Chapter no 31

A Man Called Ove


The next morning, after letting the cat out, he fetched Sonja’s father’s old rifle from the attic. He’d decided that his dislike of weapons could never be greater than his dislike of all the empty places she has left behind in their silent little house. It was time now.

But it seems that someone, somewhere, knows the only way of stopping him is to put something in his way that makes him angry enough not to do it.

For this reason, he stands now in the little road between the houses, his arms defiantly crossed, looking at the man in the white shirt and saying:

“I am here because there was nothing good on the TV.”



The man in the white shirt has been observing him without the slightest hint of emotion through the entire conversation. In fact, whenever Ove has met him, he has been more like a machine than a person. Just like all the other white shirts Ove has run into in his life. The ones who said Sonja was going to die after the coach accident, the ones who refused to take responsibility afterwards and the ones who refused to hold others responsible. The ones who would not build an access ramp at the school. The ones who did not want to let her work. The ones who went through paragraphs of small print to root out some clause meaning they wouldn’t have to pay out any insurance money. The ones who wanted to put her in a home.

They had all had the same empty eyes. As if they were nothing but shiny shells walking around, grinding away at normal people and pulling their lives to pieces.

But when Ove says that thing about there being nothing good on TV, he sees a little twitch at the temple of the white shirt. A flash of frustration, perhaps. Amazed anger, possibly. Pure disdain, very likely. It’s the first time Ove has noticed that he’s managed to get under the skin of the white shirt. Of any white shirt at all.

The man snaps his jaws shut, turns around, and starts to walk away. Not with the measured, objective steps of a council employee in full control, but something else. With anger. Impatience. Vengefully.

Ove can’t remember anything having made him feel so good in a long, long time.



Of course, he was supposed to have died today. He had been planning to calmly and peacefully shoot himself in the head just after breakfast. He’d tidied the kitchen and let the cat out and made himself comfortable in his favorite armchair. He’d planned it this way because the cat routinely asked to be let out at this time. One of the few traits of the cat that Ove was highly appreciative of was its reluctance to crap in other people’s homes. Ove was a man of the same ilk.



But then of course Parvaneh came banging on his door as if it were the last functioning toilet in the civilized world. As if that woman had nowhere to wee at home. Ove put the rifle away behind the radiator so she wouldn’t see it and start interfering. He opened the door and she more or less had to press her telephone into his hand by violent means before he accepted it.

“What is this?” Ove wanted to know, the telephone held between his index finger and his thumb, as if it smelled bad.

“It’s for you,” groaned Parvaneh, holding her stomach and mopping sweat from her forehead even though it was below freezing outside. “That journalist.”

“What do I want with her telephone?”

“God. It’s not her telephone, it’s my telephone. She’s on the line!” Parvaneh said impatiently.

Then, before he could protest, she squeezed past him and headed for his bathroom.

“Yes,” said Ove, lifting the telephone to within a couple of inches of his ear, slightly unclear about whether he was still talking to Parvaneh or the person at the other end.

“Hi!” yelled the journalist woman, Lena. Ove felt it might be wise to move the phone farther away from his ear. “So, are you ready to give me an interview now?” she went on in a gung-ho tone.

“No,” said Ove, holding the telephone in front of him to work out how to hang up.

“Did you read the letter I sent you? Or the newspaper? Have you read the newspaper? I thought I’d let you see it, so you can form an impression of our journalistic style!”

Ove went into the kitchen. Picked up the newspaper and letter that Adrian fellow had brought over a few days earlier.

“Have you got it?” roared the journalist woman.

“Calm yourself down. I’m reading it, aren’t I!” Ove said out loud to the telephone and leaned over the kitchen table.

“I was just wondering if—” she continued valiantly. “Can you CALM DOWN, woman!” Ove raged.

Suddenly, out the window, Ove noticed a man in a white shirt in a Škoda, driving past his house.

“Hello?” the journalist woman called just before Ove flew out the front door.

“Oh, dear, dear,” Parvaneh mumbled anxiously when she came out of the bathroom and caught sight of him careering along between the houses.

The man in the white shirt got out of the Škoda on the driver’s side outside Rune and Anita’s house.

“It’s enough now! You hear? You’re NOT driving your car inside the residential area! Not another bloody YARD! You got it?” shouted Ove in the distance, long before he’d even reached him.



The little man in the white shirt, in a most superior manner, adjusted the cigarette packet in his breast pocket while calmly meeting Ove’s gaze.

“I have permission.” “Like hell you do!”

The man in the white shirt shrugged. As if to chase away an irritating insect more than anything.

“And what exactly are you going to do about it, Ove?”

The question actually caught Ove off-balance. Again. He stopped, his hands trembling with anger, at least a dozen pieces of invective at his disposal. But to his own surprise he could not bring himself to use any of them.

“I know who you are, Ove. I know everything about all the letters you’ve written about your wife’s accident and your wife’s illness. You’re something of a legend in our offices, you should know,” said the man in the white shirt, his voice quite unwavering.

Ove’s mouth opened into a crack. The man in the white shirt nodded at him.

“I know who you are. And I’m only doing my job. A decision is a decision. You can’t do anything about it, you should have learned that by now.”

Ove took a step towards him but the man put up a hand against his chest and pressed him back. Not violently. Not aggressively. Just softly and firmly, as if the hand did not belong to him but was directly controlled by some robot at the computer center of a municipal authority. “Go and watch some TV instead. Before you have more problems

with that heart of yours.”

On the passenger side of the Škoda the determined woman, wearing an identical white shirt, stepped out with a pile of paper in her arms. The man locked the car with a loud bleep. Then he turned his back on Ove as if Ove had never stood there talking to him.

