فصل 39- مردی به نام اوهکتاب: مردی به نام اوه / فصل 39
فصل 39- مردی به نام اوه
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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.A MAN CALLED OVE AND AN EPILOGUE
Life is a Curious Thing.
Winter turns to spring and Parvaneh passes her driving test. Ove teaches Adrian how to change tires. The kid may have bought a Toyota, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely beyond help, Ove explains to Sonja when he visits her one Sunday in April. Then he shows her some photographs of Parvaneh’s little boy.
Four months old and as fat as a seal pup. Patrick has tried to force one of those cell phone camera things on Ove, but he doesn’t trust them. So he walks around with a thick wad of paper copies inside his wallet instead, held together by a rubber band. Shows everyone he meets. Even the people who work at the florist’s.
Spring turns to summer and by the time autumn sets in, the annoying journalist, Lena, moves in with that Audi-driving fop Anders. Ove drives the moving van; he has no faith in those jackasses being able to back it between the houses without ruining his new mailbox, so it’s just as well.
Of course, Lena doesn’t believe in “marriage as an institution,” Ove tells Sonja with a snort that seems to suggest there have been certain discussions about this along the street, but the following spring he comes to the grave and shows her another wedding invitation.
Mirsad wears a black suit and is literally shaking with nervousness. Parvaneh has to give him a shot of tequila before he goes into the Town Hall. Jimmy is waiting inside. Ove is his best man. Has bought a new suit. They have the party at Amel’s café; the stocky man tries to hold a speech three times but he’s toooverwhelmed by emotion to manage more than a few stuttering words. On the other hand, he names a sandwich after Jimmy, and Jimmy himself says it’s the most magnificent present he’s ever had. He continues living in his mother’s house with Mirsad. The following year they adopt a little girl. Jimmy brings her along to Anita and Rune’s every afternoon, without fail, at three o’clock when they have coffee.
Rune doesn’t get better. In certain periods, he is virtually uncontactable for days at a time. But every time that little girl runs into his and Anita’s house with her arms reaching out for Anita, a euphoric smile fills his entire face. Without exception.
Even more houses are built in the area. In a few years it goes from a quiet backwater to a city district. Which obviously doesn’t make Patrick more competent when it comes to opening windows or assembling IKEA wardrobes.
One morning he turns up at Ove’s door with two men more or less the same age as himself, who apparently are also not so good at it. Both own houses a few streets down, they explain. They’re restoring them but they’ve run into problems with joists over partition walls. They don’t know what to do. But Ove knows, of course. He mutters something that sounds a little like “fools” and goes over to show them. The next day another neighbor turns up. And then another. And then another. Within a few months Ove has been everywhere, fixing this and that in almost every house within a radius of four streets. Obviously he always grumbles about people’s incompetence. But when he’s by himself by Sonja’s grave he does mumble on one occasion, “Sometimes it can be quite nice having something to get on with in the daytime.”
Parvaneh’s daughters celebrate their birthdays and before anyone can explain how it happened, the three-year-old has become a six-year-old, in that disrespectful way often noted in three-year-olds. Ove goes with her to school on her first day. She teaches him to insert smileys into a text message, and he makes her promise never to tell Patrick that he’s got himself a cell phone. The eightyear-old, who in a similar disrespectful way has now turned ten, holds her firstpajama party. Their little brother disperses his toys all over Ove’s kitchen. Ove builds a splash pond for him in his outside space but when someone calls it a splash pond Ove snorts that “Actually it’s a bloody pool, isn’t it!” Anders is voted in again as the chairman of the Residents’ Association. Parvaneh buys a new lawn mower for the lawn behind the houses.
Summers turn to autumns and autumns to winters and one icy-cold Sunday morning in November, almost four years to the day since Parvaneh and Patrick backed that trailer into Ove’s mailbox, Parvaneh wakes up as if someone just placed a frozen hand on her brow. She gets up, looks out of her bedroom window, and checks the time. It’s quarter past eight. The snow hasn’t been cleared outside Ove’s house.
