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It’d take only half an hour, he knew, from the moment he stepped into the balloon, to when he’d make his descent in a schoolground on the other side of the stream. This was a trip he had saved for. To be in a balloon and go sweeping high into the sky, with a view of the Himalayas, the streams that thousands of miles later became the big rivers everyone revered, and whose waters had sustained cities for centuries. If there was no cloud cover, one could even see the shining white tip of the world’s highest peak, Mt. Everest.
The air surged into the balloon folds, the sackcloth flapped, and looking up, he blinked sharp, as light refracted off the balloon’s bright colors. The cabin—really like a small room—bounced and swung. The wind rose, and he stumbled, fixing the special glasses more firmly on his face. These were for protection, he had been told – from the wind, and the sun that could be stronger once he reached a certain height. He’d paid a lot of money and would abide by every rule. But he was also going to have a lot of fun.
He leaned over the bars, the strong steel rails that lined the cabin, and gasped. The world was beautiful. Green and blue, and white and gray. Rivers of ink-blue, green bulbous forests, and the pointy mountains, blanketed by clouds that changed color as the balloon rose even higher.
His eyes moistened, he felt light envelop him, and in his heart, he sensed huge, immense bubbles of happiness. He swayed as the balloon swiveled in the gentle breeze. The next moment, he was still, feeling at one with the universe. Everything was worth this. All his savings, and hard work, and now he felt rewarded. This beauty was a benediction of sorts.
He felt light-headed as he descended and smiled when he saw people come up to him. “Did he know he’d crossed the border? And illegally too?” He still smiled though stretching his lips hurt. His glasses were glued to his face, and the bones on his face cracked as he nodded. It had to be the cold, the wind. The beauty of things had changed him, and perhaps changed the world around him as well.
“We’ve to send out a report,” someone said, questioning him, “to let your people know.” He nodded, feeling strange, and yet safe. He’d never seen anyone like the big furry creature speaking to him. But from up above, in the balloon, he’d already seen things he never had before.
“Can you help us write one?”
And he nodded, understanding. They would not know the language of the other side; what the people spoke in the world he had just come from. “Write then. Tell them you are here. That you….” He raised his hand slowly. He knew what they meant. He didn’t have to be told. Those who broke rules had things to answer for. But he wasn’t in the mood yet.
I am here. And I do not want to go back. He looked up at the balloon, already floating away, empty, and happy in the wind. He felt just like that.