Trailing at distance, I saw the pair moving across a field. I decided to approach them head-on, rather than sneak up from behind, taking all measures to avoid agitating Perelman. However, I was hungry for a share of that glory myself and craved an exclusive interview. But, ragged as these surroundings were, Perelman exceeded them. “And what I’m doing now, I won’t tell you.” I was ready with another question, but he had one of his own. You speak like someone who was born in Russia.” Was he trying to relate to me, or was he deflecting attention from himself? We had walked for 20 minutes, and what had I figured out? As Rukshin had told me, Perelman seemed “tortured by the imperfection of humanity”. The only way to do this, I knew, was to go to Russia and sit outside his flat until he came out. As a younger man, he had been handsome, with soft, dark features, but recent pictures, taken with a camera phone on a train and then transmitted across the web, projected a different image. “I understand that you’re not practising maths anymore,” I said. Either way, he was showing me that he could deal with people. ” Each time, Perelman shrugged, stared into the sky, said nothing. But the US’s world of tenured professors and funded research labs offended Perelman’s sensibilities and he returned to St Petersburg’s Steklov Institute in 1995, disenchanted. By this stage, he had already begun his work on the Poincaré Conjecture, a theorem expounded in 1904 by Henri Poincaré, a French polymath and the founder of topology, the mathematical study of abstract shape, which still informs some of the work done at research institutes like Cern. “I’ve been sitting in a car out there waiting for you.” “Really? He possessed a heterosexual orientation, Rukshin told me, but not the fire to pursue this inclination to its logical end.
Then, refocusing my eyes on Perelman’s door, I heard myself gasp, “There he is! The beard, the hair, the expression of uncertainty as he stumbled into the sun, his mother, Lyubov, by his side. But I have come from America to speak with you.” Up close, Perelman looked about 5ft 10in and less menacing than I had imagined. When you have no companion, look to your walking stick Beware the man who will not engage in conversation, he is planning to steal your walking stick or water your stock.Without my walking stick I’d go insane Between 18 more than 1500 patents were issued for canes fitted with telescopes, fans, perfume bottles, trumpets etc.And even though I knew he spoke English, I thought it best to speak Russian with him, to put him further at ease. Walking past a heap of rubbish, I lost them, and by the time I saw them again, they were heading back the way they’d come. I would have to approach them from behind after all. Then I was at his side, and there was no more time to think.