She runs across the little road in her dressing gown and slippers, calling out his name. Opens the door with the spare key he’s given her, charges into the living room, stumbles up the stairs in her wet slippers, and, with her heart in her mouth, fumbles her way into his bedroom.
Ove looks like he’s sleeping very deeply. She has never seen his face looking so peaceful. The cat lies at his side with its little head carefully resting in the palm of his hand. When it sees Parvaneh it slowly, slowly stands up, as if only then fully accepting what has happened, then climbs into her lap. They sit together on the bedside and Parvaneh caresses the thin locks of hair on Ove’s head until the ambulance crew gets there and, with tender and gentle words and movements, explains that they have to take the body away. Then she leans forward and whispers, “Give my love to Sonja and thank her for the loan,” into his ear. Then she takes the big envelope from the bedside table on which is written, in longhand, “To Parvaneh,” and goes back down the stairs.
It’s full of documents and certificates, original plans of the house, instruction booklets for the video player, the service booklet for the Saab. Bank account numbers and insurance policy documents. The telephone number of a lawyer to whom Ove has “left all his affairs.” A whole life assembled and entered into files. The closing of accounts. At the top is a letter for her. She sits down at the kitchen table to read it. It’s not long. As if Ove knew she’ll only drench it in tears before she gets to the end.Adrian gets the Saab. Everything else is for you to take care of. You’ve got the house keys. The cat eats tuna fish twice per day and doesn’t like shitting in other people’s houses. Please respect that. There is a lawyer in town who has all the bank papers and so on. There is an account with 11,563,013 kronor and 67 öre. From Sonja’s dad. The old man had shares.
He was mean as hell. Me and Sonja never knew what to do with it. Your kids should get a million each when they turn eighteen, and Jimmy’s girl should get the same. The rest is yours. But please don’t let Patrick bloody take care of it. Sonja would have liked you. Don’t let the new neighbors drive in the residential area.
At the bottom of the sheet he’s written in capitals “YOU ARE NOT A COMPLETE IDIOT!” And after that, a smiley, as Nasanin has taught him.
There are clear instructions in the letters about the funeral, which mustn’t under any circumstances “be made a bloody fuss of.” Ove doesn’t want any ceremony, he only wants to be thrown in the ground next to Sonja and that’s all.
“No people. No messing about!” he states firmly and clearly to Parvaneh.
More than three hundred people come to the funeral.
When Patrick, Parvaneh, and the girls come in there are people standing all along the walls and aisles. Everyone holds lit candles with “Sonja’s Fund” engraved on them. Because that is what Parvaneh has decided to use most of Ove’s money for: a charity fund for orphaned children. Her eyes are swollen with tears; her throat is so dry that she has felt as if she’s panting for air for several days now. The sight of the candles eases something in her breathing. And when Patrick sees all the people who have come to say their farewells to Ove, he elbows her gently in her side and grins with satisfaction.
“Shit. Ove would have hated this, wouldn’t he?”
And then she laughs. Because he really would have.In the evening she shows a young, recently married couple around Ove and Sonja’s house. The woman is pregnant. Her eyes glitter as she walks through the rooms, the way eyes glitter when a person imagines her child’s future memories unfolding there on the floor. Her husband is obviously much less pleased with the place. He’s wearing a pair of carpenter’s trousers and he mostly goes around kicking the baseboards suspiciously and looking annoyed. Parvaneh obviously knows it doesn’t make any difference; she can see in the girl’s eyes that the decision has already been made. But when the young man asks in a sullen tone about “that garage place” mentioned in the ad, Parvaneh looks him up and down carefully, nods drily, and asks what car he drives. The young man straightens up for the first time, smiles an almost undetectable smile, and looks her right in the eye with the sort of indomitable pride that only one word can convey.
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