‘How many?’ Pericles sinks the teaspoon into the sugar jar the waitress has just brought, along with two cups of filter coffee and a slice of cake. He glances up at her, waiting.
‘Two,’ Mina says and bends over the cake, knife in the right hand, fork in the left. She cuts it into four equal pieces and then into eight. Pericles’s gaze like viscous honey onto her. It’s been years since they were an item, but he’s still ogling, still devouring her. What a coincidence really for them to meet by chance this Sunday afternoon at the Dionysius Areopagite pedestrian precinct, near the Acropolis Museum. Two mountains can never meet but a man can certainly meet a woman, muses Mina.
Pericles ducks and stirs her coffee, his nose asymmetrical, twisted and damp. ‘So, still single, eh?’ He lets the teaspoon down, clutches both nostrils with his fingers and sniffs noisily. He swallows the phlegm voraciously, with satisfaction.
Mina shivers, her fingers fumble with the side pocket of her bag. She pulls a tissue paper packet out and offers him two. ‘It just never happened,’ she says. She reads the packet: ten four-ply pieces, twenty-six grams net weight. Even. Full symmetry. She puts it back in place. Eight left.
‘Such a beautiful woman! You’ve got everything.’
Mina looks out the café glass window. A sudden blast of wind gusts through the folding arms, makes the awning roar, as if it’s struggling to free itself from the iron grasp. Such an unpredictable weather. The morning sun makes you believe that spring is finally here and in the afternoon it rains cats and dogs, as if somebody is lashing at your back, sending you back home scuttling, surly and sour.
What if an arm breaks and stabs the glass and injures them? Terrified, she notices that she’s dangerously closer to the glass than Pericles. ‘What’s that?’ She gapes at him.
‘Are you cold? Would you rather we changed seats?’ he says and wipes his moist, asymmetrical nose with the back of his left palm, snuffling for the second time.
‘No, no, I’m alright.’ Mina takes the packet back out and hands him two more paper tissues. He places them next to his cup.
‘I was saying,’ Pericles snuffles for the third time. ‘I was saying that men would certainly queue up for your sake, so attractive and – ‘
‘Beauty is relative. Anyway, it’s easier to find a needle in a haystack than your perfect mate in this life.’ She takes two sips of coffee, one after the other. ‘What about you, Pericles? Have you found your soul mate, your Aspasia?’ She laughs and has two bites of cake. Pericles, she reflects, three syllables. Even if you want to cut it symmetrically into two or find its pair, it’s still impossible. Well, you’ll certainly have a hard time doing it. Apparently, a four-syllable Aspasia is too much for him and obviously a two-syllable Mina is too little. Think about his ancestor and namesake: he lived between 461-429 BC, fought in the first Peloponnesian war, which lasted fifteen years, broke up his marriage for Aspasia, a prostitute – though quite highbrow – whom, nevertheless, he treated as an equal, rather paradox and radical for the times, if one considers the woman’s place in ancient Athens. No, no symmetry whatsoever.
‘Still searching.’ He laughs and sniffs for the fourth time, his stare sticky on her.
She’s studying him. His hair has started to retreat in disarray, though he’s only thirty-eight years old, when he smiles the right side of his upper lip rises a bit more than its left counterpart and his two front teeth are irregular, uneven, one more yellowish than the other. And all this catarrh. No, it’s not the catarrh as much as the audacious way he sniffs, with such impudence and smugness. Has he always been like that? Three years together and she never had the slightest notion or is it that she has just forgotten all about it or that she has finally reached a stage where she can observe things better, discern stuff which seemed ordinary, tolerable and petty? But, she knows that for sure, it’s the little details that are vital. Details matter.
Pericles snuffles for the fifth time, Mina offers him two more tissues. Four remained. ‘Nothing comes out of splitting hairs,’ he says. ‘Relationships mean compromise, knowing when to relent, cut each other some slack. But, if there’s love, almost anything can be solved.’
The hooks are still struggling with the awning, which billows and bounces, like a giant medusa.
‘Love, eh?’ says Mina and looks him straight in the eye. ‘How does one define love? Is there selfless love or is it just a give and take in a world where the law of the jungle prevails? A kill or be killed, an eat or be eaten, the superiority of self interest?’ Was the ancient Pericles originally a feminist or merely stimulated by baser instincts? Why wasn’t he equally liberal with his wife, but when he was love-struck, he offered her to another man, to get rid of her, like a second-hand object for sale, or, better, for resale, in exchange for his freedom? She folds a white paper napkin into four, meticulously.
Pericles’s eyes are a dark pulp, his eyebrows asymmetric, concentric wrinkles on his forehead. ‘Look, Mina, I know… I…’ He snuffles for the sixth time.
Mina shivers. She ties her fingers under the table in a tight knot and says, ‘You don’t have to apologize. You can’t change what happened or didn’t happen. Just forget about it.’
‘It didn’t mean anything to me, that story… the fling… I want you to know this. I…’
‘Yes, of course. Of course I know. I do, yes.’ She gives him two more tissues. She takes two more sip and eats the last two bites. She places the fork across from the knife, the coffee plate on top of the cake plate, two uneven circles with parallel, unequal diameters.
‘We could… you know… I f there’s love … I …’ Pericles stutters amongst repetitive snuffles. Mina has lost count. The tissues fall onto the floor and he wipes his nose with both palms. Mina is about to take out two more tissues but she sees the other eight ones intact, still folded, on the tiles and remembers that there are only two left. She zips the side bag pocket. No, she won’t offer him the last two tissues. She rises and so does Pericles, who, with the eyes of a freshly-hooked fish observes her every move. She tosses the crumbs off her skirt, crosses her bag over her head and straightens the leather strap as it divides her chest into two. She used to wear it either on the right or on the left side but couldn’t find any symmetry in it. The other side always fell in order to offset the balance. There was no symmetry. She couldn’t handle it, never could, never would, now she realizes it, as, heavy-hearted, she leaves five Euros and fifty cents on the table, exactly as much as her own part of the bill is.