Chapter no 36

Anxious People

Julia nodded toward the bathroom door, held her hand out toward the bank robber, and demanded: “Give me the pistol.”

“Abso… absolutely not! What are you thinking of doing?” the bank robber stammered, hiding the pistol from view like it was a kitten and someone had just asked the bank robber if anyone had seen a kitten anywhere.

“I’m pregnant and I need to go to the toilet. Give me the pistol so I can shoot the lock out,” Julia repeated.

“No,” the bank robber whimpered. Julia threw her arms out.

“You’ll have to do it yourself, then. Just shoot the lock out.” “I don’t want to.”

Julia’s eyes narrowed in an unsettling way.

“What do you mean, you don’t want to? You’re holding us all hostage and the police are outside and you’ve got an unknown individual in the bathroom. It could be anyone. You need to have a bit of respect for yourself! How else are you ever going to be a successful bank robber? You can’t let people tell you what to do the whole time!”

“But you’re telling me what to do—” the bank robber started to say, but Julia interrupted:

“Shoot the lock out, I said!”

For a moment it looked like the bank robber was going to do as she said, but suddenly there was a small click, the door handle slowly swung down, and a voice said from inside the bathroom: “Don’t shoot. Please, don’t shoot!”

A man dressed in a rabbit costume emerged. Well, if we’re being completely truthful, not a complete costume. It was really just a rabbit’s head, because apart

from that the man was wearing nothing but underpants and socks. He appeared to be in his 1fties and, if we’re being diplomatic, had the sort of body that wasn’t exactly Aattered by the ratio of clothing to skin.

“Don’t hurt me, please, I’m just doing my job!” the man whined from inside the rabbit’s head in a Stockholm accent as he stuck his hands up. He was evidently a Stockholmer, one of the ones who was born there, not just a “Stockholmer” in the sense that Jim and Jack used it when they actually meant “idiot.” (Which of course doesn’t mean that the man wasn’t an idiot as well, because it’s still a free country.) And he certainly wasn’t a “Stockholmer” in the way that Estelle used the word to describe the sort of family unit that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with (and if he had been, then obviously there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with that at all). He was just a perfectly ordinary Stockholmer, who happened to be saying from inside the rabbit’s head: “Tell them not to shoot me, Anna-Lena!”

Everyone fell silent, no one more so than Roger. He was staring at Anna-Lena, she was staring at the rabbit and crying, her 1ngers Auttering about her hips as she evaded Roger’s surprised stare. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen her husband surprised, that’s really not supposed to happen when you’ve been married so long. You’re supposed to have just one thing in your life, one single person you can count on to the extent that you end up taking her for granted. And at this precise moment, Anna-Lena knew all that was ruined for Roger. She whispered in despair: “Don’t hurt him. It’s Lennart.”

“Do you bnom this person?” Roger spluttered. Anna-Lena nodded sadly.

“Yes, but it’s not what you think, Roger!”

“Is he… is he…?” Roger struggled, before 1nally managing to utter the impossible words: “… another prospective buyer?”

Anna-Lena couldn’t bring herself to answer, so Roger spun around and lurched toward the bathroom door with such force that both Julia and Ro (Zara, helpfully, merely jumped out of the way) were obliged to hold him back with all their strength so that he couldn’t get a stranglehold on the rabbit.

“Why is my wife crying? Who are you? Are you a prospective buyer? Answer me this instant!” Roger bellowed.

He didn’t get an immediate answer, and that upset Anna-Lena as well. Roger had always been an important, respected man at work, and even his bosses had listened to him there. Retirement wasn’t something that Roger entered into voluntarily, it was something that had suddenly aAicted him. The 1rst few months he would drive past the office, sometimes several times a day, because he was hoping to see some sign that the people inside couldn’t cope without him. He never saw one. He wasn’t at all difficult to replace, so he went home and the business carried on existing. That realization was a great burden to Roger, and made him slower.

“Rnsmev me!” he demanded of the rabbit, but the rabbit was busy trying to take its rabbit head oP. It had evidently got stuck. Beads of sweat bounced from hair to hair on his bare back, like a singularly unappealing pinball game, and his underpants were now also sitting slightly crookedly.

