She leaned forward, and at the same time, took a large swig of her coffee. I had seen her do it many times; it signalled that she was about to launch her enquiry.
“Home?” I asked, softly, completely ruining her build-up.
“How did you–?” she laughed, there was little sign of the irritation that would have accompanied my impolite gesture back when we first started our discussions about the enneagram.
“It’s what I would have asked first, given where we got to last time.”
“Uncanny!” she said, sitting back and enjoying the coffee, now that she didn’t have to lead with the right question. It was hard being a barrister, her furrowed brows explained; but her smile said something different . . .
“Okay then,” she added, reasonably. “Home . . .”
I drank some of my own coffee. My reply had to be perfect – not in a general sense, but in the context of our meeting. I had something unusual planned, but it required careful staging – and her full cooperation.
“The enneagram is only a symbol,” I said, softly. “But it’s a very beautiful expression of some wonderful truths; and their relationship.”
I let that sink in, drinking some more coffee before continuing. She waited and considered what I had said.
“So home is where everything begins?”
“Yes,” I responded carefully, drawing out the word.
“But?” she had picked up on the hesitation.
“But, it’s not like regressing, going back in our lives. It’s really about taking the good stuff with us?”
“The good stuff?” Now she was looking mischievous. I could see she was enjoying this.
“There’s a difference between something like skills, and other, more negative things we may have learned from life.”
“Like fear?” She was being really quick, today. I had to keep her headed where we needed to be.
“Like fear, yes – but we’re all afraid . . .” It was a dead-end. I knew it would leave her little to grasp at, forcing her to open it up, again. I pounced before she could.
“As different types, it’s really a question of what frightens us, not whether we’re frightened.” I watched as she worked that apart. Her slight nodding – subconscious to her – indicated that she well understood fear.
“But fear is not primary?” she asked. “It’s not that we’re born with fear!”
I was there. “No,” I added, speaking so low it was practically a whisper. “Fear happens when we leave home.”
It took me a further ten minutes to persuade her to let me drive her to a different station. I knew that the faster London trains stopped at Oxehholme and that she would be at her destination no later than a half hour behind her usual schedule. I was banking on the fact that she would be well prepared, and have enough slack in her Monday to allow this to work. After the first few minutes she let me win, but gradually.
In the car she was relaxed. Her black bags were stowed in the ample boot and she was enjoying being ‘kidnapped’. When we got to the valley she was surprised when I passed her a pair of walking boots.
“Ten minutes, I promise.” I said. We began walking. As we approached the strange hilltop where I had often stood at this time of year, I diverted her attention, making her look back down the valley as we walked the final few steps to line us up with the sun, still rising over the far side of the steep hill. And then, I put my hands gently over her eyes, and turned her around to see what I had come to know as the One Tree.
There was nothing particularly special about it. It was just a tree set in an extraordinary spot. I realised I had been quite tense about the timing, but one look eastwards showed me that I need not have worried. We were right on time – we and the sun. I took my hands away and watched her focus in wonder at the tree, and then the sun behind it.
“Home,” I said. Smiling at the gentle conspiracy of sun and human intent. “Sometimes there are no words for what we are trying to say”. Her breathing deepened as she took in the idea behind the visual, but, magnificently, she managed to say absolutely nothing . . .
She was still holding her silence when I pecked her on the cheek and handed over the last of her bags as she got on the express from Glasgow to London.
Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.