فصل 20

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فصل 20

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20

A MAN CALLED OVE AND AN INTRUDER

For almost twenty minutes, Ove sits in the driver’s seat of the Saab with the garage door open. For the first five minutes the cat stares at him impatiently from the passenger seat. During the next five it begins to look properly worried.

In the end it tries to open the door itself; when this fails, it promptly lies down on the seat and goes to sleep.

Ove glances at it as it rolls onto its side and starts snoring. He has to concede that the Cat Annoyance has a very direct approach to problem-solving.

He looks out over the parking area again at the garage opposite. He must have stood out there with Rune a hundred times. They were friends once. Ove can’t think of very many people in his life he could describe as such. Ove and Ove’s wife were the first people to move into this street of row houses all those years ago, when it had only recently been built and was still surrounded by trees. That same day, Rune and Rune’s wife moved in. Anita was also pregnant and, of course, immediately became best friends with Ove’s wife in that way only women knew how. And just like all women who become best friends they both had the idea that Rune and Ove had to become best friends. Because they had so many “interests in common.” Ove couldn’t really understand what they meant by that. After all, Rune drove a Volvo.

Not that Ove exactly had anything against Rune apart from that. He had a proper job and he didn’t talk more than he had to. Admittedly he did drive that Volvo but, as Ove’s wife kept insisting, this did not necessarily make a person immoral. So Ove put up with him. After a period he even lent him tools. Andone afternoon, standing in the parking area, thumbs tucked into their belts, they got caught up in a conversation about lawn mower prices. When they parted they shook hands. As if the mutual decision to become friends was a business agreement.

When the two men later found out that all sorts of people were moving into the area, they sat down in Ove and Sonja’s kitchen for consultations. By the time they emerged from these, they had established a shared framework of rules, signs clarifying what was permitted or not, and a newly setup steering group for the Residents’ Association. Ove was the chairman; Rune, the vice chairman.

In the months that followed they went to the dump together. Grumbled at people who had parked their cars incorrectly. Bargained for better deals on paint and drainpipes at the hardware store, stood on either side of the man from the telephone company when he came to install telephones and jacks, brusquely pointing out where and how he should best go about it. Not that either of them knew exactly how telephone cables should be installed, but they were both well versed in keeping an eye on whippersnappers like this one, to stop them pulling a fast one. That was all there was to it.

Sometimes the two couples had dinner together. Insofar as one could have dinner when Ove and Rune mostly just stood about in the parking area the whole evening, kicking the tires of their cars and comparing their load capacity, turning radius, and other significant matters. And that was all there was to it.

Sonja’s and Anita’s bellies kept growing steadily, which, according to Rune, made Anita “doolally in the brain.” Apparently he had to look for the coffeepot in the fridge more or less daily once she was in her third month. Sonja, not to be outdone, developed a temper that could flare up quicker than a pair of saloon doors in a John Wayne film, which made Ove reluctant to open his mouth at all.

This, of course, gave further cause for irritation. When she wasn’t breaking out in a sweat she was freezing. And as soon as Ove tired of arguing with her and agreed to turn up the radiators by a half step she started sweating again, and he had to run around and turn them back down again. She also ate bananas in such quantities that the people at the supermarket must have thought Ove had started a zoo.

“The hormones are on the warpath,” Rune said with an insightful nod during one of the nights when he and Ove sat in the outside space behind his house,while the women kept to Sonja and Ove’s kitchen, talking about whatever it is women talk about.

Rune told him that he had found Anita crying her eyes out by the radio the day before, for no other reason than that it “was a nice song.” “A . . . nice song?” said Ove, perplexed.

“A nice song,” Rune answered.

The two men shook their heads in mutual disbelief and stared out into the darkness. Sat in silence.

“The grass needs cutting,” said Rune at last.

“I bought new blades for the mower.” Ove nodded.

“How much did you pay for them?”

And so their friendship went on.

In the evenings, Sonja played music for her belly, because she said it made the child move. Ove mostly just sat in his armchair on the other side of the room and pretended to be watching television while she was doing it. In his innermost thoughts he was worried about what it would be like once the child finally decided to come out. What if, for example, the kid disliked Ove because Ove wasn’t so fond of music?

