Folded Butterflies – Tim Jamieson

Finally it was my turn. A man dressed in a black suit unhooked the golden rope and gestured me forward. I stood in front of a burgundy tent, slowly brushed aside the flap and walked in. Inside it was plain, save for a wooden table behind which sat an ancient woman. She gestured me forward and asked me what I had brought with me. I unrolled the delicate paper I was holding and passed it to her. Already cut to a square I see, she said. This is lovely paper, I can see from your eyes this means a great deal to you. I nodded. It was wrapped around my father’s urn when they gave it to me, I told her.

She picked up some silver scissors from the table and shaved off an impossibly thin sliver from two sides of the paper. I’ll try, she said, I can’t promise anything but we’ll see what happens. I just nodded.

With great care and precision she folded the paper with her gnarled but nimble fingers and scraped down the edges using her nails. With the speed and assuredness of a practised artist it wasn’t long before the fragile but perfectly symmetrical shape of a butterfly began to form in her hands.

When she was finished she said, hold out your palm, so I did. She gently rested the butterfly on my hand and sat back in her chair. For a minute I stood there motionless until almost imperceptibly the wings started to move. I watched with wonder as its wings moved back and forth until eventually it lifted from my hand and flitted up into the air. I felt a warm feeling of happiness glow inside me.

Suddenly a rip appeared down the side of a wing and it span to the floor. I gasped, stepped over to it and gently scooped it up with my hands. It shivered as if in pain.

It was as I suspected, the old woman said, a great shame but sometimes that happens. This way please, she said, pointing to the other side of the tent. Next, she shouted to the man in charge of the golden rope.

I held the fluttering butterfly with its torn wing in my hand, in the gentlest grip I could manage. Slightly in a daze I pushed open the flap of the tent and exited into the light. Before me the cobbled street opened up onto a wide bridge that curved over a calm river. There were folded butterflies everywhere in the air, a colourful storm.

A family, a young brother and sister, twins maybe, huddled around a glass jar held firmly outstretched by their father. Two graceful butterflies made of birthday wrapping paper, pirouetted about inside performing a wonderful dance.

What looked to be a photographer, a large camera hung around his neck, had his butterfly, folded from a high contrast black and white photograph, tethered to a string. It darted desperately in the breeze pulling at its binding this way and that. Its owner laughed with joy as if flying a kite.

As I wondered through the crowd I noticed an elderly Japanese man sat on a wooden bench. He was crying. I walked closer and realised they were tears of happiness and his spectacular butterfly, formed from exquisite calligraphy, black ink on cream with a dash of red, flashed around his outstretched arm before landing on his shoulder, its wings unfurling, softly and slowly moving back and forth in a loving greeting.

An old lady had her nose in a book, her butterfly desperately trying to force itself back into the page she’d torn it from. She waved her hand about her face as if trying to swat away an annoying fly.

I jumped backwards as a young man ran past, trying desperately to control his winged creature. Scratches and scrapes covered his arms and little drips of blood dotted the tips of his white shoes. His tin foil butterfly flapped wildly and impossibly fast, spinning around his body, darting everywhere but his flailing grasp.

I looked down at my hands and opened up my palms, frail wings fought to keep its body in place against the soft breeze. The tear ripped further down its damaged paper wing and I walked carefully over to the edge of the bridge. I raised my hands to my mouth, took a deep breath and blew. My butterfly flapped and slowly drifted down to the water. It landed on the surface and the current gently took it downstream and eventually out of sight. Sometimes that happens.

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