The last origami crane

  5th April 1975

                                                                It was during the onset of monsoon that I got to visit the Britain of the east…..which is of course Japan. As I was walking through the busy streets of Hiroshima,above I could observe clouds  swaying under the temptation of the earth below to shower  its share of water to it and below I could observe the earth thirsty like a desert inhabitant. I think within a couple of days the clouds will shower its share to the earth and gradually the dry earth will become rich with water. Let us leave it to the weather. Anyways,If you are expecting a Japanese travelogue down here, I would kindly insist you to close this tab and go back to your respective works because what I would like to convey today is not a travelogue but a story. An inspired and inspiring story of a girl in Hiroshima…

6th April 1975

                                                              As I had guessed yesterday,the clouds showered heavily today making the dry ground wet and slippy. Acting contrary to my own prediction, I did not take the umbrella while going to the shop. After shopping when I was done returning halfway, it started raining and I got a bit drenched. I waited for the rain to stop and took shelter in  a small cafe and ordered a cup of tea. It took about another couple of hours for the rains to stop. In the mean time,I had a casual talk with the locals. It took me a while to find a man who could understand English as I did not know Japanese. His main conversation topics were politics and the ongoing Vietnam war. He was more interested in world affairs than his own country affairs. Vietnam  was under a war crisis at that time. The war was primarily fought between the government of north Vietnam and south Vietnam. The north Vietnamese army had the soviets ,China and other communist allies supporting it and the south had the United states, south Korea,Thailand and other anti-communist allies supporting it. But I concluded that the Vietnam war did not have any effect on the people of Japan . But the events that followed proved me wrong.

                                                            I slept heavily after I returned to my lodge. The rain continued to play its part in the night. Might be due to the sound of rain and thunder,I woke up around mid-night to find myself coughing and sneezing heavily.I took it as a commencing sign for a fever. So I decided to go to the nearby hospital once the sun is up. I had a difficult time sleeping after that. I do not clearly remember when I fell asleep  but when I woke up,it was half past nine. I got ready and went to the nearby hospital. I reached there,took the token and waited for my turn. There were some chairs vacant for those waiting. I sat in one of those. I just sat there and started observing the people here and there. I didn’t take long to observe a girl,maybe 16-18 years of age doing something with some papers. She was sitting two chairs besides mine. An old man and a small boy was also with her. I looked at her closely and easily understood that she was doing some origami work. It was very interesting to see her making it,with great perfection and dedication. I closely observed what she was making and finally I got the answer to that,she was making a crane ! An origami crane..I noticed the happiness in her face when she finished making that one..Her face was as if she gave life to a real crane..! But it didn’t last long,she began making the next one. What might be the next  ? I thought to myself and starting guessing as her work progressed . But as her work progressed I noticed it resembled the previous one,and my guess was coming true as I saw her work nearly completed. Yes,this time also she made a crane and I saw the same happiness in her eyes just like when she made the previous one. This time also it didn’t last long before she started making the next one. Atleast this time I expected a different one but contrary to my expectation and I saw that she was continuing what she did before,the same origami crane  ! Now I became very curious about this girl and started wondering why she was making the same think again and again. I think she noticed that I was closely watching her,she looked at me,smiled and continued with her work. Then, I observed a vacant chair just besides her, I planned to sit there and ask about this. Without much hesitation I sat next to her and asked a bit mockingly,

“Why are you making the same think again and again,I guess you don’t know anything other than this crane !”.

I first had a doubt whether she knew English but that doubt vanished into thin air when she looked back at me and without a change of her joyful mood,she again smiled at me. Then she asked me

“You are new to this place right ?”.   “yes”,I replied.

“There is the Hiroshima peace memorial park nearby,please visit it when you get time….” she said.

“Tokun 57,kitekudasai….” I heard a nurse telling aloud, I recognized it was my turn and went inside.

