Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

The Winner Stands Alone : Chapter XI by Paulo Coelho

Author: Paulo Coelho

He realises he should not have asked that question. Firstly, because he doesn’t need anyone’s support to justify what he’s doing; he’s convinced that since everyone will die one day, some must do so in the name of something greater. That’s how it’s been since the beginning of time, when men sacrificed themselves in order to feed their tribe, when virgins were handed over to the priests to placate the wrath of dragons and gods. The second reason is because he has now drawn attention to himself and indicated an interest in the man on the next table.

The waiter’s sure to forget, but there’s no need to take unnecessary risks. He tells himself that at a Festival such as this, it’s only normal that people should want to know about other people, and even more normal that such information should be rewarded. He himself has done the same thing hundreds of times in restaurants all over the world, and others had doubtless done the same with him. Waiters aren’t just accustomed to being given money to supply a name or a better table or to send a discreet message, they almost expect it.

No, the waiter wouldn’t remember anything. Igor knows that his next victim is there before him. If he succeeds, and if the waiter is questioned, he’ll say that the only odd thing to happen that day was a man asking him if he thought it was acceptable to destroy a universe in the name of a greater love. He might not even remember that much. The police will ask: ‘What did he look like?’ and the waiter will reply: ‘I didn’t pay much attention, to be honest, but I know he said he wasn’t gay.’ The police – accustomed to the kind of French intellectual who sits in bars and comes up with weird theories and complicated analyses of, for example, the sociology of film festivals – would quietly let the matter drop.

Something else was bothering Igor though.

The name or names.

He had killed before – with weapons and the blessing of his country. He didn’t know how many people he had killed, but he had rarely seen their faces and certainly never asked their names. Knowing someone’s name meant knowing that the other person was a human being and not ‘the enemy’. Knowing someone’s name transformed them into a unique and special individual, with a past and a future, with ancestors and possibly descendants, a person who has known triumphs and failures. People are their names; they’re proud of them; they repeat them thousands of times in their lifetime and identify with them. It’s the first word they learn after ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mummy’.

Olivia. Javits. Igor. Ewa.

Someone’s spirit, however, has no name, it is pure truth and inhabits a particular body for a certain period of time, and will, one day, leave it, and God won’t bother asking ‘What’s your name?’ when the soul arrives at the final judgement. God will ask only: ‘Did you love while you were alive?’ For that is the essence of life: the ability to love, not the name we carry around on our passport, business card and identity card. The great mystics changed their names, and sometimes abandoned them altogether. When John the Baptist was asked who he was, he said only: ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.’ When Jesus found the man on whom he would build his church, he ignored the fact that the man in question had spent his entire life answering to the name of Simon and called him Peter. When Moses asked God his name, back came the reply: ‘I am who I am.’

Perhaps he should look for another victim, one named victim was enough: Olivia. At this precise moment, however, he feels that he cannot turn back, but he decides that he will not ask the name of the next world he destroys. He can’t turn back because he wants to do justice to the poor, vulnerable girl on the bench by the beach – such a sweet, easy victim. This new challenge – this sweaty, pseudo-athletic, henna-haired man with the bored expression and who is clearly someone very powerful – is much more difficult. The two men in suits are not just assistants; he notices that every now and then, they look around the tent, watching everything that’s going on nearby. If he is to be worthy of Ewa and fair to Olivia, he must be brave.

He leaves the straw in the pineapple juice. People are beginning to arrive. He has to wait for the place to fill up, but not too long. He hadn’t planned to destroy a world in broad daylight, in the middle of the Boulevard in Cannes, and he doesn’t know exactly how to carry out this next project. Something tells him, though, that he has chosen the perfect place.

His thoughts are no longer with the poor young woman at the beach; adrenaline is filling his blood, his heart is beating faster, he’s excited and happy.

Javits Wild wouldn’t be wasting his time here just to get a free meal at one of the thousands of parties to which he must be invited every year. He must be here for some specific reason or to meet a particular person. That reason or person would doubtless be Igor’s best alibi.

