Chapter no 37

A Man Called Ove


I‘m sorry about this,” Ove creaks. He brushes the snow off the gravestone. “But you know how it is. People have no respect at all for personal boundaries anymore. They charge into your house without knocking and cause a commotion, you can hardly even sit on the crapper in peace anymore,” he explains, while he digs the frozen flowers out of the ground and presses down the new ones through the snow.


A Man Called Ove

He looks at her as if he’s expecting her to nod her agreement. But she doesn’t, of course. The cat sits next to Ove in the snow and looks like it absolutely agrees. Especially with that bit about not being allowed to go to the toilet in peace.



Lena had come by Ove’s house in the morning to drop off a copy of the newspaper. He was on the front page, looking like the archetypal grumpy old sod. He’d kept his word and let her interview him. But he wasn’t smiling like a donkey for the camera; he told them that in no uncertain terms.

“It’s a fantastic interview!” she insisted proudly.

Ove didn’t respond, but this did not seem to concern her. She looked impatient and sort of paced on the spot, while glancing at her watch as if in a hurry.

“Don’t let me hold you up,” muttered Ove.

She managed a teenager’s repressed titter by way of an answer. “Me and Anders are going skating on the lake!”

Ove merely nodded at this point, taking this as confirmation that the conversation was over, and closed the door. He put the newspaper under the doormat; it would come in handy for absorbing the snow and slush brought in by the cat and Mirsad.

Back in the kitchen, he began clearing up all the advertising and free newspapers that Adrian had left with the day’s mail (Sonja might have managed to teach the rascal to read Shakespeare, but apparently he could not understand a three-word sign that said “NO JUNK MAIL”).

At the bottom of the pile he found the letter from Lena, the one Adrian had delivered that first time he rang Ove’s doorbell.

Back then the youth rang the doorbell, at least—nowadays he ran in and out of the door as if he lived here, Ove grumbled as he held the letter up to the kitchen lamp like a bank note being checked. Then he got out a table knife from the kitchen drawer. Even though Sonja got mad every time he used a table knife to open an envelope rather than fetching the letter opener.

Dear Ove,

I hope you’ll excuse me contacting you like this. Lena at the newspaper has let me know that you don’t want to make a big thing out of this but she was kind enough to give me your address. Because for me it was a big thing, and I don’t want to be the sort of person who does not say that to you, Ove. I respect that you don’t want to let me thank you personally, but at least I want to introduce you to some people who will always be grateful to you for your courage and selflessness. People like you are not made anymore. Thanks is too small a word.

It was signed by the man in the gray suit and black overcoat, the one Ove hoisted off the track after he passed out. Lena had told Ove that the swooning fit had been caused by some sort of complicated brain disease. If they hadn’t discovered it and started treating it when they did, it would have claimed his life within a few years. “So in a way you saved his life twice over,” she’d exclaimed in that excitable tone of voice that made Ove regret a little not having left her locked up inside the garage while he still had the chance.



He folded up the letter and put it back in the envelope. Held up the photo. Three children, the oldest a teenager and the others more or less the same age as Parvaneh’s oldest daughter, looked back at him. Or rather, they weren’t really looking, they were sort of lying about in a pile, each with a water pistol and apparently laughing until they were practically screaming. Behind them stood a blond woman of about forty-five, with a wide grin and her arms stretched out like a large bird of prey and an overflowing plastic bucket in each hand. At the bottom of the pile lay the man in the gray suit, but wearing a blue polo shirt, and trying in vain to shield himself from the downpour.

Ove threw away the letter along with the advertising, tied up the bag, put it by the front door, went back into the kitchen, got out a magnet from the bottom drawer, and put up the photo on the fridge. Right next to the riotous color drawing the three-year-old had made of him on the way back from the hospital.



Ove brushes his hand over the gravestone again, even though he’s already brushed off all the snow that can be brushed off.

“Well, yes, I told them one might like a bit of peace and quiet like a normal human being. But they don’t listen, they don’t,” he moans, waving his arms tiredly towards the gravestone.

“Hi, Sonja,” says Parvaneh behind him, with a cheerful wave so that her big mittens slip off her hands.

“Hajj!” the three-year-old hollers happily.

“‘Hi,’ you’re supposed to say ‘hi,’” the seven-year-old corrects.

“Hi, Sonja,” say Patrick, Jimmy, Adrian, and Mirsad, all nodding in turn.

Ove stamps the snow off his shoes and nods, with a grunt, at the cat beside him.

“Yeah. And the cat you already know.”

Parvaneh’s belly is now so big that she looks like a giant tortoise when she heaves herself down into a squatting position, one hand on the gravestone and the other hooked around Patrick’s arm. Not that Ove dares bring up the giant tortoise metaphor, of course. There are more pleasant ways of killing oneself, he feels. And that’s speaking as someone who’s already tried quite a few of them.

“This flower is from Patrick and the children and me,” says Parvaneh with a friendly smile at the stone.

Then she holds up another flower and adds:

“And this one’s from Anita and Rune. They send loads of love.”

The multifarious gathering turns around to go back to the parking area, but Parvaneh stays by the gravestone. When Ove wants to know why, she just says, “Never you bloody mind!” to him with the sort of smile that makes Ove want to throw things at her. Nothing hard, perhaps. But something symbolic.

He replies with a snort in the lower octave range, then finds, after a certain amount of inner deliberation, that a discussion with both of those women at the same time would be redundant from the very start. He starts going back to the Saab.

“Girl talk,” says Parvaneh succinctly when at last she comes back to the parking area and gets into the driver’s seat. Ove doesn’t know what she means by that, but he decides to leave it alone. Nasanin’s big sister helps her with her belt, in the backseat. In the meantime Jimmy, Mirsad, and Patrick have managed to squeeze into Adrian’s new car in front of them. A Toyota. Hardly an optimal choice of car for any kind of thinking person, Ove had pointed out to him many times while they stood there at the dealership. But at least it wasn’t French. And Ove managed to get the price reduced by almost eight thousand kronor and made sure that the kid got winter tires thrown in for the same price. So it seemed acceptable, in spite of it all.

When Ove got to the dealership the bloody kid had been checking out a Hyundai. So it could have been worse.



Once they make it back to their street, they go their separate ways. Ove, Mirsad, and the cat wave at Parvaneh, Patrick, Jimmy, and the children and turn off around the corner by Ove’s toolshed.

It’s difficult to judge how long the stocky man has been waiting outside Ove’s house. Maybe all morning. He has the determined look of a straight-backed sentry posted somewhere in the field, in the wilderness. As if he’s been cut from a thick tree trunk and the below-freezing temperature is of no concern to him. But when Mirsad comes walking around the corner and the stocky man catches sight of him, he quickly comes to life.

“Hello,” he says, stretching, shifting his body weight back to the first foot.

“Hello, Dad,” mumbles Mirsad.



That evening Ove has his dinner with Parvaneh and Patrick, while a father and son talk about disappointments and hopes and masculinity in two languages in Ove’s kitchen. Maybe most of all they speak of courage. Sonja would have liked it, Ove knows that much. But he tries not to smile so much that Parvaneh notices.

Before the seven-year-old goes to bed she presses a paper into Ove’s hand, on which is written “Birthday Party Invitation.” Ove reads through it as if it were a legal transfer of rights for a leasehold agreement.

“I see. And then you’ll be wanting presents, I expect?” he huffs at last.

She looks down at the floor and shakes her head.

“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.

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