Square root of the problem.
Kylon’s jaw unhinges crookedly, disguising itself as a smile. A colicky laugh springs out of him until it completely overcomes him. Gasping from the sprint, he bends down, his mirth making him quake.
In front of him stands his quarry, Pythagoras. Like a lamb to the slaughter, Pythagoras stands, his breath coming out in mighty puffs.
In front of them stands a farm of fava beans. Resplendent. Pregnant with the beans that sway merrily in the dwindling sun. Each strand is ready to birth the babies it holds in its grasp.
A look of horror settles on his countenance as Pythagoras clutches me in his sweaty palms. There is no way he can cross the field. It is genocide. It goes against every fibre of his being. Heh, even at this crucial time of his almost-impending death, I am drawn toward hilarity.
Oh, wait. I have not introduced myself. I am Favulous Bean, but more about me later. The name is a wordplay between Fava and Fabulous. I am ready to accept your compliments, but let’s get on with this story, eh?
So, where are we?
Yeah, it goes against Pythagoras’ moral fibre. It is his firm belief that beans contain the souls of people gone by. One reason his fingers are digging into my brown derriere, as he believes I am the soul of his dead wife, Myia. The reason he stopped eating them and banned his cult members from even touching Fava beans. Except me. For I am unique. A lulu. Container of Myia.
I am the chosen one.
And here I am, laughing at his conundrum. Should he run for his life through the horizontally-placed stalks of beans or wait to be stabbed by Kylon? Running through the field implies he will trample over the souls of the departed but if he stays, he’d join them.
At times like these, I am grateful that I am a bean. A brilliant specimen of one, no doubt. But a bean, nevertheless.
Well, we are here mostly because of the brilliant mathematician’s faux pas. By not permitting him in his inner triangles, Pythagoras forced Kylon to funnel his anger into an acute angle. I really must stop with my puns!
Kylon is done laughing. With heavy tread echoing in the dusk, he approaches Pythagoras to sunset his life. Their tunics swirl in the sudden gust of the wind. Perhaps it was Kylon who passed wind. Who knows? He is a bean eater, after all. The riotous mob cheers him as they form — what else but — a semicircle around the duo. Chants of “Do him in!” and “Stuff him with beans” rankle the air.
The crowd quietens as Kylon raises the blood-stained knife over Pythagoras’s head and a single swipe is all it takes to lob it off. Gasps colour the air, and the force of the act propels me on the ground where I roll and rest, thinking.
Pythagoras of Samoa must have been high on ‘pot’enus when he denied Kylon access.
The mob claps as the man, under consideration, resumes laughing.
Not the right angle.
It is no laughing matter for him. Like Nemesis, vengeance churns within Kylon’s heart. His rejection by the Semicircles chaffs and festers until it forms a Pythagoras-shaped wound. Unaccustomed to being denied, his violent moods and tyrannical behaviour erupt like Mount Vesuvius. He plans and plots his revenge and his anger manifests in various discourses and public speeches about Pythagoras and his cult’s infantile ways.
News of his badmouthing Pythagoras reaches the man through his inner triangles. While his nimble fingers tug at me, the other hand is lost in the foliage of his beard. He is worried but underestimates the power of the thwarted. Oh, how wrong Pythagoras is!
I may just be a bean, but I can portend the future. Since I hang around the great man’s neck the entire day, I am privy to gazillion conversations. And Pythagoras is in the habit of talking to me like he did with his wife, Myia. So, I can connect the dots to form a reasonably straight line. That man, Kylon, is a disaster waiting to happen.
I hear Kylon’s rage results in riling up a mob. The crowd, armed with torches, descends upon the warren-like houses where the Semicirclets (Ha!) live. They torch houses and stab the fleeing members. The duty-bound members form a human bridge, risking their lives, to permit Pytha-God-liness to escape his blazing hut. And he does it in style!
But our escape does not go undetected. Kylon, a dullard in every way possible, is blessed with the eyesight of an eagle. He watches the bearded man in a flowing but stained tunic trample over his followers in a bid to cheat death. Pythagoras runs towards the open fields to escape his predator.
