A thousand lanterns cast a reddish glow over the teeming crowd of onlookers, their eyes reflecting the star speckled skyline of deep blue bleeding into cosmic purple. Revellers in bright clothing pushed past each other in search of their night’s mischief, while those in more muted tones shuffled slowly through the throng, hands clasped firmly around thin twine that connected a series of white balloons to the earth. While those in revelry moved with no discernible pattern and with no clear purpose, those gripping firmly to the balloons walked along a path lit with Luminaria, small bags of sand topped with a bright tea-candle.
A towering man in a simple grey shirt stood a head above the inebriated swarm, his left hand gently caressing the face of a small boy, who stared at his father with blue eyes that stood out magnificently against his pale skin and hair. His right hand, like all of those moving along the glowing path, clutched a twine string, which rose like a ladder to a white balloon adorned with smudged handwriting. The man’s eyes were hard as he stared into the distance, barely noticing the tear stained eyes of the child who looked at him as if he were the whole world.
As the path wound on, the number of colourful onlookers thinned, and only those making the long journey remained; each holding a single twine string attached to a white balloon. The glow of red lanterns disappeared and only the light of the Luminaria remained to compete with the light of a billion stars and the radiant moon. The buildings thinned until they disappeared, and those in dull colours stood at their destination.
The man awkwardly pulled the blue-eyed boy up onto his shoulders, the boy grabbed his father firmly around the head and looked up at the white balloon. A swell of tears built up in his bright, powder blue eyes, a perfect contrast to his father’s cobalt stare. The man’s eyes dropped to the open field, dotted with small stones and markers, and an occasional bouquet of flowers which added the only colour to the surroundings.
The group began to shuffle slightly as each individual within the group withdrew their own markers and fixed them to the end of their twine ropes. The man pulled a solid silver ring from his pocket and thumbed the engraving along its inside. His face finally cracked as he fumbled with the end of the rope, looping a loose knot that would come undone at the proper moment.
He drew in a single sharp sobbing breath as he lifted the rope to his son’s hand, allowing him to grip the string along with him. He squeezed lightly, and as the wind picked up the two hands released in unison, allowing the balloon to be caught in the updraft. The man felt a pull from his chest as a part of his being rose into the sky, the balloon had carried half of the field before the ring swung loose and landed somewhere invisible, now a permanent marker of a life. The balloon itself twisted and turned, a mere reflection of light in the sky. The man drew in a breath and steadied himself, pulling his son down for a gentle kiss on the cheek, before the balloon disappeared into the sky and they turned to walk towards a different life.
Words by Adam Gribble
Illustration by Sascha Tan