--------------------------------------disclaimer : all mathematical facts are accurate to the best of my knowledge, and drawn upon from wolfram mathworld, the best math resource on the web. Also, all characters are fictitious and should they bear any correlation with any things actual, then rest assured that they aren't intentional.

Numbers. The one word had always meant so much for old Pandey. The one thing he had lived his entire life upon. He wasn't the great Indian mind who had been honoured with degrees one after the other, neither had he been to any college all his life. Nor did he have a chance now to make amends. But numbers always fascinated him. He had that bare minimum knowledge of English to comprehend mathematical texts, and with the oil lamp that lit his ramshackle hovel, he revelled in the world of numbers, a world of his own.

He amazed many a stranger. Pointing at the number plate of a taxi cab that just passed him he would say "7433 ... it remains prime if any one digit is deleted." Or maybe he would stare at the morning paper, and read the headlines : 67 people feared dead, and with a smile on his face, a faraway look in his eyes, murmur "the smallest number that is palindromic in bases 5 and 6"

Most people took him to be a lunatic, but he didn't let that bother him one single bit. To him, numbers were one and all. Synonymous with life itself.

..................................

It began like any normal morning in the life of old Pandey. He had gotten out of bed, and was chewing the neem bark as he usually did. His frantic cranial activity however was evident ... written all over his face. A strange look in his eyes, mind wandering somewhere ... possibly a place even he knew not, where.

A rap on the door brought him to his senses. He blinked. His daughter would respond ... with this comforting thought, the faraway look was back in his eyes, and the neem bark, back in his mouth.

The second rap was louder. He blinked again. It took a while for him to figure it out that he was alone in his house. To remember that his daughter had been married off a month or so back. He grimaced. Quickly washing his mouth he hobbled up to the wooden door. By then a firmer, and a more impatient third knock had already sounded. He unlatched the door, and it creaked open.

Two swarthy men stepped in. It didn't take a great mind to guess however that the men weren't happy. One was big, burly and bore a menacing look on his face. The other was skinny, and lanky but looked equally grumpy.

"Yes?" Pandey ventured to ask.

"What do ya mean, yes, ya old fool?" the burly one spat out. "It's been nine months, and you haven't paid up."

"Pay?" Pandey blinked

"Yes" the skinny one made a face "Pay. For all the money we lent you. Where's your daughter ... married off on our money, eh? Bloody lucky you got, with that one ... "

"Not for long though .. " the burly one snickered.

"But .. but... it was a lottery ... a thing that I won .. my luck"

"CUT THE CRAP, OLD MAN ... and pay up"

Pandey fell silent. He had never been the sort who could argue, and certainly not with the sort of people who had barged into his house this very moment. He looked on blankly.

"WHAT YA LOOKIN' LIKE THAT FOR?" the burly one roared. The thin one snickered.

A few more seconds of silence.

Another roar.

"YOU BLOODY FOOL"

Another snicker.

Maybe the day that had begun normally wouldn't be normal anymore.

But Pandey wasn't thinking about the money, or the payment, or the two men in front of him. One word the burly one had uttered, had set him off on one of his mathematical pursuits.

The word was nine.

Nine. It was a number. And that meant more to him, at that instant, than anything and everything.

Nine! The square of three! The square of the number of spatial dimensions he lived in!

His forehead wrinkled for a few seconds. And his eyes lit up.

Nine! One half of eighteen! One half of the only positive number that could be written as double the sum of its digits! He released a sigh of satisfaction.

Suddenly he frowned. And then, a sudden wildness filled his eyes, like that of a child beholding a magic trick.

Nine! The maximum number of cubes required to sum any positive integer! He uttered a yelp of delight.

The two men standing in front, however, weren't amused. The thin one stepped forward and gripped him by his shoulder. Pandey yelped again. This time however, out of pain. Old age, for him, had brought forth several things. One was rheumatism.

He looked at his assailant. Right into his menacing eyes, and … to the latter's incredulity, he smiled.

This proved disconcerting for the man, and he released his grip. Pandey fell back, shaken, but as nonchalant as ever. The big burly one however was tougher. He pushed the skinny one aside and faced Pandey.

“look here … you …”, he was breathing hard. “I don care how you manage it,

*but I want my money*. All of it.”

Pandey looked on.

The man was growing all the more menacing with every passing second. And Pandey's silence, added more fuel to his steadily increasing fury.

“You … you got it right. I want my money.

*I don care how*. Beg. Borrow. Steal.

*I want my money*.”

“ok”, Pandey's sudden answer, and more so the brevity of it, caught the two of them by surprise.

The man relaxed. “Better. I'm giving you one last chance old man. It's this month end that I want it by.”

Relaxed, yes. But venomous.

“yes” Pandey replied, but the air of nonchalance was all the more evident.

“So …” the big one whispered. “You have six days. Right?”

“I guess so” Pandey smiled. Six. The smallest perfect number.

“that is …”, after much trepidation, the big one continued “One hundred and forty four hours. You better have it by then. Or else … old man … you'll wish …”

The threat remained incomplete, and the two of them, cast one last menacing glance each, turned and left. Crashing the wooden door after them.

Pandey was unmoved. He stood where they had left them. Several seconds passed. Several minutes followed. Then an hour. Pandey stood on, oblivious to all that had happened a few minutes back.

One. One. Two. Three. Five. Eight. Pandey's mind was working faster than it ever had. Fifty five. Eighty nine.

A few seconds later.

Two hundred and thirty three.

Three hundred and seventy seven.

Six hundred and ten.

A few more seconds.

One thousand, five hundred and ninety seven.

…

And suddenly it was all clear. He could see it to the very end. Right up to infinity.

It had to be it.

One hundred and forty four hours was what the man had said. One hundred and forty four was what it was.

One hundred and forty four was the largest perfect square in the Fibonacci series.

With a squeal of delight, he put the neem bark back in his mouth and chewed upon it.

Life was beautiful. Again.

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