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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