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DECIDES TO DIE

VERONIKA

Paulo Coelho
AUTHOR OF THE ALCHEMIST

By the time Eduard had finished telling his story, it was dark and they were both shivering with cold.

‘Let’s go in,’ he said. ‘They’ll be serving supper.’ ‘Whenever we went to see my grandmother when I was a child, I was always fascinated by one particular painting in her house. It showed a woman – Our Lady, as Catholics call her – standing poised above the world, with her hands outstretched to the Earth and with rays of light streaming from her fingertips. What most intrigued me about the painting was that this lady was standing on a live snake. I said to my grandmother: “Isn’t she afraid of the snake? Won’t it bite her on the foot and kill her with its poison?” My grandmother said: “According to the Bible, the snake brought Good and Evil to the Earth, and she is keeping both Good and Evil in check with her love.’ ‘What’s that got to do with my story?’ ‘I’ve only known you a week, so it would be far too early for me to tell you that I love you, but since I probably won’t live through the night, it would also be too late. But then the great madness of men and women is precisely that: love. ‘You told me a love story. I honestly believe your parents wanted the best for you, but their love almost destroyed your
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life. If Our Lady, as she appeared in my grandmother’s painting, was treading on a snake, that indicates that love has two faces.’ ‘I see what you mean,’ said Eduard. ‘I provoked the nurses into giving me the electric shock treatment, because you get me all mixed up. I can’t say for sure what I feel, and love has already destroyed me once.’ ‘Don’t be afraid. Today, I asked Dr Igor for permission to leave here and to choose a place where I can close my eyes for ever. But when I saw you being held down by the nurses, I realised what it was I wanted to be looking at when I left this world: your face. And I decided not to leave. ‘While you were sleeping off the effects of the electric shock treatment, I had another heart attack, and I thought my time had come. I looked at your face and I tried to guess what your story was, and I prepared myself to die happy. But death didn’t come, my heart survived yet again, perhaps because I’m still young.’ He looked down. ‘Don’t be embarrassed about being loved. I’m not asking you for anything, just let me love you and play the piano again tonight, just once more, if I still have the strength to do it. In exchange, I ask only one thing, if you hear anyone say that I’m dying, go straight to my ward. Let me have my wish.’ Eduard remained silent for a long time and Veronika thought he must have retreated once more into his separate world, from which he would not return for a long time. Then, he looked at the mountains beyond the walls of Villete and said: ‘If you want to leave, I can take you. Just give me time to grab a couple of jackets and some money. Then we’ll go.’ ‘It won’t last long, Eduard. You do know that.’ Eduard didn’t reply. He went in and came back at once carrying two jackets.
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Veronika Decides to Die

‘It will last an eternity, Veronika, longer than all the identical days and nights I’ve spent in here, constantly trying to forget those visions of Paradise. And I almost did forget them too, though it seems to me they’re coming back. ‘Come on, let’s go. Mad people do mad things.’

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DECIDES TO DIE

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