The bank robber stood mutely alongside and looked on, and Zara clearly felt it was time for a bit more feedback, so she gave the bank robber a shove.

“Aren’t you going to do something?” “Like what?” the bank robber wondered.

“Take charge! What sort of hostage taker are you?” Zara demanded.

“I’m not a hostage taker, I’m a bank robber,” the bank robber whimpered. “That turned out to be a great choice, didn’t it?”

“Please, just stop pushing me.”

“Oh, just shoot the rabbit so we can get things sorted out. So you earn a bit of respect. You only have to shoot it in the leg.”

“Ro, don’t shoot!” the rabbit screamed.

“Stop giving me orders,” the bank robber said. “He could be a policeman,” Zara suggested.

“I still don’t want to…” “Give me the pistol, then.” “No!”

Unconcerned, Zara turned to the rabbit. “Who are you? Are you a cop, or what? Answer, or we’ll shoot.”

“I’m the one doing the shooting here! Well, I’m not, actually!” the bank robber protested.

Zara patted the bank robber condescendingly on the arm. “Hmm. Of course you are. Of course you are.”

The bank robber stamped the Aoor in frustration.

“No one’s listening to me! You’re the worst hostages ever!”

“Please, don’t shoot, my head’s stuck,” Lennart cried from inside the rabbit’s head, then went on: “Anna-Lena can explain everything, we’re… I’m… I’m with her.”


Suddenly there wasn’t enough air for Roger. He turned to Anna-Lena again, so slowly that she couldn’t remember him turning to her like that since one day in the early 1990s when he realized she’d used the wrong VHS tape to record an episode of a soap opera and accidentally recorded over an important documentary about antelopes. Roger couldn’t 1nd any words for her betrayal, either then or now. They had always been people of simple words. Anna-Lena may have hoped that would improve when they had children, but the reverse had happened. Parenthood can lead to a sequence of years when the children’s feelings suck all the oxygen out of a family, and that can be so emotionally intense that some adults go for years without having an opportunity to tell anyone about their own feelings, and if you don’t get a chance for long enough, sometimes you simply forget how to do it.

Roger’s love for Anna-Lena was visible in other ways. Little things, like checking the screws and hinges of the little mirrored door on her cabinet in the bathroom every day, so it would always open and close with the least possible resistance. At the time of day when Anna-Lena opened the cabinet she really wasn’t ready for any difficulties, Roger knew that. Anna-Lena had become interested in interior design late in life, but she had read in a book that every designer needed an “anchor” in each new scheme. Something solid and de1nite that everything else can build upon, spreading out from it in ever-increasing circles. For Anna-Lena, that anchor was her bathroom cabinet. Roger understood that, because he appreciated the value of immovable objects, such as load-bearing walls. You can’t make them adapt to you, you simply have to adapt

to them. So Roger always unscrewed the bathroom cabinet last of all whenever they moved out of an apartment, and installed it 1rst when they arrived at the new one. That was how he loved her. But now she was standing there, full of surprises, and confessing: “This is Lennart, and he and I… well, we’re… we have a… you weren’t ever supposed to 1nd out, darling!”

Silence. Betrayal.

“So the two of you… you and… the two of you… behind my back?” Roger said, with some ePort.

“It’s not what you think,” Anna-Lena insisted. “Not at all what you think,” the rabbit assured him. “It really isn’t,” Anna-Lena added.

“Well… perhaps it is a little bit, depending on what you’re thinking,” the rabbit conceded.

“Be quiet now, Lennart!” Anna-Lena said.

“Then just tell him the truth,” the rabbit suggested.

Anna-Lena breathed in through her nose and closed her eyes.

“Lennart’s just a… we got in touch on the Internet. It wasn’t supposed… it just happened, Roger.”

Roger’s arms were hanging limply by his sides, lost. In the end he turned to the bank robber, pointed at the rabbit, and whispered: “How much do you want for shooting him?”

“Can everyone please just stop telling me to shoot people?” the bank robber pleaded.

“We can make it look like an accident,” Roger said.

Anna-Lena took several desperate steps toward Roger, trying to reach his 1ngertips.

“Please, darling… Roger, calm down…”

Roger had no intention of calming down. He held one hand out toward the rabbit and swore: “You’re going to die! Do you hear me? You’re going to die!”

