This day in June was extremely hot, and there wasn´t any wind. Humidity in the air was on an extremely low level, and this made people more unaware of the heat and made it a little easier for all in town to carry on with their lives. Thus, the heat was almost surreal, for Swedish circumstances. The heat was really excessive, but very few really suffered from it. The grass did however. Between the park-like trees outside, on Abrovinsch Street, the grass had already turned yellow, and was sparse and dry. Certain circular areas on the rather large, stooping lawn in front of Edward´s house, a seven storey colossus, were all naked and bare. Summer had so far been a disaster when it came to the health of plants, vegetables, grass and flowers. Many animals suffered from it as well. There had already been quite large fires in the woods surrounding the city, since it had in fact haply not rained since the last days of April, but just for a few showers in connection with sudden thunderstorms. Maybe on this very Monday, when the terrible murder struck, it was already over 26 degrees Celsius hot, although it was not yet ten o’clock. Down in Europe, and even in Sweden, people had already died from this heat. In the middle of the day, the temperature in Gothenburg reached 32 degrees, but in Cordoba, it was as in fact 38. And in Portugal, it was so hot, that you would not like to know about it. But at least 42 degrees it was said to be. The so-called "African heat" had swept to the north and conquered almost the whole of Europe.
“It happens very rarely”, Edward said slowly and pensively, while looking at the dead girl, whose beautiful head, with its long light reddish hair, all of a sudden, after a small jerk, seemed to be hanging a bit further down from the bed towards the floor.
“But”, he continued, ”it anyway certainly happens, that I myself, who just ordinarily do not become very much effectuated by other people and their dos and whereabouts at all, do catch interest in one person or another. This seems exactly to have happened in your case. Ever since I talked to you by the bus stop, when you expressed yourself so neat and well on multi-culture and on music and of the future of the world and about the universal state as the sole savior of mankind, I became all excited. I actually found what you said extraordinary and very generous in tone too... “
“Yes?” Ali said. He apparently had to concentrate quite a bit in order to grasp the meaning of what Edward had said, and he now responded hesitantly and very politely. Ali did not however recognize, what Edward just told him, as true at all. Their conversation at the bus stop had been really something quite else than what Edward was referring to. What Edward related was to Ali all news and fantasies.
Edward glanced at the arab.
“I just cannot believe that you are the person, who brought her about.”
“You did not think I killed her?” Ali cried out in an almost loud voice, and now he was no longer speaking Swedish, but English, which obviously was a language with which he felt more at ease, and that at this moment suited him better, than with the Swedish tongue. Or he simply needed to somehow rearrange his mind.
“No, as a matter of fact, I don´t. You see,…You know, you were weeping, loudly enough for you to be heard way out in the stairs.”
“I guess one might kill a person and still be crying from the shock afterwards?” Ali said, now more calm again, while blewing some smoke towards the ceiling, in order to spare Edward, who had expressed his dislike when it came to smoking. The young woman who was the cause of the chit-chat presumably never, in her much to short life, had smoked any cigarettes. Smoke could not harm HER now, that´s for sure. Few people would call the conversation a “chit-chat”, but I do.
Now all of a sudden something went in the back lock with Edward. His usual bright intellect now qualitatively transcended, as if by a stroke of magic, into a state of chaos and haze, into something muddy:
“I don´t understand …”, he mumbled almost suffocated by nausea. “Is there a glass of water anywhere around?” he cried out, but he soon added, already slightly recomposed:
“Now, yet, when we still are discussing this matter, mightn´t we cover her up? I really cannot think clearly when I am seeing her like that.”
‘Lene Jensen’, he thought, ‘Little Lene Jensen…’
Ali rose from his chair, mumbled something in Arabic, and then fetched a small cotton plaid from a drawer and then organized it neatly over the body of the girl. The only parts of Lene Jensen now were visible: her feet, one arm and her long, lightly red, curly hair. Then he went to the pantry, which was situated in the shadiest corner of the flat, next to the bathroom. The bathroom was of mini size and had no bathtub in it, but just a toilet and a shower cabin. The kitchen contained a small electric stove and a sink. Ali returned carrying a glass of fresh water. The glass was a small about eight centimeters high old, crystal one, decorated with small clear, oblong octagons. Ali kept his eyes on what he was doing and neither did look at the bed, nor at Edward or at the door or the window. Lene was lying on the double bed, stiff and cold. Ali´s manners somehow indicated that from now on the girl and her tragedy were problems of Edward and not at all any problems of Ali.
