’s when Parvaneh started raging about how she’d be quite happy to pay up. As if that was the important part of the discussion.

Women don’t seem to get principles.

He hears the seven-year-old complaining in front of him that her clothes are smelling of exhaust. Even though they kept the Saab’s windows rolled down all the way, it wasn’t possible to get rid of the stench. Their mother had asked Ove what he’d really been doing in the garage, but Ove had just answered with a sound more or less like when you try to move a bathtub by dragging it across some tiles. Of course, for the three-year-old it was the greatest adventure of her life to be able to drive along in a car with all its windows down although it was below freezing outside. The seven-year-old, on the other hand, had burrowed her face into her scarf and vented a good deal more skepticism. She’d been irritated about slipping around with her bottom on the sheets of newspaper Ove had spread across the seat to stop them “filthifying things.” Ove had also spread newspaper on the front seat, but her mother snatched it away before she sat down. Ove had looked more than advisably displeased about this, but managed not to say anything. Instead he constantly glanced at her stomach all the way to the hospital, as if anxious that she might suddenly start leaking on the upholstery.

“Stand still here now,” she says to the girls when they are in the hospital reception.

They’re surrounded by glass walls and benches smelling of disinfectant. There are nurses in white clothes and colorful plastic slippers and old people dragging themselves back and forth in the corridors, leaning on rickety walkers. On the floor is a sign announcing that Elevator 2 in Entrance A is out of order, and that visitors to Ward 114 are therefore asked to go to Elevator 1 in Entrance C. Beneath that is another message, announcing that Elevator 1 in Entrance C is out of order and visitors to Ward 114 are asked to go to Elevator 2 in Entrance

A. Under that message is a third message, announcing that Ward 114 is closed this month because of repairs. Under that message is a picture of a clown, informing people that Beppo the hospital clown is visiting sick children today.

“Where did Ove get to now?” Parvaneh bursts out.

“He went to the bathroom, I think,” mumbles the seven-year-old. “Clauwn!” says the three-year-old, pointing happily at the sign.

“Do you know you have to pay them here to go to the bathroom?” Ove exclaims incredulously.

Parvaneh spins around and gives Ove a harassed look. “Do you need change?”

Ove looks offended.

“Why would I need change?” “For the bathroom?”

“I don’t need to go to the bathroom.”

“But you said—” she begins, then stops herself and shakes her head. “Forget it, just forget it. . . . When does the parking meter run out?” she asks instead.

“Ten minutes.” She groans.

“Don’t you understand it’ll take longer than ten minutes?”

“In that case I’ll go out and feed the meter in ten minutes,” says Ove, as if this was quite obvious.

“Why don’t you just pay for longer and save yourself the bother?” she asks and looks like she wishes she hadn’t as soon as the question crosses her lips.

“Because that’s exactly what they want! They’re not getting a load of money for time we might not even use!”

“Oh, I don’t have the strength for this. . . .” sighs Parvaneh and holds her forehead.

She looks at her daughters.

“Will you sit here nicely with Uncle Ove while Mum goes to see how Dad is? Please?”

“Yeah, yeah,” agrees the seven-year-old grumpily. “Yeeeees!” the three-year-old shrieks with excitement. “What?” whispers Ove.

Parvaneh stands up.

“What do you mean, ‘with Ove’? Where do you think you’re going?” To his great consternation, the Pregnant One seems not to register the level of upset in his voice.

“You have to sit here and keep an eye on them,” she states curtly and disappears down the corridor before Ove can raise further objections.

Ove stands there staring after her. As if he is expecting her to come rushing back and cry out that she was only joking. But she doesn’t. So Ove turns to the girls. And in the next second he looks as if he’s just about to shine a desk lamp into their eyes and interrogate them on their whereabouts at the time of the murder.

“BOOK!” screams the three-year-old at once and rushes off towards the corner of the waiting room, where there’s a veritable chaos of toys, games, and picture books.

Ove nods and, having confirmed to himself that this three-year-old seems to be reasonably self-motivating, he turns his attention to the seven-year-old.

“Right, and what about you?”

“What do you mean, me?” she counters with indignation.

“Do you need food or do you have to go for a wee or anything like that?”

The child looks at him as if he just offered her a beer and a cigarette. “I’m almost EIGHT! I can go to the bathroom MYSELF!”

Ove throws out his arms abruptly. “Sure, sure. So bloody sorry for asking.” “Mmm,” she snorts.

“You swored!” yells the three-year-old as she turns up again, running to and fro between Ove’s trouser legs.

He skeptically peruses this grammatically challenged little natural disaster. She looks up and her whole face smiles at him.

“Read!” she orders him in an excitable manner, holding up a book with her arms stretched out so far that she almost loses her balance.

Ove looks at the book more or less as if it just sent him a chain letter insisting that the book was really a Nigerian prince who had a “very lucrative investment opportunity” for Ove and now only needed Ove’s account number “to sort something out.”

“Read!” she demands again, climbing the bench in the waiting room with surprising agility.

Ove reluctantly sits about a yard away on the bench. The three-year-old sighs impatiently and disappears from sight, her head reappearing

seconds later under his arm with her hands leaning against his knee for support and her nose pressed against the colorful pictures in the book.

“Once upon a time there was a little train,” reads Ove, with all the enthusiasm of someone reciting a tax statement.

Then he turns the page. The three-year-old stops him and goes back.

The seven-year-old shakes her head tiredly.

“You have to say what happens on that page as well. And do voices,” she says.

Ove stares at her. “What bloo—”

He clears his throat midsentence. “What voices?” he corrects himself.

“Fairy-tale voices,” replies the seven-year-old.

“You swored,” the three-year-old announces with glee. “Did not,” says Ove.

“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. “No.”

“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.

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