The smiling couple (London, 1977)

By Paulo Coelho

I was married to Cecí­lia MacDowell and – at a period in my life when I had decided to give up everything for which I no longer felt any enthusiasm – we went to live in London. We stayed in a small, second-floor flat in Palace Street and we were having great difficulty making new friends. However, every night, a young couple would leave the pub next door and walk past our window waving and calling to us to come down.

I was extremely worried about bothering the neighbours, and so I never went down, pretending, instead, that it had nothing to do with me. But the couple kept calling up to us, even when there was no one at the window.

One night, I did go down to complain about the noise. Their laughter immediately turned to sadness; they apologised and went away. That night, I realised that, although we very much wanted to make new friends, I was far more concerned about ‘what the neighbours would say’.

I decided that the next time, I would invite the couple up to have a drink with us. I waited all week at the window, at the time they usually passed, but they never came back. I started going to the pub in the hope of seeing them, but the owner of the pub claimed not to know them.

I placed a notice in the window saying: ‘Call again’. All this achieved was that, one night, a group of drunks began hurling every swearword under the sun at our window, and our neighbour – the one I had been so worried about – ended up complaining to the landlord.

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  1. Oleg says:

    Every time while I hear such a stories I always want to ask a person: How can you understand what someone thinks about you if you didn’t even have a conversation? To realise an someone’s attitude to you, at least you should say “hello” and see the behaviour.
    Sometimes its not easy but its trully necessary if it makes you worry

    ;)) peace and love to you


  2. Wanbliska says:

    Whether someone want really to meet another person, what can avoid it from it?
    If the couple seem to get really involved in meeting the character, it wouldn’t have left without letting an adress, or else, a number phone.
    In the case, the couple not reappeared, may mean they’re not as important, as we could think. But here, at least they are, to illuminate the character’s mind: Nothing is relly lost.

    As Rainer said: “For every need there is the right time and the right place.” If it’s not, how could it be?
    if someone stops to show love because we are indifferent towards them; maybe it’s equal to the fact, that they don’t really intended to meet us.

    The thoughts of the character minds on the subjetcs : what people could think about his behaviour around? That’s a great to admit. As by the way, sometimes, we could lose the opportunity to have new friends.

    Nevertheless, frienship and love don’t ask so much questions, and don’t care about what ears of the world could say.
    And anyway, people have always something to add, or critisize on. So what about annoying ourselves, with their point of view?

    Heart says the Truth, and lights everyday, as every night. We know all, without conscious.
    Mostly, indifference leads to cowardice. It is like refusing things we have to live, and things we asked to come, before.

    With Love.

  3. Jean says:

    This is very timely. Its happened to me a few times in recent months that strangers have crossed my path repeatedly. I don’t like to call them strangers as they obviously weren’t that ‘strange’ to me that I didn’t notice and remember them again and again – maybe I had met them before in another lifetime or I was to meet them in that moment but now I may have scuppered that chance as I made no attempt to connect with them???. Why didn’t I just approach them and say ‘hey’? Because they would think I was cracked? Or because I’d start thinking myself that I was losing it? By feeling so disconnected within I’m seeking connection on the outside. I ask my Guardian Angel every day to help me join those dots. The question then is who I allow to choose the colours I colour them in with :)

  4. Tania says:

    I dont know why people worry what there neighbors will think ,I always say alot goes on behind closed doors…,that people pretend to be something they are not…Why! is that ..?? we should love thy neighbour no matter doesnt mean you live in there pocket it means you can wave say hello ,get togeather every now and then for a street gathering and watch each others houses when away and feed pets if necessary ..or have a drink every now and then ..My neighbours know me and they hear me yell and scream occasionally and they have also cooked for me in time of need and vice versa ..I always loved that song” who are the people in your neighbourhood ” it was on seasame street..maybe we are all desperate housewives…lol blessings Tania

  5. rainer says:

    For every need there is the right time and the right place. So this self-reflecting human will make friends at the right time in the right place. He shouldn’t force it. The opprotunity will arise when he has almost forgotten, waht he intended to do.

  6. clara belén says:

    Otra cosa muy positiva que aprendo de esta historia es que si me empeño en intentar solucionar alguna situación que me preocupa puedo acabar empeorando las cosas. Como fue el caso del cartel con “vuelva a llamar”. Puede ser cuestión de aceptar y esperar. El tiempo puede dar sentido a todo lo que siento hoy sin entender bien por qué.
    Un beso

  7. clara belén says:

    Entiendo el mensaje de esta historia, y me parece muy cierto. Lo he vivido más de una vez en mi vida. Si no era en la facultad, era en el vecindario… Ese temor puede condicionar mi comportamiento y no permitirme vivir experiencias enriquecedoras. Pero de esta historia lo que preocupa es la regañina del vecino y sin embargo si yo viviera esa situación seguramente temeria todavia más que los nuevos amigos acaben siendo indiscretos o escandalosos y acabe uno prefiriendo estar solo, situación que también he vivido en más de una ocasión y que aún no he aprendido. Porque aquí­ lo que me pierdo es conocer a personas quizás muy interesantes.
    Un beso

  8. tom says:

    Wow, this story made me realise many things,

    I used to be so careful about saying things that would offend people that I pleased everyone but myself. I have given that up now, I believe that a successful person divides people into the people who do not like, and the people who do like. Its a natural thing, some peoples personalities are not compatible, yet if you never get to properly know someone, you could have missed a chance to make a new friends, or enemy as the case may be.

  9. Leaf says:

    “Sometimes we see what does not exist, instead of what is right there before us….”
    or something like that

  10. agnieszka says:

    Dear Paulo,

    I know that feeling.
    Either way it brings you sorrow.
    Whether you rejected, or you reject someone in any way, you’ll have regrets, of giving too much, or too little.
    It hurts anyway.
    Having feelings, having heart, conscious, soul, our life will always be a struggle.
    Struggle for love, understanding, acceptation.
    Hopefully we will always have a second chance, either to fix our mistakes, or to receive kindness.
    If not, we may miss something precious, one of the kind.

    If we could have these eyes to see…
    we could see…diamonds..