Bodil’s best friend Stefan grows breasts but doesn’t understand why. Bodil becomes a doctor, desiring to help others affected by the same medical condition. Palestinian Nassrin is one of them, as her sixth child is born with indeterminate sex.
Women with very different backgrounds grow and develop in the city of Malmö. Through the course of the novel, Nassrin, Bodil, Susanna, Rhyme and Estella influence and touch each other’s lives in many subtle ways. They are five shining lives connected by one city. In short, The Hum of Concrete is a novel constellation about friendship, motherhood and love. It is also about grief, intersex conditions, lesbian parenting and mental health issues. But ultimately, The Hum of Concrete is about the importance of finding one’s place in the world, the spot where one can feel at home.
As you pull the blinds up and see the layer of powder covering the spidery limbs of the young beech outside your second storey bedroom window you know it will be a Sunday like no other. A quick glance at the thermometer confirms winter’s sudden appearance and there is no time to lose. You know the city’s winter is a fickle friend who would never think twice about leaving you wet and wondering in a pile of grey slush. You have to savour this day of crisp white and endless blue.
Breakfast is a quick affair. Convincing your friend to come along tobogganing doesn’t take long. Finding stray gloves and beanies at the back of the wardrobe is another story all together. At least the toboggans are where you left them, jammed between a cupboard and the old sewing machine at the back of the attic. Instead of catching the lift, you almost run up the stairs. From this nine storey vantage the children playing down below look like colourful ants designing a mini city of their own. Their little feet have already made intricate patterns from doors to slides to swings.
Finally rugged up and ready to face the chill you enter the altered world outside. Squinting at the glare while adjusting the backpack, holding a thermos of hot chocolate and leftover homemade cinnamon scrolls from yesterday’s family gathering, you venture across the expanse that was once the lawn. Your friend, who might just happen to be an anaesthetist with a great love of the outdoors, bombards you with loose snow balls and you laugh at each other’s silly beanies.
The only people you meet are pensioners with dogs in tow or puffy-eyed parents chasing their offspring. They are all smiling and so are you. The first day of snow is too special not to enjoy.
It’s a fair hike to Krogsbäcks kullar but the council workers in orange fluorescent vests have already sprinkled the footpath with gravel, making it passable. You sing all the songs about snow that you can remember and make up new words for a few of them. When you pass a poor parent pulling a childful toboggan you create giggles as well as open-mouthed stares from the little ones. Your friend, who adores children, sticks her tongue out at them behind their parents’ backs. One of the boys laughs so hard he almost falls off but is saved by his sister who grabs his overalls and pull him back on board.
The sun tickles your face. You want to reach out and pick this feeling, keep it hidden forever safe from memory’s corruption. There are still centimetres of snow covering the bushes and trees along the path. Two days from now it might all be melted and gone; two hours from now it will already look different, tainted and used. But right now it looks pristine. As if a star has sneezed.
When you reach the hills you realise your idea of tobogganing wasn’t exactly original. Already miniature people in bright overalls are running up and sliding down all but the highest hills, screaming and laughing. So you head for the steepest hill with a light tremor in your bottom lip. Your friend looks at you curiously but you stride on, making foot holes in the deep snow. Once you reach the top, panting, you know why no one else has attempted this hill. Not that you have ever gone downhill skiing but this is kind of how you imagine it: like bungy jumping without being certain that the rope will support your weight. You take a couple of deep breaths, arrange the cushion to spare your sitting bone, glance at your friend who is getting ready next to you, pull your legs in and push off with both hands.
At first it’s not as fast as you expected so you keep pushing with your hands but halfway down the toboggan picks up speed and by the time you reach the bottom you are screaming louder than any of the kids. You roll off the side and just lie there listening to your own heartbeat, enjoying the sensation of crisp snow against your flushed cheek.
Your friend makes it over with a huge grin on her face. She slumps down on her back next to you and starts waving her arms and legs to make an angel. You turn over and do the same. When you stand up and admire your art you see two perfectly formed angels with wings just touching, as if holding hands.
Time and again you run up the two steepest hills and face your fears at the top. Once you hit a bump at high speed and the toboggan lifts off the ground. You have time to think that this can never end well, you’re going to break your neck, then the toboggan lands right way up with you still desperately clutching the handles, laughing madly as it continues down the hill. A few times it does turn on its side and throws you off but the fall is always soft and most times you manage to catch the toboggan before it makes its way down the hill without you.
After what feels like hours of a strenuous workout at the gym, your stomach screams for cinnamon scrolls. Together with your friend you head for the back of one of the hills to get away from the bustle. You sit at the foot of the rise where long grass prevents tobogganing. The majestic shape of Hyllie water tower grows from the flat earth in front of you. You’ve always thought it resembles a space ship on a stick but your friend suggests an oversized mushroom. In the middle of a paddock which fills with poppies and daisies in summer it stands tall and proud, overlooking its city.
The sun caresses your face. You take off your gloves, your scarf and beanie and feel naked in the snow. As you close your eyes and bite into the doughy bun you smell a first whiff of the hot chocolate your friend pours into plastic cups and you know nothing else could ever taste as good as this moment.