“A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.” -Paul Erdos
My grandmother told me once that luck multiplies if you share it. So long deprived of good fortune, I had almost forgotten what luck looked like before I met him. I was only eight years old when I lost my lucky star, and thirteen black years stood between me and my younger self. When a slip of happy fate landed at my feet that night, my Nagy’s voice echoed in my ears: Hand it along to the next person. Let Fortuna’s wheel spin past, and it will come back all the sooner. May my luck be yours. May it multiply.
By a whim of the universe, Southern California lay trembling that winter in the middle of a freak snowstorm, the likes of which had not been seen for decades. I certainly had never known anything like it. Only the old-timers of California, pioneer grandchildren whose blood ran cool like the blood of lizards in the desert night could remember the time when it had snowed so much. Later I thought that the snow might have been meant for me. A sign, I guess. I did not believe in signs.
A high wind blew the clouds in over the mountains, washing snow over the unsuspecting city sprawl even as the sun shone down through the white haze. News reporters stood amid snow-dusted palm trees and talked for hours about low-pressure zones while intrepid tourists milled around on the chilly beaches, goosepimpled under their optimistically short beachwear.
Everyone at Pasadena University marveled at how strange the weather had decided to become this winter. Students from more northern states rolled their eyes at the in-state native kids who shivered through their fleeces, unused to the chilly stuff. Everybody wore boots and scarves and other fashionable cold-weather attire that they had been itching to take out of the closet for god knows how long.
Shuffling across the sidewalk toward the library cafe, I heaved my backpack up over one shoulder and tried not to look as clumsy as I felt. The sky was still pale with snowy clouds even as evening fell. My number theory study group had started ten minutes ago, but I needed a coffee before I could even start thinking about cosets and bijections.
A thin layer of snow covered the lawn in front of the university library, each snowflake turning end over end in perfect hexagonal symmetry until it hit the ground and was lost among the others.
That’s how I felt nowadays. Lost amid a blanket of snowflakes, each more perfect and pristine than me. Completely, utterly, bafflingly lost.
School had been a walk in the park for as long as I could remember. Some grades I deserved. Some, though, my teachers gave to me for being a nice, quiet kid they never had to worry about. Inside I seethed at my reputation as a good girl. I wanted adventure. I wanted danger and challenge. I wanted to do terrible and honorable things and prove myself to be brave, just like the mythic Greek heroines I admired in my childhood - Athena, Eurydice, Artemis.
University certainly challenged me, but rather than hunting golden-horned stags or transforming mortals into boars, I labored to figure out proofs for combinatorial theorems while juggling two jobs. Instead of being at the top of my class, I struggled to even pass. Everyone said I was supposed to find myself in college, but I seemed to be straying farther and farther away from who I was, running faster and faster just to stay even with everyone else.
As I got closer to the library, I saw a man sitting outside on a bench, looking just as lost as I felt. He was bundled up in a black coat, his knitted hat pulled down over his ears, and he stared down just in front of his feet, as though trying to count the snowflakes that fell around him. I smiled as I walked by the bench, but he didn’t even look up. I paused at the door and looked back at him, thinking that maybe I ought to ask if he needed directions, but he didn’t move an inch, his gaze unwavering, his shoulders slumped. Must be the weather.