Panic-stricken, Anna-Lena blurted out the only thing she could think of that would grab his attention: “Roger, wait! If anyone dies in here, this apartment will be a murder scene and then the price per square foot might go up! People love murder scenes!”

Roger stopped at this, his 1sts were quivering but he took a deep breath and managed to calm down slightly. The price was always the price, after all. His shoulders sank 1rst, followed by the rest of him, both internally and externally. He looked down at the Aoor and whispered: “How long has this been going on? Between you and this… this bloody rabbit?”

“A year,” Anna-Lena said. “A yeav?!”

“Please, Roger, I only did it for your sake.”

Roger’s jowls were shaking with despair and confusion, his lips were moving but all his emotions remained trapped inside. The man with the rabbit’s head appeared to see an opportunity to explain what was really going on, which he did in a tone that only a middle-aged man with a Stockholm accent as broad as a motorway could do: “Listen, Rog—you don’t mind me calling you Rog? Don’t feel bad about this! Women often turn to me, you know, because I’m happy to do the things they might not be able to persuade their husbands to do.”

Roger’s face was contorted into one large wrinkle.

“What sort of things? What sort of relationship are the two of you actually having?”

“A business avvangement, I’m a professional!” the rabbit corrected. “Professional? Have you been 9aying to sleep with him, Anna-Lena?” Roger


Anna-Lena’s eyes doubled in size. “Are you mad?” she hissed.

The rabbit stepped closer to Roger to sort out the misunderstanding.

“No, no, not that sort of professional. I don’t sleep with people. Well, not professionally, anyway. I disrupt viewings, I’m a professional disrupter, here’s my card.” The rabbit 1shed a business card out of one of his socks. Ro Boundavies lennavt ltd., it said, the ltd. indicating the seriousness of the business.

Anna-Lena bit the inside of her lip and said: “Yes, Lennart’s been helping me.


“What the hell…?” Roger exclaimed. The rabbit nodded proudly.

“Oh, yes, Rog. Sometimes I’m an alcoholic neighbor, sometimes I just rent the apartment above the one where the viewing is taking place and watch an erotic 1lm with the volume turned up really loud. But this is my most expensive package.” He gestured toward himself, from his white socks to his underpants, then his bare chest, until he reached the rabbit’s head, which he still hadn’t managed to remove. Then he announced proudly: “This is ‘the crapping rabbit,’ you see. The premium package. If you order this, I sneak into the apartment before everyone else and hide in the bathroom. Then when the other prospective buyers open the door, they catch sight of a naked, adult man with a rabbit’s head sitting on the toilet doing his business. People never really get over it. You can always get rid of scratched Aoors and ugly wallpaper when you move in, can’t you? But a crapping rabbit?” The rabbit tapped the temples of the rabbit’s head demonstratively: “It gets stuck in here! You wouldn’t want to live anywhere you saw that, would you?!” A thought that all of those present, as they looked at the rabbit, had nothing but sympathy for.

Anna-Lena reached her hand out to Roger’s arm, but he pulled it away as if she’d burned him. She sniPed: “Please, Roger, don’t you remember that viewing in the recently renovated turn-of-the-century building last year, when a drunk neighbor suddenly appeared and started throwing spaghetti Bolognese at all the prospective buyers?”

Roger was so insulted that he let out a loud snort.

“Of course I do! We bought that apartment for three hundred and twenty-1ve thousand below its market value!”

The rabbit nodded happily.

“I don’t like to boast, but the alcoholic spaghetti-throwing neighbor is one of my most popular characters.”

Roger stared at Anna-Lena.

“Do you mean to say that… but… what about all my negotiations with the Realtor? All my tactics?”

Anna-Lena couldn’t meet his gaze.

“You get so upset when you lose a bid. I just wanted you to… win.”

She wasn’t telling the whole truth. That she had become the sort of person who just wanted a home. That she wanted to stop now. That she’d like to go to

the movies occasionally and see something made-up instead of yet another documentary on television. That she didn’t want to be a shark. She was worried that the betrayal would be too much for Roger.

“How many times?” Roger whispered in a broken voice. “Three,” Anna-Lena lied.

“Six, actually! I know all the addresses by heart…,” the rabbit corrected. “Shut up, Lennart!” Anna-Lena sobbed.

