Hanako Learns to Count


You can’t will yourself to die. You just can’t. I’ve been trying. Believe me. Sixty years now I’ve been holding my breath, but you just can’t die like that.

One foot in front of the next in front of the next and in front of the next until I reach the wall, and then turn, and one foot in front of the other in front of the other and in front of the other until I reach the opposite wall. And I can’t will myself to die.

At night, the moon shines down. She asks me, ‘Have you been practicing your numbers, Hanako?’

I nod, but she looks like she doesn’t believe me.

So I count the stones in the walls.

One, two, three, uh, three, uh… one, two, three, err, four? One, two, uh, uh, three, four, five, err, uh… and so on. Still learning.

In the morning, stare at the two-leg-short-nose elephants staring at me. That’s what I do when they stare: I stare. What are you looking at? Eh? I don’t do anything. Not really, so you’re not going to see much.

‘What does it do in there all day?’ a little two-leg-short-nose asks an elder two-leg-short-nose.

The elder says, ‘Don’t know. Nothing, I guess.’

‘Nothing? I’d go crazy.’

Yeah, I think.

The elder smiles, but there isn’t much joy behind her lips. ‘I’d just will myself to die.’

Exactly! I think, and a loud bellow comes from my nose. Don’t you think I’ve tried?!

When they leave, I am alone, again. So I sway, to and fro, my nose brushing along the hard ground. I make up games. But they grow dull, quickly, and I must make up new games. Like Count the Lines on My Feet.

One, two, three, four, four, uh, four? One, two, uh, two, three, uh, err, uh… I have a lot of lines.

Sway my nose, brush it on the ground. Walk to the wall, turn, walk to the wall, turn, walk to the wall, turn.

I like the sun. I like it best when it leaves. I like watching it go. The sky is all I have. After all of the two-leg-short-noses are gone, the sun falls to the ground and it explodes, changing the sky. That’s where I’ll go. When I die, I want to be part of that explosion.

The moon comes back for me.

I fall down, not to sleep this night, nothing goes into me, nothing comes out. The moon stays with me while it hurts, and when it doesn’t anymore, when I leave, the moon leaves with me. Taking me into the sky.

‘Count the stars, Hanako,’ says the moon, and when she speaks it’s like light bursts from her mouth.

I look about, and there are so many stars! Count all of these?

The moon glows. ‘Count them, Hanako.’

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen



  1. Desperately sad, that life, isn’t it? I’m ashamed to admit I have been one of that crowd of two-leg short-noses all too often in the past, but thankfully there are not many of those traditional zoos left. Captivity is not the answer.

    Liked by 1 person

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