“I read the brochure for the workshop,” she said, trying to look only partly interested.
“Ah, good,” I replied. It’s a long-practiced routine between us, this mutual act of mind-fishing.
She sipped her coffee, waiting for my silence to break . . . Nothing . . .
” . . . And I don’t understand the significance of that funny circle thingy,” she said, irritated that her half hour in the coffee shop was being eaten up by my exasperating ways.
“The ennea-thingy?” I asked, all innocence.
“Yes, dammit, the ennea-thingy!” she whooshed–yes whooshed.
“Would you like me to explain it?” I asked her; then added, looking slyly at my watch, “Well, as much of it as we can fit into the remaining fifteen minutes?”
“Yes . . .” The tone was flat, for fear of losing more time. “I’d like that.”
“From one very interesting perspective, it’s all about the nine deadly sins,” I said, watching to see if she spotted the humour. She didn’t . . .
Instead, she asked, reasonably, “Aren’t there supposed to be seven?”
“There were originally eight,” I sipped my own latté, in no hurry at all. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but with Alexandra, you have to be slow and deliberate or she would race off at a tangent. I wanted her to digest what I was saying, coming back for more rather than hurrying it.
I continued, “The original list was: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acidia, vainglory, and pride.” I could see her filing them away, her lips moving in silent repetition as her well-ordered mind did its recording.
The wind and rain pounded the seafront cafe’s windows. She glanced up at the streaming glass, frowning at the thought of her onward journey in the rain. She shook her head to clear away the unwelcome distraction.
“But you just said nine?”
“I did. The Desert Fathers, who invented them to protect the core of the teachings in the centuries after Christ, are said to have left out or concealed the hidden one.”
“A hidden sin?” she said, looking at me with snaky eyes. “This is not going to be quick, is it?”
“No,” I replied, “But it will be fun . . .”
“Fun as in a deadly sin?” her grin was wicked. She was returning to form.
“Fun as in the deadly sin as signpost.” I replied, knowing that she would not be able to resist the hint of adventure.
“Signpost . . .”
She drew a breath before saying, “So there were originally eight, but they missed one, so it’s really nine, but the world only recognises seven of them anyway–and all this is about that geometrical ennea-thingy?”
“Precisely!” I said, nodding my encouragement and driving her nuts.
“Where does the first signpost point?” She grasped at it, trying for something concrete she could file away as exhibit A. She was a barrister, after all. I watched her let the air escape from her lungs in a long sigh, calming herself. We had known each other for a long time. I tried to deliver what she needed from my odd and eclectic knowledge, but it wasn’t always what she wanted.
I held up a vertical finger. “Good question.” I said. “The answer depends on whether we start at midnight or not.”
I took off my watch. I had to start being more helpful and less infuriating or I would end up wearing her coffee cup. I placed the watch by her saucer, with the twelve position facing her. “What’s at the top of the watch?” I asked.
“Top . . . Oh I see, twelve!” she said, then added quickly, grasping the point, “As in how we look at it on our wrist–as in not one . . .”
“Just so. We see it every day, but the watch hand begins with the highest number, rather than the lowest–which in this case would be a one.”
“And the ennea-thingy?” she asked, beginning to get my point.
“Begins with its highest number, too . . .”
“As in nine!” she chortled, triumphantly. She grabbed a spare serviette, whipped her pen out of her suit pocket, drew a quick circle and stabbed the pen at the top, turning the wound into a figure nine.
“Just so,” I nodded my approval.
She smiled. “So, where does the nine signpost point?”
I shook my head. “It would spoil all the fun,” I said unreasonably.
“Spoil my fun, you mean!” There was a slight flaring of the nostrils. Under other circumstances I would have been in trouble.
“No,” I protested. “Missing your train . . .” I pointed at my watch, still lying on the table near her.
“Sod it,” she grumbled, realising she would have to go or miss her train to London.
“Same time next week?” I offered, as olive branch.
“You’re buying the coffee,” she winked at me, pleased that her mock anger had achieved the desired result. “A week is . . .”
I stole the pause. “Too long, but it will be worth it . . .” I blew my friend a kiss and fastened the watch back on my wrist, smiling as she flew through the door, and out into the gale, bags in hand.
It would, indeed, be worth it . . .