The rain lashed at the seafront cafe’s windows. Would this horrible wet weather never end? I wondered, as I hurried, slightly late because of the heavy and slow traffic, into the warm interior.
Alexandra had not wasted the extra time. Before her, on our table, lay a newly-drawn enneagram on a fresh serviette. I took off my raincoat, sodden despite the brief walk, and tried not to drip on her carefully prepared diagram.
“Coffee,” she said, pointing at my cup but not looking up at my face.
“Thank you.” I sat down, smiling at her relish at having the upper hand. I watched her draw in dotted lines connecting the numbers ‘2’ and ‘4’; ‘5’ and ‘7’; and finally, ‘8’ and ‘1’.
“Shoulders . . . ” I said softly into the silence of her concentration.
“Shoulders?” she asked, still looking down at the point of her pen, eager not to smudge the napkin too much.
“The lines you have just drawn – they are generally called ‘shoulders’.”
“Aha . . .” She looked up, finally, and put the top back on the pen. “Shoulders, then.”
“So, we have nine points, which originate from three?” I asked, innocently.
“Yes,” she replied, taking the bait.
I continued, “And the three – vanity, fear and something as yet unnamed, are the anchor points of the whole thing, and have other points between them, which are secondary.”
We both sipped our coffees. She was looking at me in a predatory way. She’d been doing her homework, I could tell. She wanted to show it off . . .
“I’m beginning to get the big picture.” she smiled. “The Nine are really only three ‘sins’, and these are indicative of something that we all share in our makeup?”
“I like indicative,” I said, nodding and attempting to look mysterious.
“So the ‘sins’ are something deeper – something that has been discovered to be part of human nature, possibly all human nature?” She fixed me with a wicked smile, and continued with, “Let me guess – psychology?” You would never have guessed she hadn’t just thought of it – well not unless you had known her for the past twenty years . . .
I sipped my coffee, enjoying the hunt and saying nothing.
She had never been good at waiting and filled the silence with, “And somehow these findings map on to the enneagram, which was not originally designed to show such relationships?”
“I didn’t tell you that.” I replied in a soft tone. “You’ve been reading!”
“As a good barrister should!” she parried, becoming very cat-like. But then her brows furrowed and she added, “But I can’t find any link between the original work and this ‘sins’ stuff.”
“Between Gurdjieff’s original use of the enneagram and those who developed it in a different but complementary direction?” I asked, delighted with her growing knowledge; though that would now make it harder to keep her on track.
“Precisely!” she said, looking triumphant.
I spoke over the coffee cup’s rim, “Connections – there isn’t one, unless you count people and their individual experiences.”
“People with broad shoulders,” I said, noting the time and knowing she’d be furious that I was bringing our Monday morning to a close.
She looked down at her drawing of what I had called the shoulders flanking the main three points, puzzled. It was time to give her a lot of information, but I had little time.
“Vanity and fear mix, or, put another way, what is beneath them both varies its proportions. When you move from vanity towards fear you get envy at ‘4’ and then avarice at ‘5’, which we’ve already talked about.” I could see her razor mind filing this away for the train journey to London. “And between the unnamed top of the clock and vanity we have Anger at ‘1’ and Pride at ‘2’. We can talk more about this next time . . .”
“And the enneagram doesn’t resolve to three,” I added as a kind of checkmate and tapping the face of my watch. “It resolves to one . . .”
“You–” she squeezed out the words through thin lips.
“–taxi driver, as it happens . . .”
“Yes, the car is outside. I didn’t want you to have to walk with your heavy bags in this rain, so I stuck it outside”
“On the yellow line?”
“Broad shoulders . . .” I said, picking up two of her black bags and heading for the exit.
Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.