Short stories are easy to absorb, they inspire to follow one’s dreams, give pause for thought and possibly a new perspective in life.
These two stories by Paulo Coehlo from his book “Like the Flowing River” share thoughts, imagination, and encourage us to make a positive change in life.
Paulo Coelho de Souza is a Brazilian lyricist and novelist, best known for his novel The Alchemist. In 2014, he uploaded his personal papers online to create a virtual Paulo Coelho Foundation.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
THE PIANIST IN THE SHOPPING MALL
I am wandering distractedly through a shopping mall with my violinist friend, Ursula, who was born in Hungary and is now a leading figure in two international orchestras.
Suddenly, she grips my arm: ‘Listen’
I listen. I hear the voices of adults, a child screaming, the noise from televisions in the shops selling electrical appliances, high heels clicking over the tiled floor, and the inevitable music that is played in every shopping mall in the world.
‘Isn’t it wonderful?
I say that I can’t hear anything wonderful or unusual.
‘The piano!’ she says, looking at me with an air of disappointment. ‘The pianist is marvellous!’
‘It must be a recording.’
‘Don’t be silly.’
When I listen more intently, it is clear that the music is, indeed, live. The person is playing a sonata by Chopin, and now that I can concentrate, the notes seem to hide all the other sounds surrounding us.
We walk along the walkways, crowded with people, shops, bargains, and with things which, according to the announcements, everyone has, except me and you.
We reach the food hall, where people are eating, talking, arguing, reading newspapers, and where there is one of those special attractions that all malls try to offer their customers.
In this case, it is a piano and a pianist.
The pianist plays two more Chopin sonatas, then pieces by Schubert and Mozart. He must be around thirty.
A notice beside the stage explains that he is a famous musician from Georgia, one of the ex-Soviet republics. He must have looked for work, found all doors closed, despaired, given up, and now here he is in this mall.
Except that I am not sure he is really here: his eyes are fixed on the magical world where the music was composed; his hands share with us all his love, his soul, his enthusiasm, the very best of himself, all his years of study, concentration and discipline.
The one thing he appears not to have understood is that no one, absolutely no one, has gone there to listen to him; they have gone there to buy, to eat, to pass the time, to window-shop, or to meet friends. A couple of people stop beside us, talking loudly, and then move on.
The pianist does not notice – he is still conversing with Mozart’s angels. Nor has he noticed that he has an audience of two, one of whom is an extremely gifted violinist and is listening with tears in her eyes.
I remember going into a chapel once and seeing a young woman playing for God, but that was in a chapel and made some kind of sense. Here, though, no one is listening, possibly not even God.
That’s a lie. God is listening. God is in the soul, and in the hands of this man, because he is giving the very best of himself, regardless of whether or not he is noticed, regardless of the money he gets paid.
He is playing as if he were at the Scala of Milan or the Opera in Paris. He is playing because that is his fate, his joy, his reason for living.
I am filled by a profound sense of reverence and respect for a man who is, at that moment, reminding me of a very important lesson: that each of us has our personal legend to fulfil, and that is all.
It doesn’t matter if other people support us or criticise us, or ignore us, or put ut with us – we are doing it because that is our destiny on this earth and the fount of all joy.
The pianist ends with another piece of Mozart and, for the first time, he notices our presence. He gives us a discreet, polite nod, and we do the same.
Then he returns to his paradise, and it is best to leave him there, untouched by the world, or even by our timid applause.
He is serving as an example to us. Whenever we feel that no one is paying any attention to what we are doing, let us think of that pianist. He was talking to God through his work, and nothing else mattered.
MANUEL IS AN IMPORTANT AND NECESSARY MAN
Manuel needs to be busy. If he is not, he thinks that his life has no meaning, that he is wasting his time, that society no longer needs him, that no one loves or wants him.
So, as soon as he wakes up, he has a series of tasks to perform: to watch the news on television (something might have happened in the night); to read the newspaper (something might have happened during the day yesterday); to tell his wife not to let the children be late for school; to take the car or catch a taxi or a bus or the metro, all the time thinking hard, staring into space, looking at his watch or, if possible, making a few calls on his mobile phone, and ensuring that everyone can see what an important man he is, useful to the world.
Manuel arrives at work and sits down to deal with the paperwork that awaits him. If he’s an employee, he does his best to make sure that his boss has seen that he’s arrived on time.
If he’s a boss, he sets everyone to work immediately. If there are no important tasks to be done, Manuel will invent them, create the, come up with a new plan, develop new lines of action.
Manuel goes to lunch, but never alone. If he is a boss, he sits down with his friends and discusses new strategies, speaks ill of this competitors, always has a card up his sleeve, complains (with some pride) of overwork.
If Manuel is an employee, he, too, sits down with this friends, complains about his boss, complains about the amount of overtime he’s doing, states with some anxiety (and with some pride) that various things in the company depend entirely on him.
Manuel – boss or employee – works all afternoon. From time to time, he looks at his watch. It is nearly time to go home, but he still has to sort out a detail here, sign a document there.
He is an honest man and wants to justify his salary, other people’s expectations, the dreams of his parents, who struggled so hard to give him a good education.
Finally, he goes home. He has a bath, puts on some more comfortable clothes, and has supper with his family.
He asks after his children’s homework and what his wife has been doing. Sometimes, he talks about his work, although only to serve as an example, because he tries not to bring his work problems home with him.
They finished supper, and his children – who have no time for examples, homework, or other such things – immediately leave the table and go and sit down in front of the computer.
Manuel, in turn, goes and sits down in front of that piece of apparatus from his childhood called the television. He again watches the news (something might have happened during the afternoon).
He always goes to bed with some technical book, on his bedside table – whether he’s a boss or an employee, he knows that competition is intense, and that anyone who fails to keep up to date runs the risk of losing his job and facing that worst of all curses: having nothing to do.
He talks a little to his wife, he is, after all, a nice, hard-working, loving man who takes care of this family, and is prepared to defend it whatever the circumstances.
He falls asleep at once, and he sleeps knowing that he will be very busy tomorrow and that he needs to rebuild his energies.
That night, Manuel has a dream. An angel asks him: ‘Why are you doing this?’ He replies that it is because he is a responsible man.
The angel goes on: ‘Would you be capable of taking at least fifteen minutes of your day to stop and look at the world, and at yourself, and simply do nothing?’
Manuel says that he would love to do that, but he doesn’t have time.
‘You are lying to me.’ says the angel. ‘Everyone has time to do that. It’s just that they don’t have the courage. Work is a blessing when it helps us to think about what we are doing, but it becomes a curse when its sole use is to stop us thinking about the meaning of life.’
Manuel wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Courage?
How can a man who sacrifices himself for his family not have the courage to stop for fifteen minutes a day?
It’s best to go back to sleep. It was just a dream; these questions will get him nowhere; and tomorrow he is going to be very, very busy.
Thanks for reading these two short stories. Which one did you enjoy most? The two of them give us something to reflect on, would you agree?
If you know of any other thoughtful short stories you would like to share, make a list and let me know in the comments below or drop me an email, I will be happy to feature them in future blogs, and you will make a significant contribution to others.
To Your Success,