12.26 p.m.

Javits watches the other guests arriving. The place is getting crowded, and he thinks what he always thinks:

‘What am I doing here? I don’t need this. In fact, I need very little from anyone – I have all I want. I’m a big name in the movie world, I can have any woman I desire, even though I dress badly. In fact, I make a point of being badly dressed. Long gone are the days when I had only one suit, and, on the rare occasions when I received an invitation from the Superclass (after much crawling, begging and making promises), I would prepare myself for a lunch like this as if it were the most important occasion of my life. Now I know that the only thing that changes are the cities these lunches are held in; otherwise, it’s all utterly boring and predictable.

‘People will come up to me and tell me they adore my work. Others will call me a hero and thank me for giving movie mavericks a chance. Pretty, intelligent women, who are not taken in by appearances, will notice the people gathering round my table and ask the waiter who I am and immediately find some way of approaching me, certain that the only thing I’m interested in is sex. Every single one of them has some favour to ask of me. That’s why they praise and flatter me and offer me what they think I need. But all I want is to be left alone.

‘I’ve been to thousands of parties like this, and I’m not here in this marquee for any particular reason, except that I can’t sleep, even though I flew to France in my private jet, a technological marvel capable of flying at an altitude of over 36,000 feet from California all the way to Cannes without having to make a refuelling stop. I changed the original configuration of the cabin. It can comfortably carry eighteen passengers, but I reduced the number of seats to six and kept the cabin separate for the four crew members. Someone’s always sure to ask: “May I come with you?” And now I have the perfect excuse: “Sorry, there’s no room.”’

Javits had equipped his new toy, which cost around 40 million dollars, with two beds, a conference table, a shower, a Miranda sound system (Bang & Olufsen had an excellent design and a good PR campaign, but they were now a thing of the past), two coffee machines, a microwave oven for the crew and an electric oven for him (because he’s hates re-heated food). Javits only drinks champagne, and whoever wishes to was more than welcome to share a bottle of Moí«t & Chandon 1961 with him. However, the ‘cellar’ on the plane had every drink any guest might conceivably want. And then there were the two 21-inch LCD screens ready to show the most recent films, even those that hadn’t yet made it into the cinemas.

The jet was one of the most advanced in the world (although the French insisted that the Dassault Falcon was even better), but regardless of how much money he had, he couldn’t change the clocks in Europe. It was now 3:43 a.m. in Los Angeles, and he was just beginning to feel really tired. He had been awake all night, going from one party to the next, answering the same two idiotic questions that began every conversation:

‘How was your flight?’

To which Javits always responded with a question:


People didn’t know quite what to say and so they smiled awkwardly and moved on to the next question on the list:

‘Are you staying here long?’

And Javits would again ask: ‘Why?’ Then he would pretend he had to answer his mobile phone, make his excuses and move on with his two inseparable besuited friends in tow.

He met no one interesting. But then who would a man who has almost everything money can buy find interesting? He had tried to change his friends and meet people who had nothing to do with the world of cinema: philosophers, writers, jugglers, executives of food-manufacturing companies. At first, it all went swimmingly, until the inevitable question: ‘Would you like to read a script I’ve written?’ Or the second most inevitable question: ‘I have a friend who has always wanted to be an actor/actress. Would you mind meeting him/her?’

Yes, he would. He had other things to do in life apart from work. He used to fly once a month to Alaska, go into the first bar, get drunk, eat pizza, wander about in the wild, and talk to the people who lived in the small towns up there. He worked out for two hours a day at his private gym, but the doctors had warned him he could still end up with heart problems. He didn’t care that much about being physically fit, what he really wanted was to off-load a little of the constant tension that seemed to weigh on him every second of the day, to do some meditation and heal the wounds to his soul. When he was in the country, he always asked the people he chanced to meet what ‘normal life’ was like, because he had forgotten. The answers varied, and he gradually came to realise that, even when he was surrounded by other people, he was absolutely alone in the world.

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