I go back into my compartment and start feverishly noting down everything I've just been talking about with the others. We will soon be arriving in Novosibirsk.I mustn't forget anything, not a single detail. It doesn't matter who asked what. If I can record my responses,they will provide excellent material for reflection.
When the interview is over, I ask Hilal to go and fetch her violin, on the assumption that the reporter will stay around for a while longer. That way, the cameraman can film her, and her work will reach a wider public. The reporter, however, says that he has to leave at once and send his interview off to the editorial office.
Meanwhile, Hilal returns with her violin, which she had left in the empty compartment next to mine.
My editor reacts badly.
'If you're going to stay in that compartment, you'll have to share the cost of the hire of the carriage. You're taking up what little space we have.'
Then she sees the look in my eyes and does not pursue the topic.
'Since you're ready, why don't you play something for us?' Yao says to Hilal.
I ask for the loudspeakers in the carriage to be turned off and suggest that Hilal play something brief, very brief. She does as asked.
The atmosphere grows suddenly limpid. It must be obvious to everyone, because the constant tiredness that has been afflicting us all simply vanishes. I'm filled by a deep sense of peace, deeper even than the peace I experienced shortly before in my compartment.
Why have I been complaining all these months about not being in touch with the Divine Energy? What nonsense! We are always in touch with it, it's only routine that prevents us from feeling it.
'I need to speak, but I don't know exactly what about, so just ask me whatever you like,' I say.
It won't be me speaking, but there's no point trying to explain that.
'Have you met me somewhere in the past?' Hilal asks. Would she really like me to answer that right there, in front of everyone?
'It doesn't matter. You need to think about where each of us is right now, in the present moment. We're accustomed to measuring time in the same way we measure the distance between Moscow and Vladivostok, but that isn't how it works. Time neither moves nor is it stationary. Time changes. We occupy one point in that constantly mutating time - our Aleph. The idea that time passes is important when you need to know when a train is going to leave, but apart from that, it's not very useful at all, not even when you're cooking. After all, however often you make a recipe, it always turns out different. Do you follow?'
Now that Hilal has broken the ice, everyone starts asking questions:
'Are we the result of what we learn?'
'We learn in the past, but we are not the result of that. We suffered in the past, loved in the past, cried and laughed in the past, but that's of no use to the present. The present has its challenges, its good and bad side. We can neither blame nor be grateful to the past for what is happening now. Each new experience of love has nothing whatsoever to do with past experiences, it's always new.'
I'm talking to them, but also to myself. I wonder out
'Is it possible to fix love and make it stand still in time? Well, we can try, but that would turn our lives into a hell. I haven't been married for more than twenty years to the same person, because neither she nor I have remained the same. That's why our relationship is more alive than ever. I don't expect her to behave as she did when we first met. Nor does she want me to be the person I was when I found her. Love is beyond time, or, rather, love is both time and space, but all focused on one single constantly evolving point - the Aleph.'
'People aren't used to that way of thinking. They want everything to stay the same ...'
'... and the consequence of that is pain,' I say, interrupting the speaker. 'We are not the person other people wish we were. We are who we decide to be. It's always easy to blame others. You can spend your entire life blaming the world, but your successes or failures are entirely your own responsibility. You can try to stop time, but it's a complete waste of energy.'
The train brakes suddenly, unexpectedly, and everyone is startled. I am continuing to take in the meaning of what I'm saying, although I'm not sure everyone is keeping up with me.
'Imagine that the train didn't brake in time, that there was a final, fatal accident. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain, as the android said in Blade Runner. But will they? No, because nothing disappears, everything is stored up in time. Where is my first kiss filed away? In some hidden corner of my brain? In a series of electrical impulses that have been deactivated? My first kiss is more alive than ever, and I will never forget it. It's here, all around me. It forms part of my Aleph.'
'But there are all kinds of problems I need to resolve now.'
'They lie in what you call the "past" and await a decision to be made in what you call the "future". They clog your mind and slow you down, and won't let you understand the present. If you rely only on experience, you'll simply keep applying old solutions to new problems. I know a lot of people who only feel they have an identity when they're talking about their problems. That way, they exist, because their problems are linked to what they judge to be "their history".'
When no one comments on this, I go on:
'It takes a huge effort to free yourself from memory, but when you succeed, you start to realise that you're capable of far more than you imagined. You live in this vast body called the Universe, which contains all the solutions and all the problems. Visit your soul, don't visit your past. The Universe goes through many mutations and carries the past with it. We call each of those mutations "a life", but just as the cells in your body change and yet you remain the same, so time does not pass, it merely changes. You think you're the same person you were in Ekaterinburg, but you're not. I'm not even the same person I was when I began talking. Nor is the train in the same place it was when Hilal played her violin. Everything has changed; it's just that we can't see it.'
'But one day, our personal time will come to an end,' says Yao.
'An end? But death is just a door into another dimension.'
'And yet, despite what you're saying, our loved ones and we ourselves will one day disappear.'
'Never. We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us, they don't disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms. For example, I can't see who is in the next carriage, but it contains people travelling in the same time as me, as you, as everyone. The fact that we can't speak to them or know what's going on in that other carriage is completely irrelevant. They are there. So what we call "life" is a train with many carriages. Sometimes we're in one, sometimes we're in another, and sometimes we cross between them, when we dream or allow ourselves to be swept away by the extraordinary.'
'But we can't see or communicate with them.'
'Yes, we can. Every night we shift onto another plane while we're sleeping. We talk with the living, with those we believed dead, with those who live in another dimension and with ourselves, with the people we once were and the people we will be.'
The energy is becoming more fluid, and I know I could lose the connection at any moment.
'Love always triumphs over what we call death. That's why there's no need to grieve for our loved ones, because they continue to be loved and remain by our side. It's hard for us to accept that. If you don't believe it, then there's no point my trying to explain.'
I notice that Yao is sitting now with head bowed. The question he asked me earlier is being answered.
'And what about the people we hate?'
'We shouldn't underestimate any of our enemies who
pass to the other side,' I reply. 'In the magical Tradition, they have the curious name of "travellers". I'm not saying that they can do any harm here; they can't, unless you let them. Because the fact is that we are there with them and they are here with us. On the same train. The only way to solve the problem is to correct mistakes and resolve conflicts. And that will happen at some point,even though it might take many "lives" before it does. We carry on meeting and saying goodbye for all eternity. A departure followed by a return, and a return followed by a departure.'
'But you said we were part of the whole. Does that mean we don't exist?'
'No, we do exist, but in the same way that a cell exists. A cell can cause a destructive cancer to invade an organism, but equally it can send out chemical elements that produce happiness and well-being, but the cell is not the person.'
'Why are there so many conflicts then?'
'So that the world can evolve, so that the body can change. It's nothing personal. Listen.'
They are listening, but not hearing. I had better explain things more clearly.
About the book:
Facing a grave crisis of faith, and seeking a path of spiritual renewal and growth, Paulo decides to start over: to travel, to experiment, to reconnect with people and the world. In a frank and surprising personal story, one of the world's most beloved authors embarks on a remarkable and transformative journey of self-discovery, a journey that will initiate a mystical voyage through time and space, through past and present, in search of himself.
Beautiful and poetic, Aleph is a search for love and forgiveness in a world of dreams, desires, and pure emotions. Coelho's message for humanity is perhaps one that we are in dire need of; that there is hope.
Excerpt from Breakfast at Tiffany's
- Truman Capote
Excerpt from Dark Places
- Gillian Flynn