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Brida, Page 2

Paulo Coelho

  “I’m a strong, determined woman,” she repeated to herself under her breath. She was privileged to be there with that man whom other people either loved or feared. She looked back on the evening they had just spent together and recalled the moment when she had sensed a certain tenderness in his voice. “Perhaps he found me interesting. Perhaps he even wanted to make love with me.” It wouldn’t be a bad experience; there was, however, a strange look in his eyes.

  “What an idiotic thing to think.” There she was, in search of something very real—a path to knowledge—and suddenly she was thinking of herself as a mere woman. She tried not to think about it again, and it was then that she realized how much time had passed since the Magus had left her alone.

  She felt the beginnings of panic; she had heard contradictory views about that man. Some said he was the most powerful Teacher they’d ever met, capable of changing the direction of the wind, of piercing the clouds, purely by the power of thought. And Brida was as fascinated as everyone else by such prodigies.

  Other people, though—people on the fringes of the world of magic, who attended the same courses and classes as she did—assured her that he was a black magician and had once used his powers to destroy a man, because he had fallen in love with the man’s wife. And this was why, even though he was a Teacher, he had been condemned to wander the lonely forests.

  “Perhaps solitude has made his madness worse,” Brida thought, and again she felt the first stirrings of panic. She may have been young, but she knew the harm that loneliness could do to people, especially as they got older. She had met people who had lost the glow of being alive because they could no longer fight against loneliness and had ended up becoming addicted to it. They were, for the most part, people who believed the world to be an undignified, inglorious place, and who spent their evenings and nights talking on and on about the mistakes others had made. They were people whom solitude had made into the judges of the world, whose verdicts were scattered to the four winds for whoever cared to listen. Perhaps the Magus had gone mad with loneliness.

  A sudden noise nearby made her jump, and her heart raced. All trace of her earlier confidence vanished. She looked around—nothing. A wave of terror seemed to rise up from her belly and spread through her body.

  “I must get a grip on myself,” she thought, but it was impossible. Images of snakes and scorpions and childhood ghosts began to appear before her. Brida was too terrified to stay calm. Another image arose: that of a powerful magician who had made a pact with the Devil and was offering her up as a sacrifice.

  “Where are you?” she cried. She didn’t care now what impression she made on anyone. She simply wanted to get out of there.

  No one answered.

  “I want to get out of here! Help me!’

  There was only the forest and its strange noises. Brida felt so dizzy with fear she thought she might faint. But she mustn’t. Now that she was quite sure he was nowhere around, fainting certainly wouldn’t help matters. She must stay in control.

  This thought made her aware that there was some part of her struggling to maintain control. “I mustn’t call out,” she said to herself. Her shouts could attract other men who lived in that forest, and men who live in forests can be more dangerous than any wild animal.

  “I have faith,” she started to say softly. “I have faith in God, faith in my Guardian Angel, who brought me here, and who remains here with me. I can’t explain what he’s like, but I know he is near. I will not dash my foot against a stone.”

  These last words were from a psalm she had learned as a child, and which she hadn’t thought about for years. She had been taught the psalm by her grandmother, who had died quite recently. As soon as she wished her grandmother could be there, she immediately felt a friendly presence.

  She was beginning to understand that there was a big difference between danger and fear.

  “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High…” that was how the psalm began. She realized that it was all coming back to her word for word, exactly as if her grandmother were reciting it to her now. She kept reciting for some time, without stopping, and despite her fear, she felt calmer. She had no choice: either she believed in God, in her Guardian Angel, or she despaired.

  She felt a protective presence. “I need to believe in this presence. I don’t know how to explain it, but it exists. And it will stay with me all night, because I don’t know how to find my way out of here alone.”

  When she was a child, she would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, feeling terrified. Her father would carry her to the window and show her the town where they lived. He would talk to her about the night watchmen, about the milkman who would already be out delivering the milk, about the baker making their daily bread. Her father was trying to drive out the monsters with which she’d filled the night and replace them with the people who kept watch over the darkness. “The night is just a part of the day,” he would say.

  The night is just a part of the day. Therefore she could feel as safe in the dark as she did in the light. It was the dark that had made her invoke that protective presence. She must trust it. And that trust was called Faith. No one could ever understand Faith, but Faith was what she was experiencing now, an inexplicable immersion in blackest night. It only existed because she believed in it. Miracles couldn’t be explained either, but they existed for those who believed in them.

  “He did say something about the first lesson,” she thought, suddenly realizing what was going on. The protective presence was there because she believed in it. Brida began to feel the fatigue of so many hours under tension. She began to relax again, and with each moment that passed, she felt more protected.

  She had faith. And faith wouldn’t allow the forest to be peopled again with scorpions and snakes. Faith would keep her Guardian Angel awake and watching.

  She leaned back against the rock again and, all unknowing, fell asleep.

