The Unhappy Abacus

The Abacus was moaning to the empty classroom again.

‘I don’t count anymore,’ he said. ‘I feel useless.’ As he spoke, his coloured beads flicked from side to side along the metal rods that formed his torso. The beads made a clicking sound that created a mathematical fluidity to his speech. On the top of his head was a black toupee that contrasted with his grey and bushy moustache and eyebrows.

‘How many years have you been sitting here?’ asked a voice from the darkness.

‘Too many to count!’ he coughed. He had lost count of the number of times that he had lost count. ‘The children can’t even reach me because the shelf is too high.’

‘What are you counting now?’ asked the voice.

‘I count everything,’ replied the Abacus, emphatically. ‘The number of odd pumps in the shoe box. The number of half-eaten crayons. The grains of sand in the sand box.’ He paused. A few more beads flicked across his torso. ‘And I count the Moon.’ He smiled. The Abacus tilted his head and the toupee slipped a little to the side.

‘How do you count the Moon?’ continued the voice. The voice sounded soothing and teacher-like.

‘I count her minutes and seconds in the sky. I count her cycles. And I count the beams of light that she shines through the windows at us.’

‘And what do you count when the children are here?’ asked the voice.

The Abacus scoffed. ‘Ask The Calculator, it’s his fault that I don’t count with them anymore. With his fancy buttons and screen and solar panel. He might be faster than me, but I have colour. And I am the original!’

The Abacus clanked his walking stick down onto the shelf’s floor. The noise sent an echo of tension across the room. Even the Moon looked over her shoulder to see where the noise had come from. The Abacus tried to follow the sound of the voice and asked, ‘Are you hiding in the stock cupboard?’ The voice did not reply. His attention was distracted when he noticed a movement from the Hamster’s cage, then heard the pernicious squeak of the Hamster’s wheel. Turning, turning, turning, forever like the hands of a clock. There was no control of the Hamster’s energy when it wanted to run. The Abacus filled his lungs. There were still uncounted things yet to say and he knew his words would cover the squeak of the Hamster’s wheel like a band-aid over a bleeding wound.

‘What about The Tablet?’ said the voice from the cupboard.

All of the Abacus’ beads darted from side to side in a frenzy. The Abacus threw his stick across the floor in a temper. It landed near the edge of the shelf, but then toppled over and fell towards the corner of the classroom. The Moon hid behind a cloud in the sky.

‘The Tablet,’ hissed the Abacus. ‘The Screen that Screams, that’s what I call it. I tried to warn them. It’s dangerous. Wild. Evil. And it’s a predator, waiting to be let out of his cage. Nobody can control it. It has the persuasion skills of a crooked politician and the energy of a million hamsters.’

The Hamster’s wheel stopped. The Abacus looked across to see the Hamster was clinging to the side of his cage, his claws wrapped around the metal bars.

‘Let me tell you what happens when you let The Tablet out of his cage,’ said the Abacus, as he paused and squeezed his eyes shut. All the beads on the metal rods leaned to the right hand side and clicked together like magnets. ‘It’ll pounce on you playfully, lick your face like a dog, but then, when you’re distracted, it’ll sink its teeth into your subconscious and never let go.’

The Abacus watched the Hamster climb towards his water bottle, guzzle forty-nine sips of water, then retire to his nest of sawdust.

‘Nobody wants to count with me,’ mumbled the Abacus as his breathing slowed. His eyes closed, his head slowly cocked to one side to rest on his shoulder and his black toupee slipped off his head and fell to the floor.

A single yellow bead flicked from one side to the other, then another, and another. The beads on the Abacus’ torso continued to count. The Tablet came out from the shadows of the stock cupboard and stood in front of the Abacus like a garden statue. The Tablet coaxed the Abacus to fall into its screen of enchanting colour and swim in the sea of stories that awaited him. The Abacus’ beads continued to count, counting the number of forests that he was trekking through, counting the number of mountains that he was flying over, counting the number of clouds that he was dancing upon.

‘How is this possible?’ thought the Abacus.

The Tablet showed him stories of the Abacus helping thousands of children in thousands of classrooms in a thousand far-away lands. Lands with countless animals like lions and tigers and pandas and dragons.

‘There’s me!’ exclaimed the Abacus. ‘And me, and me, and me!’ The Abacus kept on counting. The Tablet took the Abacus by the hand and flew him inside the head of one of the children.

‘Another me!’ said the Abacus as he watched a mirror image of himself, counting inside the imagination of the child. He watched as the child’s finger pretended to flick abacus beads in mid-air on an imaginary abacus.

The Tablet powered down his screen and returned to the stock cupboard, leaving the Abacus sleeping on the shelf, his new memory of his ubiquitous presence comforting him like a warm blanket. The Moon glided across the sky and tucked herself under the horizon, for it was time for the Sun to come up and start a new school day.

Photo by Niamat Ullah on Unsplash

Next: The English Creative Writing Group, Frankfurt

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