It wasn’t that Ove was afraid. He just didn’t know how to prepare himself for fatherhood. He had asked for some sort of manual but Sonja had just laughed at him. Ove didn’t understand why. There were manuals for everything else.

He was doubtful about whether he’d be any good at being someone’s dad. He didn’t like children an awful lot. He hadn’t even been very good at being a child.

Sonja thought he should talk to Rune about it because they were “in the same situation.” Ove couldn’t quite understand what she meant by that. Rune was not in fact going to be the father of Ove’s child, but of an altogether different one. At least Rune agreed with Ove about the point of not having much to discuss, and that was something. So when Anita came over in the evenings and sat in the kitchen with Sonja, talking about the aches and pains and all those things, Ove and Rune made the excuse of having “things” to talk about and went out to Ove’s shed and just stood there in silence, picking at various bits on Ove’s workbench.

Standing there next to each other behind a closed door for the third night running without knowing what they were supposed to do with themselves, theyagreed that they needed to get busy with something before, as Rune put it, “the new neighbors start thinking there’s some sort of monkey business going on in here.”

Ove agreed that it might be best to do as he said. And so it was. They didn’t talk much while they were doing it, but they helped each other with the drawings and measuring the angles and ensuring that the corners were straight and properly done. And late one evening when Anita and Sonja were in the fourth month, two light blue cribs were installed in the prepared nurseries of their row houses.

“We can sand it down and repaint it pink if we get a girl,” mumbled Ove when he showed it to Sonja. Sonja put her arms around him, and he felt his neck getting all wet with her tears. Completely irrational hormones.

“I want you to ask me to be your wife,” she whispered.

And so it was. They married in the Town Hall, very simply. Neither of them had any family, so only Rune and Anita came. Sonja and Ove put on their rings and then all four of them went to a restaurant. Ove paid but Rune helped check the bill to make sure it “had been done properly.” Of course it hadn’t. So after conferring with the waiter for about an hour, the two men managed to convince him it would be easier for him if he halved the bill or they’d “report him.” Obviously it was a bit hazy exactly who would report whom for what, but eventually, with a certain amount of swearing and arm-waving, the waiter gave up and went into the kitchen and wrote them a new bill. In the meantime Rune and Ove nodded grimly at one another without noticing that their wives, as usual, had taken a taxi home twenty minutes earlier.

Ove nods to himself as he sits there in the Saab looking at Rune’s garage door.

He can’t remember when he last saw it open. He turns off the headlights of the Saab, gives the cat a poke to wake it up, and gets out.

“Ove?” says a curious, unfamiliar voice.

Suddenly an unknown woman, clearly the owner of the unfamiliar voice, has stuck her head into the garage. She’s about forty-five, wearing tatty jeans and a green windbreaker that looks too large for her. She doesn’t have any makeup on and her hair is in a ponytail. The woman blunders into his garage and looksaround with interest. The cat steps forward and gives her a threatening hiss. She stops. Ove puts his hands in his pockets.

“Ove?” she bursts out again, in that exaggerated chummy way of people who want to sell you something, while pretending it’s the very last thing on their mind.

“I don’t want anything,” says Ove, nodding at the garage door—a clear gesture that she needn’t bother about finding another door, it’ll be just fine if she walks out the same way that she came.

She looks utterly unchastened by that.

“My name is Lena. I’m a journalist at the local newspaper and, well . . .” she begins, and then offers her hand.

Ove looks at her hand. And looks at her.

“I don’t want anything,” he says again.

“What?”

“I suppose you’re selling subscriptions. But I don’t want one.” She looks puzzled.

“Right. . . . Well, actually . . . I’m not selling the paper. I write for it. I’m a journalist,” she repeats slowly, as if there were something wrong with him.

“I still don’t want anything,” Ove reiterates as he starts shooing her out the garage door.

“But I want to talk to you, Ove!” she protests and starts trying to force herself back inside.

Ove waves his hands at her as if trying to scare her away by shaking an invisible rug in front of her.

“You saved a man’s life at the train station yesterday! I want to interview you about it,” she calls out excitedly.

Clearly she’s about to say something else when she notices that she’s lost Ove’s attention. His gaze falls on something behind her. His eyes turn to slits.

“I’ll be damned,” he mumbles.

