Read The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules Online

Authors: Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

Tags: #Humour, #Contemporary

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules

 

The Little Old
Lady Who Broke
All the Rules
C
ATHARINA
I
NGELMAN
-S
UNDBERG
T
RANSLATED FROM THE
S
WEDISH BY
R
OD
B
RADBURY

To my nephews and nieces, Fredrik, Isabella, Simon, Hanna, Maria, Henrik, Catrin, Hampus, Susanne, Christian, Catharina, Helena, Fredrika, Anna and Sophia

A crime a day keeps the doctor away
.
C
HRISTINA, AGED SEVENTY-SEVEN

Prologue

The little old lady gripped the handles of her walker, hung her walking stick next to the shopping basket and did her best to look assertive. After all, a woman of seventy-nine about to commit her first bank robbery needed to project an air of authority. She straightened her back, pulled her hat down over her forehead and thrust open the door. Supported by her frame, she walked slowly and determinedly into the bank. It was five minutes before closing time and three customers were waiting in the queue. The walker squeaked faintly. She had greased it with olive oil, but one of the wheels had been wobbly ever since she had collided with the cleaning trolley at the retirement home. Not that it really mattered. The most important thing was that it had a large basket with room for a lot of money.

Martha Andersson from Södermalm, Stockholm, walked with a slight stoop, wearing a plain coat of nondescript colour, chosen especially to avoid attracting attention. She was smaller than average and solidly built, but not fat. She wore sensible dark walking shoes which would be perfect for a quick escape if it was necessary. That was assuming she was still able to pick up the speed to run. It wasn’t something she had attempted in a number of years, so she might have to settle for a brisk trot. Her heavily veined hands were hidden inside a pair of well-used leather gloves and her short white hair was concealed under a wide-brimmed brown hat. She had wrapped a neon-coloured scarf around her neck, so if a photo was taken of her with a flash, it would automatically overexpose the rest of the picture and her facial features would
disappear. The scarf was mainly an extra safety measure, since her mouth and nose were shadowed by her hat. But if she had to be old, she might as well be wise, too.

The bank’s little branch on Götgatan looked like most banks in Sweden these days. There was just one cashier standing behind the solitary service counter; bland and boring walls; a highly polished floor and a small table brimming with brochures about advantageous loans and investment advice.
Dear brochure-writers
, Martha thought,
I know of much better ways of making lots of money!
Martha intended to laugh all the way to the bank, and all the way back out again, too.

She sat down on the customers’ sofa and pretended to study the posters advertising savings accounts but found it hard to keep her hands still. She discreetly slipped one hand into her pocket for a fruit pastille. One of those unhealthy candies that the doctors warned her against and dentists secretly loved. She tried to be good; she tried not to give in to the sugary treats. But if she was going to be rebellious, then today was the day. Surely she was allowed one guilty pleasure?

The queue number changed with a buzz and a man in his forties hurried up to the counter. His business was soon dealt with and then a teenage girl was served almost as quickly. However, the last in line was an elderly gentleman who took much longer as he was mumbling and fumbling with bits of paper. Martha was growing impatient. She mustn’t be in the bank too long. Somebody might notice her body language or some other detail which might give her away. So she tried her best to look like just an old lady getting some cash out of the bank. Ironically, that was exactly what she was going to do, although the cashier was going to have a shock at the amount
she was withdrawing and the fact that the money wasn’t necessarily hers. But little details … Martha fished in her coat pocket for a newspaper cutting. She had saved an article about how much bank robberies cost the banks. The headline read: This is a robbery! These were, in fact, the very words which had inspired her.

The old man at the counter was nearly finished, so Martha began to pull herself up from the sofa, to stand as upright as she possibly could. All her life she had been the sort of honest, dependable person that everyone had relied on—she had even been a prefect at school. Now she was about to become a criminal. But in reality, how else could she survive in her old age? She needed money for a decent place to live for herself—and her friends. She simply couldn’t back out now. She and her old choir chums were going to have a bright ‘third age’. To put it simply, a bit of fun in the autumn of their lives. She would make sure of it.

