I was waiting for the last bus.
Road is empty, only some street dogs running, some pedestrians walking silently, a shopkeeper closing his shop, one or two beggar trying to sleep in wretched corner of a broken house. It was almost twelve in the morning.
A chilled wind is blowing. It is February but still wind has the last bite of winter before the spring arrives.
Rashbehari, a busy junction of Kolkata now quietly beginning to get silent. A thin layer of dew slowly making the silver tram-lines wet..thus the silver lines sometimes shining.
And at that moment I found the Balloonwalah coming.
His tall, thin figure with bunch of balloons held by string in his hand.
He came towards me and smiled and said, ‘ Akta Balloon Babu?’(Will I take a balloon?)
I often take balloon from him not only because I like the smile of the simple man seeing a balloon sold but also that to give my small six years old nephew ‘Poppye’ a balloon each morning when he gets awake from sleep.
But today I was in no mood of buying a ballon. As today was Poppye’s birthday and I told this man to bring me twelve balloons to me yesterday night so that I can gift it to Poppye this very morning to make it special.
But yesterday only the Balloonwalah did not came. And thus I lost the chance to wish Poppye today with those balloons and see his priceless heavenly smile!
‘Babu aj balloon neben na?’ (Babu, no more balloon today?)
‘No, I said, ‘Why didn’t you came yesterday? I told you to bring a dozen balloon for me..why?’
The person looked at my eyes.
My irritation came back. I said in local dialect ‘You destroyed all my plans!’
The balloonwalah took two balloons in his hand and said ‘Take these two Babu!’
I nodded. No, I am not going to take any one.
‘Why you didn’t came yesterday?’
The balloonwalah looked again and then said softly..as if in a dearth of searching words,
‘Kal mera beta mar gaya Babu!’
(‘Yesterday my son died babu!’)
At that moment the last bus came and stopped in front.
I stepped up.
The bus started to move.
I have now myself lost all the words.
Instead I turned.
Through the empty, silent, dark night of Rasbehari I saw the tall, thin Balloonwalah walking slowly with heaps of red balloons in his hand.
I found that he is at this very moment not only a Balloonwalah.
But a person, a father who throughout his life would go on selling balloons to thousands of kids each day but none again to his dead son.
The Balloonwalah walked on.