On a sunny Sunday morning in mid-February, the Raos arrived on the idyllic Visakhapatnam beach and joined the hordes of families gathered there for their fair share of the sun. Four-year-old Anshuhad put on her favorite red dress for a special occasion. But the real reason was the red balloon which she held dearly in one hand. It was nothing like any of the other types which the shopkeeper sold. She carefully scanned the beach and triumphantly declared that hers was the only one in the world!
She looked up with pride and marveled at the gleaming plasticky surface. It was majestic! And how red the world looked when she peeked through it. She could even catch glimpses of the sun through it! Gently she released the string and caught it when it tried to escape.
The Raos found a nice spot and settled comfortably on two long towels. Mr. Bhavesh Rao broke into a soft tune while Mrs. Nandini Rao played with a distracted Anshu.
“Arre Bhavesh, you’re here too?” The voice startled Mr Rao from his humming and he looked up at his visitor.
“Pulak! What a pleasant surprise. Hello, Ramya, how are you?”
The petite woman beside Pulak gave a nervous smile. The group did their usual greetings and sat down. Anshu was the least bit interested in her guests and slowly crept away when she found the chance. Besides, her game was far more interesting. Once or twice the string almost slipped out of her tiny fingers! Almost!
Anshu was suddenly distracted by the shiny surface of a blue balloon. Oh, how it shone! Just like her balloon. Or was it even better? Was a blue world better or a red world? She stared at the blue surface as it bobbed up and down. Was someone else playing her game? If only she could get a closer look.
But before Anshu could do that, the string slipped from her clutches and in one heart-stopping moment, her balloon desperately climbed the air like smoke from an incense stick. She jumped! But in vain. She ran! But only to stumble and fall down on the hot sand while it became a tiny red dot on the horizon, like her mother’s bindi on her forehead.
Anshu was crestfallen. Her rescue operation was a failure. An utter failure by her own admission. She kicked the sand and sat down even though it burned her body. Appa had told her never to cry. It wasn’t her fault that her balloon flew away? Wasn’t she the one to blame for the debacle? Wasn’t she the one who got distracted by another balloon? Yes, the balloon! The blue balloon. That was the root of all evil.
Anshuflounced towards the balloon. She wanted to give its owner a piece of her mind. The owner of her misery was none other than a skinny boy dressed in a blue T-shirt that, she peevishly noticed, matched the color of the balloon in his hand. She should have known that it was a boy all along. He was also wearing red shorts and a pair of red-colored sunglasses. She became irritated by those glasses. How dare it make fun of her balloon! And the way it shone was unbearable, to say the least.
Anshu was about to push him when a lady walked on them and gently said, “Let’s go beta, we are leaving.” The boy spread his unengaged hand and slowly turned around towards the direction of the voice. “Very good beta!” exclaimed her joyous mother. “Now slowly walk towards me.” He gave a huge smile and staggered towards her mother, all the while clutching his blue balloon which danced joyfully in the sunlight and shone majestically under the sun. And for a moment, Anshu looked through the balloon and caught a glimpse of the blue world.
She watched in silence as the lady lovingly picked up the elated boy and planted a kiss on his cheek. He screamed in joy and the two walked off towards a large family that had gathered near a coconut seller. Anshu quietly walked towards her own party and secretly hoped that no one saw how flushed her face was.
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