It didn’t add up. That’s what he thought. He checked his rule and his compasses and his angles. It was all wrong. He consulted his tables and charts. He made amendments to his calculations on the blackboard and scrutinised what he had written, the numbers and letters and symbols dissolving before his eyes, pooling into no sense, into nonsense. He scratched his head, stirring the smoke of his grey hair and he paced to the window to look again at the position of the stars on this frost sharp night. Something is not right, he thought. It was Heaven that was wrong. It must be, though it was a blasphemy to even think that. He wished for the company of wise men, so he might consult with them, as he had before they left. If they were here with him, he could voice his doubts. He could tell them what his new calculations showed. What they didn’t show. Hadn’t they wrestled over such matters for more than a year? Hadn’t they put their heads together and come to just the one conclusion? Two heads are always better than one. That was something he said and how much better are four then two? A journey planned on the strength of their conclusions, fine gifts procured, a path plotted on a yellow map. He should have gone with them, following the winter star, an idea. Only, looking at it now something was not quite as it should be. He squinted up at the heavens, took precise measurements with his astrolabe and he added these new figures to his charts. Still it didn’t add up.
A knock at the door interrupted his meditations. It was the maid, the daughter of a friend who sat on the high council. Her name was Souri, he could never think straight when she was in the room. But he was not cross when she interrupted his thoughts.
‘Asr be kheyr, sir,’ said Souri, her words briefly visible in the cold air and she dipped a shallow curtsey to the mathematician.
“Good evening, Souri,” said the mathematician. “It is Jahandar,” he said quietly. “My name, it is Jahandar.” He wanted to add that it would make an old man’s heart glad if she would call him by his name. But he didn’t. And she didn’t.
“If you are busy, I can come back when you are finished,” she said, her voice soft as sighing and her head bowed a little. Jahandar wished she did not avert her gaze so, though had her eyes met his he did not know how he should breathe. Not like the Gorgon, he thought, not turned to awful stone by her look, but turned to a somehow sweeter stillness. Jahandar got up from his desk and made a show of laying down his pen and setting aside his tables and charts. He smiled at the girl and all thoughts of his work left him.
“It is late, Souri. It is late for you to still be here.”
It was not a rebuke. That was not what he intended. Souri blushed and made an apology for not having finished her work before now and her words were small as crouching caged birds. He waved a hand in the air to suggest it was no matter. What he wanted to say was he was pleased she was there. He was happy to see her. He wished it was always so. ‘Always so’. A star in his own thoughts. He wanted to tell her, but his words were sharp as swallowed fish bones. He waved his hand as if her work being not done was no important thing, but that was not what he meant.
Souri began tidying the room, dusting the shelves and setting the scrolls straight, her fingers seeming to caress the rolls of parchment and papyrus, lingering over the more serious works, as though they were something to her. At least that’s how it seemed to Jahandar. He watched her. He pretended not to, pretended he was reading something he had written. Souri moved around the room and he thought it was like dancing. He thought he heard music in the shushing of her skirts and the air smelled of rosewater. Jahandar cleared his throat, he was about to speak, but at the last his courage escaped him, once again and he kept silent. Silently cursing his own cowardice.
“You have been busy today, sir,” said Souri. She stood in front of his blackboard and took in the changes he had made to his calculations. He nodded, hearing only the ‘sir’ and wishing it was not ‘sir’. ‘It is Jahandar,’ he said under his breath.
“But something does not add up, I think?” she said.
It was like hearing his own voice, his own thoughts threaded on the air, made sweeter than Baklava, softer than sleep-breath. Souri stared at the board, taking everything in, her mouth giving kiss shapes to her reading of all he had written. He watched her and it was like a dream he’d had, the dream made real in that moment. She stepped towards the board, as she had in the dream, in a thousand and one dreams. She picked up the chalk and made a small-tweak change to what the mathematician had written. He could not at first see the marks she had made. In the dream he never could for when she turned to him he woke gasping for breath, like a landed fish.
Souri stepped away from the board and it was like a curtain drawn back on a bright day. He could see. The change she had made. It was a small difference but it was everything. He could see it at once. A revelation. He thought Souri might be an angel and the word of God written in chalk on his board. His turn then to make kiss shapes out of what he had written, what she had written, reading it over and over until he had it by heart and the theorem was a part of him.
“How?” he said, when he had done reading. The solution was perfect and beautiful and everything made sense with the small adjustment Souri had made. She turned and smiled at Jahandar and it took the breath from him as it had in his dream.
“There is magic in numbers, Jahandar and when you understand that, everything makes sense.”
Souri’s words floated in the air between them, making mist and small music and again he smelled rosewater and his thoughts spun in dizzy circles in his head and he did not immediately notice his name in her mouth and the sound that it made and what it meant for her to say what she had said. He was still caught up in the question of how it could be and not understanding. She laid aside her duster and loosened her hair.
“My work here is done,” she said. She reached one hand towards the mathematician. “Two heads are always better than one, I have heard you say as much, Jahandar and the same can be said of two hearts.”
This time he did notice his name given new life in her breath. He took Souri to him and the room was suddenly filled with light, as though snow had fallen or stars had come down to earth and were in his study with them. That’s what he afterwards wrote, in a letter to Souri’s father. It adds up, he wrote, everything is right in the heavens and God has made his love manifest. Souri gave witness to everything Jahandar wrote and a marriage was arranged and their two families broke bread together in Jahandar’s house.
A story was written, afterwards, a Winter’s tale and the story has been told through all time. It is a story of Shepherds in the fields and Angel heralds. And men from the East. It could not be four. That would not have made sense. Three wise men it had to be their gifts in boxes of high ornament and rich enough for a king, a star leading them to a faraway place: Bethlehem it is called, which means ‘House of Bread’. There a new born child, gifted to the world and ‘Love’ is his name. And because it had to be three, Jahandar had to stay behind. It had not made sense to him at first, then Souri was the solution to all his mathematics and Love did indeed walk the earth and the time of year is ever after and ever shall be, a time for rejoicing. Jahandar is a name that means ‘possessor of all the world’ and Souri is ‘a red rose’.