  It was light when she woke, and a beautiful sun was gilding everything around her. She felt a little cold, her clothes were grubby, but her soul was rejoicing. She had spent the whole night alone in a forest.

  She looked everywhere for the Magus, knowing that she would not find him. He must be walking in the forest somewhere trying “to commune with God,” and perhaps wondering if the girl who’d come to see him the previous night had sufficient courage to learn the first lesson of the Tradition of the Sun.

  “I learned about the Dark Night,” she said to the now silent forest. “I learned that the search for God is a Dark Night, that Faith is a Dark Night. And that’s hardly a surprise really, because for us each day is a dark night. None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, and yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.”

  Or, who knows, perhaps because we just don’t see the mystery contained in the next second. Not that it mattered. What mattered was knowing that she had understood.

  That every moment in life is an act of faith.

  That you could choose to fill it with snakes and scorpions or with a strong protecting force.

  That Faith cannot be explained. It was simply a Dark Night. And all she had to do was to accept it or not.

  Brida looked at her watch and saw that it was getting late. She had to catch a bus, travel for three hours, and think up some convincing excuse to give her boyfriend; he would never believe she had spent the whole night alone in a forest.

  “It’s a very difficult thing, the Tradition of the Sun!” she shouted to the forest. “I have to be my own Teacher, and that isn’t what I was expecting!”

  She looked at the village down below, mentally traced her path back through the woods and set off. First, though, she turned to the rock again. In a loud, joyous voice, she cried:

  “There’s one other thing. You’re a very interesting man.”

  Leaning against the trunk of an old tree, the Magus watched the girl vanish into the woods. He had listened to her fears and heard her cries duri
ng the night. At one point, he had even been tempted to go over and embrace her, to shield her from her terror, saying that she didn’t need this kind of challenge.

  Now he was pleased that he hadn’t, and he felt proud that the girl, in all her youthful confusion, was his Soul Mate.

  In the center of Dublin there is a bookshop that specializes in occult studies. It has never advertised in newspapers or magazines, and the people who go there do so on the recommendation of others. The owner is glad to have such a select, specialist clientele.

  Even so, the bookshop is always full. Brida had heard about it and finally managed to get the address from the person teaching the course on astral travel she was currently attending. She went there late one afternoon, after work, and was delighted with the place.

  From then on, whenever she could, she would go there to look at the books, but she never bought any because they were all imported and very expensive. She would leaf through them, studying the designs and symbols in some of the books, and intuitively tuning in to the vibration of all that accumulated knowledge. She had grown more cautious since her experience with the Magus. Sometimes she would bemoan to herself the fact that she only managed to take part in things she could already understand. She sensed that she was missing out on something very important in life, and that if she carried on as she was, she would simply continue to repeat the same experiences over and over. And yet she didn’t have the courage to change. She needed to be constantly struggling to discover her path; now that she had experienced the Dark Night, she knew that she didn’t want to find her way through it. And although she was sometimes dissatisfied with herself, she felt unable to go beyond her own limitations.

  Books were safer. The shelves contained reprints of treatises written hundreds of years ago; it was an area in which very few people dared to say anything new. And in the pages of these books, occult knowledge, distant and remote, seemed to smile at the efforts made by each generation to uncover it.

  Apart from looking at the books, Brida had another important reason for going to the shop—to observe the other customers. Sometimes she would pretend to be reading some respectable alchemical treatise, when she was, in fact, scrutinizing the men and women, usually older than she, who frequented the shop and who knew what they wanted and always went to the right shelf. She tried to imagine what they must be like in private. Some looked very wise, capable of awakening forces and powers of which mere mortals knew nothing. Others appeared to be desperately trying to rediscover answers they had long ago forgotten, but without which life had no meaning.

  She noticed, too, that the most regular customers always had a word with the owner. They talked about strange things, such as the phases of the moon, the properties of stones, and the correct pronunciation of ritual words.

  One afternoon, Brida got up sufficient courage to do the same. She was on her way back from work, on a day when everything had gone well. She thought she should make the most of that good luck.

  “I know that there are secret societies,” she said. She thought this a good conversational opener. She “knew” something.

  But the owner merely looked up from his accounts and stared at her in amazement.

  “I was with the Magus in Folk,” said Brida, rather put out now, and not knowing quite how to continue. “He explained to me about the Dark Night. He told me that the path of wisdom means not being afraid to make mistakes.”

  She noticed that the owner was listening more intently now. If the Magus had bothered to teach her something, she must be special.

  “If you know that the Dark Night is the path, why do you need books?” he said at last, and she knew that mentioning the Magus had not been a good idea.

  “Because that isn’t the way I want to learn,” she said.

  The owner looked more closely at the young woman standing before him. While she clearly had a Gift, it was nevertheless odd that the Magus of Folk should have devoted so much time to her. There must be something else. She could be lying, but then again she had spoken of the Dark Night.

