Walking to work always feels the same: lost time. Muscle memory takes over, and all you remember is leaving your apartment and arriving in front of the revolving door with still-scalding coffee in your hand.
But today something pulls you back from that realm of nothingness. You stop in the middle of the busy sidewalk, your feet willed to pause by that flash of purple in the sky. Eyes skyward, you follow the path of a tiny purple balloon, lazily dancing before reflective windows of a nondescript skyscraper.
You sip your coffee, and curse yourself when it burns away the feeling in your tongue. It’s just a balloon, you think. And you slip back into the netherworld without a thought.
A day goes by, and another. The weekend comes and you go to the park to read. It’s nothing fun, just some businessman memoir your boss highly “recommended.” As you sit on the bench, trying to trace the lines of the text, a child laughs. You see her nearby, tugging on her parent’s sleeve and pointing to the sky.
Another purple balloon.
Quickly, you return to your book, but in the back of your mind floats that balloon.
Monday comes again. You vaguely recall dreaming of purple. The color highlights your path to work, gleaming in the daytime lights of taxis and sleek, shiny SUVs, and glittering in the sunrise sky like sprinkles on a cake.
You forget it all after those revolving doors.
On the way home, it’s hard to breathe. What’s the point, what’s the point, you think. This afternoon’s meeting replays in your mind.
Until you see another balloon. It spirals above the theater towards the clouds. You let yourself smile, and with that curve, the air returns to your lungs like a splash of water from when you had time and energy to visit the beach.
That week, you walk to work with one foot outside the emptiness, looking at the sky like you’re waiting for a shooting star. Sometimes you’re lucky and you see it, the balloon by the bank, or way up high above the courthouse. Or far in the distance over the park. And the rest of the day they float in your head like happy fish.
Friday hurts. You tried your best, you know you did. But the weekend predicts grey and dread. What’s the point, you think, as you sit on the park bench, staring at ants near your boots, the book sitting beside you. Your head is so heavy, you can barely even hold yourself up.
Something nudges you in your soul, like the nose of a curious dog. With all your energy, you lift your face to the sky. Is that your heart, you wonder, dancing in the air? Should you chase it? Catch it?
The idea terrifies you. It’s so high up there. But it stirs something in you.
The next thing you know, you’re on your feet in front of a trash can, the book half in, half out. There’s nothing in there for you among the chattering skulls, mindlessly boasting about success and growth and the company. With every word, it snatches a piece of you and eats it up. Lost forever. So much missing time.
The clunk of the book at the bottom of the bin sparks a wave of energy through you.
On Monday, you remember the walk. The honking of impatient drivers, the laughter of teenagers on their way to school, the twitter of brave birds who love the streetlamps and awnings for cafes. The city reflects in the windows of every skyscraper, colorful and moving. Breathing. Living.
You order an iced coffee and you make three revolutions in the revolving doors. All you do today is set a letter into your boss’s hands with a bow.
Iced coffee in hand, you jog to the park, passing the bench by, and stop beside the river. You remember it being stony and slow, but today it rushes with bright blues and indigos.
You place your coffee on the railing and stand on the bottom rung, arms wide. With a deep inhale, you half-laugh, half-shout. Passersby cast you amused or judging looks, but each of them fuel you. Because you’re not lost, not hidden. You’re alive.
Another balloon rolls into view above the river, and you smile at it until you realize how low it is. Part of you is scared to look, but with a wildly beating heart, you turn your gaze northward.
A cluster of purple balloons sways in the breeze, tied to a cart near the hotdog stand. A flock of children wait in line with itching fingers and toothy grins.
You can’t see the face of the balloon seller, only his striped sweater and tousled black hair as he bends down to offer a balloon to a tiny dumpling of a girl. He ruffles her hair, and even from where you’re standing, you hear his laugh. As warm as a fresh batch of cookies, and as cozy as reading under a blanket by the fire.
How do you thank him when words aren’t enough? Yet, you know he’d understand either way.
Right as you think the words, as slow and intense as magma, Thank you, he idly looks your way. And he smiles.