The Winner Stands Alone : Chapter IV by Paulo Coelho

He sees a young woman setting out her wares on the pavement – various bits of craftwork and jewellery of rather dubious taste.

Yes, she will be the sacrifice. She is the message he must send, a message that will be understood as soon as it reaches its destination. Before going over to her, he observes her tenderly; she doesn’t know that in a little while, if all goes well, her soul will be wandering the clouds, free for ever from an idiotic job that will never take her where her dreams would like her to go.

‘How much?’ he asks in perfect French.

‘Which piece do you want, sir?’

‘All of them.’

The young woman – who must be twenty at most – smiles.

‘This isn’t the first time someone has asked to buy everything. The next step is usually: “Would you like to go for a walk? You’re far too pretty to be here selling these things. I’m…”’

‘No, I’m not. I don’t work in the movies, nor am I going to make you an actress and change your life. I’m not interested in the things you’re selling either. I just need to talk, and we can do that right here.’

The young woman averts her gaze.

‘My parents make these things, and I’m proud of what I do. One day, someone will come along who’ll recognise their value. Please, go away. I’m sure you can find someone else to listen to what you have to say.’

Igor takes a bundle of notes out of his pocket and puts them gently down beside her.
‘Forgive my rudeness. I only said I wasn’t interested in buying anything to see if you would lower the price. Anyway, my name is Igor Malev. I flew in from Moscow yesterday, and I’m still a little jet-lagged.’

‘My name’s Olivia,’ says the young woman, pretending to believe his lie.

Without asking her permission, he sits down on the bench beside her. She shifts up an inch or so.

‘What do you want to talk about?’

‘First, take the money.’

Olivia hesitates, then, looking around, realises that she has no reason to be afraid. Cars are now driving down the one available lane, young people are heading for the beach, and an elderly couple are coming towards them down the pavement. She puts the money in her pocket, not even bothering to count it; she has enough experience of life to know that it’s more than enough.

‘Thank you for accepting my offer,’ says the Russian. ‘You asked me what I want to talk about? Well, nothing very important.’

‘You must be here for a reason. You need a reason to visit Cannes at this time of year when the city is as unbearable for the people who live here as it is for the tourists.’
Igor is looking at the sea. He lights a cigarette.

‘Smoking’s bad for your health,’ she says.

He ignores this remark.

‘What, for you, is the meaning of life?’ he asks.

‘Love.’

Olivia smiles. This really is an excellent way to start the day, talking about deeper things than the price of each piece of handiwork or the clothes people are wearing.
‘And for you?’

‘Yes, love too. But for me it was also important to earn enough money to show my parents that I was capable of succeeding. I did that, and now they’re proud of me. I met the perfect woman, we married, and I would like to have had children, to honour and fear God. The children, alas, never came.’

Olivia doesn’t like to ask why. The man, in his forties continues in his perfect French:
‘We thought of adopting a child. Indeed, we spent two or three years thinking about it, but then life began to get too busy what with business trips and parties, meetings and deals.’

‘When you sat down here to talk, I thought you were just another eccentric millionaire in search of an adventure, but I’m enjoying talking about these things.’

‘Do you think about the future?’

‘Yes, I do, and I think my dreams are much the same as yours. Obviously, I’d like to have children as well…’

She pauses. She doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of this unexpected new companion.
‘…if, of course, I can. Sometimes, God has other plans.’

He appears not to have heard her answer.

‘Do only millionaires come to the Festival?’

‘Millionaires and people who think they’re millionaires or want to become millionaires. While the Festival is on, this part of the city is like a madhouse. Everyone behaves as if they were terribly important, apart from the people who really are important; they’re much politer; they don’t need to prove anything to anyone. They don’t always buy what I have to sell, but at least they smile, make some pleasant remark and treat me with respect. What are you doing here?’

‘God made the world in six days, but what is the world? It’s what you or I see. Whenever someone dies, a part of the universe dies too. Everything a person felt, experienced and saw dies with them, like tears in the rain.’

‘“Like tears in the rain”… I saw a film once that used that phrase. I can’t remember now what it was.’

‘I didn’t come here to cry. I came to send messages to the woman I love, and in order to do that, I need to destroy a few universes or worlds.’

