A feeling of excitement surged through Abeer’s body as he saw an array of colours bobbing up and down in distant horizon, coming closer to him minute by minute.
It was the seller! Every day he would wait patiently for this moment sitting like a statue in the balcony. The seller was expected every day, yet Abeer would exult on seeing him, so would the seller, their feeling of happiness mutual.
Abeer shouted in glee, “Anna! Where is the purple one you promised to bring today?”.
“Ahh yes, babu, I specially bought for you since I heard you’re making a collection.” He replied.
Abeer’s joy knew no bounds, hugging it and paying money he ran back and skipped to his room humming.
The seven-year-old boy was fascinated by the colourful orbs of captured lights known to the world as – balloons! The purple one had a yellow smaller one inside it which was nothing short of magic in his eyes. When Mom asked him to go and sit to study for his upcoming exams, he reluctantly put it in his toy basket which he considered as the ‘Basket of Wonders’. It already had a collection of nine, most of them had become smaller, nevertheless equally charming to the connoisseur.
Exams breezed away like wind, Abeer welcomed peaceful days. As sun packed his bag of golden sunrays and headed home, Abeer’s family went out for a walk. They sat down on park-benches; Abeer playing with his sister, Pihu when suddenly he spotted a purple balloon hovering above the bush in front of him. Flabbergasted, he turned back to call his Mom saying, “My balloon!”
When Mother came, they both stared agape at the vacant space above the bush. Mom sighed telling him to rein in his balloon-o-mania.
He stood stumped!
Only the moon smirked down at the little boy.
It was Sunday and he decided to paint his favourite – balloons: flying in air, stuck in a tree, being held by a kid or simply tied to a wicker-gate!
Towards afternoon when he plopped himself on his bed, faint voices of his parents’ conversation reminded him that today was his online PTM! He sat bolt upright!
Mom called him and told that she had brought a small token in appreciation of his hard work – a bunch of balloons.
This was totally unexpected! He jumped in unbounded glee, thanking profusely he rushed to his room still giddy with gift, ten to be precise.
The number seemed so big!
He slept in the afternoon waking up at 6:10 pm, which meant that the seller had gone ages ago!
What if he’d bought new balloons? Abeer ran down the staircase creating noise like the Thunderbolt of Thor, but an empty asphalt road was glowing under a pink dusk.
As he dragged his feet home, he saw Sumita di standing near a pillar. He offered a ‘Hi’ but she remained unresponsive as if in trance. Leaving Sumi di standing there a flummoxed Abeer went home.
Next day when he went to buy balloons, he saw Sumi di buying too along with a free candy! She gave him a familiar broad smile and there was no trace of yesterday’s trance-like look.
Abeer bought a parrot-green balloon and Anna offered him a candy too. Running upstairs, Abeer gladly ate it! Once on his bed coloured stars floated in front of his eyes sparkling like Diwali-Anars. He dozed off in a beautiful sleep… waking-up he felt a mild headache which he ignored.
A week flew like wind with Abeer falling deeper in love with balloons, balloonwallah and his occasional candies.
One Friday he saw Sumi di on roof sitting with a dazed look and a balloon. Somehow, at 14 she seemed too grown-up for balloons, especially when she gave all of hers to Abeer!
Next day, while buying balloon when Anna gave Abeer a free candy, instead of eating it, he put it inside his pocket.
He shoved it under his mattress when Sumi di came and asked if he had any candy. Abeer put it on her open palm. Di gave him a quick hug and left.
A perplexed Abeer stared after her.
Abeer’s excitement for the balloons was now marred by a guilty-conscience – a half understood knowledge about the mysterious candy-business.
He’d stopped eating those, his headaches disappeared too, but a weight was on his mind which he pretended to ignore.
Dussehra arrived. Effigy of Ravan was burnt with much fanfare and Mom once more narrated the entire Ramayana.
Abeer and Pihu listened rapt with attention. When Mom reached the part about ten heads of Demon-king Ravana being symbolic to ten vices or devils in us, Abeer’s gaze faltered.
His mind echoed with one word – greed.
” So, it’s GREED, the 4th devil…” Abeer thought, “… which refrains him from discussing candy-business with Mom?”
Weeks passed and soon it was Diwali week. On Friday, after returning from school Abeer was playing with balloons. His parents and sister were at Grandma’s living near-by. All the lights were switched off except of gallery’s and Abeer’s room. As he stepped inside, he saw something that scared the bejezeus out of him – a pair of feet under the curtain!
His imagination in overdrive, he slowly walked in and with one swift action slid the curtain aside shouting, “Who is there?” and found nothing but Pihu’s ridiculously gigantic doll!
He wanted to punch it but noticed a piece of paper, after reading which anger swelled inside him. He threw the doll on Pihu’s bed and couldn’t believe that he just got played! On the paper was written, “Gotcha XD Annabelle”. Scenes of the movie flashed in front of Abeer.
He was scared,” Damn her,” he bellowed at himself.
“How she knows what exactly my vulnerabilities are, I must be really predictable, huh!”
Ignoring such thoughts, he switched off the light to lie down to sleep, but Pihu’s prank had disturbed him.
He felt fear creeping up his neck as imagination took control of his mind. More scary theories formed as his heart thumped more and more yet he managed to doze-off.
Abeer was awakened by a loud noise. The moment his eyes opened; his mind brought the dreary thoughts forward. His eyes darted around, his room was dimly lit.
From the top of his bunker-bed Abeer looked down and took a peek at Pihu’s bed and saw the silhouette of a person lying on it and almost fainted but suddenly remembered that it was the doll which he had thrown on her bed.
Cursing the doll, he decided to go to sleep. As he lay on his bed, “BOOM” came the sound. Abeer froze, it was unmistakably the sound of something bursting, mechanically he turned his neck to the side. His heart almost stopped beating at what he saw.
The balloons glowering like little devils!
His mouth became parch dry; he somehow mustered up the courage to sit up to get down when another balloon burst, Abeer shouted and dived under the covers, frightened to death, he could hear the thumping of his heart…listening to the rhythmic loud thumping he felt drowsy, the frightening theories fading, the rhythmic motion of his beating heart acting as lullaby, he slept…. and dreamt of Diwali…beautifully lit homes, temples shimmering in golden light.
He saw himself standing on a street when one by one lights started to dim…
Eventually, he was alone in a deserted and dark street…there was water on the road beneath his feet, looking down, a chill went up to his spine …his face had turned into a grotesque mask! Rubbery and greasy, his features distorted, suddenly, another face emerged from his neck- he becoming a two-faced monster- a sneering greedy devil in disguise of Abeer!
He woke up with a start and realised he was panting. Coming out of the covers, morning sunrays greeted his red and sweaty face!
He descended from bed and to his relief, found his parents sleeping in bedroom with Pihu, lying in between them. He marched back into his room feeling a renewed anger towards balloons and took the basket in the balcony popping each balloon! Soon his Wonder Basket was empty, but his face was shining with an inner determination.
At breakfast he shared his feelings with his mother who was alarmed and discussing it with Dad, they both hurriedly went to Sumi di’s home. An hour or so later which seemed like A LOT of time to the young boy they were back. Mother hugged Abeer and told him a lot of things… amid kisses and caresses he only understood that Sumi Di will be treated, the Balloonwallah Anna will be detained and those candies were bad things.
He also understood how easy it was to be tempted to stay mum, to ignore things happening around us and how exhilarating it’s to defeat- to uproot the devils from us in one single blow of courage!
Abeer welcomed that Diwali with a pure bright countenance inside out.
Writer Name: Anindy Sharma
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