فصل 27

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فصل 27

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27

A MAN CALLED OVE AND A DRIVING

LESSON

It happened now and then in the almost forty years they lived in the row of row houses that some thoughtless and recently moved-in neighbor was bold enough to ask Sonja what the real cause was for the deep animosity between Ove and Rune. Why had two men who had once been friends suddenly started hating one another with such overpowering intensity?

Sonja usually answered that it was quite straightforward. It was simply about how when the two men and their wives moved into their houses, Ove drove a Saab 96 and Rune a Volvo 244. A year or so later Ove bought a Saab 95 and Rune bought a Volvo 245. Three years later Ove bought a Saab 900 and Rune bought a Volvo 265. In the decades that followed, Ove bought another two Saab 900s and then a Saab 9000. Rune bought another Volvo 265 and then a Volvo 745, but a few years later he went back to a sedan model and acquired a Volvo 740. Whereupon Ove bought yet one more Saab 9000 and Rune eventually went over to a Volvo 760, after which Ove got himself a Saab 9000i and Rune partexchanged to a Volvo 760 Turbo.

And then the day came when Ove went to the car dealer to look at the recently launched Saab 9-3, and when he came home in the evening, Rune had bought a BMW.

“A BMW!” Ove had roared at Sonja. “How can you reason with a human being like that? How?”And possibly it was not the entire explanation for why these two men loathed one another, Sonja used to explain. Either you understood it or you didn’t. And if you didn’t understand, there was no point even trying to clarify the rest.

Most people never did understand, Ove often commented. But then people had no idea of loyalty these days. The car was just “a means of transport” and the road just a complication arising between two points. Ove is convinced this is why the roads are as bad as they are. If people were a little more careful with their cars they wouldn’t drive like idiots, he thinks, watching with concern as Parvaneh pushes away the newspaper he has spread across her seat. She has to retract the driver’s seat as far as it’ll go, so she can maneuver her pregnant belly into the car, then bring it forward all the way so she can reach the wheel.

The driving lesson doesn’t start so well. Or, to be precise, it begins with Parvaneh trying to get into the Saab with a bottle of carbonated juice in her hand.

She shouldn’t have done that. Then she tries to fiddle with Ove’s radio to find “a more entertaining station.” She shouldn’t have done that either.

Ove picks up the newspaper from the floor, rolls it up, and starts nervously striking it against his hand, like a more aggressive version of a stress ball. She grabs the wheel and looks at the instruments like a curious child.

“Where do we start?” she yells eagerly, after at long last agreeing to hand over the juice.

Ove sighs. The cat sits in the backseat and looks as if it wished, with intensity, that cats knew how to strap on safety belts.

“Press the clutch pedal,” says Ove, slightly grim.

Parvaneh looks around her seat as if searching for something. Then she looks at Ove and smiles ingratiatingly.

“Which one’s the clutch?”

Ove’s face fills with disbelief.

She looks around the seat again, turns toward the seat belt fixture in the back rest, as if she may find the clutch there. Ove holds his forehead. Parvaneh’s facial expression immediately sours.

“I told you I want a driver’s license for an automatic! Why did you make me use your car?”

“Because you’re getting a proper license!” Ove cuts her short, emphasizing “proper” in a way that makes it plain that a license for an automatic is as much a“proper driver’s license” as a car with an automatic gearbox is a “proper car.” “Stop shouting at me!” shouts Parvaneh.

“I’m not shouting!” Ove shouts back.

The cat curls up in the backseat, clearly anxious not to end up in the middle of this, whatever it is. Parvaneh crosses her arms and glares out of the side window.

Ove strikes his paper baton rhythmically into the palm of his hand.

“The pedal on the far left is the clutch,” he grunts in the end.

After taking a breath so deep that he has to stop halfway for a rest before he inhales again, he continues:

“The one in the middle is the brake. On the far right is the accelerator. You release the clutch slowly until you find the point where it engages, then give it a bit of gas, release the clutch, and move off.”

Parvaneh seems to accept this as an apology. She nods and calms down.

Takes hold of the steering wheel, starts the car, and follows his instructions. The Saab lurches forward with a little jump, then pauses before catapulting itself with a loud roar towards the guest parking and very nearly crashing into another car. Ove tugs at the hand brake. Parvaneh lets go of the steering wheel and yells in panic, covering her eyes with her hands until the Saab finally comes to an abrupt stop. Ove is puffing as if he’d had to make his way to the hand brake by forcing himself through a military obstacle course. His facial muscles twitch like a man whose eyes are being sprayed with lemon juice.

“What do I do now?!” roars Parvaneh when she realizes that the Saab is an inch from the taillights of the car in front.

“Reverse. You put it in reverse,” Ove manages to say through his teeth.

“I almost smashed into that car!” pants Parvaneh.

Ove peers over the edge of the hood. And then, suddenly, a sort of calm comes over his face. He turns and nods at her, very matter-of-fact.

“Doesn’t matter. It’s a Volvo.”

It takes them fifteen minutes to get out of the parking area and onto the main road. Once they’re there, Parvaneh revs the first gear until the Saab vibrates like it’s about to explode. Ove tells her to change gear and she replies that she doesn’t know how. Meanwhile the cat seems to be trying to open the back door.

