Chapter no 39

A Man Called Ove


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.

The snow creaks under his shoes. The windows are lit up. The cat sits outside the door, waiting. There are drawings spread across the table in the kitchen.

“The girls drew them for you,” says Parvaneh and puts his spare keys in the basket next to the telephone.

When she sees Ove’s eyes reading the letters in the bottom corner of one of the drawings, she looks slightly embarrassed.

“They . . . sorry, Ove, don’t worry about what they’ve written! You know how children are. My father died in Iran. They’ve never had a . . . you know . . .”

Ove takes no notice of her, just takes the drawings in his hand and goes to the kitchen drawers.



“They can call me whatever they like. No need for you to stick your bloody nose in.”

And then he puts up the drawings one by one on the fridge. The one that says “To Granddad” gets the top spot. She tries not to smile. Doesn’t succeed very convincingly.

“Stop sniggering and put the coffee on instead. I’m fetching down the cardboard boxes from the attic,” Ove mumbles and limps off towards the stairs.

So, that evening, Parvaneh and the girls help him clean up his house. They wrap each and every one of Sonja’s things in newspaper and carefully pack all her clothes into boxes. One memory at a time. And at half past nine when everything is done and the girls have fallen asleep on Ove’s sofa with newsprint on their fingertips and chocolate ice cream around the corners of their mouths, then Parvaneh’s hand suddenly grips

Ove’s upper arm like a voracious metal claw. And when Ove growls, “OUCH!” she growls back, “SHUSH!”

And then they have to go back to the hospital. It’s a boy.

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