Authors: Paulo Coelho
Tags: #Romance, #Literary, #Fiction, #Visionary & Metaphysical, #General
As soon as I get to the office, I search through the government’s digital archives. It takes me less than a minute to find Jacob König’s address, as well as information about how much he earns, where he studied, the name of his wife, and where she works.
has chosen a restaurant halfway between my office and our house. We’ve been there before. I like the food, the wine, and the atmosphere, but I always feel that we eat better at home. I dine out only when my social life requires it, and, whenever I can, I avoid it. I love cooking. I love being with my family, feeling that I’m both protector and protected.
One of the tasks not on my to-do list this morning was “drive past Jacob König’s house.” I managed to resist the impulse. I have enough imaginary problems without adding the real problem of unrequited love. The feelings I had are long over. It won’t happen again. We can now proceed into a future of peace, hope, and prosperity.
“They say the owner has changed and the food isn’t quite as good,” says my husband.
It doesn’t matter. Restaurant food is always the same: too much butter, ostentatious presentation, and—because we live in one of the most expensive cities in the world—an exorbitant price for something that really isn’t worth it.
But eating out is a ritual. We are greeted by the headwaiter, who leads us to our usual table even though we haven’t been here for some time. He asks if we want the same wine (of course we do) and hands us the menu. I read it from beginning to end and choose the same thing as always. My husband opts for his traditional choice, roast lamb with lentils. The waiter comes to tell us about today’s chef’s specials: we listen politely, grunt appreciatively, then order.
The first glass of wine doesn’t need to be tasted and meticulously analyzed because we’ve been married for ten years. It goes down very quickly, among talk of work and complaints about the man who was supposed to come and fix the central heating but never turned up.
“And how are you getting on with that article about next Sunday’s elections?” my husband asks.
I’ve been commissioned to write about a question I find particularly interesting: Does the electorate have a right to scrutinize a politician’s private life? It’s a response to the news that a deputy is being blackmailed by Nigerians. Most of the people I interviewed said they don’t care. It’s not like it is in the United States, they say, and we’re proud of that.
We talk about other recent news items. The increase in the number of voters at the last election for the Council of States. The drivers working for Geneva’s public transport company, TPG, who are tired but happy with their work. A woman who was run over in a crosswalk. The train that broke down and blocked the line for more than two hours. And other such pointless topics.
I pour myself another glass of wine, without waiting for the appetizer and without asking my husband what his day was like. He listens politely to everything I’ve just said. He must be wondering what we’re doing here.
“You seem happier today,” he says after the waiter has brought our main course, and after I realize I’ve been talking nonstop for twenty minutes. “Has something special happened to cheer you up?”
If he’d asked that same question on the day I went to Parc des Eaux-Vives, I would have blushed and immediately come out with the string of excuses I’d saved up. But today has been another normal, tedious day despite my attempts to convince myself that I’m very important to the world.
“What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
I take a sip from my third glass of wine and prepare to make a full confession. The waiter arrives and stops me just as I’m about to leap into the abyss. We exchange a few more meaningless words, wasting precious minutes of my life on pointless niceties.
My husband orders another bottle of wine. The waiter wishes us “bon appétit” and goes off to fetch the new bottle. Then I begin.
You’ll say that I need to see a doctor, but I don’t. I cope perfectly well with my work at home and in the office, but for some months now I’ve been feeling sad.
“You could have fooled me. Like I just said, you seem much happier.”
Of course. My sadness has become so routine that no one notices anymore. It’s really good to finally talk about it, but what I have to say runs deeper than that false happiness. I don’t sleep properly anymore. I feel I’m just being self-obsessed, trying to impress people as if I were a child. I cry alone in the shower for no reason. I’ve only really enjoyed making love once in many months, and you know what time I’m talking about. I thought perhaps I was going through a midlife crisis, but that isn’t enough of an explanation. I feel like I’m wasting my life, that one day I’ll look back and regret everything I’ve done, apart from having married you and having our lovely children.
“But isn’t that what matters most?”
For lots of people, yes. But it isn’t enough for me. It’s getting worse every day. When I finally finish my housework each evening, an endless dialogue starts in my head. I’m afraid of things changing, but at the same time I’m dying to experience something different. My thoughts keep repeating themselves uncontrollably. You don’t notice because you’re asleep.
For example, did you notice the mistral last night rattling the windows?
“No, the windows were shut.”
That’s what I mean. Even a high wind that has blown thousands of times since we’ve been married is capable of waking me up. I notice when you turn over in bed and when you talk in your sleep. But please don’t take this personally—it seems like I’m surrounded by things that make no sense. Just to be clear, though: I love our children. I love you. I adore my work. But that only makes me feel worse, because I feel I’m being unfair to God, to life, to you.
He’s barely touched his food. It’s as if he were sitting opposite a complete stranger. But saying these words has already filled me with an enormous peace. My secret is out. The wine is having its effect. I am no longer alone. Thank you, Jacob König.
“Do you think you need to see a doctor?”
I don’t know. Even if I did, I don’t want to go down that road. I need to learn how to resolve my problems on my own.
“It must have been very difficult to keep all these emotions to yourself for so long. Thank you for telling me. But why didn’t you tell me before?”
Because it’s only now that things have become unbearable. I was thinking today about my childhood and teenage years. Does the root of all this lie there? I don’t think so, not unless my mind has been lying to me all these years, which I think is unlikely. I come from a normal family, I had a normal upbringing, I lead a normal life. What’s wrong with me?