Instead of feeling alarmed by this last statement, Olivia laughs. This handsome, well-dressed man, speaking fluent French, doesn’t seem like a madman at all. She was fed up with always hearing the same things: you’re very pretty, you could be doing better for yourself, how much is this, how much is that, it’s awfully expensive, I’ll go away and think about and come back later (which they never do, of course), etc. At least this Russian has a sense of humour.

‘Why do you need to destroy the world?’

‘So that I can rebuild my own world.’

Olivia would like to try and console him, but she’s afraid of hearing the famous words: ‘I think you could give meaning to my life,’ at which point the conversation would come to an abrupt halt because she has other plans for her future. Besides, it would be absurd on her part to try and teach someone older and more successful how to overcome his difficulties.

One way out would be to learn more about his life. After all, he’s paid her – and paid her well – for her time.

‘How do you intend to do that?’

‘Do you know anything about frogs?’

‘Frogs?’

‘Yes, various biological studies have shown that if a frog is placed in a container along with water from its own pond, it will remain there, utterly still, while the water is slowly heated up. The frog doesn’t react to the gradual increase in temperature, to the changes in its environment, and when the water reaches boiling point, the frog dies, fat and happy.

‘On the other hand, if a frog is thrown into a container full of already boiling water, it will jump straight out again, scalded, but alive!’

Olivia doesn’t quite see what this has to do with the destruction of the world. Igor goes on:

‘I was like that boiled frog. I didn’t notice the changes. I thought everything was fine, that the bad things would just go away, that it was just a matter of time. I was ready to die because I lost the most important thing in my life but, instead of reacting, I sat there bobbing apathetically about in water that was getting hotter by the minute.’
Olivia plucks up the courage to ask:

‘What did you lose?’

‘The truth is I didn’t lose anything. Life sometimes separates people so that they can realise how much they mean to each other. For example, last night, I saw my wife with another man. I know she wants to come back to me, that she still loves me, but she’s not brave enough to take the first step. Some boiled frogs still think it’s obedience that counts, not ability: those who can, lead, and those with any sense, obey. So where’s the truth in all this? It’s better to emerge from a situation slightly scalded, but alive and ready to act. And I think you can help me in that task.’

Olivia tries to imagine what is going through the mind of the man beside her. How could anyone leave such an interesting person, someone who can talk about things she has never even thought about? Then again, there’s no logic to love. Despite her youth, she knows that. Her boyfriend, for example, can be quite brutal and sometimes hits her for no reason, and yet she can’t bear to be apart from him even for a day.

What exactly were they talking about? About frogs and about how she could help him. She can’t help him, of course, so she’d better change the subject.

‘And how do you intend to set about destroying the world?’

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Comments

  1. marie says:

    I have worked out the plot.

  2. Milleny says:

    No creo que los dones hagan a las personas infelices, creo que es el oportunista que quiere sacar provecho de la característica con la cual se nació. Llego allí por que tuvo que hacerlo por que era su destino recorrer todo esto y aunque no fue feliz, logro su objetivo… El precio que se paga a veces por ser único es Caro.

    1. angela says:

      si, es Caro y tambien es porque tu “Care” (en ingles)porque si no no te vas hacerlo, claro?.

  3. joyce says:

    hi paulo I am one of your great fans,I have read almost five books of you in which THE ALCHEMIST and THE FIFTH MOUNTAIN are my favourites.I like ur way of writing,its simplicity and the messages you give us through your books.I have read the first three chapters of your new book THE WINNER STANDS ALONE. I liked it very much i will read it as soon as iI get it.good bye and best wishes

  4. christine says:

    it gets more and more interesting…. brilliant writing. YOu really inspire us to no end…

  5. gipsy says:

    dios es demasiado bueno era ño obvio el sentir estas sensaciones de no innivirse de cualquier ènsamiento al estar leyendo una de sus obras……….

  6. Fazilah says:

    what happened to unconditional love? when you love, expect nothing in return? this is a different kind of story .. you have never had anybody killed in your story, Mr Coelho. i hope there will not be any kind of violence in this book .. :-) thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Havva says:

    You tell us the stories of very different people and very different geographies. Every time it is a human story that we may see nearby. I would like to know how you feel the world so deeply and doesn’t make you sick to feel that much?
    Waiting to read following chapters..thanks a lot

  8. Raya says:

    Hi Sir Paulo,

    I am from Philippines and I can’t wait to see your new book here.Hope it will be publish soon!As always you left(us) your readers a high value and moral of how we really should live our lives.I am very thankful I have you in my generation.God Bless!

