Excerpt from The Zahir by Paulo Coelho

M: I assume that, since today is Thursday, you'll be going to the restaurant.
P: Do you want to come too?
M: Yes, I do. Why? Would you prefer to go alone?
P: Yes, I would.
M: Well, I've decided to come anyway. The man hasn't yet been born who can tell me where I can and cannot go.
P: Do you know why all railway tracks are 143.5 centimeters apart?
M: I can try and find out on the internet. Is it important?
P: Very.
M: Leaving railway tracks to one side for the moment, I was talking to some friends of mine who are fans of your books. They think that anyone who can write books like A Time to Rend and a Time to Sew, or the one about the shepherd or the pilgrimage to Santiago, must be some kind of sage who has an answer for everything.
P: Which is not quite true, as you know.
M: What is the truth, then? How is it that you can pass on to your readers things that are beyond your own knowledge?
P: They're not beyond my knowledge. Everything that's written in my books is part of my soul, part of the lessons I've learned throughout my life, and which I try to apply to myself. I'm a reader of my own books. They show me things that I already knew, even if only unconsciously.
M: What about the reader?
P: I think it's the same for the reader. A book - and we could be talking about anything here, a film, a piece of music, a garden, the view of a mountain - reveals something. "Reveal" means both to unveil and to reveil. Removing the veil from something that already exists is different from me trying to teach others the secret of how to live a better life.
Love is giving me a pretty hard time at the moment, as you know. Now this could be seen as a descent into hell or it could be seen as a revelation. It was only when I wrote A Time to Rend and a Time to Sew that I understood my own capacity for love. And I learned this while I was actually typing the words and sentences.
M: But what about the spiritual side? What about the spirituality that appears to be present on every page of your books?
P: I'm beginning to like the idea of you coming with me to the Armenian restaurant, because you'll learn - or, rather, become conscious of - three important things. First, that as soon as people decide to confront a problem, they realize that they are far more capable than they thought they were. Second, that all energy and all knowledge come from the same unknown source, which we usually call God. What I've tried to do in my life, ever since I first started out on what I believe to be my path, is to honor that energy, to connect up with it every day, to allow myself to be guided by the signs, to learn by doing and not by thinking about doing.
Third, that no one is alone in their troubles; there is always someone else thinking, rejoicing, or suffering in the same way, and that gives us the strength to confront the challenge before us.
M: Does that include suffering for love?
P: It includes everything. If there is suffering, then it's best to accept it, because it won't go away just because you pretend it's not there. If there is joy, then it's best to accept that too, even though you're afraid it might end one day. Some people can only relate to life through sacrifice and renunciation. Some people can only feel part of humanity when they think they are "happy." But why all these questions?
M: Because I'm in love and I'm afraid of suffering.
P: Don't be afraid; the only way to avoid that suffering would be to refuse to love.
M: I can feel Esther's presence. Apart from the young man's epileptic fit, you haven't told me anything else about what happened at the pizzeria. That's a bad sign for me, although it might be a good sign for you.
P: It might be a bad sign for me too.
M: Do you know what I would like to know? I'd like to know if you love me as much as I love you. But I don't have the courage to ask. Why do I have such frustrating relationships with men? I always feel like I have to be in a relationship and that means I have to be this fantastic, intelligent, sensitive, exceptional person. The effort of seduction forces me to give of my best and that helps me. Besides, it's really hard living on your own, and I don't know if that's the best option either.
P: So you want to know if I'm still capable of loving a woman, even though she left me without a word of explanation.
M: I read your book. I know you are.
P: You want to know whether, despite loving Esther, I'm still capable of loving you?
M: I wouldn't dare ask that question because the answer could ruin my life.
P: You want to know if the heart of a man or a woman can contain enough love for more than one person?
M: Since that's a less direct question than the previous one, yes, I'd like an answer.
P: I think it's perfectly possible as long as one of those people doesn't turn into...
M: ... a Zahir. Well, I'm going to fight for you anyway, because I think you're worth it. Any man capable of loving a woman as much as you loved - or love - Esther deserves all my respect and all my efforts. And to show you that I want to keep you by my side, to show how important you are in my life, I'm going to do as you ask, however absurd it might be: I'm going to find out why railway tracks are always 4 feet 8 1/2 inches apart.

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