All the other kids were in the playground. She wasn't. I found her on the stairs.
"Zuby, what are you doing here? Why aren't you playing with the others?"
I said while I climbed the stairs. There were about fifty matchboxes spread around her. She was probably counting them when I came looking for her. She tried to hide them but there were too many for her tiny hands.
She was queer. I knew children collected matchboxes, but they often collected empty boxes for their craft work. Zuby, on the other hand, was only interested in matchboxes full of matchsticks. She never did anything with them. She just kept them tucked in a corner of her cupboard. Wherever she found a full matchbox she would nick it.
I went and sat beside her. She quit her attempt to hide the matchboxes and began counting them again.
"One, two, three..."
"Zuby, why do you collect these? Why don't you pick the empty ones?" I asked.
"Empty ones? But they are of no use. Are they?" She said, perplexed.
I said "No, they aren't of any use to an elder but I think they can be of great use for you. You see you can make many things with empty boxes..."
"But don't you see that is why I need to collect these."She cut me short.
"And how many will you collect?"
"All of them." She said.
"What will you do with them?"
"I will destroy them all. Throw them in the big pond."
I was surprised to hear this. This child took so much pains to gather these boxes so that she could throw them in a river.
"But why do you want to do that? Don't you like your collection?" I asked.
She picked a box which had a small red kangaroo printed on the top.
"Aapa" she said, "Do you see this one?"
"Those bad men I told you about, you remember?"
I nodded again.
"They burnt my house with a matchbox like this one. My Ammi and Abba were still inside, screaming and they laughed. I saw them throw the box aside after they lit my house. I decided then, that I will collect all the matchboxes in the world and throw them in the pond, so that nobody lights anyone's house ever again."
I looked at her, shocked. I tried to read her face. But there was nothing there, only pure innocence. Her sad eyes found mine and gave me a smile. She began counting again.
"One, two, three..."