The Winner Stands Alone : Chapter VII by Paulo Coelho

He takes a few steps and his head begins to ache terribly. This is perfectly normal: the blood is flooding the brain, an understandable reaction in someone who has just been under extreme tension.

Despite the headache, he feels happy. Yes, he has done what he set out to do.
He can do it. And he’s happier still because he has freed the soul from that fragile body, freed a spirit incapable of defending herself against a bullying coward. If her relationship with her boyfriend had continued, the girl would have ended up depressed and anxious and devoid of all self-respect, and would have been even more under her boyfriend’s thumb.

This had never been the case with Ewa. She had always been capable of making her own decisions. He had given her both moral and financial support when she decided to open her haute-couture boutique; and she had been free to travel as much as she wanted. He had been an exemplary man and husband. And yet, she had made a mistake: she had been unable to understand his love or his forgiveness. He hoped, however, that she would receive these messages; after all, he had told her on the day she left that he would destroy whole worlds to get her back.

He picks up the throwaway mobile phone he has just bought and on which he has entered the smallest possible amount of credit. He sends a text message.

11.00 a.m.

It all began, they say, with an unknown 19-year-old posing in a bikini for photographers who had nothing better to do during the 1953 Cannes Festival. She immediately shot to stardom, and her name became legendary: Brigitte Bardot. And now everyone thinks they can do the same. No one understands the importance of being an actress; beauty is the only thing that counts.

That’s why women with long legs and dyed hair, the bottle blondes of this world, travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to be in Cannes, even if only to spend the whole day on the beach, hoping to be seen, photographed, discovered. They want to escape from the trap that awaits all women: becoming a housewife, who makes supper for her husband every evening, takes the children to school every day, and tries to dig up some dirt on her neighbours’ monotonous lives so as to have something to gossip about with her friends. What these women want is fame, glory and glamour, to be the envy of the other people who live in their town and of the boys and girls who always thought of them as ugly ducklings, unaware that they would one day grow up to be a swan or blossom into a flower coveted by everyone. They want a career in the world of dreams even if they have to borrow money to get silicone breast implants or to buy some newer, sexier outfits. Drama school? Forget it, good looks and the right contacts are all you need. The cinema can work miracles, always assuming, of course, you can ever break into that world. Anything to escape from the prison of the provincial city and the long, dreary, repetitive days. There are millions of people who don’t mind that kind of life, and they should be left to live their lives as they see fit. However, if you come to the Festival you must leave fear at home and be prepared for anything: making spur-of-the-moment decisions, telling lies if necessary, pretending to be younger than you are, smiling at people you loathe, feigning an interest in people who bore you, saying ‘I love you’ without a thought for the consequences, or stabbing in the back the friend who once helped you out, but who has now become an undesirable rival. Don’t let feelings of remorse or shame get in your way. The reward is worth any amount of sacrifice.

Fame. Glory. Glamour.

Gabriela finds these thoughts irritating. It’s definitely not the best way to start a new day. Worse, she has a hangover.

At least there’s one consolation. She hasn’t woken up in a five-star hotel next to a man telling her to put her clothes on and leave because he has important business to deal with, like buying or selling films.

She gets up and looks around to see if any of her friends are still in the apartment. Needless to say they’re not. They’ve long since left for the Boulevard de la Croisette, for the swimming pools, hotel bars, yachts, possible lunch dates and chance meetings on the beach. There are five fold-out mattresses on the floor of the small shared apartment, hired for the duration at an exorbitant rent. The mattresses are surrounded by a tangle of clothes, discarded shoes, and hangers that no one has taken the trouble to put back in the wardrobe.

‘The clothes take up more room here than the people,’ she thinks.

Not that any of them could even dream of wearing clothes designed by Elie Saab, Karl Lagerfeld, Versace or Galliano, but what they have nevertheless takes up most of apartment: bikins, miniskirts, T-shirts, platform shoes, and a vast amount of make-up.

‘One day I’ll wear what I like, but right now, I just need to be given a chance,’ she thinks.

And why does she want that chance?

Quite simple. Because she knows she’s the best, despite her experience at school – when she so disappointed her parents – and despite the challenges she’s faced since in order to prove to herself that she can overcome difficulties, frustrations and defeats. She was born to win and to shine, of that she has no doubt.

‘And when I get what I always wanted, I know I’ll have to ask myself: Do they love and admire me because I’m me or because I’m famous.’

She knows people who have achieved stardom on the stage and, contrary to her expectations, they’re not at peace with themselves; they’re insecure, full of doubts, unhappy as soon as they come off stage. They want to be actors so as not to have to be themselves, and they live in fear of making the one false step that could end their career.

‘I’m different, though. I’ve always been me.’

Is that true? Or does everyone in her position think the same?

She gets up and makes herself some coffee. The kitchen is a mess, and none of her friends has bothered to wash the dishes. She doesn’t know why she’s woken up in such a bad mood and with so many doubts. She knows her job, she’s devoted herself to it heart and soul, and yet it’s as if people refuse to recognise her talent. She knows what human beings are like too, especially men – future allies in a battle she needs to win soon, because she’s 25 already and nearly too old for the dream factory. She knows three things:

(a) that men are less treacherous than women;

(b) that they never notice what a woman is wearing because they’re always mentally undressing her;

(c) that as long as you’ve got breasts, thighs, buttocks and belly in good trim, you can conquer the world.

Because of those three things, and because she knows that all the other women she’s competing with try to emphasise their attributes, she pays attention only to item (c) on her list. She exercises and tries to keep fit, avoids diets and, illogical though it may seem, dresses very discreetly. This has worked well so far, and she can usually pass for younger than her age. She’s hoping that it’ll do the trick in Cannes too.

Breasts, buttocks, thighs. They can focus on those things now if they want to, but the day will come when they’ll see what she can really do.

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