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Breath of a Balloon

Short Story by Anurag Venugopalan

Once, there was a balloon vendor who stood by the entrance of a garden, selling all kinds of balloons to children and adults alike. There were many shapes, sizes and colours of these balloons and together they formed something as compelling as life itself.

He came to the gate at evening and sat till every last child had gone home. He never spoke a word to anyone and never had anyone heard a single noise emanating from his throat. Maybe he was just another person who had nothing more to say to the world. The price of the balloons was written on a little board he carried around his neck and those who didn't bother to read were shown 5 fingers.

His board, though with him from the start, looked brand new every day while his clothes kept on deteriorating. His shoes were tattered, and his shirt creased atop a torn pajama, but his face always remained kind.

One day as he was standing where he always stood, a woman came along with a boy whose face was clearly showing dejection on some matter. To ease her mind, as well as to please the child, she brought him to the balloon vendor.

"Which one do you want from these?” asked the mother, clearly irritated.

"None. I don't want anything from here. I want the balloons with lights that are sold at the new garden. Not these old balloons," he said, as a frown covered his face.

"Well, let's go then. But home. Now, you aren't getting any balloons. But I will certainly buy one for your sister because she has been a good girl," turning around to the vendor, "One with yellow and red design. Thank you."

The next day, the vendor went off to this new garden where new kinds of balloons and kids were coming. He went and stood there for a whole day, but no one bought a balloon from him.

As evening came, a crowd started gathering, so did other vendors. The vendors here weren't kind to him. They pushed him and bugged him and gave him a space in the corner where none ever ventured. Yet, he uttered not a single word. Eventually, a father and his child came walking that way. The child, though crying in fits, looked up and seemed dazzled by the balloons. Her eyes brimmed with all the colours, her mouth agape at the shapes and sizes of the balloons.

"Look here, now. Look at me." he yelled at the kid and slapped her on the right cheek. The child, whose bubble had just been burst, started crying out loud again.

"See, again with the crying. I am not going to buy you a balloon because you are crying. They cost money. If I could get these balloons for your tears, I would gladly exchange them. But here you need money. Do you have any money with you? No. Does your mother have any? No. Only I have it and I cannot waste it on such petty things for you. Now look at them all you want and when you have money, the one you have earned, come and buy these," his father, satisfied with himself, concluded with a stern look.

With this, he dragged away the child who was still crying aloud, whacking her on her head and behind. With this, she tumbled down to sobbing quietly, and kept on looking back at the balloons.

The vendor kept on looking at the child, moved by the face and the cruelty of the father, he entrusted the balloons to a kind looking stranger nearby and took one balloon with him. He quickly raced till the father and the child and stood before them with a glowing smile and gently handed the balloon down to the child.

The father, quite taken aback by the vendor, was starting to yell when he realized how everything had been resolved palatably for him. Quite satisfied, he turned away with the kid whose cheeks were still wet with tears. A smile had formed as the balloon bobbled in the air which burst into a fit of giggles.

The vendor, happy to see the child laugh, returned to his spot, but neither the trusted stranger nor his balloons were anywhere to be seen. This day, in the new garden, was taking a toll on the balloon vendor. He had neither the energy to walk home nor any money to catch any rickshaw. He went to the road and stood as the bikes passed by, waving his hand when a moped stopped to give him a lift. Very shortly, the vendor saw the man he had trusted with his balloons, walking away.

He jumped off the moped and hobbled quickly. The man abandoning the heap of balloons, started running as fast as he could. Seeing the futility of the chase, the vendor stopped, fed up and thoroughly exhausted. He laid down on the ground, looking up to a pink sky and a faded moon surrounded by many different shapes and sizes of the animals and characters floating around the sky and as he closed his eyes, he could hear the laughter of the girl.

With her, he laughed too. Finally, a real smile broke on the vendor’s face. Maybe, the first of all his time.

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