Chapter no 30

Anxious People

It’s harder than you might think to take people hostage when they’re idiots.


The bank robber hesitated, the ski mask was itching, everyone was staring. The bank robber tried to think of something to say, but was forestalled by Roger holding one hand up and saying: “We haven’t got any cash!”

Anna-Lena was standing just behind him, and immediately repeated over his shoulder: “We haven’t got any money, understand?” She rubbed her 1ngertips together in illustration, because Anna-Lena always seemed to think that Roger spoke a language that only she understood, as if he were a horse and Anna-Lena some kind of equine translator, so she was always trying to interpret what he said to the rest of the world. When they were in a restaurant and Roger asked for the check, Anna-Lena would always turn to the waiter and mouth the words “Check, please” while simultaneously pretending to write on the palm of her hand. Roger would no doubt have found this incredibly irritating if he ever bothered to pay attention to what Anna-Lena did.

“I don’t want your money… please, just be quiet… I’m trying to hear if…,” the bank robber said, listening out toward the door of the apartment in an attempt to 1gure out if the stairwell was already full of police.

“What are you doing here if you don’t want money? If you’re going to take us hostage, you might want to be a bit more speci1c in your demands,” Zara snorted from over by the balcony door, giving the distinct impression that she thought the bank robber was underperforming.

“Can you just give me a minute to think?” the bank robber asked.

Sadly it appeared that the people in this particular apartment weren’t at all prepared to grant the bank robber that. You might think that if someone has a pistol, then people would be willing to do exactly as they’ve been asked, but some people who’ve never seen a pistol before simply take it for granted that it’s so unlikely to happen that even when it is happening, they can’t quite take it seriously.

Roger had barely ever seen a pistol before, even on television, because Roger prefers documentaries about sharks, so he held his hand up again (the other one this time, to show that he was serious) and demanded to know, loudly and clearly: “Is this a vobbevy or not? Or is this now some sort of hostage situation? Which way do you want it?”

Anna-Lena looked rather uncomfortable when Roger switched hands, because nothing good ever came of Roger gesturing with both hands within the space of a few minutes, so she stage-whispered: “Might it be better not to be provocative, Roger?”

“For God’s sake, darling, surely we have a right to accurate information?” Roger replied, insulted, then turned to the bank robber once more and repeated: “Is this a robbery or not?”

Anna-Lena stretched to see over his shoulder, and stuck out her thumb and fore1nger, then waved them about in illustration while mouthing the words “Bang?” twice, then adding one helpful “Robbery?”

The bank robber took several deep breaths, eyes closed, the way you do when the children are 1ghting in the back of the car and you’re getting stressed and lose your temper and shout at them rather more loudly than you intended, and they suddenly get so scared that they shut up altogether, and you end up hating yourself. Because you don’t want to be that sort of parent. And the tone you use after that, when you apologize and explain that you love them but that you just have to concentrate on driving for a little while, that was the tone the bank robber used to address everyone in the apartment: “Can you… can I ask you all to just lie down on the Aoor and be quiet for a little while? So I can just… do some thinking?”

No one lay down. Roger refused point-blank, saying: “Not until we know what’s going on!” Zara didn’t want to, because: “Have you seen the state of the

Aoor? This is why everyday people have pets, because it makes literally no diPerence to them!” Julia demanded to be exempt, because: “Look, if you sit me in an avmchaiv it’ll take me twenty minutes to get up, so I’m not going to lie down anywhere.”

For the 1rst time the bank robber noticed that Julia was pregnant. Ro leapt in front of her at once, holding her arms up and grinning disarmingly. “Please, don’t mind my wife, she’s just a bit hotheaded, please, don’t shoot! We’ll do exactly what you say!”

“I’m not bloody hothead—,” Julia protested.

“P-i-s-t-o-l!” Ro hissed. She hadn’t looked this scared since the last time she tried to photograph her shoes and accidentally clicked the sel1e button instead.

“It doesn’t even look real,” Julia pointed out.

“Great. Let’s take a chance, then. We’re only risking our child’s life, after all,” Ro retorted. At that point the bank robber clearly felt that enough was enough, and pointed at Julia.

“I… I didn’t notice you were pregnant. You can leave. I don’t want to hurt anyone, especially not a baby, I just need to think for a moment.”

When he heard this, Roger was struck by an idea, an idea so brilliant that only Roger could have been struck by it.

“Yes! Go on! OP you go!” he exclaimed. Then he marched over to the bank robber and added seriously: “I mean, you can let them all go, can’t you? You really only need one hostage, don’t you? That would make things a lot easier.”

Roger poked his chest with his thumb repeatedly to indicate who the hostage should be, then added: “Plus the real estate agent. I can stay, with the real estate agent.”

Julia glared suspiciously at him and snapped: “That would suit you, wouldn’t it? So you can make an oPer on the apartment after the rest of us have gone!”

“Keep out of this!” Roger demanded.

“Like there’s any chance we’re leaving you alone here with the real estate agent!” Julia snapped.