And Kylon, wielding a pearl-handle knife, chases him. And me.
Opposite the Hypotenuse
Noises chase each other as Kylon listens with half an ear as the man, Pyrrhus, at the official residence of the Semicircle speaks. A few stray words pierce his boredom while the others graze by without a tremble.
“The rules we have are very strict and they must be adhered to with no deviations,” Pyrrhus says. “No beans. No…”
“But I love Fava beans!” burst in Kylon.
Pyrrhus closes his eyes, his mouth counting up to the Holy Ten. “Beans contain the souls of our ancestors; it is the main tenet of our teachings. Let me continue. No stirring fire with a knife. No meat whatsoever. No rings. And each time the Thunder Lord speaks, we must touch the earth. A vow of secrecy and silence. And, of course, a vow of selective celibacy.”
“What is selective celibacy?”
Pyrrhus looks at Kylon with disdain, not concerned about his pedigreed lineage. “I have already explained. Selective celibacy permits the community members to indulge in pleasures of the flesh only during winter. In summer, relationships are frowned upon. I hope it’s clear now.”
Happy that winter is coming, Kylon nods. “So, when can I join?”
A sudden burst of laughter escaped Pyrrhus like a startled deer escaping a lion. “Quinquennial of silence is the minimum criterion. Then it depends on our god, Pythagoras, to bestow an initiation upon you.”
“What is quinquennial?”
“Five years? Futuo! Who waits that long?” Kylon straightens his back, his voice, unctuous. “I am the son of a wealthy Crotonate nobleman — a man of privilege. Can I influence my entry in any way?”
Pity loomed in Pyrrhus’s eyes as his mouth confirmed the word no. “I am sorry. It is out of my hands.”
“I need to speak to the manager!”
“Our God entertains only those who have finished their five years of silence. I apologise your trip has been a waste of your time.”
Dark clouds thunder across Kylon’s face. True to his sworn pledge, Pyrrhus touches the ground.
That night, when Pyrrhus narrates the incident to Pythagoras, both men have a rumbling laugh over it.
“Just because he is noble, why should I permit him an early entry? Nobility does not guarantee purity, Pyrrhus.”
“I agree, O’ Divine Pythagoras.”
“It is important that members follow the right order to understand life is all about numbers. I am glad you rejected him, Pyrrhus. His behaviour is not becoming that of nobility.”
“I did not like the look of him, my divinity. He reminded me of a bad penny.”
“As long as he does not turn up again, we have nothing to fear. Our tiny island at Croton is enough for our community. We do not aspire for much except unlocking numbers and their mysteries.”
“Yes, my Highness. I am sure people like Kylon are just like empty vessels. Noisy, but lack sustenance to do much.”
Many… many moons earlier.
Obviously, the congregation needs no sustenance and is noisy as they chime in unison.
“Bless us, O’ Divine number, thou who generated gods and men! For thou begun with pure unity, till it reaches the holy four, and then it begets the mother-of-all, the firstborn, the never-tiring holy ten!” They collectively lower their heads and stretch their hands high in the air. Their sacred symbol — the Tetractys — is just an ordinary triangle, formed with white candles that light up the room in an almost-séance like fashion. Pythagoras kneels next to it, swaying to the beats of the chants and mouthing unspoken words of a prayer.
“May the Tetractys bless the men and the gods, and men like Pythagoras!” echoes the altar.
Pythagoras opens his eyes and raises his hands to silence the crowd. Or bless them.
Who knows? Or even cares?
His posse quietens instantly. Countless sets of eyes, in groups of seven, watch their leader. Eager to hear him speak. They have given up a lot to be embraced by the man, the mathematician, the Pythagoras (not embraced literally because Pytha-the-hero had tolerated only Myia’s touch).
He drones on and on, going around in circles about the divinity of numbers and their magic. He waxes poetic about their superpower. It goes over my tiny head and I zone out. The cult-ees, if I may, hang at every word.