Lennart nodded obediently, and started to tug and pull at the rabbit’s head again. He spent a long time fully absorbed in that, before declaring: “I think something loosened a bit just then!”

Roger just stared down at the Aoor with his toes tightly clenched in his shoes, because Roger was the sort of man who felt emotion in his feet. He started to walk around in a wide semicircle, over to the balcony door, accidentally stubbed his toes against one of the baseboards, and swore quietly, quietly, quietly, both at the damnable baseboard and the damnable rabbit.

“You stupid… stupid… you stupid…,” he muttered, as if he were searching for the very worst insult he could think of. Eventually he found it: “You stupid Stockholmer!” His toes hurt as much as his heart, so he clenched his 1sts and looked up, then ran back through the apartment so quickly that no one had time to stop him, and knocked the rabbit to the Aoor. With all his love, at full force, one single blow.

The rabbit fell through the door back onto the bathroom Aoor. Fortunately the padded rabbit’s head absorbed most of the impact from Roger’s punch, and the softness of the rest of Lennart’s physique (he had roughly the same density as a dumpling) absorbed the rest. When he opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling, Julia was leaning over him.

“Are you still alive?” she asked.

“The head’s stuck again,” he replied. “Are you hurt?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Good. Move, then. I need to pee.”

The rabbit whimpered some sort of apology and crawled out of the bathroom. On the way, he handed Julia a business card, nodded so hard toward

her stomach that his rabbit’s ears fell over his eyes, and managed to say: “I do children’s parties as well. If you don’t like your children.”

Julia closed the door behind him. But she kept the business card. Any normal parent would have done the same.


Anna-Lena was looking at Roger, but he was refusing to look back. Blood was dripping from his nose. Their doctor had told Anna-Lena that it was a reaction to stress after Roger was diagnosed as being burnt-out at work.

“You’re bleeding, I’ll get some tissue,” she whispered, but Roger wiped his nose on the sleeve of his shirt.

“Dammit, I’m just a bit tired!”

He strode out into the hall, mostly because he wanted to be in a diPerent room, which made him curse the open plan layout. Anna-Lena wanted to follow him but realized he needed some space, so she turned and walked into the closet, because that was as far from him as she could get. There she sat down on a small stool and went to pieces. She didn’t notice the cold air blowing in, as if a window were open. As if there could be an open window in a closet.


The bank robber was standing in the center of the apartment, surrounded by Stockholmers, both 1gurative and literal. “Stockholm” is, after all, an expression more than it is a place, both for men like Roger and for most of the rest of us, just a symbolic word to denote all the irritating people who get in the way of our happiness. People who think they’re better than us. Bankers who say no when we apply for a loan, psychologists who ask questions when we only want sleeping pills, old men who steal the apartments we want to renovate, rabbits who steal our wives. Everyone who doesn’t see us, doesn’t understand us, doesn’t care about us. Everyone has Stockholmers in their life, even people from Stockholm have their own Stockholmers, only to them it’s “people who live in New York” or “politicians in Brussels,” or other people from some other place

where people seem to think that they’re better than the Stockholmers think they are.

Everyone inside the apartment had their own complexes, their own demons and anxieties: Roger was wounded, Anna-Lena wanted to go home, Lennart couldn’t get his rabbit head oP, Julia was tired, Ro was worried, Zara was in pain, and Estelle… well… no one really knew what Estelle was yet. Possibly not even Estelle. Sometimes “Stockholm” can actually be a compliment: a dream of somewhere bigger, where we can become someone else. Something that we long for but don’t quite dare to do. Everyone in the apartment was wrestling with their own story.

“Forgive me,” the bank robber suddenly said in the silence that had settled upon them. At 1rst it seemed that no one had heard, but they all did, really. Thanks to the thin walls and that wretched open plan layout, the words even reached all the way into the closet, out into the hall, and through the bathroom door. They may not have had much in common, but they all knew what it was like to make a mistake.

“Sorry,” the bank robber said in a weaker voice, and even if none of them replied, that was how it started: the truth about how the bank robber managed to escape from the apartment. The bank robber needed to say those words, and the people who heard them all needed to be allowed to forgive someone.

“Stockholm” can also be a syndrome, of course.

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