My life has the hazy and strangely blurred colours of
The first street lamps were already shining, when I left
home having spent the whole day deep in thought puzzling
over the meaning of life. Despairing at not being able
to find any answers, I said to myself, you fool, grinding
your day away vainly trying to find out something you most
definitely wouldn't be any better for knowing – and
instead turned my attention to a chess problem in four
moves. But when this task proved beyond me as well, I hurled
the chessboard out of the window onto the head of an old
man with a wooden leg, for whom death could only be described
as a blessing, and then threw myself out into the throng,
full of self-reproach.
The evening was warm and clear and wonderfully still.
The moon was right over the castle, as tubby as an old
priest, yellowish-red and fairy-tale large. The sound of
people's feet on the cobbles was like the ticking of thousands
of watches and made me shudder at the thought of the speed
with which seconds were slipping through my hands... A
tram was hurrying past, I jumped up onto it and went round
the circular line several times. I don't know why, but
for some reason this diversion has always been able to
dispel my melancholy. The whole world seemed to go round
like a carousel, and when I was a child and went on the
carousel, I could never stop laughing. The same thing happened
now, I had hardly completed three circuits of the line
before I burst out laughing indecently loudly.
"Good evening" said a voice very nearby, and
a face turned around from the seat directly in front of
me, a pale and long face which despite my efforts I couldn't
place. "I recognize that laughter" he continued. "You
laughed in exactly the same way at my aunt's funeral seven
years ago, when the priest was expressing my and the other
heirs' grief. You tricked us into laughing, the priest
included, and most likely my aunt as well. You have a happy
"Yes,” I replied politely, “I have a
very happy disposition. And what about you, dear fellow? "
"Oh, let's not talk about me. I am a hopeless old
stick-in-the-mud. I've been like that ever since I was
left some money by my aunt."
"Yes, I know," I answered absent-mindedly.
"You do?" he answered opening up two large,
dumb and sad eyes. "Who told you?""
"It's obvious. Before your aunt died you were happy
and cheerful, because you hoped she would die and leave
you some money. Then she died and left you some money,
and now you have no more aunts left to leave you anything.
You see there is nothing for you to hope for now, and that's
why you're sad. It's quite simple really."
The poor man was now looking not only with his eyes, but
with his mouth as well. His entire soul was peering out
towards me through three enormous openings.
"You are right, he answered finally. You have put
into words what I have long suspected. Thank you. Thank
you so very much."
He shook my hand vigorously and continued:
"You have taken a load off my mind. There is nothing
more unpleasant than feeling sad and not knowing why. But
that's no longer the case, and you have done me a great
service. Now let's go out and have supper."
This new idea was not at all without its appeal. True,
I couldn't remember his name, but for a long time now I
have learned to ignore the things in life that do not really
matter, and, just how important is a name anyway?
So we jumped down from the tram and up into a carriage
and careered off at a mad pace to a little restaurant deep
in the country. In this idyllic haunt we passed the time
eating herring, radishes and new potatoes and drinking
Norwegian brandy and three different types of Champagne.
After that we leapt out through the window taking with
us a bottle of acquavit and some mineral water. On landing
we found to our delight that we were on a gently slanting
tin roof with a magnificent view over the most idyllic
lake, which was encircled by reeds and willows. We both
poured out a drink and continued our conversation.
"Yes," I said, "wealth is a cause of great
heartache. I once had a friend, whose hobby was catching
colds. He played the lottery hoping to win enough money
to be able to buy himself a fur coat. And he won three
hundred thousand crowns. Such a large sum could not be
kept secret. When all his friends found out about it, they
immediately borrowed so much money that he could just about
afford a fake beaver fur with the money remaining. But
he didn't. And how could he have done? For everybody knew
that he had won his money on the lottery and there was
no way he could trail around the streets in a lottery fur."
"No, you couldn't, could you?"
"Of course not"
We remained silent for a few moments, both of us busy
with our own thoughts.
Then at once Mr Kihlberg (who had confided to me that
this was his name whilst drinking the fifth glass of the
third type of champagne) stood up, a sudden flash of happiness
coursing through his eyes, and asked me:
"What's the biggest prize on the lottery?"
"I think it's either five or seven hundred thousand,” I
answered. “One thing's for certain, there's absolutely
no way it's six hundred thousand, as the organizers are
only too aware that odd numbers hold sway over people's
imaginations in a way that even ones cannot even hope to
"Well then, at least five hundred thousand,” Mr
Kihlberg started up again. “I only inherited two
hundred thousand crowns from my aunt. If I play the lottery
I can hope to at least double my fortune. I can hope to
inherit another aunt and a half. Then I would have something
to live for!"
"That's right. Things are looking up once more."
"Yes I can still hope. I shall play the lottery,
but what if I win? What will I do then?
Then only the grim reaper remains!"