Marked to die
Perhaps I was supposed to die at 22:30 on the 22nd of August 2004, less than 48
hours before my birthday. In order for the scenario of my near-death to be set up, a series
of factors were brought into play:
A] In the interviews held to promote his new film, actor Will Smith always spoke of my
book "The Alchemist".
B] The film was based on a book I had read years before and liked a lot: "I, Robot", by
Isaac Asimov. I decided to go and see the film in homage to Smith and Asimov.
C] The film was showing in a small town in the southwest of France in the first week of
August. But a whole lot of things without the least importance made me put off going to
the cinema until this Sunday.
I had an early dinner, shared a half-bottle of wine with my wife and invited our maid to
come with us (she was reluctant but eventually accepted). We reached the cinema on time,
bought some popcorn, and saw the film, which we enjoyed. We returned to the car for the
ten-minute ride back to the old mill that had become our home. I put on a CD of Brazilian
music and decided to drive slowly so that we could listen to at least three songs before we
reached the house.
On the two-way road cutting through sleepy little towns, all of a sudden I see a pair of
headlights in the rear mirror, surging out of nowhere. There is a crossroads right in front
of us, with posts on either side. I try stepping on the brakes because I know that the car
won't be able to make it, for the posts make it quite impossible to overtake. All this takes
a fraction of a second - I remember thinking "this guy's crazy!" - but there is no time to
say anything. The driver of the car (the image engraved on my memory is a Mercedes, but I
am not sure about that) spots the posts, accelerates, cuts in front of me, and when he tries
to correct his course he ends up at right angles in the middle of the road.
From that moment on, everything seems to happen in slow motion: he overturns once,
twice, three times. Then the car is tossed over to the shoulder of the road, where it flips
over again, this time bouncing high in the air, with both front and rear windshields
crashing on the ground. My headlights illuminate the whole scene and I can't brake
suddenly I watch the car doing somersaults beside me just like in the film I have just
seen except that, my God, there it was fiction, here it's real life!
The car is tossed back on the road and finally comes to a standstill lying on its left side.
I can make out the driver's shirt. I pull up alongside, and the only thing going through my
head is that I have to get out and help him. At this moment I feel my wife's nails digging
deep into my arm: she begs me for the love God to drive on and park further ahead, the
other car could explode and burst into flames.
I drive another hundred meters and park. The radio is still playing the Brazilian music
as if nothing has happened. Everything seems so surrealistic, so distant. My wife and
Isabel, our maid, get out and run back towards the scene of the accident. Another car
coming in the opposite direction brakes. A woman jumps out, all nervous: her headlights
too have illuminated the Dantesque scene. She asks if I have a cell phone, I answer yes, I
do. "Then call emergency!"
What's the emergency number? She looks at me in astonishment: everybody knows
that! Three times 51! The cell phone is turned off: before the film starts, they always
remind us to do that. I dial the access code and then call emergency 51 51 51. I know
exactly where all this has happened: between the village of Laloubere and the village of
My wife and the maid come back: a young man is bruised and scratched, but it does
not seem to be anything too serious. After all I have seen, after turning upside down six
times, nothing too serious! He gets out the car a bit groggy, other cars stop, the firemen
arrive five minutes later, and everything is all right. Everything is all right! For a fraction of
a second, he would have run into me, pushed me over the side of the road, it would have
been very bad for both of us. Very bad indeed.
When I get back home, I look up at the stars. Sometimes certain things stand in our
path, but because our time has not yet arrived, they pass by without even grazing us but
they are clear enough for us to see them. I thank God for being able to understand that -
as a friend of mine always says - everything that had to happen did, and nothing
by author Paulo Coelho