226. Girl With The Red Balloon

The string slipped through her hand like a fading dream. Anya tried to grab for it, but her fingers only grazed the end of the string. The red balloon floated away from her and into the air.

She watched it go: a red dot against the blue sky. It became a speck in the wind, and then it disappeared from view. Still she continued standing there.

Anya thought, at first, that she should run after it, so that she can be there to catch the balloon when it falls. But then she knew that she couldn’t possibly run that far, and so she left for home.

She was eight years old. That night, while the world was asleep, the wall went up.

Her family stood in front of the wall the next morning, and father said that he must find another job now. Anya only prayed that her balloon will find its way to a safe home.

Then Anya turned eighteen, and in the spur of the moment, she decided to have her red hair cut short, so it fell to her chin and covered her ears at the side, but it was shorter at the back to expose her neck. She liked how her bangs was just long enough to cover her forehead, but not too long that it covered her eyes.

She was in front of the wall that day. Now the wall had been transformed from barbed wire and concrete blocks to concrete walls with steel girders. She could still see beyond the wall and past the border, but she knew that soon they would make the wall taller, and she won’t be able to see anymore.

There was a glimpse of red, and she saw a little red balloon on the other side of the wall. It was tethered by a string to a boy’s hand. The boy, lanky with black-and-golden hair, caught her gaze. For a moment, he wondered if the red balloon was the same color as her hair.

Anya smiled at him, and she tugged at the air, as though she was holding an invisible balloon. She pointed at it: “Keep it safe”.

He smiled in return and held a hand over his heart: “I swear I will”.

Then the crowd came, and he was gone.

Now Anya was thirty-six years old, and the first wrinkles have appeared at the edges of her eyes. She smiled less these days, and her hair was darker. The sun was setting in the west, and her eyes glittered with specks of gold when it caught the orange light of the sun.

There was an announcement that day. It told them that they could pass through the wall once more. She had to walk out to the well to see for herself, and when she got there, Anya saw that it was true. People were passing freely between the checkpoints.

It was like the world had held its breath for thirty years, and it was letting it all out in a single moment of exhalation. First, there were murmurs of conversation. Then the laughing began. Then the crying.

People were falling into each’s other’s arms. Hugging. Kissing. Cheering. Crying. Singing. Some brought hammers and chisels to the wall, and bit by bit, block by block, chip by chip, it came tumbling down.

There was a tap on her shoulder. Anya turned and found a man standing there, broad-shouldered and tall, his black-and-golden hair cropped close to his head. He smiled and passed something to her. It was a string.

Her eyes followed the string upwards and found the balloon there, red against an evening sky in hues of green and purple. Stars twinkled in the distance. She took the string from him and felt the nostalgic tug against her fingers.

She shook her hair away from her eyes and smiled up at the man.

“You kept it safe,” she said.

“I swore I would.”

She pulled at his shirt, tiptoed, and kissed him lightly.

Then she walked away, holding onto the string, like a fading dream.


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