Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

The town and the two streets

Author: Paulo Coelho

By Paulo Coelho

The following story is told by Sheikh Qalandar Shah in his book Asrar-i-Khilwatia (Secrets of the Recluses):

In eastern Armenia there was a little village with two parallel streets, called North Way and South Way, respectively. A traveler from afar walked down South Way, and soon resolved to visit the other street; however, as soon as he entered it, the merchants noticed that his eyes were filled with tears.

“Someone must have died on South Way,” said the butcher to the textile salesman. “That poor stranger, who just came from there, look how he cries!”

A child heard the comment, and as he knew what a sad thing someone dying is, he began to cry hysterically. Before long, all the children in that street were crying.

Startled, the traveler decided to leave immediately. He threw away the onions he was peeling in order to eat them – that being the reason his eyes were filled with tears – and went off.

However, the mothers, worried by their children’s weeping, soon went to find out what had happened, and discovered that the butcher, the textile salesman and – by this time – several other merchants, were all deeply concerned about the tragedy which had occurred on South Way.

More rumors began to spread; and since the town hadn’t many inhabitants, everyone on both streets knew that a terrible thing had happened. The adults began to fear the worst; but, since they were worried about the gravity of the tragedy, they decided not to ask anything, so as not to make matters worse.

A blind man who lived on South Way and didn’t understand what was going on, decided to speak up:

“Why such sadness in this town, which as always been such a happy place?”

“Something terrible happened on North Way,” answered one of the inhabitants. “The children are crying, the men frown, mothers send their sons home, and the only traveler to pass through town for many years, left with his eyes filled with tears. Perhaps the plague has hit the other street.”

Before long, rumors of an unknown deadly disease spread through the town. And since all the weeping had begun when the traveler visited South Way, the inhabitants of North Way were sure that that was where it had begun. Before nightfall, people from both streets abandoned their houses and left for the mountains of the East.

Centuries later, that ancient village where a traveler passed peeling onions continues abandoned to this day. Not far away, two settlements emerged, called East Way and West Way. Their inhabitants, the descendents of the former inhabitants of the village, still do not speak to each other, for time and legends placed a great barrier of fear between them.

Sheikh Qalandar Shah says: “all in life is a question of attitude towards things, and not the actual things themselves. It is always possible to discover the origin of a problem, or choose to enlarge it in such a way that I no longer know where it began, its true size, how it can affect my existence, and how it is capable of distancing people I used to love.”

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