What is it about charismatic leaders and their cult following? They are willing to give up so much for so less in return. A case in the example — the Mathematikoi or the herd of Pythagoras. And the rules that govern them are soaked in insanity.
As per the Pytha-dude, any kind of bodily fluid or gas when it flows out of the body takes with it a part of the soul. Yeah, excessive farting can make you breathless. It probably infuriated his cult-ees with beans being the hot favourite amongst the Greeks, but what can I say?
No, seriously. I can only opine to you, but I cannot actually string a sentence together aloud.
The commune disperses shortly afterwards. Tomorrow, the first full moon of the month, is special for the Semi-Circles of Pythagoras members and the dude himself. They will light a small fire and prance around it naked, pumping their hands in the air. As if… no, tomorrow is the day the new members are to be welcomed. The same members that have not peeped a squeak for five long years.
Oscillating around his neck, I settle over his flat stomach. The commune is quiet, with all the Pythagoreans asleep. As sex is most definitely out for them (another of Pytha-I-only-sleep-with-my-wife-goras’ rules). Summer months meant abstinence and the lack of action can be compensated against winter months, as long as the members do not cross the ultimate figure of permissible sex encounters allocated to each one of them.
Yeah, it is that kind of commune.
Where instead of the rampant sex drive of the cult-ees, they cultivate celibacy. The Semicircle of Pythagoras.
All I can say is Pythagoras is a shape-shifting individual. Har. Har. I laugh so hard at my jokes that I fart. But not enough to be breathless!
And Pytha-gaseous forms the Semicircle of Pythagoras, a religious community with serious, oh-such-serious initiation rules. No beans. No meat except chicken and fish (!). Only roots. Limited sex. And the stinker? Probable entrants are required to maintain silence for five years to be considered eligible for entry.
Well, well, well. It is a good thing I had a backdoor entry. Holding my silence for that long would have caused me to sprout.
The next morning rises with the sun twinkling over the waters of Croton. It gently wakes up Pythagoras with its rays tickling the man. After a quick bath and breakfast, he settles with the community non-hippies in the library where each of them pore over books. Debugging the mystery of numbers. Worshipping the Holy Ten.
I am still bound around the man’s neck. Not looking forward to the full-moon night when the new babies will enter the cult and I will have to hear the speech that I have heard ad nauseam. Courtesy my proximity to Pythagoras, I have not only heard him give the speech, but also his countless practice sessions in his chambers. If I had ears, they’d be bleeding now.
Wait, if beans could have blood, which colour would it be?
Questions. Questions. With no answers. Much like keyless locks.
“Welcome, old friends, and on-the-cusp-of-friendship acquaintances, who are to be initiated. Many of you have eagerly adopted our customs, ready to be merged into our inner triangles. But there are odd men out amongst you, still harbouring doubt. I am here to free your mind from them and turn your mind into a receptacle of numbers. I will unleash today the mysteries of the universe where each digit has its place and a place for them.”
Pythagoras is in top form. His spotless white tunic swishes with elegance, and his baritone voice echoes on the sandy beach under the silvery night. He is a captivating orator, and I can understand his allure.
“But before we do that, a quick recap. Our rules define what we are. We cannot be cannibals, followers! For all you know, we could be eating our relatives, our mamas, our papas, our wives, or our babies, while dining on beans. No more beans. Say it with me!”
Why no beans? Heck, are you not listening? Sheesh. They contain the humans’ ancestors’ souls.
Pythagoras shakes his head, his shiny snow-white curls cascade around his head while his beard flutters. The gentle sea breeze holds it parallel to the ground. The soft moonlight radiates off him — an aura of purity. Members of his cult lap up every word as they gently scream in affirmation and prostrate in front of him. I wonder what drives them to punish themselves to be circle-ites.
It is a mystery to me, but I can understand what drove Pytha-not-rhino-cerous to start the commune. It was loneliness and the call of mortality. A siren call to leave upon this world, a shiny ribbon with his name engraved in gold.
