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The Pink Balloon
“I want the pink one!” Sally finally declared after a momentary episode of indecisiveness. The jumble of floating balloons mesmerized Sally as she squinted up to the sky. Green, yellow, red, and purple hues, all against a clear blue canvas. But pink was Sally’s favorite color, and it paired with her ruffled magenta dress impeccably. As her parents paid for the balloon, they gave Sally praise for making a dapper choice.
It was a beautiful summer day in New York City. There was not one cloud to be seen, and the city’s skyscrapers reflected the bright sunlight like mirrors. Central Park was bustling with families, couples, and other city slickers who came to relax and escape the congestion. Sally and her parents loved spending time together. So content with her new balloon, the little girl began to skip and twirl around the field of green grass, showing off her moves she acquired from ballet lessons. All around, her cute and innocent nature made people smile. She danced carelessly, but with a delicate style, all the while admiring her new pink balloon.
Her parents were proud of Sally’s confidence and joy of life. Whenever they were around Sally, they paid no attention to their smartphones or other work duties. They kept a close eye on her because she was their beloved princess. Being in their late thirties, Sally’s mother had infertility issues and could not get pregnant. That is why the mature couple decided to adopt. Traveling all the way to the Philippines, they returned home with their precious treasure. It was only two years ago that Sally first came to America, and she amazed her parents at how quickly she adapted to her new surroundings. Now as a six year old, Sally was an everlasting bundle of energy, and a garrulous talker. She particularly possessed an immense curiosity, with boundless questions.
“Who invented balloons?”
“What do elephants eat?”
“When will it snow?”
“Where is Narnia?”
“How are babies made?” were just a few Sally inquired today. Often times, her parents tired of answering her frivolous query. But on this pleasant July day, Sally had a much more perplexing question.
“Why is that man so sad?” Sally interrogated, with a sincere tone. She was referring to a man who was slouching against the concrete wall of a shaded alley across the street. He wore tattered, rag-like clothing, smothered in dirt and stains. His matted hair revealed the pale patch of his balding scalp. The wrinkles on his face were the trunk of an oak tree. Despite this indigent appearance, Sally fixated beyond his physical characteristics, and pondered into his eyes. The pair of black marbles were glazed, and stared aimlessly into space. It appeared as if his soul evaporated into a desert.
“Oh, Sally. That man… Well, he is homeless. Just don’t go near him,” her mother replied in a convivial voice. But Sally could hear a lingering hint of cold edge in her answer.
“But-“ Sally began.
“No ‘buts’! Sally, you are still too young,” her father explained, as he crouched down to Sally’s eye level, “One day, you will become a big girl and understand that there are some people to stay away from… like him.”
Sally nodded slowly, as she caught the disapproving glance her father gave towards the alley. He gave her a light peck on the cheek and stood back up. It was time for lunch, and her parents began walking towards the path to exit the park. Her mother looked back with smiling eyes and motioned with a waving hand for Sally to catch up.
Sally always had full faith in what her parents told her, but today, she had to disagree. A gut feeling made her question their cold answer. She wondered why they were so quick to judge the alley man. For the first time, she had an answer to her own question.
While her parents were still walking towards the exit path, Sally made the run for it. She fled across the cushion of grass to the crosswalk. The walk signal flashed rhythmically, and Sally sprinted across the intersection of Fifth Avenue. The breeze made her silky black hair flow like a river. The ruffles of her dress bounced with each step, and her pink balloon chased behind. Her pace slowed as she cautiously neared the alley man. He did not even notice her presence. The young girl lightly poked his shoulder.
“Mister?” asked Sally gingerly.
The alley man’s eyes lazily gazed up. His vacant expression morphed into a rumpled frown.
“Here,” dictated Sally as her petite hand reached out. She gestured for him to accept her offer: the pink balloon. Reluctantly, the man stretched out a trembling hand, and he gently pinched the ribbon. The pink balloon was now his. A confused pause swelled his thoughts as he tried to process what occurred. Just then he remembered to show his appreciation.
“Thank…” the alley man commenced. However, the little girl in the pink dress already turned around and began to head back. She was returning to her worried parents across the busy street.
“BEEP! BEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEEEEP!” A yellow cab blared its horn. In that moment, a jolt of stamina made the alley man rise to his feet, but he reacted a split second too late.
Sally cupped her ears at the raucous noise. As she dashed to cross the street, she spotted her parents and gave a large grin to reassure them that she was okay. All of the sudden, Sally was shoved with immense force to the cement ground. The car collided with the little girl and the impact crushed her petite body. She was tossed like a porcelain doll and rolled turbulently until her back snapped against the metal pole of a street light.
The alley man could not believe his eyes. The little girl’s body laid motionless in the middle of the intersection. A red pool slowly formed beneath the limp figure, soaking her pink dress into crimson. His vision blurred from the gathering tears, and the warm liquid streamed down his cheeks. He scanned the scene and fixated on a couple with a look of pure terror in their eyes. The alley man collapsed to his knees when he realized that they were her parents.
It was as if time became a series of photographs. New York City froze. The cars remained stationary, and people on the streets stood in shock. The sound of an ambulance could be heard faintly in the distance, but the moans of the mourning parents resonated loud for the heavens to hear. Their hands were covered in Sally’s blood as they cried for her to wake.
The alley man could not control his emotions. The little girl in the pink gave him a simple gift, but the random act of kindness was priceless. She showed him the pure innocence that children have, and he wondered where his own innocence went. He felt the burden of regret for not being able to thank her for touching his heart. He damned God for taking the precious life of a beautiful girl, instead of his own worthless existence.
As he weeped, he realized that he was still holding on to the little girl’s gift: the pink balloon. Just as reluctantly as he took it, he released the ribbon from his hand. He squinted up and watched the pink balloon float up into the clear blue sky. It danced and twirled with the breeze.
Sally’s soul chased after.