Chapter no 21

A Man Called Ove


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 when 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.

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