Copyright is held by the author.
“. . . AND SO, if you complete folding your thousand paper cranes within a year, they will grant you your heart’s desire. Or so the legend goes,” Riko said in conclusion. Dave faced Riko, one half of the Japanese wunderkind new to the firm. He put belief in the thousand crane legend right up there with healing crystals and horoscopes. Riko spoke seriously, but her eyes twinkled and a shy smile hovered on her lips. Ren, the other new hire, sat beside her at the cafeteria table. The duo dressed alike in stylish suits and had the same dark eyes and straight hair.
The young man folded and smoothed the colourful paper with slim fingers that danced in their dexterity. Ren moved on from cranes and now folded dinosaurs. Watching the paper transform was magic. Ren made origami look so easy, not only creating the cranes, but he had an aura of confidence and assurance that Dave envied.
A noisy crowd of people vied for Riko’s attention. Ren focused on paper folding in quiet contemplation, oblivious to everyone. Riko gazed at Dave, raising one arched eyebrow. He struggled to form his rehearsed words, but anxiety welded his tongue to the top of his mouth. Dave felt like an obtuse giant looming over the diminutive woman.
Instruction pamphlets sat in a tidy pile on the table. Abruptly, Riko grabbed a pamphlet and scribbled out her cell number on the paper. Her writing was precise and elegant.
“Here, take this. My number is on the bottom. Text me if you have any trouble,” Riko said, failing to hide the quaver in her soft voice. Riko offered the pamphlet to Dave, along with two sheets of Ren’s origami paper. Reluctantly, she turned away to talk to someone else.
In his solitary cubicle, Dave glanced at the pamphlet on his desk. He picked up the pamphlet, lips pursed as he read through the instructions. Dave dropped the pamphlet and fidgeted at his desk, first running his hand through his unruly short curls, then drumming his fingers on his desk before picking up the pamphlet and tucking it in his jacket pocket. He drove past a craft store on the way home every day. He’d never been in the store before, but surely they stocked origami paper. Ren and Riko appeared to have their heart’s desire; they had each other. Perhaps it was worth the attempt.
The smell of cinnamon wafted over Dave as he entered the busy store. It hummed with loud customers, bright lights and a million products. He wandered the aisles, dazed by unfamiliar merchandise, blue eyes wide and wondering.
“Beads, yarn, paint. What on earth is that? Says Mod Podge. Is that English?” he said, muttering to himself.
“Can I help you find something?” A voice came from behind him. Dave crashed into a sales clerk as he spun around in surprise. She stumbled and staggered against him as he grabbed her arm for support. Her silky hair brushed across his cheek and he inhaled the fruity scent of shampoo. Dave released her, took a back step into the shelves and knocked over a row of paint bottles. He tried to tidy up, but his hands shook. More bottles crashed to the floor.
“Sorry. Er, excuse me, miss, I’m very sorry,” Dave said, not looking up from the paint, and missing the sneer that flitted across her face.
“It’s OK. Leave it, accidents happen. What are you looking for?” she asked. The clerk shifted her weight from side to side, fists jammed into the front pocket of her green work smock. Dave put the bottles on the wrong shelf and tried to collect his thoughts.
“Origami cranes? Um, paper? There’s this legend . . . ?” As soon as she heard the word origami, she strode away to lead him to the paper aisle. Dave rubbed his sweaty palms inside of his pant pockets before following her.
The paper aisle was a riot of colours and loud designs. The clerk waved at the shelves and smiled her heart pounding smile.
“We carry a wide variety. If there’s a specific colour or pattern you prefer, we can order it,” she said. Although friendly and business, her voice was a dull monotone. She wasn’t interested in him. It wasn’t a moment to tell their grandchildren. Why the smile then? This time he saw lips stretched tight over teeth, eyes distant. Ah, the sales smile.
At home later, he laughed at himself. He put two and two together and got five. It wasn’t the first time he’d misread a woman. Knowing his luck, it wouldn’t be the last.
He bought two packages of paper, but for his first crane, Dave used a piece of origami paper that Riko gave him. The colourful paper was delicate and so smooth Dave thought his rough fingers weren’t capable of Ren’s dexterity. Still, he’d come this far. The pamphlet directions were straightforward. With a shaky breath, he started at step one. He folded the paper, stopping to read each step over and over. It delighted Dave when a crane emerged, amazed his clumsy hands produced the fine bird.
Dave spent his lunchtimes folding paper cranes in the cafeteria. People stopped to watch. He haltingly answered questions and talked with colleagues, more than he had in ages. Dave showed off his crane folding, confidence growing every day.
Several weeks passed. One lunchtime, his mind wandered as his hands folded cranes. Dave reached for a fresh sheet when he saw Riko out of the corner of his eye. She stood near, watching.
“Riko! Hello! You startled me, I was in another zone. Please join me if you aren’t busy,” Dave said and jumped up to pull out a chair. Riko’s eyebrows shot up at his effusive greeting and a thoughtful smile appeared as she sat. Dave noticed a smile dimple on the right side of her face. Hurriedly, he asked if Ren was joining them. Riko said he often became absorbed in work and skipped lunch.
“Your cranes are beautiful, you’ve mastered this technique well.” Dave’s cheeks flushed from her praise. Riko picked up a paper and taught him how to fold a jasmine flower. Straight, shining dark hair fell across her cheek like a shimmering waterfall as she concentrated on folding. Impatiently, Riko pushed the hair behind a tiny shell-like ear, exposing the swanlike curve of her neck.
“The origami flower is exotic and delicate,” Dave said, scrutinizing the folded paper. “Just like the real thing.” Riko blushed, glancing down and then up at him through long, black eyelashes.
“One meaning for Riko in Japanese is jasmine blossom. It means love. This is my favourite origami,” Riko said. Her phone chimed and Riko excused herself, late for a lunch meeting, but she lingered briefly before hurrying away. Dave resumed the examination of the jasmine blossom, detecting a subtle perfume coming from the paper flower.
He met Riko in the cafeteria often after that day to learn new designs. Her warm fingers brushed his, helping with complicated shapes. They chattered and laughed, folding the origami shapes, finding they had much in common. Ren joined them when he remembered to eat. He sat quietly beside Riko at first, but soon was telling his share of stories. When Ren and Riko sat beside one another, their similarities were striking, Dave thought. They were one of those couples together so long that they unconsciously mimicked each other’s mannerisms. It was comforting. As they all sat together, Dave mused it had been his good fortune that the craft store stocked origami paper.
The day arrived to fold his one thousandth crane. In the cafeteria with Riko and Ren, Dave pulled out the last piece of origami paper Riko gave him months ago, saved for this day.
“I was so nervous when I folded my first crane. I must have read the directions a hundred times,” Dave said, head over his work.
“You should have called me,” Riko said, intently watching Dave. She reached for her tea and knocked over the cup. As the fragrant liquid spilled across the tabletop, Dave jumped up and snatched his precious crane out of the way. Riko, with a crimson face, shot out of the chair, grabbing tissues from her purse.
Ren laughed out loud at Riko’s embarrassment.
“Only my sister could make such a mess,” Ren said with a snort.
Dave froze and stared at Riko. She swallowed hard and tried to speak, but her voice was a whisper.
A smile spread across Dave’s face. Riko smiled back, dimple flashing, teeth white between cupid’s bow lips, eyes bright. Reaching for Riko’s hand and with a touch as gentle as a caress, Dave placed his one thousandth crane on her upturned palm.