Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

The Winner Stands Alone : Chapter IX by Paulo Coelho

Author: Paulo Coelho

Her mobile phone rang.

…none at all.

It continued to ring.

She was still travelling back in time as she gazed out at the tobacconist’s and at the little girl eating chocolate, then she finally emerged from her reverie, realised what was happening and answered the phone.

A voice at the other end was saying that she had an audition in two hours’ time.

She had an audition!

In Cannes!

So it had been worth crossing the ocean, arriving in a city where all the hotels were full, meeting up at the airport with other young women in exactly the same position as her (a Pole, two Russians and a Brazilian), and going round knocking on doors until they found that shared, exorbitantly priced apartment. After all those years of trying her luck in Chicago and travelling now and then to Los Angeles in search of more agents, more adverts, more rejections, it turned out that her future lies in Europe!

In two hours’ time?

She couldn’t catch a bus because she didn’t know the routes. She was staying high up on a steep hill and had only been down it twice so far – to distribute copies of her book and to go to that stupid party last night. On both occasions, when she reached the bottom of hill, she had hitched a lift from complete strangers, usually single men in magnificent convertibles. Everyone knew Cannes to be a safe place, and all women know that good looks help when trying to get a ride, but she couldn’t leave anything to chance this time, she would have to resolve the problem herself. Auditions follow a rigorous timetable, that was one of the first things you learn at any acting agency. She had noticed on her first day in Cannes that the traffic was almost permanently gridlocked, and so all she could do was get dressed and leave at once. She would be there in an hour and a half; she remembered the hotel where the producer was staying because it was on the ‘pilgrimage route’ she had followed yesterday, in search of some opportunity, some opening.

Now the problem was what to wear.

She fell upon the suitcase she had brought with her, chose some Armani jeans made in China and bought on the black market in Chicago for a fifth of the real price. No one could say they were fake because they weren’t: everyone knew that the Chinese manufacturers sent 80 per cent of what they produced to the original stores, with the remaining 20 per cent being sold off by employees on the side. It was, shall we say, excess stock, surplus to requirements.

She was wearing a white DKNY T-shirt, which had cost more than the jeans. Faithful to her principles, she knew that the more discreet the clothes, the better. No short skirts, no plunging necklines, because if other women had been invited to the audition, that is what they would be wearing.

She wasn’t sure about her make-up. In the end, she opted for a very light foundation and an even lighter application of lip liner. She had already lost a precious fifteen minutes.
11.45 a.m.

People are never satisfied. If they have a little, they want more. If they have a lot, they want still more. Once they have more, they wish they could be happy with little, but are incapable of making the slightest effort in that direction.

Is it just that they don’t understand how simple happiness is? What can she want, that girl in the jeans and white T-shirt who just came running past? What could be so urgent that it stopped her taking time to contemplate the lovely sunny day, the blue sea, the babies in their prams, the palms fringing the beach?

‘Don’t run, child! You’ll never escape the two most important presences in the life of any human being: God and death. God accompanies your every step and will be annoyed because he can see that you’re not paying attention to the miracle of life. Or indeed death. You just ran past a corpse and didn’t even notice.’

Igor has walked past the scene of the crime several times now. At one point, he realised that his comings and goings might arouse suspicion and so decided to remain a prudent two hundred yards from the scene, leaning on the balustrade that looked out over the beach. He’s wearing dark glasses, but there’s nothing suspicious about that, not only because it’s a sunny day, but because in a celebrity town like Cannes, dark glasses are synonymous with status.

He’s surprised to see that it’s almost midday, and yet no one has realised that there’s a person lying dead on the main street of a city which, at this time of year, is the focus of the world’s attention.

A couple are approaching the bench now, visibly irritated. They start shouting at the Sleeping Beauty; they’re the girl’s parents, angry because she isn’t working. The man shakes her almost violently. Then the woman bends over, obscuring Igor’s field of vision.

Igor knows what will happen next.

The mother screams. The father takes his mobile phone from his pocket and moves away, clearly agitated. The mother is shaking her daughter’s unresponsive body. Passers-by stop, and now he can remove his dark glasses and join them as one more curious on-looker.

The mother is crying, clinging to her daughter. A young man gently pushes her away and attempts mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but soon gives up; Olivia’s face already has a slight purple tinge to it.

‘Someone call an ambulance!’

Several people dial the same number, all of them feeling useful, important, caring. He can already hear the sound of the siren in the distance. The mother’s screams are growing louder. A young woman tries to put a comforting arm around her, but the mother pushes her away. Someone attempts to sit the body up, and someone else tells them to lay her down again because it’s too late to do anything.

‘It’s probably a drug overdose,’ the person next to him says. ‘Young people today are a lost cause.’

Those who hear the comment nod sagely. Igor remains impassive while he watches the paramedics unload their equipment from the ambulance, apply electric shocks to Olivia’s heart, while a more experienced doctor stands by, not saying a word, because although he knows there’s nothing to be done, he doesn’t want his colleagues to be accused of negligence. They place Olivia’s body on the stretcher and put it in the ambulance, the mother still clinging to her daughter. After a brief discussion, they allow the mother to get in too, and the ambulance speeds away.

No more than five minutes have passed between the couple discovering the body and the ambulance leaving. The father is still standing there, stunned, not knowing where to go or what to do. Forgetting who he’s speaking to, the same person who made the comment about a drug overdose, goes over to the father and gives him his version of the facts:

‘Don’t worry sir. This kind of thing happens every day around here.’

The father does not respond. He’s stilling holding his mobile phone and staring into space. He either doesn’t understand the remark or has no idea what it is that happens every day, or else he’s in a state of shock that has sent him immediately into some unknown dimension where pain does not exist.

The crowd disperses as quickly as it appeared. Only two people remain: the father still clutching his phone and the man who has now taken off his dark glasses and is holding them in his hand.

‘Did you know the girl?’ Igor asks.

There is no reply.

It’s best to do as everyone else has done, keep walking along the Boulevard de la Croisette and see what else is happening on this sunny morning in Cannes. Like the girl’s father, he doesn’t know quite what he is feeling: he has destroyed a world he will never be able to rebuild, even if he had all the power in the world. Did Ewa deserve that? From the womb of that young woman, Olivia – the fact that he knows her name troubles him greatly because that means she’s no longer just a face in the crowd – might have sprung a genius who would have gone on to discover a cure for cancer or drafted an agreement that would ensure that the world could finally live in peace. He has destroyed not just one person, but all the future generations that might have sprung from her. What has he done? Was love, however great and however intense, sufficient justification for that?

He had chosen the wrong person as his first victim. Her death will never make the news and Ewa won’t understand the message.

Don’t think about it, it’s done now. You have prepared yourself to go much further than this, so carry on. The girl will understand that her death was not in vain, but was a sacrifice in the name of a greater love. Look around you, see what’s happening in the city, behave like a normal citizen. You’ve already had your fair share of suffering in this life; now you deserve a little peace and comfort.

Enjoy the Festival. This is what you have been preparing yourself for.

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