Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Balloon Man

  The father and son strolled down the sidewalk, next to the street teeming with cars and motorcycles. The father had his son's hands gripped tightly in his own. They approached a corner and made the turn, the son so close to the wall that his shoulder almost collided with the sharp edge.
  Around the turn a Balloon Man stood waiting, dressed in a motley mix of red, yellow and blue, with high tucked bell bottoms and loose suspenders. His hair was curled and puffy, a distinct black in contrast to the almost bright colours he was dressed in. In his tightened fist, he clutched the strings of a hundred multi-coloured balloons a hundred times brighter than himself, all threatening to blow away in a sudden gust of wind.
  The son pointed excitedly at the Balloon Man and shouted, coherency lost in the elation of his voice. The Balloon Man turned his head from the sky to look at the boy, alerted by the sound. The father slowly relented, releasing the crushing grip on his son's hand to reveal the redness of his finger marks. The son ran up to the balloon man, almost slamming into him before he could slow himself. He reached up to one of the balloons eagerly, his hand outstretched in a small claw, to which the balloon man obliged. 
  He carefully picked a string and removed a bright yellow balloon from the floating mass above his head, pulling it slowly from his fingers and lowering it into the hands of the boy. The Balloon Man smiled gently as the child laughed, gazing up at the rubber instrument with pure joy written upon his face. The father walked up after his son and dropped a few small coins into the Balloon Man's tiller. He gave a small nod with a frown, grabbing his son's other hand forcefully before striding off without a single word.
  The Balloon Man checked his earnings by opening the tiller lid, and after looked after them, completely silent.

  The cars whiz by, making streaking, coloured blurs that excite the child to no end. However, he cannot see them properly because his father is blocking his view. I wish that I was taller, so I could see over daddy's shoulder he thinks. Daddy always put him to the wall, so he could never see the colours properly. And his grip was always so tight.
  Suddenly, they were rounding a corner. Shocked, the boy almost knocks into the corner of the wall. He blinks the sudden rush of nerves away, and lets his father pull him along, still thinking about the cars he wished he could see.
  All of a sudden, he glimpses an even more fascinating array of colours out of the corner of his eye.
  Balloons, in all their glory!
  He squirms excitedly, raising his hand to point at the source of his happiness.
  "Daddy, can I have them all?" he tries to say, but his father doesn't seem to understand the words. Tugging incessantly against the hand tight around his, he continues to point.
  Finally, his father releases him, allowing him to run up to the man holding the balloons, slowing down just in time. He reaches up, smiling. All he wants right then, is a balloon within his fingers, to feel it tugging against his own hand, to see it floating above his head.
  The man holding them grabs one, and as though in slow motion, lowers it into the child's fingers. Squealing, the child looks up at the balloon, rubbing the string enthusiastically.
  One day I'll fly like that, the child thinks to himself, before his world resumes moving.

  The cars sped dangerously by, seemingly ignorant of the signs that were supposed to limit how fast they could go. The father was half terrified, inside wondering how the ruling government could expect to organize the country when it couldn't even control the drivers. He held his son by the hand, putting him to the wall so that there would be no risk of him getting hit by a car.
  One day, the speed limit will be enforced, he thought to himself, unconsciously tightening his grip on his son's hand.
  He remembered the days when people would never drive so fast. His father had always been able to take him places without a constant fear that they would be hit by some clumsy motorist. Now, such safety was as unknowable as a faraway planet in the distant space.
  They rounded the corner, the father still brooding on the old days, when he felt his arm being tugged gently. He looked up, and saw a mass of balloons floating in the air. Beneath it, a man stood casually, dressed in a ridiculous getup consisting of a random palette of colours and suspenders. In other words, a balloon man.
  Suddenly realizing that the tugging of his hand was his own child, he relaxed his grip, allowing the boy to slip from him and run, almost crashing into the balloon man. He shook his head slightly, and made a mental note to teach his son not to run on the sidewalk.
  Balloon men were everywhere these days. Most of them were people who had either been sacked from their original jobs due to the recession, or people too lazy to pickup an actual job. Either way, they were cluttering the streets and becoming a nuisance to people who were trying to lead honest and independent lives, not off the over-charity of the government. He remembered a time when the streets weren't rampant with beggars and hobos.
  His son reached up and took a balloon from the hands of the balloon man, before gazing at it with the simplistic happiness only a child could have.
  Now I have to buy it, the father thought gloomily. He reached into his pocket and found some spare change.
  He strode up to the beggar and dropped the coins into his makeshift tin can. There was a loud clank as it hit the bottom. A moment came where the father was staring into the eyes of the balloon man. The makeup made it hard to tell, but he thought that the man was smiling maliciously.
  The father chose that moment to nod, with a slight frown, acknowledging that he knew the beggar had just stolen some of his money.
  Grabbing his son's hand, he walked away, already reminiscing of a time when he hadn't had to deal with such scum.

  I look up at the sky, past the balloons and into the clouds, drifting slowly past my income as though taunting it with its freedom. The sound of cars along the street barely register in my ears as a minute hum. I am engrossed in a daydream where I was able to leave the streets and continue with my education, after finding a better job and earning enough to purchase my own house.
  Suddenly, I hear high-pitched shouts down the pavement I had chosen to sell my ware. I turn my head to see a child, in the strong arm of his father. The father is dark haired, with worry lines and a frown painted all over his face, while the child is blonde and guileless.
  The child is released, and all of a sudden he is almost colliding with me, staring up at the balloons I hold with a hopeful expression and a tiny outstretched hand that I cannot not deny. I pulled a yellow coloured balloon from the cluster to match the boys hair, and press the string into his palm. The boy  stares up at his new toy and laughs with elation, and I cannot help but smile at the simple exudation of happiness. It is in moments like these, with the laughter of a child gracing my ears, that I can find happiness in the only job they could give me; even the most efficient office worker could not boast that he made children smile everyday.
  The father stalks over, stopping to drop coins into the small tin can I had setup to collect money for the balloons. It clanks loudly for my first customer of the day. He stares me in the eye, nods gruffly in thanks, and grabs his son's hand before walking off.
  I walk over to the can and open it, seeing the random amount of coins the man had dropped in. 30 cents, when a balloon was supposed to cost 50 cents, clearly labelled on the tin.
  I look up and stare after them. I feel a mixture of disappointment and anger in my heart, before my eyes find the child, still staring up at the balloon without a care in the world. In my heart, I know that that would be enough.

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