When the session is over, the commune goes to bed alone. The moonlight flirts with the room, flittering in and out, acting coy. Plunging it in semi-darkness and diffused light. Well, not darkness as a lamp throws a lazy circle of dwindling light that tries to compete with the capricious moonlight.
His hand dips lower with anxious and frantic movements until Pythagoras finds me. Raising me to his eye level, he whispers.
“How I miss you, Myia! You remain the very breath in my lungs.” With that done, he puckers his lips and kisses me.
It is the worst part of the day’s culmination. When good ole Pythae retires for the night and invariably places his dual-lipped fungi on me. For in his vast and intellectual mind, one thought gains supreme — in me lies Myia’s soul.
Yeah, Myia’s soul lies within a bean. This was, of course, before my association with Pyth-the-man, but I have heard him moan about it at every given opportunity.
Who was Myia? Who was I? How could a bean talk? All will be spilled. Hold on to your horses, mates!
Transmigration. That is the trigger for the events that have transpired. The word that makes Pythagoras tick. The word that is the bedrock of his beliefs.
Transmigration. To go from one state of existence to another. Pythagoras believes strongly in reincarnation and that the souls of dead people inhabit the bodies of other animals and objects. This is the origin of my backstory — why I am the most coveted bean in the whole of Samoa and why the members of Pythae’s cult loath and envy me in equal measures. It started when Myia died, leaving Pythagoras bereft of a partner. It has been the bane of my existence.
Off the tangent
It is the bane of my existence, yet it is my origin story. While working on the soul theory, Pythagoras’s long-suffering wife, Myia (yuppers, you made the connections!), contracts the dreaded and rampant typhus disease. Despite his machinations, her health deteriorates rapidly.
“Pythae, I do not think I will last this night! My stomach is heaving on the inside!” she groans.
Fava beans, the staple diet of Greeks, were part of their dinner that night, and flatulence only adds to her discomfort as the story goes.
“Pssht! All hogwash, beautiful Myia. You’re going to last as long as the moon shines,” Pythagoras claims he had said to his wife, clasping her limp hand in his warm, huge ones.
The long night finally snaps the gossamer threads that connect her to this very earth, and Myia succumbs to typhus. Apparently, while she had lain coughing — her last few minutes on the earth, delirious, she moans and hashes around. As Pytha-gaseous stands passing fumes, his wife lies gasping for air. In her hand, she clutches me tight in her dainty palms.
Why? I have never known. Maybe by clutching a bean, one can ward off death. Who cares? I came into, err… being (score!) after her death. Everything else is hearsay. And Pythagoras speaks a lot about it. A. Lot.
As she departs from this world, her palm opens as if cajoled by destiny. And right on cue, I roll out of her hand, resting right next to the great man’s sandals. A skint, he pockets me in an act of muscle memory, too lost in his sorrow to notice his baser nature. That night, as he lies with his wife’s fast-cooling body, Myia’s pooch howls outside.
Finally, the grieving man totters on his feet and heads towards the canine beast. When released, the four-legged dog sniffs its way inside and sits respectfully but mournfully next to his dead mistress and a grief-stricken Pythagoras.
As the dog’s howls increase in crescendo, Pytho cocks his head. “Myia, is that you?”
Thankfully, the dog does not respond, but in the excitement of the matter, I pirouette out of Pytho’s tunic pocket and settle, this time next to Myia. The dog instantly stops howling as I make an appearance. Pytha-gaseous looks at it.
Then at me.
He turns his gaze at his still-dead wife.
Then his gaze returns to me.
Squealing, Pythae grasps me in his hands and cries out. “Transmigration is true! Myia, you’ve just left your mortal shell behind, but your soul has entered this… this Fava bean. Even your mangy dog agrees with me!” He holds me with reverence. “My theory has been proven correct!” Tears mixed with snot roll down and harbour themselves in his beard.
With a resounding kiss on the corpse and a kick to the dog, Pythagoras strings me around his neck for posterity.
And the legend of me, Favulous Bean, is born.
No more has-beans for me.
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