Back on the day before New Year’s Eve, the apartment showing is a disaster before it begins because the real estate agent is awful. There’s a bowl of limes on the coffee table, but the apartment is full of books and drawings the owner’s grandchildren drew. Zara immediately knows the agent is an amateur: only a serial killer would want to live here. Prospective buyers want to see how they would fit here, not how the current resident lives. She circles the apartment and then goes onto the balcony and stares at the bridge until she shakes. Inside, she can hear two married couples arguing.
As Zara describes what prospective buyers want to see in a well-staged apartment, she thinks of the apartment as something of a blank slate. People should, she believes, be able to project their dreams and futures onto the apartment—not learn that the current owner has artistic grandchildren. Put simply, she looks down on this sort of connection and believes it’s better for buyers and sellers to stay aloof and distant.
The older couple, Anna-Lena and Roger, are recently retired. They’re the people who write detailed one-star reviews of household gadgets, whether they’ve tried the gadgets or not. Anna-Lena observes aloud that the green curtains are a disaster; she’s used to nobody listening to her. Roger, meanwhile, kicks the baseboards (which are loose because he kicked them). In a whisper that everyone can hear, Anna-Lena says the other couple doesn’t look like they can afford the apartment, and Zara is clearly too rich to want this apartment. Roger reminds Anna-Lena to say that this place needs serious renovation and to tell the Realtor that she can smell mold. These two never fight anymore—unless they’re fighting all the time.
Anna-Lena seems to agree with Zara—she expects apartments for sale to not have any personal touches in them. She also humorously makes wild assumptions about the other prospective buyers in the apartment, though the fact that she does this because she’s not used to anyone listening to her suggests that not all is well in her marriage to Roger. Indeed, at this point, Roger seems somewhat self-centered and controlling. Indeed, asking Anna-Lena to say that the apartment smells moldy is an attempt to manipulate the other buyers into backing down.
From the balcony, Zara can hear Anna-Lena and Roger. She’s staring at the bridge, crying, and feeling nauseous as she tries to decide if she'd like to jump. Then, she hears the other couple, Julia and Ro. Julia is pregnant. Ro walks around with her phone in the air, complaining that there’s no signal. Julia snaps that they have to decide what to do with the birds (Ro has pet birds, and Julia wants a bigger apartment so she doesn’t have to listen to both them and Ro snore at night). Ro brushes this off, which infuriates Julia: they’ve looked at 20 apartments in two weeks, and Ro doesn’t seem to want to move. Brightly, Ro runs off to measure the “hobby room,” which is actually a walk-in closet. She picks up a new hobby every few months; currently, she makes cheese.
Zara is oddly nonjudgmental as she listens to Anna-Lena, Roger, Julia, and Ro inside the apartment—perhaps her grief and emotional turmoil keeps her focused on herself, rather than on judging other people. Julia and Ro are, like Anna-Lena and Roger, fighting. And their fighting seems oddly similar: Ro seems to be purposefully not listening to Julia. However, her refusal to consider what to do with the birds and the possibility that she doesn’t want to move suggests that she’s also dealing with some inner turmoil that, at this point, she’s not yet willing to voice to her spouse.
Meanwhile, Anna-Lena is critiquing the IKEA pillows on the couch. Anna-Lena and Roger have been to every IKEA in Sweden. In IKEA, she knows Roger loves her—recently, he suggested they get cake after shopping on a significant day. Roger walks over and loudly snaps that the Realtor didn’t have to label the second bedroom a “child’s bedroom” on the plan; anyone can sleep there. Roger hates children’s bedrooms, so when they walk through the children’s section at IKEA, Anna-Lena asks him questions to distract him from his grief.
The big question this passage raises is why, exactly, Roger hates children’s bedrooms—does he hate children? Or is he grieving, like Zara, but for a child’s loss? He and Zara may have more in common than they think. Then, Anna-Lena also shows here that her and Roger’s relationship is tenderer and more loving than it initially seemed. They both show the other they care, even if, to outsiders, they look like they’re constantly fighting.
Ro asks Roger to borrow his tape measure, and he and Anna-Lena tell her absolutely not. Shocked, Ro returns to Julia and says she hates this apartment. Just as Zara walks in from the balcony, Julia shouts at Ro that she won’t leave until they buy this apartment. She’ll have the baby on the floor if she has to. Everyone is silent, but Zara is the only one who’s seen the bank robber. Then, Anna-Lena notices the robber and shouts that they’re being robbed. She tells Roger to get his wallet out, but he doesn’t have cash. He asks Zara if she has cash. She derisively says she’s not a drug dealer. The bank robber says this isn’t a robbery—that they’re only having a complicated day.
Roger and Anna-Lena very clearly don’t want to connect at all, for any reason, with other prospective buyers. This seems to totally shatter Ro’s confidence, as well as makes her even less willing to move. Roger and Zara’s exchange about having cash is humorous, but it also reflects Sweden’s move to going almost entirely cashless. Cash, Zara implies, is for people who don’t want illegal purchases tracked (and she throws in a helping of classism as well).