A stock market crash that affected the oil and gas sector in 2015 caused my father to be laid off from his job as a non-destructive tester, bringing an end to my twelve years of living in Qatar.
Among the things I brought back to the Philippines were homesickness, a gnawing sense of dread, and multiple packs of origami paper. The paper was left untouched until a few weeks after I started 8th grade at Miriam College Nuvali, where I was slowly starting to realize just how different I was from my peers. To most of them, I was some fatass kid from some desert wasteland who couldn’t speak Filipino very well and was a killjoy because she refused to take part in drama. Fortunately I wasn’t bullied, but I still felt alone, even though I found friends who tried their best to make me feel welcome.
Folding a thousand paper cranes is said to have the ability to grant a wish. A lot of people, after folding their thousandth crane, probably wish for fame, fortune or even love. I wished for something that seemed nigh unattainable: to fit in.
And so, the origami paper was dug out from an old backpack. I was rarely seen without a half-completed crane in my hands, regardless of where I was. I folded them before (and sometimes during) classes, all throughout my Homeroom periods, during breaks in the canteen, even a couple in my service van after school ended. When it all ran out and my parents told me that money was too tight for a National Bookstore trip, I started ripping out paper from my notebooks to crease and fold into squares; not even completed tests, school letters with completed reply slips, or even grocery receipts were exempt from this treatment. The pockets of my school skirts and my lunch bag bulged with multicoloured cranes of all shapes and sizes, to the point where I would often put my hands into them and fish out a few forgotten, crumpled pieces from weeks back. When exam season came in, I’d hide paper under my desk compartment and fold cranes after answering (or giving up on) my exams. I was, and still am, a chronic fidgeter, so it helped keep me calm and grounded. Eventually, my lola, tired of all the clutter quickly overtaking my room, gave me a large green storage box to hold it all.
My first school year ended pretty badly. Rock-bottom grades in the subjects of Math, Science, and Filipino held me back from advancing a grade. My parents, though disappointed, were ultimately understanding of my situation: after all, I was still adjusting to the Philippines.
Even then, I still blamed myself for it. I blamed myself for not being able to adjust quickly enough, blamed myself for not listening in class. Most of all though, I hated myself for making myself stand out even more. Come next school year, I thought, I would become a pariah, and nobody in MCN would be able to look at me without thinking of the fact I had to repeat a grade. The mere thought of this had me locked up in my room, dreading the first day of classes even worse than last year. I never stopped folding the cranes though, even as I flip-flopped between thinking that somehow folding the fabled 1000 in two months would magically make things better and thinking that it was a fruitless and childish thing to do.
Summer passed, and I returned to MCN as an 8th grader again. I quickly found out that the shouts I was expecting were just whispers, and the looks I was dreading weren’t as overt as I thought they would be.
A recent high school grad, Laya plans to fill her gap year with clay sculptures, homebaked goods…and writing, of course! If you can’t find her hunched over her laptop retyping those three sentences for the tenth time, you’ll probably find her in the lush hunting grounds of Robinsons Supermarket or Daiso.