OLINDO CHIOCCA ≈ MEMOIR

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Origami on Dundas Street

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As a young teenager, I lived right in the center of the Italian and Portuguese communities in Toronto. The intersection of Grace and Dundas Streets was teeming with culture good and bad; there were churches, community centers, barber shops, fish stores, variety stores, (seven or eight that I can easily remember), restaurants, photographers, you get the idea, no? During the late sixties and early seventies when I had nothing to do, my pals and I would just hang out around the variety stores to talk, or if we had money, we would buy Popsicles, Lolas, chips or maybe a Coke. But if we didn’t have any money and still wanted a Coke or chips, I would distract the owner and my pals Enzo or Steph would five-finger-discount themselves whatever they could get their hands on. I always gunned for hockey cards when they were in season, the ones packed with the pink flavorless gum, because I wanted the-hard-to-get Dave Keon card, forcing me to lift package after package. In the end, what I stole never really amounted to much, but I would always sweat bullets during the ‘job’ because it was something I never really enjoyed, but did out of ‘necessity’.

So things continued as they went along and then one spring day as I walked along Dundas St. near Claremont Street, I notice that Rosario’s Barber Shop was gone and a new shop had opened. It was different. In the large window with Rosario’s worn out name still on it, was a large display of coloured papers all sorts, in a myriad of arrangements. Small square papers, tip to tip, in a circular fashion; one arrangement displayed fifteen shades of red, one of blue, green, red. Scattered on top of these paper arrangements were small figurines made of this paper, neatly folded with tight corners and sharp edges. One side of the paper was coloured; one side was white. There were cranes, horses, flowers, maybe dogs, I can’t remember. At the back of the display, leaning up against the chipped, light blue wooden board were books, books that showed you how to fold these little squares of paper into cranes or dogs. I had never seen anything like it before; I was twelve and I thought I had seen it all, the Portuguese fish stores, the Italian bakeries and the Polish meat stores. But this didn’t fit in, it had nothing to do with food, hair, religion or construction, so it couldn’t be from any of the above-mentioned groups. As I stared, I heard a tap on the window, and looking up I saw the old gentleman who owned the shop, he was Japanese. This was an Origami shop in the middle of an Italian/Portuguese neighbourhood. He gestured me to come in, but I didn’t want to, I was a bit shy and maybe even afraid. He opened the door and asked me again, my curiosity took over and I went in. The shop was quite small and filled with paper figurines hanging from the ceiling and on sitting the glass counter. Inside the counter he had more books, paper and other sundry items that I can’t remember; I was focused on hanging cranes.

‘Do you enjoy the purple cranes?’ he asked.

I nodded.

‘The crane is the symbol of longevity. Would you like to know how to make one.’

‘No, I have no money to buy any,’ I said.’

‘Have no worry, I will show you, please sit.’

So I sat at the small table and he started to show me how to make simple things with the small squares of paper. Mr. Murakami seemed quite tall at the time, easily over seventy years with a full head of silver hair; he always wore a white shirt. He was a patient man; with my head like a block of wood, he would have to show me the folds many times over before I could make the crane properly. But finally I made one, it was wrinkled and crooked, and there was white where the purple should have been on certain folds, but it was a fine crane and I was proud. So once in a while after that I would pass by his window and look into the shop and see the new figurines he had made, and maybe new books; but whenever I did pass, the shop was always empty of customers. Sometimes he would call me in to teach me something new, but I would get upset because I couldn’t buy the book to make the figurines at home. So I began saving money and some time later I went in to buy the smallest book he had, but I had no money for the paper. So before leaving the shop I thought I could sneak a small packet of paper into the book without him seeing me, but I was wrong. Just as I stepped out, he called me,

‘Olindo, are we not friends? Have I not shown you the magic of Origami? Why do you steal from me?’

I could say nothing. I handed him the packet without looking up. He then handed it back and said,

‘Remember, you must only ask for what you need and it will be granted. This is for you.’

I walked away feeling terrible. I’m not sure if I ever saw him again, but a long while later, I don’t know how long, I walked by and the Origami shop was gone and the Azores Driving School had moved in. I don’t know if Mr. Murakami died then or he just closed up shop, but those few visits I had with him have been etched in my mind, resurfacing every once in a while and causing me to regret that I never got to know Mr. Murakami better.

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One thought on “OLINDO CHIOCCA ≈ MEMOIR

  1. This is excellent and evocative writing. Thank you, Olindo!

    Sandra Hartline

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