The doctor gave the prescription of the medicine and while leaving the clinic I looked at the place where the girl sat.It was empty now,she  might have left,I thought to myself. All this time the’Hiroshima peace memorial park’ was clinging in my mind. I decided that to be the next destination. What might be so significant about it that the girl mentioned it to me ?.Asking directions to the locals,I reached my destination,’Hiroshima peace memorial park’. It was almost 3.oo pm when I reached there. The place indeed was flooded with visitors. I could see school students, locals as well as international visitors here and there. I deduced this was popular destination for school-field trips. My curiosity about the place increased as I got nearer. I wished if I had a tourist guide with me to explain more about this memorial. I got an English written guide before entering the museum,it read as follows,

“The Peace Memorial Museum collects and displays belongings left by the victims, photos, and other materials that convey the horror of that event, supplemented by exhibits that describe Hiroshima before and after the bombings and others that present the current status of the nuclear age. Each of the items displayed embodies the grief, anger, or pain of real people. Having now recovered from the A-bomb calamity, Hiroshima’s deepest wish is the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community.”

The nuclear attacks in Hiroshima on 1945 flickered across my mind as I went around the museum. Terrorism in its supreme form….Wars are far more lethal than natural calamities,I thought to myself. Peace is the most desired element in any country. The rest are only mere followers,be it wealth or people. It took me around an hour and half to finish the  museum. But my mind was still confused,” Why did the girl mention about this to me,what has this museum got to do with her ?”,thinking these I walked along the main entrance and covered some distance. I simply turned around to catch a glimpse of the museum once more,just then I saw a sight that reminded me of something. I looked towards that once more. What I saw was a statue of a girl with a small crane on her hand. It was that crane that made me look once more,the same origami crane that the girl had made ! I walked towards it and stared it for a while. “There must be a story behind this statue,whom shall I ask about it ?”. I stood there for a while expecting that someone might turn up ! But nothing happened in the next couple of minutes. “Looking for someone sir ?”I heard a voice from behind. It was a middle-aged man,simply dressed and a bit taller than than an average Japanese. “No,I was just…well…anyway…Do you know anything about this statue  ?”..I asked. Smiling,he replied,” anything and everything..but please promise me one thing ..have a ride in my taxi..I will return you to your home,it would be of great help !”. I didn’t have to wait for a second thought to say yes to him. “Sir,please come along, I will tell you the story on the way..” I followed him up to his cab and got inside.I asked,” You speak English well,hope you recognized me as a tourist”. “Yea,I speak,I worked as a tourist guide for some time…Got a knack for recognizing  you people !”he replied and started the cab. Then I said,”Please take me to the lodge near that old market”. Then  I continued,”please tell me about that statue ….” The driver took a deep sigh before starting the story..

                                                           “Well,that girl is Sadako Sazaki , one out of many unfortunate victims who fell prey to the effects of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. She was only 24 months when she was exposed to radiation from the bombing. She gradually developed leukemia at the age of 12 and spent a significant amount of time in the hospital. You know what,there is an ancient Japanese legend,it goes on like this,the legend promises that anyone who makes 1000 origami cranes held together by a string, his or her wish will be granted the Gods. The crane in Japan is a holy creatures that lives up to a 1000 years. The 1000 cranes should not be gifted , it should be made by that single person who wants the wish. So, Sadako started making origami cranes,one by one, her wish was not a materialistic one,her wish was simple…she just wanted to live…that’s all…She folded only 644 before she became too weak to fold anymore…and without being able to get her wish..she left from this world..But there is also another version of the story by her family and classmates which says that she did complete 1000 origami cranes and continued past,but even though,her wish didn’t come true…Anyways …the statue that you saw was built in memorial of her..her message to the world for peace…the statue continues to be a living monument standing for our departed ancestors and as an advocate for world peace and harmony. Her wish might not have been granted,but she continues to be an inspiration for many and still resides in many of our heart…..” his voice faded away.

