Before The Math |
Over the intervening weeks since we met and that day on the bridge Mona and I had got to know each other. She had told me about how her family were immigrants who had come here to escape a war, and about how the loss of her sister had torn the family apart.
When they came to London Mona’s parents had two daughters. Her sister, Bella, was very young and very pretty – a lethal combination. She had gone off the rails at an early age.
Now all the parents’ hopes were pinned on the eldest daughter.
“It’s not her fault, but it was always different for her being the youngest. For some reason, everything happening like it did made it twice as important to them that I succeed in my career.”
“What about important that you find happiness?”
“Well I guess they wanted that for her. And it didn’t work out. She got to be happy. I get to succeed.”
“And then you’ll be happy?”
“I don’t think the happy part is what’s important to them.”
We had entered under the pillars and were standing in the atrium of the British Museum.
“Hey let’s go and see the egyptian stuff.”
Standing there amidst the statues and the fragments of things like half-remembered dreams, I found myself facing something that looked halfway like an ancient egyptian bus stop. “Tomb chapel of Nebamun,” said the sign.
Nebamun himself had been buried somewhere underneath the floor, Friends and relations would have come and left offerings to him before the thing had been moved wholesale a couple of millenia later to central London. He had been a couple of thousand years too early for that bus he was waiting for.
“You know half the stuff in here is mislabelled,” the tall man confided, coming up behind me and surprising me while I was admiring the intricate paintings of people going about their simple daily lives, their cattle and oxen. I thought I detected an accent – New York, maybe, or New England somewhere: “By the time these people were being depicted the pyramids were already old,” said the impassioned American, “their lands had probably already seen civilisation come up and collapse into sand again, any number of times.”
I must have looked stunned, because he quickly apologised, and introduced himself: “But here I am babbling at you. I’m Manfred Lepidoptera – call me Manny.” He extended the glad hand, looking at Mona: “How funny. I think we work in the same building.”
“Not at all. I’ve been saying the same thing for years – like minded people often run into each other.”
Mona looked sheepish, like she’d been stranded in this crazy room with the two psycopaths when she’d rather be shopping on Bond street. “Yeah,” she said, “I think I’ve seen you.”
“I’m in research,” said Manny, “probably not your department, otherwise I’m sure I’d have made the effort to say hello to you before.”
“_____ here is coming to work in the programme too,” said Mona, “aren’t you, ______?”
“Um, yeah,” I’d agreed.
“Sensational. Come by and have a look at what I’m working on some time. It’ll knock your socks off! Oh, it’s kind of secret, but… here’s my card – it’ll get you into the lab.”
And with that he was off again, pointing out the flaws in the dating and attribution of the ancient relics to his companion, who was also good looking and a fair bit younger than him.
“What a curious fellow.”
It was winter, and London was getting dark. I had promised to take Mona home, and so outside again in the cold I playfully tapped the implant on the side of her head and asked if she could call us a taxi. I was still broke, but didn’t mind spending money when I was around her. She had signed me up with the company and they had scheduled me to get an implant of my own a few weeks from now, the latest experimental model, which they would pay me to trial and report on my user experience.
Everything was going to be all right.
Off in the distance the tower they called the Spike, where Mona’s company had their offices, was rising up to pierce the sky like some steel and glass pyramid put through the hall of mirrors – the modern Pharaoh’s tomb. I wonder if you have anything like it in your reality? But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The pissy rain was falling again. We’d strolled for a bit down to the embankment, and passed along by the river Thames. For a moment I had an impression of the dirty water in the fading light as the river Stix, flowing through the nether world, and I fancied there were creatures there writhing in those waves….
Mona snapped me out of it again as she kissed the side of my face, wet from the raindrops, but she seemed to pass between them. I wondered if she even felt it? She seemed to walk a foot above the pavement, carrying me up there with her when I touched her hand, the modern day Peter Pan and Wendy off to Never Never land…
That was the moment when someone shouted “Look out! He’s got a knife…”