No doubt there was something in this situation that indicated that this objectively could be the case. Everything depended on Edward´s next action. But, as it was, nothing at all happened. Edward appeared to have fallen into some sort of lethargy or trance. Maybe Edward had become quite sour. Changes of mind like this are not uncommon with older men, especially not with those who have a history of use of narcotics, and misuse of medicaments. The ordinarily quite happy retire and flower-transporter now had changed into a shadow of himself, a ghost, a Doppelgänger, etc., etc., and one could easily notice traces of malevolence in his blue eyes. This malevolence certainly was directed towards the subject of his admiration, against Ali. And maybe it was ambivalence itself that crept up, or maybe it was ambivalence that made this very malevolence creep up. Ambivalence itself generally takes so much energy out of a human being that it might leave her with only a rudimental capacity of sense and power to survive.
Just to find themselves in the midst of a discussion, a discussion about practical things, when a murder just had been committed, was to both of them rather absurd. And it is certainly hard to come up with an explanation to why this had happened. Maybe it was due to the fancy for reflection on Edward´s behalf, or maybe to his desire to help Ali out, or it might depend on the almost divine substance of the victim itself, which was that of the most beautiful thing on earth. To both of them Lene seemed a young, serene, extraordinary thing of beauty. Maybe she, Lene, or whatever her name really was, thus still in her present state exercised the same paralyzing impact that she had exercised as a living beauty. In a way, all inhabitants of Abrovinsch Street, and the whole part of town, men and women, had almost tiptoed in front of Lene Jensen as well as sighed behind her back.
“I´ll be damned! “ Edward cried out in a loud voice, and now there almost was an echo in the small flat.
“I am trying to help my fellow man, help everyone threatened by expulsion, and what I get is loathing and scorn! It´s really absurd!”
It truly was as if everything was too late. Much too late.
Ali crumbled the rest of his Gauloise in the ashtray, but immediately brought forth another, because it was Gauloise he smoked, and he lit the cigarette with a match from a tiny folder lying on the cupboard. How small a matchbox could they manufacture? And how crumple-friendly packages of cigarettes might be allowed to be into circulation? The match folder seemed just two centimeters high. The package with the Gauloises was so extremely torn that it looked like it had been picked up from the gutter. But now even Edward also noticed the intensity with which Ali overthought the situation, while lighting the badly torn cigarette and while exerting into the air a cloud of black smoke.
“This is what it is like to be an old man!” Edward said in a load voice. After that he silently remarked: ”This is nothing you´ll be aware of at once, but only when you are subject to threats. Then you will fall into dizziness and anguish, and you will sense that you are not strong enough, neither clever enough and that you time among the living people is over.”
“Shall I feel sorry for you?” Ali asked.
“I would be happy if you did”, Edward retorted, because Edward always felt at ease with irony. When subject to irony everything always appears more clearly, that was his conviction. Irony clears up the sky. Subject to irony all the old tensions will disappear and new, and fresh tensions will immediately replace them!
Now there were again voices heard from the staircase. They seemed to emerge from the narrow, steep stairs down to the laundry. Someone was climbing the stairs from the laundry. “They” had built these stairs in the clear intent that it should be extremely uncomfortable to climb. Especially when carrying heavy baskets full with various clothes to wash. A sharp noise was heard, like from the slamming of a door. The estate was about to wake up to a new day. Soon steps were heard outside Ali´s door. Then the bell rang. Both men, one of which smoked a cigarette, while the other one was barely breathing, were listening, sitting put in their small, red, round chairs in sudden conspiracy. Few things in life is more wonderful than a sudden conspiracy.
“It is locked!“ Ali whispered behind a raised back of his hand.
Ali at the same time made a gesture towards his head, indicated lunacy on behalf of Edward. Not by putting his index finger towards his temple, but by letting his hand, which first leaned with the fingertips lightly towards his temple, fling out into the air. When the steps had disappeared – somebody had been disturbed in their mind by the presence of the bags with the large Monsteras – Ali said:
“Vous est mentalement malade!“ This is French and means: You are completely insane.
At the same time the Arab took out his mobile phone, which had a luxurious gleam, and dialed three digits on the display of the small computer in disguise. Edward could hear the sounds of the three plop-sounds.
“No, no! First I have to get to know if it was you that did it!” Edward cried out and rose with a protruding gesture, as if he wanted to snatch the telephone.
‘ This all is indeed typical for Lene Jensen.’, he suddenly thought.
Ali shut off his telephone, where he just had pressed 911, and even pressed the dial button, and put it in his pocket. He then went up to one of the windows towards the street. The window was situated just a few feet above the level of the pavement, and Ali opened it up in its entirety, so that air could more easily get in, and said, in rather perfect Swedish: “Anybody could get in here, and get out too. Anyone knows that this very flat has been hired out to a vast number of people.”
