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state: first draft
last update: 1999 September 3

Killing Buddha

5. Don't Discuss the Price if You're Not Selling

By Kevin Kelleher

Renzo found himself fascinated by the game, and he spent the next week asking everyone he knew: at what price would they sell their soul?

He was a little disappointed to find that the game was not much of a novelty: most people had ready answers. Although he hadn't given the matter any thought, it seemed that everyone else had, and was ready with a list. The majority were concerned about correcting bad habits or personal defects, such as bad teeth, a spinal problem, a sense of inadequacy or laziness. A few wishes were completely altruistic, such as cures for fatal diseases. Only one was global and impersonal: "End world hunger." Two were limited to a single event: that of enjoying the sexual favors of a famous celebrity for a weekend.

And so the game proved unilluminating and had just about worn out when Renzo asked one last person the price of his soul.

"I wouldn't sell," Leonardo replied.

Renzo stopped. "You wouldn't?"


"For any price?"

"For any price. What does it profit a man -- you know the quote -- if he gains the world but loses his soul?"

Leonardo explained that his soul was his only real possession. That while wealth and riches "waste away", the soul lasts forever. When he began to elaborate on the parable of the Pearl of Great Price, Renzo's mind started to wander.

Renzo had no interest in Leonardo's explanations. What was extraordinary to him was not Leonardo's reasons, but the bare fact that he refused to even consider a price.

"Look," Renzo interrupted, "What if your son was dying of an incurable disease, and the devil said, 'Sell me your soul and the boy will live a long and healthy life.' What would you say?"

A hint of a tear appeared at the edge of Leonardo's eye. "What a terrible thing to say! It's a choice that would rend my heart, but I would have to say, 'Depart from me, Satan!'" He shook his head. "It would be a gift with too heavy a price. If I took it, my boy would live, but when I died I would never see him again, forever."

Leonardo paused for a moment, to weigh what he wanted to say. He knew that his preaching and morality often bored others, but this time he wanted to be sure of being heard. So he said, watching Renzo's face, "Renzo, I knew you were going to ask me that question. I've heard you ask the others. I know that you think it's a game, but it's a very dangerous game. You keep thinking about the price of your soul and pretty soon you'll be selling it for nothing. No matter how high a price you set, it will never approach the most infinitestimal fraction of the value of your soul."

"So you think it's possible to sell your soul?"

"Do I think it's possible?" Leonardo warmed. "Of course I do! I see it every day! Men sell their souls every minute, every hour. They sell their souls to their jobs, to their careers, to their cars and houses, to the women they're attracted to."

"You're exaggerating, Leonardo. That's not selling your soul. It's just --"

"It's just what? It's just what? If you don't value your soul, you throw it away. If you don't cultivate it, it dies. When a man steps on another man's face to get a promotion, he has just sold a piece of his soul. Every time he treats another person like an obstacle, like a pawn in a game, he kills another piece of it. Each time he postpones or puts off sharing love and kindness, he carves off another piece. Then one day he looks inside. He asks himself what his real feelings are, and he can't find any. He gets old and sick and alone and he tries to pray to God, but he feels nothing. It seems like there's a sky of stone above him, because his soul is dead inside. He sold his soul. It's gone. In exchange he got a career, a pile of money, a lot of status, but in the end it wasn't worth shit. Excuse my French. I have seen people die that way. They cry out to God for the first time in their life, and do you know what? God does not answer, because the man's heart is closed. God has no way in."

Leonardo fell silent to let his words sink in, and Renzo ran his hand across his jaw. A thought was brewing in his head. He took a breath, looked Leonardo in the eyes, and decided to do it. "Leonardo," he said, "I have to tell you about a strange man I met a week ago..." and he told Leonardo the whole story. His friend listened in silence, with such intense concentration that he scarcely blinked or swallowed. When he finished, Renzo asked him what he thought.

"I think you met the devil," Leonardo said, "and he's come to buy your soul. I am going to pray for you, my friend." He put a hand on Renzo's shoulder. "Me and my family, we will pray for you."

Inexplicably, Renzo burst into tears.

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