But the crystal merchant had no choice. He had lived thirty years of his life buying and selling crystal pieces, and now it was too late to do anything else.
The narrator introduces the crystal merchant when Santiago shows up at the merchant’s shop on the hill and offers to clean his crystal in exchange for a meal. As the merchant has worked in the shop for too long, he has lost his own sense of a Personal Legend. Yet he recognizes a kindred spirit in Santiago who likewise seems to have lost his way in the world.
“You didn't have to do any cleaning,” he said. “The Koran requires me to feed a hungry person.” “Well then, why did you let me do it?” the boy asked. “Because the crystal was dirty. And both you and I needed to cleanse our minds of negative thoughts.”
Readers learn a lot about the crystal merchant during this exchange with Santiago as the two sit and eat at a local café. The crystal merchant recognizes his own negativity and lack of motivation, but he appears willing to change his situation with the help of a stranger such as Santiago. Despite losing touch with his Personal Legend, the merchant follows the higher spiritual call as revealed in the Koran and takes care of others in need.
But he stayed with the job because the merchant, although he was an old grouch, treated him fairly; the boy received a good commission for each piece he sold, and had already been able to put some money aside.
The narrator provides insight into Santiago’s view of the crystal merchant after working for him for about a month. Not only does the merchant treat him fairly, he also begins to let Santiago make decisions about the business such as building an outdoor display and serving tea in crystal cups. Santiago soon learns that the merchant feels unhappy because he has not fulfilled one of his dreams: to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Because it's the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That's what helps me face these days that are all the same, these mute crystals on the shelves, and lunch and dinner at that same horrible cafe. I'm afraid that if my dream is realized, I'll have no reason to go on living.
While smoking a hookah in the crystal shop with Santiago, the crystal merchant explains his reasons for not going on the pilgrimage to Mecca even though the journey is one of the five tenets of his faith. During this discussion, he also expresses the idea that dreams have greater importance in a life than realities because dreams give one hope. Also, he feels realities can disappoint, but dreams never do.
I don't want to change anything, because I don't know how to deal with change. I'm used to the way I am.
While deep in conversation with Santiago one night, the crystal merchant admits his own limitations freely and also thanks Santiago for being such a blessing to him. However, despite the success Santiago has brought to the crystal shop, he states he doesn’t want the shop to grow too much. He feels more comfortable with circumstances staying relatively the same. Being much younger and more ambitious, Santiago feels confused by the merchant’s attitude.