In fact,we had reached the lodge. I got out and gave the money and said,”There are some extra……for the story…!”..He smiled back in return and got back to his own life. I got into  my lodge.Now my mind had only one desire,to see that girl once more. Now I understood why she kept on making cranes,but what was her wish,was she affected with any disease?These were the things that were in my mind now. But,how will I ever find her ? I don’t think the hospital is a place to search back a person. I fell asleep fast,maybe because of the medicines. But my mind was very uncomfortable, my mind was searching for that girl in the midst of thousands. I woke up next morning,I decided to start my search for her. But where shall I start ? May be I should go back to the hospital. I thought to myself. I went to the hospital and sat there without taking any token. But my effort went in vein as I could not see her that day. I did not feel like giving up. Maybe she may come to the hospital any day that week,so I went to the hospital every day. 4 days passed,no sign of her. Now I felt like giving up. One of the staffs there saw me waiting there every day without taking a token,maybe out of curiosity he came to me and asked,”I see that you are waiting here everyday,and you are not taking any token,what do you want ?”. I didn’t tell the entire story to him,I just told that I wanted to see a girl that I saw last week when I came here to consult the doctor. I told him I left one of my belongings with her. He thought for while and said,”Was that girl all by herself ?”.”No,I think there was a small boy and an old man with him.”  “I think I know her…..”telling that he took me inside where patients were admitted. We walked in,there were many patients admitted along with their loved ones. Watching those scenes made me wonder who will be alongside with me on my death bed. At last we reached, I saw that girl ! She was sleeping on her bed,alongside was the old man and the small boy,the staff was speaking something to the old man in Japanese that I could not catch up. But from the gestures I could make out that the staff knew the old man earlier. I did not want to wake her up,I decided to sit there till she wakes up. The old man must be her grandfather and the boy her brother,I thought to myself. I deduced that the old man may not know English,so I did not dare to ask him anything. Silence prevailed for some time.

                                                                                “What brings you here ?” I heard a weak voice speaking to me,to my surprise it was the old man. I stared him with astonishment for some seconds.I replied,”sorry, I thought you didn’t know English,that is the reason I didn’t talk to you..”.”I am a retired English teacher my friend  !” he replied. Quite ironical  !! I thought . Then we had a small laugh over that. Then he asked the same question again,”what brings you here ?”. I took a deep sigh and replied looking at the girl,”She,I guess she is your grand-daughter..right ?”.He nodded. “I hope you saw what happened that day…I went to the place she told me to visit”,I said. I continued,” I think I understood the reason why she directed me to that place,I understood why she went on making those paper cranes…Sir..please tell me..what is her wish that she want to fulfill ? Is she suffering from any disease ?”. The grandfather looked down for some time,an air of melancholy filled the room, and I felt even the air he was breathing was woeful. I kept quite,let him take his own time to speak. Then slowly he started speaking,” She…she is suffering from leukemia,its been a while…she is under treatment…just like the story you heard of Sadako Sazaki , she is also fighting for her life,uncertain about its end..”his words faded in his sorrow,tears started rolling down from his eyes. I became still, uncertain of what to speak, should I console him or sympathize ? But I knew that these all were temporary, which will easily dissolve in their tears. We all are great sympathisers,but only a few are great empathisers….So I kept quite. Then slowly I gained the courage to speak,and I said,” Please don’t worry,miracles do happen,her wish will come true,she will live on…” “But she is not doing this for her life my friend, her wish is not to get cured..”he said. “Then ?” I asked  in bewilderment, what else can she wish for ?,I though,then after a second thought I asked,”Where are her parents ?”.”I am coming to that….”he paused and then continued,”…her mother died when she was young, her father then migrated to Vietnam for job..he works in the countryside…you know the Vietnam war is going he can’t come back….I am all what is left for her and for her little brother and I am becoming  old and weak,my death is not far…She is only 16…long way to go….Do you know what is her wish..? She wants the war to end soon for her father to return so that her brother won’t be alone after my death. He is only 5 years old…..”saying those he rubbed his tears with his senile hands. Now I became literally speechless. I understood the effect of war to these people. Every event do has its effect on other part of the globe,directly or indirectly. Some fall victims to it,others survive.. Here I could see a girl fighting not for her life,but for only brother. When will ever peace triumph over this misery ? I began to feel sorry for the girl as I looked her sleeping on the cot.  As I stared over her for some time,I noticed some movement on her body,maybe the sound of our conversation disturbed her,and slowly she opened her eyes and woke up. I greeted her with a fake smile,actually I was only looking at her with a sympathiser’s eye,but even though,I smiled. She smiled back but looked surprised, she wouldn’t have anticipated my arrival. Then I gently asked her,” What’s your name ?” .”Yagami Keiko” she replied,then I looked at her brother and asked,”his ?”,”Yagami Yamada “she replied,but she didn’t know what to ask me,I expected her to ask my name,but she didn’t,my name didn’t matter here anyway. Then i asked her,” How many cranes done ?”,there was not an immediate reply,she kept looking at me thinking something,she might be wondering whether I found out her story…”I did go to that place you had told me to go….and….I found out half of your story there…your grandfather told the rest..”I told. Now the surprise on her face ceased. A small  smile developed on her face. A smile that concealed a vast ocean of sorrow,helplessness  and hope. Then slowly she said looking on the ground,”I did 101, lot more to do,but I am becoming weak day by day…” .