    Raya

  9. Zulma says:

    Thanks for sharing the first chapters of your new book…I’m very sure it will be great!!! I can´t wait to read the next chapter.-

  10. Laudy says:

    Paulo, I am thinking of flying all the way back home to Lebanon from Australia to get my hands on a copy! I definitely can’t wait till May! Can’t wait for the next chapter!
    Many thanks for posting the chapters online :)
    Much Love, Laudy

  11. jema says:

    Thanks paulo,i enjoy your stories

  12. jema says:

    The difference between Igor and other millionaires makes him an interesting character.He has a deep view of life so he doesn`t pay attention to ridiculous matters which seems important to others. He has an independant personality, that`s why he doesn`t try to join himself to any special group.

  13. marie-christine says:

    Igor is a straight shooter, he owns a phone company – he knows how to cross wires -
    He is fluent in several languages, uses them at his discretion. Like that he can go and observe the world at his leisure and takes it all in.
    Igor is very disciplined, probably an ex-member of the K.G.B, the equivalent of MI5. He notices every details – his years in training have paid their dividends –
    It is his first time at the Cannes Festival and he is somehow bemused with it all. There are classes within the classes. Everybody is scared of everybody, trying to score cheap points and deluding themselves. The super class have a lot of power and use it mercifully however they are very sad, empty souls. They only mix with their own groups and refuse point blank to approach anyone – if someone manages to “crash the gate” they use them to their advantages, making fun of them – like that their ego inflates –

    Igor is there for a reason though.
    His wife has left him for another man – who “is the spitting image of him”. He is a sensible man, polite and appreciates the contact with other human beings – He is in touch with the world around him -

    His wife, EWA is full of energy,has a free will and likes Amor.
    He, himself is quite capable of finding any women he likes, is in good health and does not have any debts. He lives frugally and does not have to spend huge amounts on pens – the baron Bic’s ones are enough – He loves what he is doing, dresses conservately, can have any woman he likes whether they know of his wealth or not – he is a good talker and knows his lines :After the first initial contact it is ” -”You are not from Jamaica, aren’t you?” -

    He is devising a plan, plan B.
    He has to find a victim.
    He sees that young woman, Olivia, who sells jewellery and other bits and decides she will be his target.
    He pays her first then sits next to her, just wanting to talk about nothing and everything.
    Olivia is quite puzzled by it at first, no one has approached her in that way.
    He talks about frogs. She has no idea of what this is all about. However, she likes that novel approach.
    She does not know about the difference between the 211 degrees and 212 degrees F. At 211 degrees,the water is hot , 212 it is boiling.
    Olivia ponders how she can help Igor in “destroying the world”.

    perhaps they are going to work together and devise a new way?
    Stay tuned…….

  14. mary chuy aguilera says:

    podrá ser posible que me reenvíe el correo en español. no hablo inglés, gracias.

  15. Vesna says:

    at least onec in Life we all become boiled frogs like Igor did…
    and we all hope to met Olivia…
    vesna

  16. suni says:

    Very Interesting …

  17. lenin says:

    this is really amazing… i enjoy a lot… thanks Paolo

  18. Marie-Christine says:

    Is she the chosen one?

  19. Faranak says:

    I would like to know if there is going to be any censorship in this book when published in Iran (and translated to farsi) as I had a feeling this was the case with other books that were published in farsi.

    Its a pleasure reading your books always!

    Regards

  20. Marie-Christine says:

    She trusts him.

  21. Adrijana says:

    Olivia is very strange girl.She dosen’t know the man,and when he said that he has to destroy a part of universe she wasn’t scared,or distressed.I was…

  22. Jeannie says:

    I’m enjoying every chapter as they come…..:)
    I cannot wait to start reading the next chapter!
    Thank you for sharing!!

  23. Serpico says:

    Can never stop thanking you Paulo!!

  24. Rencel says:

    Ohh my God… i can´t wait until tuesday 10th of february!!!!

  25. Inju says:

    I am surprise with the way this girl is reacting to his conversation. I want to know what is going on next chapter?

  26. ANDRIJANA says:

    thanks for a book

  27. Candie says:

    wow!another chapter please,another chapter…