Paper Crane

Paper Crane
Alexis Wright

The room was engulfed in chatter. A mournful ballad mingled with the empty words floating from careless, carefree mouths. Frustrated clicks from keyboards and hurried scribbles from overused pens came from all directions of the room, conveying a sense of urgency and sleep deprivation. The stark warmth of coffee beans and the sweet stickiness of cinnamon buns enveloped the quaint café, reminding its visitors of the simple pleasures in life.

Friends were made, hearts were broken, and promises were kept in this café. Strangers became lovers, and lovers became strangers. Though humanity was unaware, this little café was the center of its life, love, and loss. A world outside did exist, but it was trivial, unimportant, and filled with too many unnecessary woes.

Through the door, past the people, perched at a table by a window sat a girl. As it goes, the world outside this place offered her no pleasure. Her life wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. She simply existed. Like all of the other denizens sitting at tables and sipping coffee, the girl found relief in the warm atmosphere of this oasis.

Here, she read a bookshelf’s worth of novels and wrote enough poetry to move a man. Most notably, however, she took pleasure in the simple act of folding paper cranes. She didn’t know why she did it; she just did. Folding these paper cranes was a distraction, a moment of complete and utter focus on a solitary, meaningless act that diverted her attention away from her not-bad, not-good life. It was also an offering, a meager gift of gratitude for the solace and sustenance the café offered to her and to all of humanity.

It was almost ritualistic. She would enter the little café on Thursday afternoons, find her table by the window, and pull out a thick novel, a musty leather journal, and small box of plain origami paper. She would read for a while and then write for a while, but she always found herself spending a majority of her time peering out the window. The world appeared so much more beautiful, so much more captivating and interesting through the window. It filled her with longing and satisfaction. When she had her fill, she selected a piece of origami paper and effortlessly folded, creased, unfolded, and refolded the paper until the form of a crane appeared in her hands. After placing the crane on the windowsill, she left. This occurred every Thursday afternoon.

One Thursday afternoon was different. As the girl sat down at her table by the window, she noticed an unfamiliar object from the corner of her eye. A thoughtfully crafted origami lotus lay nestled in the corner of the windowsill. She picked it up and examined it. Carefully along the petals were inscribed the words dépliez- moi. Not wishing to desecrate the beauty of the lotus, she ignored the command and placed it carefully in its original place.

The girl opened her novel and read, attempting to engulf herself in a world different from her own. Every word that passed through her mind required effort to comprehend. With every minute, her focus waned. She closed her novel and opened her journal. The words that usually flow from her mind, through her pen, and onto the page were absent. She put away her journal, frustrated that her ritual had been interrupted by the interloper sitting smugly in the window.

Her mind was focused on that one piece of paper, folded and written upon. She picked it up again, read its inscription, and, throwing caution to the wind, meticulously worked to unfold the paper lotus. After grueling minutes of carefully undoing creases, the girl found that a message had been written on the inside: Bonjour. Répondez, s’il vous plaît.

She was confused and disappointed. The girl admitted to herself that she had thought the message might have held the one secret of the world. Dismayed, yet intrigued, the girl placed the paper inside her journal, crafted a paper crane, placed her offering on the windowsill, gathered her belongings, and left the little café.

The Thursday after, she had returned, hoping that her ritual would remain intact. Fortunately for the girl, it didn’t. As she sat down at her usual table, she found another paper lotus waiting in the windowsill. Forsaking her usual habits, the girl went straight to work unfolding the paper lotus. As she expected, she found a message: Bonjour. Répondez, s’il vous plaît. The girl held the paper in her hands and thought for ten and a half long moments. Nervously, she withdrew from her belongings a sheet of her own origami paper and a pen. After scrawling a simple bonjour on the paper, the girl folded it into her usual paper crane, placed it in the windowsill, and left.

Anxious anticipation took hold of the girl as she stood in the door of the café. Her table by the window used to be a place of comfort for her, a place of rest. Now her sanctuary has been breached by a paper lotus desirous of nothing more than communication. With a sigh of courage, the girl approached her table, sat in her chair, and plucked the paper lotus from its place in the window. Unfolding it quickly, but carefully, the girl found what she had expected — a response to her own.

Words had been excitedly inscribed on the paper in familiar ink and style: Ah! Une réponse! Merveilleux! J’espérais que vous écririez! Je m’appelle Dorian. Comment vous appelez-vous? The girl meticulously selected a sheet of origami paper, considered carefully what she should write, and noted a single word on the paper before folding it into a crane: Violette. She carefully placed her crane on the windowsill and left.

This correspondence continued for weeks and eventually months. Notes were written, paper was folded, and a friendship was created. Soon, the girl’s original ritual was replaced by this strange form of letter writing. Soon, the square pieces of paper were not enough to hold all that needed to be said, so two or three paper lotuses and paper cranes were left at a time. The chattering didn’t matter; the heartfelt songs didn’t matter; the coffee beans and sticky buns didn’t matter; the world didn’t matter. All that mattered were the origami and the notes.

At the end of one note in particular sat the words J’aimerais vous rencontrer. Fear flooded the girl’s veins and settled into the pit of her stomach. Communicating with the stranger had been its own adventure, but meeting him posed too many uncertainties. The café was becoming too much like the world. The girl quickly wrote down non on a piece of paper, folded it haphazardly, left it on the windowsill, and left.

The next Thursday, the girl brought a novel and her journal, but left the origami paper at home. She sat at her usual table by the window, though it felt different now. The familiarity and routine had dissipated. The café’s chattering was empty; the heartfelt songs were empty; the coffee beans and sticky buns were empty; she was empty, all because of the paper lotus. Fortunately, there was no paper lotus that day, so the girl read the novel, wrote poetry, and left.

Time flew by, and the girl established once again her café routine. She read, she wrote, and she folded paper, though she took her cranes with her. The paper lotus refused to make an appearance, much to the relief of the girl, the café, and the world. Everything was as it should be.

The girl entered the café on a Thursday afternoon, book, journal, and paper bundled in her arms. She took in the familiar, warm smell of roasting coffee beans and baking cinnamon buns. Pushing past the friends, the strangers, the enemies, and the lovers, she found her usual spot. As the girl sat down at her table by the window, she noticed an unfamiliar object from the corner of her eye.

It was not a paper lotus, but a boy. Russet scraggly facial hair surrounded a nervous smile. Eyes the color of summer leaves stared back at her. He was young in an old sort of way, just as she believed herself to be. Something about him intrigued her, but that did not prevent her from becoming irritated. No person had shared her table. On Thursday afternoons, it was hers and hers alone. Just as she was about to ask him to perhaps find another table, the boy opened his mouth and familiar words penetrated the café’s chaos: Bonjour. Répondez, s’il vous plaît.