                                                                     Actually I didn’t have faith in the old Japanese legend and moreover,the Gods didn’t grant Sadako’s wish to live, so why is this girl still striving for her wish ? It was difficult for me to ask this but I still I decided to ask her . So I asked “The gods didn’t grant Sadako’s wish,but your sure they will grant yours ?”. She paused for a while,smiled and replied,

                                                          ” The Gods may not have granted Sadako’s wish,but the Gods granted much more,if her wish was granted,she would have lived some more years and then die,unknown by the world. But now she continues to live in the memories of our people, spreading hope and standing as a symbol of peace. My wish dwells in this hope,and I am sure it will be granted because my wish is not for me,its for my brother,its for the peace of millions,its not what we do for ourselves but what we do for others that get counted in the account book of god. So I am sure the Gods will never let me down,no matter what…my faith will definitely save me. The war will definitely end soon bringing peace to millions…”she concluded with tears rolling down her eyes…

                                                        “I hope so…”I replied with unfaithfulness still in my words.

29th April 1975

                                                        It’s  been 17 days since I met Yagami Keiko,since that day,I visit her every day to see how much she is near from completing 1000 origami cranes. The disease worsened day by day,the number of cranes she made per day decreased too. I was uncertain whether she would accomplish her mission. Now she had 991 origami cranes tied to a thread, 9 more left. She is growing very weak now,the doctor keeps advising her to stop,but she does not stop.She has just one dream .She just wants the war to end..its a dream that may bring peace to millions, a dream that may become a hope in the future, a dream that millions of others dream… Will it exist as a mere dream or will it become a reality ? I must wait and see. She is still making them as I visited today,I is close from her aim. The happiness was obvious from her face,she said as she saw me,”Look ! I will mostly complete it by tonight, and then I can rest in peace !”.I couldn’t react but just listen to it.

                                                            998 over. Only 2 more left. I decided to leave only after she made the last origami crane. The time was around 11 when she started making the 999th one. She took time to make one as the disease had dominated her almost completely,but it couldn’t dominate her determination. 999 over. Just one crane away from her aim. She started laughing in joy,and soon started making the last origami crane. But I observed that she was becoming very weak even to fold the paper. Fear crossed my mind,I sent someone to get the doctor…she was still making,trying with all her might.Gradually it neared completion,as she made the last fold,it felt from her hand and she fell unconscious. The doctors came and took her away for further checkup. I looked down and saw that,the last origami crane….. I took it and tied it along with the rest of them. 1000 origami cranes,she had finally completed her mission. Now,will the Gods grant her wish ? Even my unfaithful mind started praying for her wish to become fulfilled….Within half an hour,I received the news,Keiko died. After completing the last origami crane,she had finally left the world.

31st April 1975

                                                     I returned to my room with a heavy heart the day before,Keiko was indeed a stranger to me. But her demise left a void inside my heart. Overthinking about her and her wish,I fell asleep early yesterday after her funeral. I woke up,it was 9.00 am already,brushed my teeth and decided to go out and have a cup of tea. I reached a small teashop nearby,the locals there were busy discussing something,I didn’t intend to know about it. I took a chair and grabbed an English newspaper,I read the headlines which was written in the bottom,”US quits Vietnam” . I read the news in detail,yes…the war had finally found its end..and…Keiko’s wish had finally become true..! It had been a while since I found immense happiness in  something. Now her father will soon return from Vietnam,her brother won’t be alone anymore.

                                                  The proletarians may find various political reasons for the end of the war,but I would like to believe that the war ended only because Yagami Keiko folded those 1000 origami cranes,her faith won over my unfaithfulness.  What she said was true,what we do for others are counted,not what we do for ourselves. She could have prayed or wished for her own recovery,but she opted peace for millions over her recovery. Her faith won because her faith was made of love,peace and endless hope. The last origami crane that I picked up just before her death was her final signature of faith and sheer determination. The story of Yagami Keiko should not be concealed within myself,the world should know it,and she she should become an advocate of endless hope,unconditional love and eternal peace. So I decided to write to an English periodical in Japan . The title of the article was “The last origami crane“….


                                                                                  (image courtesy:google, facts and Japanese                                                                                               legend source: Wikipedia)


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