“A beautiful story, inspired by an intriguing concept, cleverly linking origami and politics.” – Delia Jarrett-Macauley, novelist, academic and broadcaster, and Chair of the Orwell Youth Prize Judging Panel 2023.
I’m going to break into 10 Downing Street; I will get caught.
This is not so much as an admission of guilt but rather a request for asylum. I want refuge in a country often spoken about by politicians. A place where endless budget cuts don’t cause rips and tears in the fabrics of communities. A place where poverty doesn’t run rampant behind the blueprints of redevelopments. I can’t return home because I fear prosecution. Once a father – now feral – I hope you will sympathise with my plight.
“I wish all planes were made out of paper,” my daughter once told me.
We had spent all summer assembling our papier war machines – each made out of a distinct parchment. A sports magazine Supermarine Spitfire, a Times article Hawker Typhoon, and an urgent bill Bristol Beaufighter. Honestly, the names were all for show, a testament to my life thus far. A tired, rudimentary paper plane technique I had learnt at school many years ago transformed by the gleam in her juvenile iris into esteemed pieces of machinery. I never felt the gravity of her words then, too often I was preoccupied with my feelings of shame towards my ‘rough’ upbringing. Disappointed in my inability to nurture her bright mind due to my dim one. So, when opportunity struck to impart a fragment of wisdom (that would undoubtedly stick with her as it did with me) I clung to the chance. Undertaking my employment – the first were marred with wrinkles and utterly bereft of simple aerodynamics. In spite of this, by the end of those sunny days, each fold was masterfully sculpted and firmly pressed. Once that was struck off of the list; the lack of a garden proposed a downpour over our soluble sport . Hence, we set up shop indoors amidst my belongings – our belongings- and became air traffic control.
The first to take flight was the Bristol Beaufighter. Departing from terminal Dad, it was: agile, aimless and awfully agreeable.
“Because you can tell so much about the people that made them.”
She’s right. She always was. It’s such a shame that her discernment fell upon deaf ears – eager to finally teach her something, I missed what she was teaching me. So, when the aircraft heaved and soared above the suitcase mountaintops – you could tell who made it. When the sunlight pierced through the condensated windows and illuminated the ‘FINAL NOTICE’ printed on the underside – you could tell who made it. When it crashed into the far corner of the dining room – where damp colonies spread unchecked. You knew that I had made it.
That was the last summer I spent with her. The Great British heatwave punctuated by an obstinate origami crane. It was a dreary thing. After work, I found it perched eagerly on the countertop. The harbinger observed as I searched. A missing object here. A missing object there. The belongings weren’t so much ours but mine – yet the small touches of hope were hers. Entirely gone. The only evidence I had of her existence was a bluebird proclaiming her departure. Her mother had written it, my child had folded it and they both swanned out of my life.
Many years later, I still find myself recounting that fateful summer. A phrase usually used to reminisce about one’s youth instead, reserved in my mind’s dictionary for a misery-laden nostalgia. What really took my daughter away?
On my journey to this request’s end, I caught a glimpse at the heavens. A glorious sight; metallic skyfish that weaved and bobbed, fleeting flashes like quicksilver. Some left white, cascading trails like trout darting from danger. By now, she must be a captain of an airbus beluga. Long forgotten are her childhood dreams of the transparency and tactility of paper.
Conforming to the mindless and manicured constructions of metal, perpetually underwhelmed. I bet that each flight path is neatly mapped and mandated, just like the plane she made that day.
The tremendous Hawker Typhoon. It defied all expectations. Voyaging from the terminally optimistic clutch of a teenage girl – the beast had all of the lift of the Luftwaffe. Nimbly, it navigated the notoriously nauseating Mount Baggage before making several barrel rolls. Showered in sunlight, the expository text glowed, purveying its headline ‘Poverty Line Limbo.’ “But, they cannot be, because paper aeroplanes have to fall,” she admitted dully. She was wrong. For the first time. It slipped through the gap and escaped the flat. Carried away by a current of air, threatened by torrential rain clouds overhead. But, not a drop fell. We watched as it left our airspace, traveling seldom until another handshake with some other air traffic control.
The greatest grievance of my life scribed on ministerial paper. What really took my daughter away? My sense of inaction. When they began rolling out the changes, I cast a blind eye. Soon, I was blindsided by society. No one plans for poverty. We were richer than any family; in love, hope and spirit. But that didn’t pay the rising heating bills or keep the mould from multiplying.
Today, I protest for a change in the British condition. Any parent should hope to bring their child into a better world. Although I couldn’t provide her with a better home, I seek to create a better country. As I do, I can imagine her breathing freely, as there aren’t any spores to agitate her asthma. Taking up space like she couldn’t in our cramped flat. I see her as a victim of circumstance
To whomever finds this upon my arrest, fold it into a paper crane. Remember that there is power in the obstinate, and systems can change.
Heike Ghandi is a junior winner of the Orwell Youth Prize 2023