When they get to the first red light, a big black SUV with two shaven-headed young men in the front pulls up so close to their rear bumper that Ove is prettysure he’ll have their license number etched into his paintwork when they get home. Parvaneh glances nervously in the mirror. The SUV revs its engine, as if giving vent to some sort of opinion. Ove turns and looks out the back window.

The two men have tattoos all over their throats, he notes. As if the SUV is not a clear enough advertisement for their stupidity.

The light turns green. Parvaneh brings up the clutch, the Saab splutters, and the instrument panel goes black. Stressed, Parvaneh turns the key in the ignition, which only makes it grind in a heartrending manner. The engine makes a roar, coughs, and dies anew. The men with the shaved heads and tattooed throats sound the horn. One of them gestures.

“Press down the clutch and give it more gas,” says Ove.

“That’s what I’m doing!” she answers.

“That’s not what you’re doing.”

“Yes I am!”

“Now you’re shouting.”

“I’M NOT BLOODY SHOUTING!” she shouts.

The SUV blares its horn. Parvaneh presses down the clutch. The Saab rolls backwards a few inches and bumps into the front of the SUV. The Throat Tattoos are now hanging on the horn as if it’s an air raid alarm.

Parvaneh tugs despairingly at the key, only to be rewarded by yet another stall. Then suddenly she lets go of everything and hides her face in her hands.

“Good Go— are you crying now?” Ove asks in amazement.

“I’M NOT BLOODY CRYING!” she howls, her tears spattering over the dashboard.

Ove leans back and looks down at his knee. Fingers the end of the paper baton.

“It’s just such a strain, this, do you understand?” she sobs and leans her forehead against the wheel as if hoping it might be soft and fluffy. “I’m sort of PREGNANT! I’m just a bit STRESSED, can no one show a bit of understanding for a pregnant bloody woman who’s a bit STRESSED?!”

Ove twists uncomfortably in the passenger seat. She punches the steering wheel several times, mumbles something about how all she wants is to “drink some bloody lemonade,” flops her arms over the top of the steering wheel, buries her face in her sleeves, and starts crying again.The SUV behind them honks until it sounds as if the Finland ferry is about to run them down. And then something in Ove snaps. He throws the door open, gets out of the car, walks slowly around the SUV, and rips the driver’s door open.

“Have you never been a student driver or what?”

The driver doesn’t have time to answer.

“You stupid little bastard!” Ove roars in the face of the shaven-headed young man with throat tattoos, his spittle cascading over their seats.

The Throat Tattoo doesn’t have time to answer and Ove doesn’t wait for him either. Instead he grabs the young man by his collar and pulls him up so hard that his body tumbles clumsily out of the car. He’s a muscular sort, easily weighing in at two hundred pounds, but Ove holds his collar in an immovable steel grip.

Evidently, Throat Tattoo is so surprised by the strength in the old man’s grip that it doesn’t occur to him to put up any resistance. Fury burns in Ove’s eyes as he presses the probably thirty-five-years-younger man so hard against the side of the SUV that the bodywork creaks. He places the tip of his index finger in the middle of the shaved head and positions his eyes so close to Throat Tattoo’s face that they feel each other’s breath.

“If you sound that horn one more time, it’ll be the LAST thing you do on this earth. Got it?”

Throat Tattoo allows his eyes to divert quickly towards his equally muscular friend inside the car, and then at the growing line of other cars behind the SUV.

No one is making the slightest move to come to his assistance. No one beeps. No one moves. Everyone seems to be thinking the same thing: If a non-throattattooed man of Ove’s age without any hesitation steps up to a throat-tattooed man of the age of this Throat Tattoo and presses him up against a car in this manner, then it’s very likely not the throat-tattooed man one should be most worried about annoying.

Ove’s eyes are black with anger. After a short moment of reflection, Throat Tattoo seems convinced by the argument that the old man unmistakably means business. The tip of his nose, almost unnoticeably, moves up and down.

Ove nods by way of confirmation and lets him back down on the ground.

Then turns around, walks around the SUV, and gets back into the Saab. Parvaneh stares at him, with her mouth hanging open.“Now, you listen to me,” says Ove calmly while he carefully closes the door.

“You’ve given birth to two children and quite soon you’ll be squeezing out a third. You’ve come here from a land far away and most likely you fled war and persecution and all sorts of other nonsense. You’ve learned a new language and got yourself an education and you’re holding together a family of obvious incompetents. And I’ll be damned if I’ve seen you afraid of a single bloody thing in this world before now.”

Ove rivets his eyes into her. Parvaneh is still agape. Ove points imperiously at the pedals under her feet.

“I’m not asking for brain surgery. I’m asking you to drive a car. It’s got an accelerator, a brake, and a clutch. Some of the greatest twits in world history have sorted out how it works. And you will as well.”

And then he utters seven words, which Parvaneh will always remember as the loveliest compliment he’ll ever give her.

“Because you are not a complete twit.”

Parvaneh pushes a ringlet of hair out of her face, sticky with tears. Clumsily she once again grabs hold of the steering wheel with both hands. Ove nods, puts on his safety belt, and makes himself comfortable.

“Now, push the clutch down and do what I say.”

And that afternoon Parvaneh learns to drive.

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