“Everybody has keys to this apartment! Maybe even you? You, who have lived here for over thirty years, Or even longer? You, old man! You might even be born here? Aren´t you?”
Ali smiled. It was an inward smile. It was not a mean smile though. But it was a tense atmosphere.
Now it seemed as if Edward did not want to talk anymore, but just be silent. He sat holding his glass of water and after he had been addressed as “old man”, he actually looked much older than before. One could almost believe he would die any second. His face was pale and his eyes seemed yellowish. His cheeks were thin, and seemed hollow, especially on the right side. As if there were no teeth at all in his mouth. His lips were rather blueish and a bit swollen and he swiftly and mechanically ran over them now and then with his dark red tip of his tongue. He nodded, but the expression on his face did not indicate any meaning at all, and he then simply said, having forgotten all about engagement, courage and curiosity:
“I think I want to go up to my place…”
“The hell you won´t! “, Ali said, almost dropping his cigarette on the floor by the surprise of hearing Edward uttering this. We will sort this out, old man! But I will tell you first what happened!
Edward looked at Ali, the young Arab, and now again with true gratitude. Finally Ali seemed to have realized the responsibility Edward had taken in this very tricky situation. This was, Edward slyly thought, in the midst of his confusion, the first sign of real compassion from the side of Ali, since him crying over Lene. Ali hadn´t bothered about him, about Edward, anything at all. But whatever Ali was going to tell him, Edward was quite determined to be sceptic about it! Edward had made up his mind! It was, according to Edward, the spirit of the building, that was the actual perpetrator of this hideous act of depriving the poor girl of her life. That is, if it was a murder at all? But a murder it certainly seemed to be! If it was not the estate itself who was the killer it might be the very architecture, who was the real murderer. If it was a murder, that is. However, when Edward was silently speculating and while Ali in his much too clever mind was preparing whatever confession he was going to come up with, the small plaid had fallen off the face of Lene Jensen. The dead Lene, with a seemingly renewed curiosity, scrutinized the old curtain rod from which the small ape of cloth dangled in the small breeze from the window, waving the minute German flag. The sun had not yet reached their side of the house. Maybe it was now 10 o´clock. Not until noon it would be entering the Abrovinsch Street, but then it would last all day, until about 09.00PM.
“Today it is Monday”, Ali said. “Last night …”
“Shall I bring in the Monsteras?” Edward suddenly asked.
He had a short glance at the corpse and felt like he was going to faint. Why hadn´t he already called the police? How could the two of them sit here, quite calmly, discussing, in the presence of a newly murdered darling redheaded beauty?
“Leave them flowers be”, Ali said. He continued in a low voice:
“Yesterday I was downtown visiting a small club, where there generally is lot of good guitar playing. It is called Club Hein, and it is situated by Windsor Street. It is run by some French people and a guy from Bratislava. I was there by 09.30 PM and I met a woman whom I accompanied to her home. She lived in Majorna. I woke up at 04.00 AM and she wanted me to leave before she did. She works as a driver of streetcars. At this moment Ali´s telephone vibrated violently. The sound was set to off, but not vibration. Edward guessed that it would probably be 911, who were calling back. Ali checked out the display, and it said “secret number”.
“It´s 911”, he said. He now acted rather casual and took another cigarette and from here on he forgot to turn to the ceiling when blowing away the smoke from his cigarette, but he blew it right at Edward, who, modestly gesturing, tried to wave off the smoke in direction towards the window.
“I have almost lived here for two years now”, Ali continued, after having put the telephone back into his pocket on his trousers. “I am renting this apartment from a guy called Heyman. He is a musican. A base player.”
“I am paying him 4400:- on the 25th every month by Swish. But it has never been any problems. Except that there have been some visits by people who apparently have keys to this flat. Keys that fit. Maybe lots of people.”
“But you cannot LIVE like that, can you?” Edward said, and it seemed as he slowly began to come to his senses again.
“That is the way I live, or at least that WAS the way I lived. I was happy with having somewhere to stay. Many immigrants do not have any flats at all to live in by their own; at least not as cheap as this one.”
“But, I mean: people just coming and going, and you don´t even know who they ARE! No wonder you did not bother to make it cozy in here ...”
This inevitably sounded odd, and it surely almost seemed like a blasphemy, regarding what horrendous things had occurred in the apartment in the early hours….
“Why didn´t you change the locks, by the way??”
“I wasn´t allowed to do that by Heyman. Heyman told me that no other person but him and me had any keys to this flat.”
“You arrived here at 8.00AM, isn´t that true? “ Edward said, instantly composing himself.