APronted, Roger shook all the loose skin on the lower half of his face.

“This apartment isn’t suitable for you anyway! This is going to need someone who’s good at DIY!”

Julia, far too competitive to let that pass, snapped back: “My wife’s pretty damn good at DIY!”

“What?” Ro said in surprise, unaware that there was another wife apart from her.

Anna-Lena thought out loud: “Don’t shout. Think of the baby.” Roger nodded aggressively: “Exactly! Think of the baby!”

Anna-Lena looked happy because he’d heard her, but Julia’s eyes darkened. “I’m not going anywhere until I’ve bought this apartment, you miserable old


Ro tugged at her arm anxiously and hissed: “Why do you always have to argue with everyone?”

Because Ro had seen that look in her eyes before. On their very 1rst date several years ago Julia was standing outside a bar smoking while Ro was inside ordering drinks. Two minutes later a security guard came over to Ro, pointed through the window, and asked: “Are you with her?” Ro nodded, and was immediately thrown out of the bar. Apparently there was a delineated smoking area outside the bar, that was the only place you were allowed to smoke, but Julia had been standing two yards beyond the boundary. When the guard told her to go inside the rectangle, Julia started jumping about on the line, mocking him: “What about here? Am I okay HERE? How about if I hold my cigarette inside while I’m standing outside? What about here? If the cigavette’s outside but I blow the smoke into the rectangle?” When Julia had a bit of alcohol inside her, she tended to have trouble respecting any sort of authority, which might be thought a bad character trait to reveal on a 1rst date, but when Ro was being thrown out, she asked the security guard how he knew she and Julia were there together, and he replied gruAy: “When I told her to leave, she pointed at you through the window and said: ‘That’s my girlfriend, I’m not leaving without her!’” That was the 1rst time Ro had ever been anyone’s girlfriend. That was the evening she went from being hopelessly infatuated to irrevocably in love.

Later on, it turned out that Julia’s personality when she was drunk was exactly the same as Julia’s personality when she was pregnant, so the past eight months had been fairly tumultuous—but life is full of surprises.

“Please, Jules?” Ro said tentatively.

Julia hissed back: “If we leave now, this apartment could well be sold by the time we come back! How many apartments have we looked at? Twenty? You’ve found something wrong with every single one, and I can’t bear it! So I’m damn well going to have this one, and no one’s going to come along and say I—”

“P-i-s-t-o-l!” Ro repeated.

“Are you going to be farting a ten-pound monkey out of your uterus any time now, Ro? Well? So shut up!”

“It isn’t fair to play the pregnancy card every time we have an argument, Jules, we’ve talked about that…,” Ro muttered, sticking her hands deep into the pockets of her dress, and then Julia realized that she may have gone a bit too far, because Ro’s hands had only delved that deeply into her pockets when the neighbors’ kids killed one of her birds.

The bank robber let out a quiet cough and said: “Excuse me? I don’t want to interrupt, but…,” then raised the pistol a little higher so that everyone could see it and remember exactly what was going on here.

Julia folded her arms over her chest and repeated, one last time: “I’m not going anywhere.”

Ro let out a sigh so deep you could have found oil at the bottom of it, then nodded 1rmly: “And I’m not going anywhere without her.”

This would obviously have been a very touching moment if Zara hadn’t spoiled it by snorting at Ro: “No one oPered you the chance to leave. You’re not pregnant.”

Ro dug her hands so far into her pockets that she actually punched holes in them, and mumbled: “We’re actually on this journey together.”

Roger, who had been getting more and more frustrated that no one seemed to be focusing on the most important thing here—that Roger hadn’t been given any accurate information—was now pointing at the bank robber with both hands: “So what are you after, then? Well? Is it the apartment you want?”

Anna-Lena described a square in the air with her hands like a mime artist trying to say “apartment.” The bank robber groaned in resignation at the pair of them.

“Why would I… you can’t just… are you suggesting that I’m trying to steal the apartment?”

Roger seemed to recognize how ridiculous that sounded when it was said out loud, but seeing as Roger was a man who was never wrong even when he was obviously wrong, he clari1ed: “Now look here! It’s got huge potential for renovation!”

Anna-Lena stood behind him with an imaginary hammer, waving it in the air by way of illustration.

The bank robber coughed quietly again, and could feel the beginnings of a headache, then said: “Can’t you just… lie down? Just for a little while? I wasn’t trying… I mean, I was going to rob a bank, but I had no intention… look, this isn’t what I had in mind!”

For various reasons the silence that followed was so complete that the only sound was the bank robber’s sobs. That’s never a comfortable combination, someone crying with a pistol in their hand, so none of the others was entirely sure how to react. Ro nudged Julia and muttered: “Now see what you’ve done,” and Julia muttered back: “It was you who…” Roger turned to Anna-Lena and whispered: “It really does have immense potential for renovation,” and Anna-Lena replied quickly: “Yes, it really does, doesn’t it? You’re absolutely right! But… isn’t that damp I can smell? Mold, even?”