Ove stayed where he was, his fists clenched at his sides and his chin jutting out as if he were an outraged bull elk. The white shirts disappeared into Anita and Rune’s house. It took a minute before he recovered himself enough to even turn around. But then he did so with

determined fury and started walking towards Parvaneh’s house. Parvaneh was standing halfway up the little road.

“Is that useless husband of yours at home?” Ove growled, walking past her without waiting for an answer.

Parvaneh didn’t have time to do more than nod before Ove, in four long strides, reached their front door. Patrick opened it, standing there on crutches, casts apparently covering half of his body.

“Hi, Ove!” he called out cheerfully, trying to wave with a crutch, with the immediate effect that he lost his balance and stumbled into the wall.



“That trailer you had when you moved in. Where did you get it?” Ove demanded.

Patrick leaned with his functioning arm against the wall. Almost as if he wanted it to look as if he’d meant to stumble into it.

“What? Oh . . . that trailer. I borrowed it off a guy at work—” “Call him. You need to borrow it again.”

And this was the reason why Ove did not die today. Because he was detained by something that made him sufficiently angry to hold his attention.



When the man and woman in the white shirts come out of Anita and Rune’s house almost an hour later, they find that their little white car with the council logo has been boxed into the little cul-de-sac by a large trailer. A trailer that someone, while they were inside the house, must have parked exactly so it blocks the entire road behind them. One could almost think it had been done on purpose.

The woman looks genuinely puzzled. But the man in the white shirt immediately walks up to Ove.

“Have you done this?”

Ove crosses his arms and looks at him coldly. “No.”

The man in the white shirt smiles in a superior manner. The way men in white shirts, who are used to always having things their own way, smile when someone tries to disagree with them.

“Move it at once.”

“I don’t think so,” says Ove.

The man in the white shirt sighs, as if the threatening statement he makes after that were directed at a child.

“Move the trailer, Ove. Or I’ll call the police.”

Ove shakes his head nonchalantly, pointing at the sign farther down the road.

“Motor vehicles prohibited inside the residential area. It says so clearly on the sign.”

“Don’t you have anything better to do than standing out here pretending to be the foreman?” groans the man in the white shirt.

“There was nothing good on TV,” says Ove.




And that’s when there’s a little twitch at the temple of the man in the white shirt. As if his mask has slipped a little, just a fraction. He looks at the trailer, his boxed-in Škoda, the sign, Ove standing in front of him with his arms crossed. The man seems to consider for an instant whether he might try to force Ove by violence, but he realizes in another instant that this would very likely be an extremely bad idea.

“This was very silly of you, Ove. This was very, very silly,” he hisses finally.

And his blue eyes, for the first time, are filled with genuine fury. Ove’s face does not betray the slightest emotion. The man in the white shirt walks away, up towards the garages and the main road, with the sort of steps that make it clear that this will not be the end of this story.

The woman with the papers hurries off after him.



One might have expected Ove to watch them with a look of triumph in his eyes. He would probably have expected this himself, in fact. But instead he just looks sad and tired. As if he hasn’t slept in months. As if he hardly has the strength to keep his arms up any longer. He lets his hands glide into his pockets and goes back home. But no sooner has he closed the door than someone starts banging on it again.

“They’re going to take Rune away from Anita,” says Parvaneh urgently, snatching the front door open before Ove has even reached the handle.

“Pah,” Ove snorts tiredly.

The resignation in his voice clearly takes both Parvaneh and Anita, who’s standing behind her, by surprise. Maybe it also surprises Ove. He inhales quickly through his nose. Looks at Anita. She’s grayer and more sunken than ever; her eyes are red, swollen.

“They say they’ll come and pick him up this week, and that I can’t manage to take care of him myself,” she says, in a voice so fragile that it hardly manages to get past her lips.

“We have to do something!” cries Parvaneh, grabbing him. Ove snatches his arm back and avoids her eyes.

“Pah! They won’t come to get him for years and years. This’ll go to appeal and then it’ll go through all the bureaucratic shit,” says Ove.

He tries to sound more convinced and sure of himself than he actually feels. But he doesn’t have the strength to care about how he’s coming across. He just wants them to leave.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” roars Parvaneh.

“You’re the one who doesn’t know what you’re talking about— you’ve never had anything to do with the county council, you don’t know what it’s like fighting them,” he answers in a monotone voice, his shoulders slumped.

“But you have to talk . . .” she begins to say in a faltering voice. It’s as if all the energy in Ove’s body is draining out of him even as he stands there.




Maybe it’s the sight of Anita’s worn-out face. Maybe it’s the insight that a simple battle won is nothing in the greater scheme of things. A boxed-in Škoda makes no difference. They always come back. Just like they did with Sonja. Like they always do. With their clauses and documents. Men in white shirts always win. And men like Ove always lose people like Sonja. And nothing can bring her back to him.

In the end, there is nothing left but a long series of weekdays with nothing more meaningful than oiling the kitchen counters. And Ove can’t cope with it anymore. He feels it in that moment more clearly than ever. He can’t fight anymore. Doesn’t want to fight anymore. Just wants it all to stop.

Parvaneh keeps trying to argue with him, but he just closes the door. She hammers at it but he doesn’t listen. He sinks down on the stool in the hall and feels his hands trembling. His heart thumps so hard that it feels like his ears are about to explode. The pressure on his chest, as if an enormous darkness has put its boot over his throat, doesn’t begin to release till more than twenty minutes later.

And then Ove starts to cry.

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