Account for Every Grain
The teacher found the boy kneeling on a colourful towel with a handful of sand. What had begun as vigorous counting, each number uttered in anticipation of the next, had dwindled to a monotonous drone, figures ever increasing as the day squirmed on. Now early evening, his skin had roasted black.
‘You could try counting minutes,’ the teacher suggested, sitting carefully beside him. Keen as she was to foster progress in her student and ease him from consuming fixations toward true, deserved childhood, she wouldn’t cause a single grain to be lost—that would upset him terribly. ‘Then you could play in-between each number.’
‘It’s the beach. I have to count sand.’
His reply was matter-of-fact, disquietingly so. What was this malady? What on earth had emblazoned numbers on his mind to the exclusion of all else, trapping him, even as insults brutally hurled his way progressed to cruel shoves and blows?
‘Doesn’t that look fun?’
Most of her students frolicked in the shallows. Those more confident in the sea had upgraded to swimming and stroked happily. A small group kicked a rubber ball between them with noisy splashes, white sprays of foam flying with their feet.
‘If you play for five minutes, I’ll mind your sand for you,’ she bargained, offering her hand.
The boy lifted his eyes to his classmates and the early stages of sunset, backdrop to their play. He studied them, lashes showering salt as he blinked. Crystals had embedded in their soft curls over the hours, carried by waves and the breeze. Momentarily, he was absorbed. But then, having counted every child and gull that winged overhead, he returned to his sand, prodding granules across his palm with utmost care.
‘You could stop,’ the teacher told the poor boy.
He glanced up again, this time at her. Before an obsequious slave, now he seemed uncertain.
‘No, I can’t. I have to count.’
He waggled his hand, indicating the thousands of grains. He wouldn’t feel settled until each one was safely accounted for.
‘I have to,’ he repeated. ‘Don’t I?’
‘You don’t,’ she replied, boiling with resolve to see him freed. ‘You can stop. It might be hard. But if you want to, you can. It’s your decision.’
The boy’s eyes—she’d never seen them so bright. But then his head dipped, her heart alongside.
‘Maybe later. I have to finish here, first.’