“Yes, that´s right. Around 8 o´clock. Soon before you yourself came here. The door was unlocked. Yesterday I am sure I locked it, as I normally do, when I left, around 6.00PM. But, as I said, many people are equipped with their own keys. And when I entered here she was, that girl, dead and gone. And I tried to get her to breathe. But she was cold. And then you came…”
“How long, do you think, had she been dead?” Edward asked silently, as if not to wake Lene Jensen up by asking. Ali glanced at the redheaded girl, whose eyes shone so very bright and blueish-greenish. Maybe Ali had seen lots of dead people before. You never know when it comes to such foreigners. Probably he was from the Middle East and just recently had buried many victims of the war himself. Maybe he had shot them first.
“She was not very cold,” Ali said. Not long dead.
“You MIGHT HAVE killed her! “ Edward, now very tense, suddenly shouted out,.
They were silent for a minute. Both of them sat half erect in the small, ugly, red chairs.
“If we do not call the cops, what´ll we do? Ali asked. Is there any large basement in the building?”
“Yes, what do you think? Here I am. An immigrant, on temporary permission. And an Arab! Just think about that a little for yourself!
“It is exactly what I am doing, Edward immediately retorted and curled his lips. It is me who does the thinking. That is why we are left here! But I might even tell them it was me. But it depends on what really has happened here! How everything happened. Here.”
“Well you are a young man with the whole life ahead of you. I, on the contrary, am an old man. If I say it was me, if it is meaningful and credible to say that it as me, then my life even now is of some use.”
“Meaningful? Use? Vous est malade! You, you are completely insane! Lunatic! Mental. Have you got any soul at all? Have you?”
Ali repeatedly hit hard with his fist against the side of the chair.
“Tell me, how would it be possible for you to prove that people might come and go here with keys of their own? Tell me? Just tell me!”
“But you knew? Didn´t you? And didn´t everybody here know?” Ali wondered.
“Well let´s call the whole thing off then. I thought you would appreciate my rescue mission. But no. No, No. We´ll call the police, alright, the way you want it! Either you´ve got her under your nails, or you haven´t…”
“Well, I both checked if she was dead as well as tried to revive her…”
“You killed her! Of course you did! You are just like the Arab, the famous Arab in Camus´ The Stranger! Aren´t you?”
“That old book is shit, “ Ali said calmly.
“Exactly, but now isn´t the right time to talk about literature,” Edward replied, inconsequently, as it was he himself, who had brought up Albert Camus and his kafkaesque book.
Now there was a long silence again.
Edward was thinking that even Camus himself had thought the book was a rotten piece of shit. Maybe Ali knew about that too. He sure seemed well educated. In the meantime, Ali had stood up, clenching his fists, and was gone into the kitchen for more water for both of them. Edward also executed himself from the chair and stumblingly walked up to the bed, with the naked Lene Jensen on it. He cautiously bent forward to look a little closer at the strange marking on Lene´s throat.
“Heavy strangling with a rope,” he decided. “If you go wash your hands we might call the police immediately.”
“Suppose I should take a plane to Beirut and go visit my uncles and cousins for a week or two, until everything has calmed down here?” Ali said after having sat down again in his chair, with his glass of water in his right hand, brushing his half long hair back from his forehead. It seemed as if he found this option sound and rational.
“He is from Lebanon.” Edward silently concluded.
Soon the two men sat quietly facing each other by the window, and Edward looked around at the strange lack of furniture. Edward looked more boyish than Ali.
They looked a little like they were playing a game, waiting for the other to make a mistake. When he was with Ali, Edward always felt that being alive either was or resembled a game of chess. Ali´s charm and his enormous intelligence made life different and … totally amazeballs.
Nothing was heard from the door. Some noise from the street outside came through the small gap by the window. Now and then Ali took out his smartphone from his pocket, rhythmically letting his fingers tap on it just to indicate the only evident alternative, ( of calling the police ) and then again letting it slip back into his shiny black trousers.
“Okay,” Edward broke the silence – the skin under his cheek seemed a little sloppy - and said in a less sly and more resigned way: “ I will tell you what really is behind MY actions here!”
“Yes, THAT would be fine,” Ali said with determination. “Because I cannot for my life understand what you are doing! What are you up to? Why don´t you let the police and the judiciary system take care of me?”
The atmosphere in the room was dense. To say the least. Death has its very strange impact. Ali´s foreign accent made his talk sound harsh and a bit artificial. Unreal. Ominous. It was almost as if he, Ali, was acting in some grotesque role in a play on a theatre. It was as if Ali was not a real person at all, and it was as if nothing was quite real in this flat. Yes, Lene Jensen being dead surely had an eerie effect, Edward swiftly summed it all up to himself.