People-watch: Origami Birds

I have always thought that people are much like books. Some are thick (take it to mean depth or density, as you will). Some are thin. Some are open. Some are closed. But we all have stories; past, present, future. We are a collection of chapters and scripts in progress, unfolding one after another. And then there’s the special little traits, the idiosyncratic bits; revealing snapshots of personalities and character. These are the things that give our stories humanity, and heart. A glimpse into a person is perhaps one of the more quietly beautiful, or quietly devastating things one may experience. 

In this particular post, I will talk about something I found quietly beautiful.

I spotted a boy in lecture, folding origami birds from discarded flyer paper. In a sea of people, I was lucky enough to sit right behind him. I remember his hands. They were pink and healthy looking. There was something about them which seemed sturdy. He had fingertips which were slightly rounded, like the ends of spatulas. His fingernails were slightly yellow, but only at the untrimmed bits. Perhaps indication of a rather relaxed personality. Might cut his nails when he wants to, not when he needs to.

I’m not sure when I noticed him folding birds. I believe it happened when I drifted out of focus. The lecturer had put up a slide of a lion and a lionness fornicating as a joke, in keeping with the Freudian sexual undercurrent of the lecture. Ah, perhaps it was somewhere there. 

I remember first seeing him folding a strip of paper. Initially, I could not tell what he was folding it into. It looked to me, to be a geometrical conglomeration of triangular shapes.

A frog? A paper crane?

His fingers were steadily folding the tiny strip of paper into something tangible. It was careful folding, so the corners met with precision. There were no overbites or flashes of uneven paper. It was almost as if he had invisible lines guiding him, point to point. I admire people who can fold things with such exactness. It is a skill I have never amounted to. I am always messy somehow. There is something jagged and unrefined about the way I fold origami. My paper boats came out as strange, mutated looking things. If I were an architect, I would build a house on a blueprint of approximates, and pray to God that it does not crumble. 

Back to him. 

The boy folded a flap. And another one. And another one. 

He would fold, then slide his fingers across the newly made fold or crease, to ensure it stayed there. It almost seemed like a conclusive act to me. With each fold or crease, he was transforming the paper permanently. The lines on the paper would never be undone. 

It was a hypnotic rhythm. I found myself imagining that I was a piece of paper, manipulated into a tiny origami sculpture by his careful hands. With each definitive fold, each crease imprinted into my body, I was one step closer towards being transformed into something entirely different. 

Finally, he stopped folding, and pulled out two tiny flaps, tucked within the pleats of the paper.


He placed the completed origami on the table in front of him. It could stand upright.

A tiny paper bird.

I’m not sure why, but I felt immensely relaxed and satisfied after that. I felt as if I had been following his folding all way through, and I could appreciate the final product so much more, having understood the process behind it. Also, there was something soothing about the orderly, effortless manner in which he performed the folding. It was a structured and unchaotic work of art.

I wanted him to fold more birds. 

I watched him pick up another strip of flyer paper, and tear it into a perfect square. 

Fold another one. Please.

It was then that the lecturer moved into Freud’s psychosexual stages. The boy put down his half-folded origami, and began to scribble notes. I snapped back into focus momentarily. When I looked back, the boy had decided to stop folding, in favor of taking notes.

Fair enough.

After that, the lecture continued as usual, but for some reason, I could not stop imagining that I was a piece of paper, firmly manipulated into an origami paper bird…



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