Final.

The Balloon
A distant honk echoes in a doleful, forgotten alley somewhere near the main streets of Seoul. The only habitants of this place: a long row of dumpsters, the occasional beggars and the indisputable aroma of freshly casted garbage mixed with old ones. A sight so desperate that makes even the most miniscule of creatures avoid this place in order to save themselves from drowning in misery. A misery no creature should face at any rate of hour. But it is really not much of a choice in Jongin’s case. He takes a defiant walk around the alley, thinking that maybe today his luck will be better than the luck he had yesterday and bitterly hoping it will be worse than the luck he might have tomorrow. A cold wind creeps its way in the alley, making Jongin shiver to the core and he tightens his red jacket around him a bit more. It does little to protect him from the merciless gust that found it appropriate to howl in that piteous part of the city. The trash bins have nothing new, he muses as he checks them open one by one.

 

He then proceeds with his activities, only to abruptly kneel down when he notices a penny tossed carelessly into the dirty streets of that alley. Yesterday nothing, today a penny, tomorrow a dollar bill, he thinks to himself hopefully. But that little penny never meets the warmth of his hand as his attentive eyes catch a rare sight. Not only for that forsaken alley, but also rare under any other sane circumstances. Lying on the floor near a giant bin, he sees something that resembles a female head. One of the cheeks is in touch with the cold pavement so he can’t exactly make out a lot from where he is standing. He should have shrieked at the sight displayed in front of his brown eyes but curiosity gets the best of him. Ignoring the lump in his throat and the small voice in the back of his head, he extends his right arm in an attempt to reach for that chopped-off female head. He never gets to touch it because as if it were alive, the head floats out of his reach until it gets to a height where he can’t grasp it.

 

He notices for the first time, the features of the female head. The hair is the color of light hazelnut and it is tugged in a simple twist. The eyes are of a green that reminds him of fresh grass in a beautiful April day, while the nose is a small, pointy one. Cherry lips complement the pale complexion with a tint of pink in the cheeks. A thin rope is connected around the neck of the female head, making her resemble a balloon. After analyzing her features, he looks up to meet her gaze. He is greeted by a pair of mischievous eyes and a subtly mocking smirk produced by the face of that beautiful balloon girl. The wind has nothing to do with the sudden float of the head and he knows it well. Still surprised but never scared, he gets up and tries once again to touch the rope around that girl’s neck but he is unfortunate. The more he approaches her, the more she flies away from him. For a brief moment, he feels as if he's five again, chasing after balloons at the park, while the balloons chase after their own freedom in the skies. His gleeful expression falters as the girl stubbornly flies up and up until Jongin can’t chase after her anymore. A metallic door detains him from doing so. A pang of sadness grips his heart and spreads through his body like wildfire but he decides to turn the other way and get away from that gloomy alley, where even the brightest rays of sun can’t shine through. He only wanted to hold her once and guide her through the town, like he did with the balloons in his childhood. He wanted to take her to other streets where the sight wasn’t so desperate and the mood wasn’t so sullen. But he was denied that feeling as he was denied a lot of things in life.

 

As he's making his way out, he sees a shadow hovering over him. He turns around only to be greeted again by the sight of the beautiful balloon he thought he lost a few moments ago. Although it was never his to lose in the first place. Hope shines in his jaded eyes and he notices that the girl is now smiling genuinely and expectantly at him, no traces of mockery in her graceful features. It's as if she's waiting for him to take hold of that thin rope around her delicate neck. He stretches his right arm again, reluctantly, but this time she doesn’t fly away from him. She isn’t disgusted by his dirty hands and gladly lets him hold her and walk with her to other parts of the city. Jongin is granted a bit of happiness by feeling like a child again. He's reminded of the time when he was genuinely carefree and unaware of the coldness of the streets.

 

They don’t speak. There is no need for words to ruin that beautiful moment of tranquility. Jongin leads her out of that abandoned alley and takes her to the lively streets of Seoul where cars buzz like crazy bees and people walk carelessly, too absorbed in their own problems to notice their surroundings. But as they march through the crowd, they manage to earn some looks from the people around, who suddenly decide to shift their attention to the beggar holding a strange balloon in his dirty hands. He notices that they are now shooting them not only strange looks but also dangerous ones, hateful even, as though they were criminals let out of jail unfairly. He cannot understand them. The only thing he can do is tighten his grip around his pretty balloon as if his life depended on it. While holding it, he feels happy again, a feeling he hasn’t experienced in a long time because life had decided to give him a rough treatment. He now feels protective over his balloon, his only possession. He can’t let anything or anyone hurt it, his sudden source of happiness. His only source of happiness. He accelerates the speed of his steps in order to get out of that unexpected warzone and tries not to pay too much attention to the people who are watching him like he's some kind of lunatic.

 

In his hurry to save his balloon, he didn’t catch glimpse of three little children who were chasing after him from across the street, hoping to pull a prank on him and his strange-looking balloon. They hide behind a car, waiting for Jongin to cross the street and come where they were. Their view is perfect and Jongin is clueless of their intentions. As expected, he starts crossing the street and they finally make an appearance. They hold stones in their hands and that’s when Jongin notices them hungrily eyeing his beloved balloon. In a fraction of the second, leaving Jongin with no time to react, the children throw their stones in the general direction of his balloon. He hears shattering sounds as one of the stones successfully manages to hit its aim and break it for good. Horrified, now only holding the thin rope of happiness in his hand, he glances down to catch a sight that is no longer happy and is even more miserable than the alley he left behind moments ago. His balloon is broken into pieces: her eyes are separated from each-other, as well as her nose and cheeks. The last piece has her lips on it. However, the small smile that curled up her lips when she let him hold her for the first time, is eternally plastered there even though now it has no meaning, no connection to the other parts of her beautiful face. He then takes a look around him to find that the people who were previously staring at him, have now returned to their chaotic worlds, sparing him no look or thought. He can’t explain how his heart breaks with the sound of his balloon ripping apart from the bullet-like stones.

 

He found her at the wrong place, at the wrong time, under the wrong circumstances but she made him feel alright despite that. But now… she was gone. At first, when he couldn’t have her, he thought he was denied the chance to be happy. Strangely, she had decided to give him a chance. He didn’t ask why or how, he only felt grateful for that. And now he had lost her, his source of happiness, his ray of sunshine. He thought he was protecting her from those people but little did he know that sometimes, bad comes from those we least expect it to come from. He seized her, his chance for happiness, as much as he could, only to rediscover in the end, something he knew before: happiness is short-lived. He had long given up on trying to understand why the world constantly denied happiness to poor souls like him. He wondered no more why he was left out in the waste. He only wondered if it was alright to have his shot at happiness snatched away from his numb hands just like that.

 

And it's that alright? Is that alright?
Is that alright with you?
No!


 

 

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