The first time I saw you, you were tossing origami flowers, doves, cranes and boats from your bedroom window. The alley between our apartments used to be a canal—the Austrians, during their rule here, paved it over. So once, the tides and the winds would have carried your creations away, like the galleys that once made this city rich and strong. Instead, the tourists did, the few they did not ignore or trample.
Your window, facing mine, was not quite close enough that our hands could have touched. But it was not far off, and the effect was tantalizing. The arch that spanned from my side to yours had been built long after the original structures, probably to keep them from collapsing into each other.
I smiled, you smiled back. I started to speak, you put a finger to your lips. I wrote a note, scrunched it into a ball, and tossed it over. You spread it back out, wrote “lazy” on the blank side, folded it into a paper airplane, and flew it back to me. From then on, I left my notes in your mailbox. Your notes to me always wound up on my pillow, always neatly folded into birds, always arriving when I was not home, as if to suggest your foldings have the power of flight when unobserved.
Your first note came folded as a pigeon. It was a drawing in India ink of our alley, built much higher, perhaps a vision of the future, a disordered stacking of architectural ideas rising into the clouds, a medieval post-modern collision populated by people, their pets, and their flying robots. Perhaps you expected me to answer in kind, but how can two people connect with each other by speaking in wild images? So my notes were straight-forward. I talked about what I did during a given day, about my plans, about my opinions, about my observations, and, naturally, about my reactions to your work. Your notes were relentlessly imaginative. You wrote for seven unpunctuated pages about what a needle could never be, and it appeared on my pillow as a flower of seven parts. You wrote in technical detail, with complete (but fake) archeological references about how an obscure civilization (also, it turns out, a fake one) made bricks differently, and included a touching trail of correspondence between two hod carriers, father and son. This arrived in instalments.
I asked you questions you would not answer. What was your name? In your next note I read a couple of lines on the power of making names up. What was your school? This didn’t engender any response at all. I asked you to come out and meet me. You drew the two of us meeting in a square with nine clocks and watches shown, each set to a different time. As I went about my ordinary life in the city, many times, I was sure I saw you at the end of some alley, at a table across some café, on a bridge looking my way, but by the time I could reach the spot in question, you were gone. In a city of masks, who can be sure.
I know you used my notes to make those paper cranes you left for strangers. What did the tourists make of them, I wonder? Glimpses into my world, visions naked but incomplete, exposed but unaware, a perfect stream for voyeurism.
The following season, I came back to the alley. It is always the same, but now a new visitor was in the window across. Yet, walking along a canal not far from the apartment, on a ledge where you often left your treasures, was a book. Open it to any page and it is clear the writing and the drawing can only be yours. The ISBN and the publisher are fake. So are the reviews and even the names in the acknowledgements: the diligent editor, the spouse who stood by you all those years. I looked it up, and still, there is not so much as a hint as to who you are or where.