“Yes. . . . I’d like to ask y—” she begins sincerely, but Ove has already squeezed past her and started running towards the white Škoda that’s turned in by the parking area and started driving down towards the houses.

The bespectacled woman is caught off guard when Ove charges forward and bangs on the window and she throws the file of documents into her own face.The man in the white shirt, on the other hand, is quite unmoved. He rolls down the window.

“Yes?” he asks.

“Vehicle traffic is prohibited in the residential area,” Ove hisses and points at each of the houses, at the Škoda, at the man in the white shirt, and at the parking area.

“In this Residents’ Association we park in the parking area!” The man in the white shirt looks at the houses. Then at the parking area. Then at Ove.

“I have permission from the council to drive up to the houses. So I have to ask you to get out of the way.”

Ove is so agitated by his answer that it takes him many seconds just to formulate some swear words by way of an answer. Meanwhile, the man in the white shirt has picked up a pack of cigarettes from the dashboard, which he taps against his trouser leg.

“Would you be kind enough to get out of the way?” he asks Ove.

“What are you doing here?” Ove blurts out.

“That’s nothing for you to worry yourself about,” says the man in the white shirt in a monotone voice, as if he’s a computer-generated voice mail message letting Ove know that he’s been placed in a telephone line.

He puts the cigarette he’s shaken out in his mouth and lights it. Ove breathes so heavily that his chest is pumping up and down under his jacket. The woman gathers up her papers and files and adjusts her glasses. The man just sighs, as if Ove is a cheeky child refusing to stop riding his skateboard on the sidewalk.

“You know what I’m doing here. We’re taking Rune, in the house at the end of the road, into care.”

He hangs his arm out the window and flicks the ash against the wing mirror of the Škoda.

“Taking him into care?”

“Yes,” says the man, nodding indifferently.

“And if Anita doesn’t want that?” Ove hisses, tapping his index finger against the roof of the car.

The man in the white shirt looks at the woman in the passenger seat and smiles resignedly. Then he turns to Ove again and speaks very slowly. As ifotherwise Ove might not understand his words.

“It’s not up to Anita to make that decision. It’s up to the investigation team.” Ove’s breathing becomes even more strained. He can feel his pulse in his throat.

“You’re not bringing this car into this area,” he says through gritted teeth.

His fists are clenched. His tone is pointed and threatening. But his opponent looks quite calm. He puts out the cigarette against the paintwork of the door and drops it on the ground.

As if everything Ove had said was nothing more than the inarticulate raving of a senile old man.

“And what exactly are you going to do to stop me, Ove?” says the man at long last.

The way he flings out his name makes Ove look as if someone just shoved a mallet in his gut. He stares at the man in the white shirt, his mouth slightly agape and his eyes scanning to and fro over the car.

“How do you know my name?”

“I know a lot about you.”

Ove only manages by a whisker to pull his foot out of the way of the wheel as the Škoda moves off again and drives down towards the houses. Ove stands there, in shock, staring after them.

“Who was that?” says the woman in the windbreaker behind him.

Ove spins around.

“How do you know my name?” he demands.

She takes a step back. Pushes a few evasive wisps of hair out of her face without taking her eyes off Ove’s clenched fists.

“I work for the local newspaper—we interviewed people on the platform about how you saved that man. . . .”

“How do you know my name?” says Ove again, his voice shaking with anger.

“You swiped your card when you paid for your train ticket. I went through the receipts in the register,” she says and takes a few more steps back.

“And him!!! How does HE know my name?” Ove roars and waves in the direction in which the Škoda went, the veins on his forehead bulging.

“I . . . don’t know,” she says.Ove breathes violently through his nose and nails her with his eyes. As if trying to see whether she’s lying.

“I have no idea. I’ve never seen that man before,” she promises.

Ove rivets his eyes into her even harder. Finally he nods grimly to himself.

Then he turns around and walks towards his house. She calls out to him but he doesn’t react. The cat follows him into the hall. Ove closes the door. Farther down the road, the man in the white shirt and the woman with glasses ring the doorbell of Anita and Rune’s house.

Ove sinks onto the stool in his hall. Shaking with humiliation.

He had almost forgotten that feeling. The humiliation of it. The powerlessness. The realization that one cannot fight men in white shirts.

And now they’re back. They haven’t been here since he and Sonja came home from Spain. After the accident.

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