Paper Prayers

 

It’s mid-July 1969, a young man sits in a 3rd story window of a flat in an East London sink estate. There is no view from the window that doesn’t include more flats and blocks, as far as the eye can see.

That’s if you look straight ahead of course.

If you look down, there’s a crowd of noisy kids calling up for “more”, “another” “please!”.

The young man smiles fondly, three of his four sons are in the pack, smiles on their faces, eyes alight as their dad gets ready to launch another.

He takes his time on this one, having been taught to make it by his own father during the war. Neither man has heard of origami, but the level of effort and detail needed is much more than a few paper folds.

He holds it up to the light to admire the simple clean lines and knows that this one will loop and soar far above the kids below, they’ll have to run for it, laughing and shouting as they do.

45-swallow-paper-airplane

He hears his youngest son stir in the cot behind him and knows that this game can only last a while longer. His wife is at work in the factory that makes the model cars that the three other boys play with to the point of destruction – and beyond. He’ll have to cook dinner soon and get the three other boys washed and ready for bed at some point.

He smiles, silently conceding that maybe his own dad had done well to cope with even more and launches the plane high into the air from the window as he remembers…

The first sight and roar of a spitfire overhead as it flew back from a mission to protect London’s sky, the feel of his father’s strong hand holding his as the plane vanished into the distance.

His dad was so tired all the time, but still made sure to take him, his sister and brother out on his days off. To walk over to the fields and see the wildlife; to watch the small fish in the river and sit still while the rabbits lost their fear and eventually played in the sun.

These days were few and far between, his dad was a blacksmith and worked all the waking hours, taking time for dinner and then manning anti-aircraft guns at night. On his nights off, they prayed that they wouldn’t have to hide in the tin shelter at the end of the garden.

Too often they did.

Still  – there were good times.

Once they even got on a train, noisy and exciting and went all the way to Kent for a few days, they went hop picking and the boy was given his first ever real pay for a job.

The paper plane, once launched picks up a gust of wind and soars higher, performing a small roll in midair before settling into a glide that means that the laughing kids below will have to run to collect it.

Tomorrow, if there’s enough money left in his pay packet, he’ll buy the crowd an ice-cream from the Rossi van that haunts the area, draining the money from parents as the heatwave continues.

As the plane starts the glide down, he starts on another. This one more modern, streamlined and efficient looking. A plane called Concorde had been all over the papers earlier in the year a beautiful dart of a thing that flew faster than sound.

It takes just a few seconds to make the paper dart and the origami glider is still flying as he attaches a paperclip to the front to give it some direction and launches it into the air, remembering..

The sputter of the V1s as they flew overhead, their engines always on the verge of cutting out. Flying bombs that were launched with enough fuel to reach London and then fall onto civilians. If the engine was sputtering, you were safe. When it died…

He once watched a brave hurricane pilot put the wing of his plane under a V1 and gently turn and bank, guiding the bomb to a safer destination. He marvels that the pilot was likely much younger than he is now and silently hopes that he made it through the war.

The paper dart, efficient and weighted soars at the children below, giving them a new target to scream and run towards, their laughter echoing from the walls of the flats…

The V2s changed everything, weapons of destruction using the same technology as the new Concorde; they flew faster than sound and landed without warning. A whole street was taken in that way, just a few hundred yards from his house. for a while it seemed as if the world would end in blood and flame.

Then, when he was just a small child, the war ended and the grey years of rebuild and rationing began.

That’s over these days, but he still knows how to make food for a hungry family from meagre ingredients and he glances at the kitchen shelves to see what he’ll make today.

Mashed potato and corned beef with tinned vegetables seems to be the likely course for his little omnivores, with tomato ketchup and Tizer as the accompaniments. Literally for his oldest boy, he’ll pour both on the meal.

He saw a lot of planes in the army during his national service, but has never been on one, being stationed in the UK and rising to the giddy heights of company clerk.

His youngest son is just getting to that stage of wakefulness that might indicate a little cry when he wakes up, so he takes four sheets of paper, one for each of his sons and makes four planes as fast as his fingers will allow.

Walking to the window, he waves down and launches all four simultaneously.

A cry goes up from the pack of kids below, smiling faces looking up at the sky.

In the pack, a six year old boy runs for his plane, thats his dad up there..

A rush of love fills his chest as he runs.

And it’s still there forty seven years later.

Paper Plane

 

 

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