I remember it so clearly, my red balloon. It was a summer full of laughter and childish delights, of trips to parks and paddling pools, with handmade sandwiches and ice cream treats. I can almost smell the scent of vanilla and feel the strawberry sauce trickle down my hand. If I close my eyes tightly, I’m back there again and the sky is the brightest shade of blue. Looking up, there is not a single cloud in sight and I smile as the sun’s warm rays grant kisses onto my face and arms. I feel a light tap on my shoulder and then hear the running of feet as mischievous children tally round to play a game of chase. We scatter, and thinking back it must have been rather amusing to see a flurry of tiny legs darting wildly around the slides and the swings.
I tire and after brushing away the dirt from my newly scraped knees, I sit in the shade under a nearby weeping willow. This tree was our special tree and it holds a lot of memories for me, even now. There was a story that on moonlit nights when the park gates close and the children have gone home, a ghostly Victorian couple can be seen dancing under its branches to a long forgotten melody. This vision filled me with an almost joyous dread, injecting my imagination with wonder and mystery. This is something I have always been fascinated by, the fact that it is the things that scare us the most, which excite the most reserved of souls. As dusk fell and we would walk to leave, I would always look back to try and catch a glimpse.
But of course, while I’m under here now, the sun is still shining and I forget about what might take place later on. I instead focus on the streams of light that fleet between the willow’s leaves and watch as they make pretty speckled shadows on the ground. I look up at the heart of the tree and admire its sturdy trunk covered with strange yet beautiful patterned grooves, each one marking a different story from a different time. It is hard to describe but I was completely in wonder of its stoic wisdom, feeling an emotion that then I couldn’t fully understand. Perhaps I still do not know, only that my little soul felt at one with the seemingly omniscient tree.
A light breeze passes and raises the hairs at the back of my neck and the drooping branches begin to sway. I feel a sudden urge to turn around and look up once more and it is here that I see it before me. Just within an arm’s reach, loosely tied and blowing ever so gently, is my red balloon. Now, when my father and I would visit the fun fair, I would always beg for a big, shiny balloon. It was the sheer enticement, as the seller would walk the grounds, holding an array of multi coloured balls of air, all bouncing and squeaking. I would always pick the red balloon, my father the yellow. But this balloon was different; it was the biggest and shiniest balloon that I had ever laid my eyes on.
I watch, as it whirled with the wind, swam with the currents of the breeze, and danced in the sky to a summer’s song. I watch it gleam and glisten as the sun’s rays reflect off its shiny surface. I watch, as it seems to lead me to a new place, a faraway land, a dream. It is magical. All the while, I hold onto the string ever so tightly, as it is my ticket to this adventure. I wrap it twice across my wrist, finishing with a bow. It was a naughty little balloon, you see and I didn’t want it to fly away. We run out into the open and are met by a sea of green, spanning out for what seemed like miles. Dotted here and there are trees, and I see a big, tall man walking his dog. So carefree we must have been, my balloon and I, frolicking so fancifully across the grass.
“Keep up, Mister Balloon!” I shout as I feel him tackling with the wind behind me. As I look down, I’ve realised I’ve left my shoes under the Willow but it doesn’t matter as the grass feels like a Persian rug, soft and yielding under my toes. After skipping for a short while, we come to an old and weary bridge. The stone slabs have cracked on its ground and the paint has worn away from its sides. I imagine that it was once painted in a bright shade of red but now it has all but flaked away, leaving only the bare metal frame. Fearing that if I were to cross, it may breathe its last dying breath and crumble into the stream below, I step gently.
But then it is gone. It’s unravelled from out of my wrist as I attempt to cross the bridge. Why has it left me when we are only on the threshold to our adventure? It’s out of my reach, no matter how hard I grasp and struggle, my arms outstretched and aching. It floats away on its own, up high in the sun setting sky to seek a new adventure with a new little boy from a different time and place. Watery tears begin to form in my eyes so that the balloon looks like a rosy blur drifting slowly across hues of orange and pink. I hear my mother calling my name, telling me it is time to go home, but it saddens me that as I walk back my red balloon grows smaller with every backwards glance. A momentary look and it has disappeared amongst the stars back to its magical world and I doubt that I will ever see my red balloon again…
I open my eyes. It seems like such a long time ago but yet it feels like only yesterday. It is funny how memories can often do that to a person. It is summer now and I’m in that same park where I can hear children’s laughter and can feel the sun beating down on to the back of my neck. I look out onto that grassy spot, spanning out for what seems like miles. Dotted here and there are trees, and I see a big, tall man walking his dog. But there is something else moving in the distance. I smile as I realise it is my son, running to and fro bare foot on the soft and yielding grass, holding onto something tied to his wrist.