This vignette is from the second summer that Hisao, Shizune and Hanako spend at the University of Tokyo after leaving Yamaku.
It comes shortly after this part of Hanako's arc, and is the second in Hisao's own 'arc'.
This part of Rika's story also takes place around that time.
Hisao 2: Paperwork (T -15)
I have to come to terms with this. My fingers are too thick, but if she can do it, so can I. Damn the outer reverse fold. I just can’t get it right.
I look up over the table between us. She grins, looking almost like a cat. It’s a warm summer day, just enough to make my skin prickle in the sun. Her smile makes the warmth level rise a bit. When my friend begins to tan, she glows like a goddess of the sun.
Carefully but swiftly, she vanishes the tatty bit of paper from my fingers and waves it at me. [Watch] she seems to sign. I will never get tired of watching the complicated hand-ballet that is Shizune signing and folding origami at the same time. It takes a lot of concentration, though.
I relax and look at the neat little white-outside black-inside polar bear she showed me, and the green frog she said she made to look like me. Simple things, enormous pleasures.
Thought: she’s beautiful with the tip of her pink tongue peeking out from her mouth, and stray dark-blue hair floating over the rims of her glasses. She’s also beginning to freckle a bit. My eyes trace the curve of her cheeks, the tilt of her nose.
She looks up, places the half-folded raven on the table. [Like what you see, Yokohama kid?]
Summer in Todai, our venerable University of Tokyo, brings out a different Shizune. I smile back. [Yes, very much so.]
[Then you must learn to fold better! It is a basic skill that all Japanese adults should have mastered!] she signs emphatically, each phrase punctuated with the urgent finger twitch that serves her as an exclamation mark. She has a wicked glint in her eyes.
[I didn’t mean the bird. I meant…] my fingers stop moving as I suddenly realize what the warmth has almost made me do. It’s only been two years since Lilly left. In those two years, I’ve drawn closer to her cousin.
A strange expression crosses her face. It’s as if she wanted me to complete what I was signing, but yet not. Then she huffs gently and looks down at the raven.
[You need to decide what you want to do, and do it well. Accurately! Sharply! Whether it’s a simple mountain or valley, a petal fold or pressing in the tip, you just need to have a plan and then carry it out. Logical.]
I tap the table politely to request attention. [I’m glad to have such an understanding origami instructor] I sign slowly once I have her gaze. [It has made university life a lot more bearable.]
I can see her eyes shift from a narrowed ‘surely you are mocking me’ to an eyelid-fluttering ‘oh, now you are embarrassing me for thinking that’. I’ve spent so much time over these years learning to read Shizune. It makes me feel uncomfortable that I’ve not done that so much with Hana, my other Yamaku classmate at Todai.
For some reason, it’s become a desire in me to understand every nuance of what she’s saying through her fingers and head or body movements. Back in high school, this had not been the case.
[That’s good to know] she replies. [Let’s finish this raven.]
Getting me to do work, however—that’s one thing that hasn’t changed.
It’s another one of those summer days, a week later. Hana’s stuck in the library grinding out extra assignments and there’s only the two of us. The light gleams hotly from the Sanshiro Pond, the lovely lake in the middle of Todai. This time, Shizune’s come up with a new competition. I should be used to it by now.
[Crane eats frog] she says, brandishing her little sharply-creased avatar.
It takes me much longer to respond, but well within the time given by the plastic sandglass she’s put on the table between us. [Horse scares crane.]
She snorts. [How unlikely!]
Her quick fingers aren’t long, but they are strong and precise. [Owl startles horse.]
It’s my turn to snort. [That’s a reverse copycat.]
[No, it’s different. And your time is running out.]
[Dragon flames owl.]
[That’s very cruel of you. And all you did was refold the crane.]
[It works, right?]
She humphs at me, already folding something. [Samurai slays dragon.]
[That’s not a samurai. It’s a… helmet .]
[Symbols have power. You said so, once.]
I have a winning masterstroke in mind. [Then, here.] I fold quickly; it’s something I taught myself. [Heart beats head. Love conquers all. I win.]
She frowns. [Really, Hicchan?]
I start a little. For a moment, her signing looked a little like Misha’s. But without the flirty little flourish at the end, of course. Before I can respond, she’s using the last seconds of our sandglass to fold a response.
She looks up at me with a challenging stare. [Here’s a box to put your heart safely in. Let’s both win. But me more than you, because I made the box.]
She folds another box to act as a lid for the first one. She’s really fast, and the sand runs out just as she closes up my heart.
It’s teatime. Footsteps crunch along the path. There’s no time for further thoughts about hearts and boxes. I turn my head to one side, and Shizune follows my gaze.
“H-hello! I’ve finished for today!” says our mutual friend. Hana looks cheerful, as if a huge weight has been lifted from her mind. She offers Shizune a little sheet of notepaper with writing on it.
I try to read the neat writing upside-down. [Do you want to watch an evening movie? Iron Man 2
is showing. It has 3D sensurround.]
[Why not?] she signs cheerfully as I interpret. Not that Hana needs it much, since she already knows a bit of sign.
“That’d be great!” I say, standing up and offering Shizune a hand. Hana blushes a little. She tends to do that when she’s been successful at getting us to do something. “Do we have time for tea or an early dinner before the show?”
My other friend brushes her long hair away from her face a little. “If we have the time, maybe light tea before the show and supper afterwards?”
I automatically translate, and Shizune agrees. [We deserve it. After all, we’ve done our paperwork for the day.]
Many years later, when I look back at the sheer amount of paper Shizune and I have shared between us, I always remember that summer. Things were easier then.