The man is admiring the sunset on a beautiful beach, beside his wife, enjoying well-deserved holidays. Everything seems absolutely in place, when all of a sudden, from the bottom of his heart there comes a nice, friendly voice that asks him a difficult question:
“Are you happy?”
“Yes, I am,” he answers.
“Then look around you carefully.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the devil. And you can’t be happy, because you know that sooner or later tragedy can appear and upset your world. Look carefully around you, and you will understand that virtue is just one of the faces of terror”.
And the devil began to show everything that was happening on the beach. The excellent family man who at that very moment was packing and helping the children to get dressed would like to have an affair with his secretary, but was terrified at how his wife would react.
The wife who would like to have a job and her independence, but was terrified at how her husband would react.
The children who behaved well, terrified by the idea of punishment.
The girl reading a book, alone under her beach umbrella, pretending to be casual, while her soul was terrified at the possibility of never finding the love of her life.
The young man with the racket exercising his body and terrified at having to live up to his parents’ expectations.
The old man who did not smoke or drink saying that he felt much better that way, when the truth was that the terror of death whispered like the wind in his ears.
The couple running past, their feet splashing the water where the waves broke on the beach, all smiles, and hidden terror saying that they would grow old, uninteresting, invalid.
The rich man who stopped his speedboat in everyone’s view, waving and smiling and sunburned, and filled with terror because he could lose all his money at any moment.
The owner of the hotel who came out to greet his guests just when the sun was setting, trying to make them all happy and full of cheer, and demanding miracles of his accountants, with terror in his soul because he knew that no matter how honest he was, the men in the government would always discover all the flaws they wanted in his accounts.
Terror in each one of those persons on that lovely beach at a sunset that would take your breath away. The terror of remaining alone, the terror of the dark that filled their imagination with devils, the terror of doing something not included in the manual of good behavior, the terror of God’s judgment, the terror of the comments of men, the terror of justice that punished any fault, the terror of the injustice that left the guilty free and threatening. The terror of risking and losing, the terror of winning and having to live with the envy of others, the terror of loving and being rejected, the terror of asking for a raise, of accepting an invitation, of going to unknown places, of not managing to speak a foreign language, of not having the ability to impress others. The terror of growing old, of dying, of being noticed because of your defects, of not being noticed because of your qualities, of not being noticed neither for your ! defects nor your qualities.
“I hope that this has made you calmer,” concluded the devil. “After all, you are not alone in your fears.”
“Please don’t go away until you hear what I have to say,” answered the man. “We have the incredible capacity to detect pain, remorse, wounds — or terror, as you prefer to call it. But my father once told me the story of an apple-tree that was so laden with apples that its branches could not sing in the wind. Someone passing by asked why it did not try to call attention like all the other trees did. ‘My fruits are my best advertisement,’ answered the apple-tree.
“Of course, I am no different from anyone else, and my heart is filled with many fears. But despite everything, the fruits of my life speak for me, and if some day a tragedy happens, I know that I have not spent my life without taking risks.”
And the devil, disappointed, left him to try to scare other — weaker – people.
Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian author who has sold more than 100 million books, which include 14 short story collections and the novel “The Alchemist.” He has been a fan of the Internet since the early 1990s. He spends at least three hours a day online, writing e-mails back and forth with his readers and posting photos on Flickr, MySpace and a blog.
Coelho’s online activities also include promoting pirated copies of his own books. Since 2005 he’s been directing his readers to an online site where they can download his books, in languages from German to Japanese, for free. “I always thought that when, at the beginning of your career, you strive to be read, you can’t change your mind later and become greedy about it.”