Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named ...(more)
If God leads the sheep so well, he will also lead a man, he thought, and that made him feel better. The tea seemed less bitter.
"Who are you?" he heard a voice ask him in Spanish.
The boy was relieved. He was thinking about omens, and someone had appeared.
"How come you speak Spanish?" he asked. The new arrival was a young man in Western dress, but the color of his skin suggested he was from this city. He was about the same age and height as the boy.
"Almost everyone here speaks Spanish. We're only two hours from Spain."
"Sit down, and let me treat you to something," said the boy. "And ask for a glass of wine for me. I hate this tea."
"There is no wine in this country," the young man said. "The religion here forbids it."
The boy told him then that he needed to get to the Pyramids. He almost began to tell about his treasure, but decided not to do so. If he did, it was possible that the Arab would want a part of it as payment for taking him there. He remembered what the old man had said about offering something you didn't even have yet.
"I'd like you to take me there if you can. I can pay you to serve as my guide."
"Do you have any idea how to get there?" the newcomer asked.
The boy noticed that the owner of the bar stood nearby, listening attentively to their conversation. He felt uneasy at the man's presence. But he had found a guide, and didn't want to miss out on an opportunity.
"You have to cross the entire Sahara desert," said the young man. "And to do that, you need money. I need to know whether you have enough."
The boy thought it a strange question. But he trusted in the old man, who had said that, when you really want something, the universe always conspires in your favor.
He took his money from his pouch and showed it to the young man. The owner of the bar came over and looked, as well. The two men exchanged some words in Arabic, and the bar owner seemed irritated.
"Let's get out of here," said the new arrival. "He wants us to leave."
The boy was relieved. He got up to pay the bill, but the owner grabbed him and began to speak to him in an angry stream of words. The boy was strong, and wanted to retaliate, but he was in a foreign country. His new friend pushed the owner aside, and pulled the boy outside with him. "He wanted your money," he said. "Tangier is not like the rest of Africa. This is a port, and every port has its thieves."
The boy trusted his new friend. He had helped him out in a dangerous situation. He took out his money and counted it.
"We could get to the Pyramids by tomorrow," said the other, taking the money. "But I have to buy two camels."
They walked together through the narrow streets of Tangier. Everywhere there were stalls with items for sale. They reached the center of a large plaza where the market was held. There were thousands of people there, arguing, selling, and buying; vegetables for sale amongst daggers, and carpets displayed alongside tobacco. But the boy never took his eye off his new friend. After all, he had all his money. He thought about asking him to give it back, but decided that would be unfriendly. He knew nothing about the customs of the strange land he was in.
"I'll just watch him," he said to himself. He knew he was stronger than his friend.
Suddenly, there in the midst of all that confusion, he saw the most beautiful sword he had ever seen. The scabbard was embossed in silver, and the handle was black and encrusted with precious stones. The boy promised himself that, when he returned from Egypt, he would buy that sword.
"Ask the owner of that stall how much the sword costs," he said to his friend. Then he realized that he had been distracted for a few moments, looking at the sword. His heart squeezed, as if his chest had suddenly compressed it. He was afraid to look around, because he knew what he would find. He continued to look at the beautiful sword for a bit longer, until he summoned the courage to turn around.
All around him was the market, with people coming and going, shouting and buying, and the aroma of strange foods...but nowhere could he find his new companion.
The boy wanted to believe that his friend had simply become separated from him by accident. He decided to stay right there and await his return. As he waited, a priest climbed to the top of a nearby tower and began his chant; everyone in the market fell to their knees, touched their foreheads to the ground, and took up the chant. Then, like a colony of worker ants, they dismantled their stalls and left.
The sun began its departure, as well. The boy watched it through its trajectory for some time, until it was hidden behind the white houses surrounding the plaza. He recalled that when the sun had risen that morning, he was on another continent, still a shepherd with sixty sheep, and looking forward to meeting with a girl. That morning he had known everything that was going to happen to him as he walked through the familiar fields. But now, as the sun began to set, he was in a different country, a stranger in a strange land, where he couldn't even speak the language. He was no longer a shepherd, and he had nothing, not even the money to return and start everything over.
All this happened between sunrise and sunset, the boy thought. He was feeling sorry for himself, and lamenting the fact that his life could have changed so suddenly and so drastically.
He was so ashamed that he wanted to cry. He had never even wept in front of his own sheep. But the marketplace was empty, and he was far from home, so he wept. He wept because God was unfair, and because this was the way God repaid those who believed in their dreams.