I didn’t say anything before—I tell him, crying now—because I thought it would pass and I didn’t want to worry you.
“You’re definitely not crazy. I haven’t noticed any of this. You haven’t been particularly irritable, you haven’t lost weight,
and if you can control your feelings that well, then there must be a way out of this.”
Why did he mention losing weight?
“I can ask our doctor to prescribe some tranquilizers to help you sleep. I’ll say they’re for me. I think that if you could sleep properly, then you would gradually regain control of your thoughts. Perhaps we should exercise more. The children would love it. We’re far too caught up in work, and that’s not good.”
I’m not that caught up in my work. Despite what you think, the idiotic articles I write help me keep my mind occupied and drive away the wild thoughts that overwhelm me as soon as I have nothing to do.
“But we do need more exercise, more time outdoors. To run until we drop with exhaustion. And perhaps we should invite friends round more often.”
That would be a complete nightmare! Having to talk and entertain people with a fixed smile on my lips, listening to their views on opera and traffic. Then, to top it all, having to clean up afterward.
“Let’s go to the Jura National Park this weekend. We haven’t been there for ages.”
The elections are this weekend. I’ll be on duty at the newspaper.
We eat in silence. The waiter has already been to our table twice to see if we’ve finished, but we haven’t even touched our plates. We make short work of the second bottle of wine. I can imagine what my husband’s thinking: “How can I help my wife? What can I do to make her happy?” Nothing. Nothing more than he’s doing already. I would hate it if he arrived home bearing a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers.
We conclude that he’s had too much to drink to drive
home, so we’ll have to leave the car at the restaurant and fetch it tomorrow. I telephone my mother-in-law and ask if the children can sleep over. I’ll be there early tomorrow morning to take them to school.
“But what exactly is missing in your life?”
Please don’t ask me that. Because the answer is nothing. Nothing! If only I had some serious problem. I don’t know anyone who’s going through quite the same thing. Even a friend of mine, who spent years feeling depressed, is now getting treatment. I don’t think I need that, because I don’t have the symptoms she described. I don’t want to enter the dangerous territory of legal drugs. People might be angry, stressed, or grieving over a broken heart—and in the latter case, they might
they’re depressed and in need of medicines and drugs—but they’re not. They’re just suffering from a broken heart, and there have been broken hearts ever since the world began, ever since man discovered that mysterious thing called Love.
“If you don’t want to go and see a doctor, why don’t you do some research?”
I’ve tried. I’ve spent ages looking at psychology websites. I’ve devoted myself more seriously to yoga. Haven’t you noticed the books I’ve been bringing home lately? Did you think I’d suddenly become less literary and more spiritual?
No, I’m looking for an answer I can’t find. After reading about ten of those self-help books, I saw that they were leading nowhere. They have an immediate effect, but that effect stops as soon as I close the book. They’re just words, describing an ideal world that doesn’t exist, not even for the people who wrote them.
“But do you feel better now?”
Of course, but that isn’t the problem. I need to know who I’ve become, because I am that person. It’s not something external.
I can see that he’s trying desperately to help, but he’s as lost as I am. He keeps talking about symptoms, but that, I tell him, isn’t the problem. Everything is a symptom. Can you imagine a kind of spongy black hole?
Well, that’s what it is.
He assures me that I will get out of this situation. I mustn’t judge myself. I mustn’t blame myself. He’s on my side.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
I’d like to believe you, but it’s as if my feet are stuck in concrete. Meanwhile, don’t worry, I’ll keep fighting. I’ve been fighting all these months. I’ve been in similar situations before, and they’ve always passed. One day I’ll wake up and all this will just be a bad dream. I really believe that.
He asks for the bill, he takes my hand, we call a taxi. Something has gotten better. Trusting the one you love always brings good results.
König, what are you doing in my bedroom, in my bed, and in my nightmares? You should be working. After all, it’s only three days until the elections for the Municipal Council and you’ve already wasted precious hours of your campaign having lunch with me at La Perle du Lac and talking in the Parc des Eaux-Vives.
Isn’t that enough? What are you doing in my dreams? I did exactly as you suggested; I talked to my husband, and I felt the love he feels for me. And afterward, when we made love more passionately than we have in a while, the feeling that happiness had been sucked out of my life disappeared completely.
Please go away. Tomorrow’s going to be a difficult day. I have to get up early to take the children to school, then go to the store, find somewhere to park, and think up something original to say about a very unoriginal topic—politics. Leave me alone, Jacob König.
I’m happily married. And you don’t even know that I’m thinking about you. I wish I had someone here with me tonight to tell me stories with happy endings, to sing a song that would send me to sleep. But no, all I can think of is you.
I’m losing control. It’s been a week since I saw you, but you’re still here.
If you don’t disappear, I’ll have to go to your house and have tea with you and your wife, to see with my own eyes how happy you are. To see that I don’t stand a chance, that you lied when you said you could see yourself reflected in me, that you consciously allowed me to bring the wound of that unsolicited kiss upon myself.
I hope you understand. I pray that you do, because even I can’t understand what it is that I’m asking.
I get up and go over to the computer, intending to Google “How to get your man.” Instead, I type in “depression.” I need to be absolutely clear about what’s happening.
I find a website with a self-diagnosis questionnaire titled “Find Out if You Have a Psychological Problem.” My response to most of the questions is “No.”
Result: “You’re going through a difficult time, but you are definitely not clinically depressed. There’s no need to go to a doctor.”