Flying Lessons

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It was show time. They stood tall at the corner stall in the fair, looking their best. The siblings stayed close to each other. Pink, and blue. They had been trained well. “Always try and break free of the child’s grasp” he told them, “they will kick, scream and cry for another one”.

It was the last time he’d seen his big brother. A few minutes older than him, he was big, with a bright blue complexion. ‘He was a head turner, that one’ he smiled with pride. He remembered how excited they were when those sisters chose them. How they set off together, tightly clutched in their tiny palms as they walked through the fair. He thought of the Cotton Candy stall. How the little girls squealed with delight as they ran towards it. How the first one forgot about her balloon when she reached for the cotton candy with both hands. How his brother made a daring escape.
He looked on helplessly, as he felt the grip around him tighten..
A single bright blue balloon against the clear blue sky. He watched his brother effortlessly, almost teasingly dodge the attempts of her parents to catch it. Five minutes. Record timing. His brother was a legend.

Three days hence, the little girl who held him so tight once wouldn’t give him a second look. He couldn’t blame her. It was hard to compete with all the other toys that lay on the floor beside him. With every passing day, the sky seemed further away. He lay on the floor, too old and tired to fly. He wondered what it was like to be among the clouds. They said it was a happier place.  But he knew he would never make it now. He thought of his brother and wondered if they would meet again.

That evening, the maid’s son stopped by after school. He was told by his mother to wait in the nursery. He went straight to the balloon and picked it up. He didn’t notice the lady of the house walk in. “Hi, Appu” she said, as a startled Appu dropped the balloon to the ground and looked at her guiltily. The lady smiled and handed it back to him. “Why don’t you take this home with you today?” His eyes lit up. He reached for the balloon quickly, scared she could change her mind.

He held the balloon close to his chest as they walked through streets which got smaller and dirtier with every step. Finally, they stopped at a field, “Look what I have!” he screamed, waving the balloon in the air. The balloon watched as a growing mob of little boys gathered around him.

He was lifted into the air and given a gentle tap. His heart raced. The balloon laughed as the gentle wind kissed his rubbery skin. But sure enough, he started gliding down slowly. His heart sank as he watched the ground get closer. And all of a sudden, he was pushed up again! This time he went higher! And yet again, higher still! It was exhilarating. He soared into the air, soaking in the screams and giggles around him. They fought to touch him. They ran, pushed and yelled. It felt like a dream. That evening, not once did he touch the ground.

He didn’t realise when the last bit of helium left his body. That he breathed his last in mid-air, amidst a fit of laughter, surrounded by those who he knew would remember and miss him. He breathed his last, looking into the clouds that didn’t seem so far away anymore, hoping his brother was watching.

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