The bank robber was still sobbing. None of the others felt like looking in that direction, because, as already mentioned, it’s hard to feel comfortable with armed expressions of emotion, so in the end it was Estelle who cautiously padded over. Either she didn’t know any better, or she most de1nitely did. It might seem a little odd that Estelle hasn’t been mentioned very often up till now in this story, not because Estelle is easy to forget about, but because she’s very hard to remember. Estelle has what might be called a transparent personality. Eighty-seven years old, with a body as gnarled and crooked as a piece of ginger, she slipped over to the bank robber and asked: “Are you all right, dear?” When the bank robber didn’t answer, she went on babbling in a singularly untroubled manner: “My name’s Estelle, I’m here to take a look at the apartment on behalf of my daughter. My husband, Knut, is parking the car. It isn’t at all easy to 1nd

anywhere to park around here, and I don’t suppose it will be any easier now that the street’s full of police cars. Sorry, now I’ve made you worried. I didn’t mean it was youv fault that Knut couldn’t 1nd anywhere to park, of course. Are you feeling all right? Would you like a glass of water?”

The pistol didn’t seem to bother Estelle, but on the other hand she seemed to be such a kind person that if she were murdered she’d probably have taken it as a compliment that someone had noticed her. Using a paper handkerchief to dry the tears, the bank robber said quietly: “Yes, please.”

“We’ve got limes!” Ro called out, pointing at the bowl on the coPee table, full of at least a couple dozen. Limes seemed to be such a popular adornment at apartment viewings that it’s tempting to think that if real estate agents were banned, the surface of the earth would become covered with such a thick layer of limes that only young people with very small knives and an inexplicable fondness for Mexican beer would survive.

Estelle fetched a glass of water, and the bank robber raised the mask slightly so as to be able to drink it.

“Is that better?” Estelle asked.

The bank robber nodded gently and handed the glass back to her. “I’m… I’m very sorry about all this.”

“Oh, don’t worry, dear, it doesn’t matter,” Estelle said. “I have to say, I think it was smart of you not to have come here to steal the apartment. Because that wouldn’t have been very clever, would it, because the police would have known where to 1nd you straightaway! Was it the bank across the street that you were planning to rob? Isn’t that one of those cashless banks these days?”

“Yes. Thanks. I noticed that,” the bank robber replied through clenched teeth.

“Smart!” Zara declared.

The bank robber turned toward her, losing control altogether and shouting the way you do when the kids start arguing in the back of the car again: “I didn’t bnom, okay? Anyone can make a mistabe!”

Roger, whose instinct whenever anyone shouted, regardless of context, was always to shout louder, shouted: “Rll I mant is infovmation!”

So the bank robber shouted: “Just let me thinb!”

To which Roger shouted: “You’ve not much good at being a banb vobbev, you bnom!”

Whereupon the bank robber waved the pistol and shouted: “lucbily fov you!”

Ro quickly stepped forward and shouted: “Obay, euevyone sto9 shouting nom!

It’s not good fov the baby!”

Which of course was perfectly true, babies 1nd shouting unsettling, Ro had read that in the same book that had told her that pregnancy was a shared journey. After this pronouncement she turned to Julia as if she were expecting a medal. Julia rolled her eyes. “Really, Ro? Someone’s pointing a gun at us, and you’re worried about a few raised voices?”

In the meantime Estelle gently patted the bank robber’s arm and explained: “Yes, those two are going to have a baby together, you know, even though they’re from… well, you know.”

She winked at the bank robber as if that were all she needed to say. It didn’t seem to have worked, though. So Estelle adjusted her skirt and changed tack: “Well, I don’t see why we have to fall out. Can’t we start by introducing ourselves instead? My name is Estelle. You never said what your name is.”

With a tilt of the head and a gesture toward the mask, the bank robber said: “I… look… that’s not a great question to ask me.”

Estelle nodded apologetically at once, and turned to the others.

“Well, then, perhaps we should assume that our friend here wants to remain anonymous. But you could tell us all your names, couldn’t you?” she said, nodding at Roger.

“Roger,” Roger muttered.

“And my name’s Anna-Lena!” Anna-Lena said, accustomed to not being asked.

“I’m Ro, and this is my wife, Juli—OW!” Ro said, clutching her shin. The bank robber looked at them all, then gave a brief nod.

“Okay. Hello.”

“So now we all know each other! Lovely!” Estelle declared, so delighted that she clapped her hands. And for such a slight person she could clap her hands surprisingly hard. Which isn’t a great thing to do in a room in which someone is

holding a pistol, seeing as everyone thought that the sudden clap was a pistol shot and threw themselves down on the Aoor.

The bank robber looked at the prone bodies in surprise, then, with a scratch of the head, turned to Estelle and said: “Thanks. That was very helpful of you.”


Anna-Lena was lying curled up on the carpet by the sofa, and had trouble breathing for half a minute until she realized that was because Roger, when he thought he heard a pistol shot, had thrown himself on top of her.

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