  “You often come here,” he said. “You arrive, read a few books, but never buy anything.”

  “They’re too expensive,” said Brida, sensing that he wanted to continue the conversation. “But I’ve read other books and I’ve attended courses.”

  She told him the names of her teachers, hoping to impress him still more.

  Again things did not go quite as she expected. The owner interrupted her and went to serve another customer, who wanted to know if the book he’d ordered had come in, an almanac containing the planetary positions for the next hundred years.

  The owner examined various packages stored underneath the counter. Brida saw that the packages bore stamps from all corners of the world.

  She was getting more and more nervous. Her initial courage had vanished completely, but she had no option but to wait for the other customer to check that it was the right book, pay for it, receive his change, and leave. Only then did the owner turn to her again.

  “I don’t know how to continue,” said Brida. Her eyes were beginning to fill with tears.

  “What are you good at?” asked the owner.

  “Going after what I believe in.” That was the only possible reply; she had spent her life in pursuit of what she believed in. The only problem was that she believed in something different every day.

  The owner wrote a name on the sheet of paper on which he was doing his accounts, tore off the piece he had written on, and held it for a moment in his hand.

  “I’m going to give you an address,” he said. “There was a time when people accepted magical experiences as natural. There were no priests then, and no one went chasing after the secrets of the occult.”

  Brida wasn’t sure whether he was referring to her or not.

  “Do you know what magic is?” he asked.

  “It’s a bridge between the visible world and the invisible world.”

  The owner gave her the piece of paper. On it was a phone number and a name: Wicca.

  Brida snatched the paper from him, thanked him, and left. When she reached the door, she turned and said:

  “I also know that magic speaks many languages, even the language of booksellers, who pretend to be unhelpful, but are, in fact, very generous and approachable.”

  She blew him a kiss and disappeared. The bookseller paused over his accounts and stood looking at his shop. “The Magus of Folk taught her those things,” he thought. A Gift, however good, wasn’t reason enough for the Magus to take such an interest. There must be some other motive. Wicca would find it out.

  It was time to close the shop. The bookseller had noticed lately that his clientele was starting to change. It was becoming younger. As the old treatises crowding his shelves predicted, things were finally beginning to return to the place from whence they came.

  The old building was in the center of town, in a place that is now only visited by tourists in search of a little nineteenth-century romanticism. Brida had had to wait a week before Wicca would agree to see her, and now she was standing outside a mysterious gray building, struggling to contain her excitement. That building was exactly as she’d imagined it would be; it was just the kind of place where the type of person who visited the bookshop should live.

  There was no elevator. She went up the stairs slowly so as not to be out of breath when she reached the floor she wanted, and when she arrived, she rang the bell of the only door there.

  Inside, a dog barked. Then, after a brief delay, a slim, elegant, serious-looking woman opened the door.

  “I phoned earlier,” said Brida.

  Wicca indicated that she should come in, and Brida found herself in a living room entirely painted in white and with examples of modern art everywhere—with paintings on the walls and sculptures and vases on the tables. The light from outside was filtered through white curtains. The room was cleverly divided into different areas to accommodate sofas, a dining table, and a well-stocked library. Everything
was in the very best taste and reminded Brida of the architecture and design magazines she used to look at on the newstands.

  “It must have cost a fortune,” she thought.

  Wicca led Brida into the vast living room, into an area furnished by two Italian armchairs in leather and steel. Between the two chairs was a low glass table with steel legs.

  “You’re very young,” said Wicca at last.

  There was little point in making her usual comment about ballerinas, and so Brida said nothing, waiting to hear what the woman would say next and meanwhile wondering what such a modern design was doing inside an old building like that. Her romantic idea of the search for knowledge had once again been shaken.

  “He phoned me,” Wicca said, and Brida understood that she was referring to the bookseller.

  “I came in search of a Teacher. I want to follow the road of magic.”

  Wicca looked at Brida. She clearly possessed a Gift, but she needed to know why the Magus of Folk had been so interested in her. The Gift on its own was not enough. If the Magus had been new to magic, he might have been impressed by the clarity with which the Gift manifested itself in the young woman, but he had lived long enough to know that everyone possesses a Gift. He was wise to such traps.

  She got up, went over to one of the bookshelves, and picked up her favorite deck of cards.

  “Do you know how to lay the cards?” she asked.

  Brida nodded. She had done a few courses and knew that the deck in the woman’s hand was a tarot deck, with seventy-eight cards. She had learned various ways of laying out the tarot and was glad to have a chance to show off her knowledge.

  However, the woman kept hold of the deck. She shuffled the cards, then placed them facedown, in no particular order, in the glass table. This was a method quite unlike any Brida had learned in her courses. The woman sat looking at them for a moment, said a few words in a strange language, then turned over just one of the cards.