The aged gentleman at the counter was taking his time, but finally the buzz sounded and her number appeared above the screen where the cashier stood. Slowly, but with dignity, she approached the counter. She was about to destroy the good reputation that she had built up across an entire lifetime in a single moment. But what else could you do in this modern society which treated its elderly members so badly? You put up with it and succumbed, or you adapted to the situation. She was the sort of person who adapted.

During those last few steps to the counter window she had a good look around the room before coming to a halt. Then, giving a friendly nod to the female cashier, she handed over the newspaper cutting:

T
HIS IS A ROBBERY
!

The cashier read the headline and looked up with a smile.

‘And how can I help you?’

‘Three million—and quick!’ cried Martha.

The cashier widened her smile. ‘Would you like to withdraw some money?’

‘No,
you
are going to withdraw money for me,
now
!’

‘I see. But the pension money hasn’t come in yet. It doesn’t arrive until the middle of the month, you see, my dear.’

Martha had rather lost her momentum. This wasn’t going the way she had imagined. Best to act quickly. She lifted up her walking stick and poked it through the gap under the window, brandishing it as best she could.

‘Hurry up! My three million now!’

‘But the pensions aren’t—’

‘Do as I say! Three million! In the basket—now!’

By this time the girl had had enough. It was closing time and she wanted to go home. Martha watched as she got up and fetched two male colleagues. Both men looked equally handsome and smiled politely. The one closest to her looked like Gregory Peck—or was it Cary Grant? He said:

‘We’ll sort out your pension, don’t you worry. And my colleague here will be happy to phone for a taxi to take you home.’

Martha peered through the glass. She could see the girl in the back office, already picking up the phone.

‘Oh well, I suppose I will have to rob you another time,’ Martha conceded. She quickly withdrew her walking stick and closed her fist around the newspaper cutting. They all smiled
sweetly and helped her out the door and into the taxi. They even folded the walker up for her.

‘Diamond House retirement home—OAP rate,’ Martha told the driver as she waved goodbye to the bank staff. She carefully put the cutting back into her pocket. Things hadn’t gone quite according to plan. But, nevertheless, a little old lady could do a great deal of things that people of other ages couldn’t. She put her hand in her pocket for another fruit pastille and hummed contentedly to herself. Martha realized now that in order for her grand plan to work, she needed the support of her friends from the choir group. These were her nearest and dearest friends, the people who she had socialized and sung with for more than twenty years. Of course, she couldn’t ask them straight out if they wanted to become criminals. She would have to persuade them with more subtle means. But afterwards—and she was quite certain of this—they would thank her for having changed their lives for the better.

Martha was awakened by a distant humming sound, followed by a sharp ping. She woke up, opened her eyes and tried to work out where she was. Yes, of course, she was at the retirement home. And it would, of course, be Rake—which was what everybody called her friend Bertil Engström. He always got up in the middle of the night for a snack. He had a habit of putting food in the microwave only to forget all about it. Martha got out of bed and made her way to the kitchen with the help of her walker. Muttering to herself, she opened the microwave and took out one plastic-covered dish of pasta and meatballs in tomato sauce. She stared dreamily at the
buildings across the road. A few lamps glowed in the night. On the other side of the street, the houses would surely have proper kitchens, she thought. Here, at the retirement home, they used to have their own fully equipped kitchen but, to save on staff and money, the new owners had axed the catering department. Before Diamond House had taken over the retirement home, the meals had been the highlight of the day and the aroma of good food wafted through to the communal lounge. But now? Martha yawned and leaned against the sink. Almost
everything
had got worse and things were now so bad that she often found herself escaping into dreams. And what a lovely dream she had just woken up from … it had felt exactly as if she had been there at the bank for real, as if her subconscious had taken charge and tried to tell her something. At school she had always protested against things that she believed were unjust. Even during her years as a teacher, she had battled against unreasonable regulations and daft innovations. Strangely enough, here at the retirement home, she had just
put up with it all
. How could she have become so docile and lethargic? People who didn’t like the rulers of their country started a revolution. They could jolly well do that here, too, if only she could get the support of her friends. But a bank robbery … that would be going a bit far, wouldn’t it? She gave a nervous little laugh. Because that was what was a bit frightening—her dreams nearly always came true.

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