There once was a boy. The fact that there is always a boy, or a girl, or a man, or a woman, or a baobob tree is irrelevant. In this particular case, there was a boy.
He was shy, but needed people. He would stand apart from his peers, unsure of how to penetrate the cloud of mirth and good feeling they shared with each other. At recess he could be spotted at the edge of conversations, searching for that in, that clever thing, that addition which would wedge him into the consciousness of those around him. At play he would stand at the sidelines, waiting for the ball to come his way, for the team captain to call him, for a chance to show others that he was there, that he existed, that he could contribute.
Eventually the boy understood that he was invisible to the world. Sure his family knew his name, and his teachers would give him disapproving stares whenever he failed to hand in an assignment, but to a child, these things are not the world. They are forces outside the world. They are to children what the Sun is to the Earth.
One day the boy stopped standing at the edge of conversation, stopped standing at the sidelines.
The previous year his art class had learned simple origami. They began with the origami fortune teller, that which had been made by children immemorial to giggle over Prince and Princess Charmings to come. So the boy found his quiet corner of the schoolyard, and began to fold. Cranes and swans and hoppity frogs, paper stars and paper hearts, tiny trinkets all filled the boy’s lonely hours and his backpack each day. With no one to receive his paper gifts, he dropped them with the recycling after school.
On a particularly blustery day, the boy sat away from the laughing hordes and folded his forms. A rock sat on his precious pile of paper. After the boy finished a purple flower, its petals flaring from a raised center, the rock rolled off his pile, letting the wind scoop up a handful of sheets. Immediately the boy jumped from his seat and chased the pages down, each one flapping and spinning like feathers molting from some great bird.
The boy managed to grab most of the errant sheets, but one final one kept eluding his grasp. Every time he thought he had it, his feet pounding tirelessly on the concrete playground, the page would leap away from his outstretched hand. The next several minutes were spent dashing to and fro — sweat building on his brow, breathing becoming increasingly heavy — chasing, reaching, leaping for that dancing page.
Finally, the wind relented, and the boy managed to snag that last sheet. The wind mussed his hair, blew up this back, curled around his arms, and seemed to embrace him. Despite the chill in the air, there was warmth in that embrace, and the boy, starved for attention, starved for affection, leaned into it, his eyes closed.
Just as suddenly as it had come, the wind fell away, and boy fell on his butt. But the boy was smitten.
On subsequent days, the boy folded his butterflies and crescent moons, leaving his pile of folding paper exposed, should the wind come to play. Some days it would; others, it wouldn’t.
On the days the wind came to scoop up his sheets, it led him on a merry old chase around the playground, teasing his grasping hands with speed and height, until the recess bell rang; at which point, the page would flutter to the ground. On these days, the boy felt whole, alive, and loved.
Some days the wind refused to come, refused to play, ignoring the boy, doing its windly things. And on these days the boy felt hollow and abandoned.
After a full week of calm, the boy tried calling the wind, but no one calls the wind, and this left the boy feeling doubly abandoned. The wind, he knew in his mind, although his heart tried to deny it, could be neither called nor caught. It was a fickle thing that gave its affection freely, sometimes foolishly, but never permanently.
Disheartened, disenchanted, and once more feeling the familiar alienation of his existence, the boy returned to his life of invisibility, of folding his fish and fowl.
He had also taken to placing a heavier rock on his paper.
Weeks later, the wind returned. It tugged at the paper pressed firmly by the rock, tried slipping underneath the loose edges of the sheets, and even attempted to upturn the stone itself. When the boy saw the stone begin to roll, he unfolded his crossed legs and laid one atop the pile of papers, the stone itself digging sharply into his calf.
The wind took a different tack and slipped around the boy, pressed itself against his back, folded itself around his neck, and dodged between thin strands of hair. The boy, still angry, shivered off this embrace, and focused his attention on the rose he was working on. It was a multipart and multipage endeavor: green stem and leaves with red petals folded in on themselves around a hollow center.
When he had finished the rose, the boy held it aloft, admiring it from several different angles, slightly saddened at its fate in the recycling bin. That’s when the wind snatched it.
The rose arose and shot from his grasp, its green leaves giving it aerodynamic lift. The boy leapt after it, but saw that the wind was no longer playing. He chased anyway.
After several fleeting moments, the rose landed at the feet of a little girl, sitting alone in her own corner of the playground. She picked it up and found the boy running up to meet her.
“Did you make this?” she asked.
The boy nodded.
“Can you show me how?”
Peter Padraic O’Sullivan is a competitive liar, champion dissembler, and master prevaricator. Holding his MFA from San Jose State University, he currently teaches impressionable college students to link words in meaningful ways. His biggest accomplishment, thus far, is the construction of a ball of string larger than his head.