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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Happy (07/12/07)

TITLE: The Yellow Balloon
By Helen Paynter


The Yellow Balloon

Bekalu blinked at the ceiling. The single bare light-bulb hung, as usual, in be-cobwebbed splendour. But something was different…

Of course! Today was Timket, the day of the baptism of Jesus! Today was a special day. A king among days.

He slipped quietly out of bed and dressed with careless haste, before hurrying into the toddlers’ room. Twelve tousled forms in varying degrees of dampness peered at him from their cots. He made his way to the fourth on the left, and scooped the bed-warm infant into his arms.

‘Happy Timket, little Eyob,’ he murmured into the dark curls. No-one knew if Eyob really was his brother, but they’d been found on the steps of the orphanage on the same day, eighteen months before. The baby still had his umbilical cord attached. Four year old Bekalu had been too shocked to speak for four months.

Wayzaru Ayana bustled into the room, a huge bundle of clothes impeding her vision. She almost fell over the pair before she saw them.

‘Bekalu!’ what are you doing here?’

He grinned up into her wrinkled face. ‘Happy Timket, Wayzaru Ayana!’

‘And a happy Timket to you, too.’ Her fierce expression softened. ‘Now run along. I’ve got twelve nappies to change and twelve doses of medicine to give. You can see Eyob later.’ She took the child from his arms. ‘And change into your Timket sash,’ she called after his retreating back.

Bekalu scurried back to his dormitory. He’d forgotten about the Timket clothes he’d laid at the foot of his bed the previous night. The other boys were now awake and dressing in their finery, admiring each other with broad white grins splitting their brown faces. Bekalu pulled on the white suit and the bright striped sash, stopping only to wrestle his trousers from one of the other boys, who had seized the opportunity to dance around the room with them on his head.

Breakfast was particularly delicious, and it was with a delightful sense of satisfaction and well-being that Bekalu skipped into the courtyard an hour later, his face washed and his tablets swallowed. An informal game of basketball was in progress; the single rusting ring being bombarded with enthusiastic shots from some of the older boys.

It was a considerably dustier Bekalu who observed the courtyard gates opening a little after lunch. In walked a woman with the palest skin he had ever seen. Her hair hung in sick-looking yellow curls, and even her eyes looked pale and washed-out. He wondered if she had some terrible illness, and shrank away from her.

His fears soon left him, however, when she opened a large bag and began handing out the contents. She lifted a floppy red object to her mouth, blew… and he gasped as a red ball appeared from nowhere. He couldn’t take his eyes off it as it bobbed around the courtyard. It seemed to float like a cloud, to laugh like a baby.

He felt a tap on his shoulder. The pale woman was holding out two of the floppy things - one blue, one yellow.

For me? He gestured.

For you, she indicated.

Then she pulled out a small packet of sweets and pressed it into his hand. He stared at her, unable to believe what she seemed to be saying. How could anyone possess such good fortune? She smiled and blew them up for him, her curls bobbing joyfully. He ran off quickly before she changed her mind, chasing the coloured balls around the courtyard and giggling with unadulterated joy.

That evening, Bekalu crept into the toddlers’ room, which was dark and quiet, except for the soft exhalations from a dozen pairs of tiny lungs.

Eyob hardly stirred as Bekalu lifted him out of his cot. Today was a special day, and tomorrow was a long way off. Tonight he wanted to share his joy.

Half an hour later, Wayzaru Ayana found her missing baby, nestled in the bed of his older brother. Bekalu, too, was asleep, with one hand curled around the infant’s body, the other clutching a punctured yellow balloon.

Timket is celebrated in Ethiopia on 19th January, in preference to Christmas.

Tens of thousands of HIV positive children are in orphanages across Africa. Many people consider them to be unadoptable.

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This article has been read 1412 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Joanne Sher 07/20/07
You have so captured the atmosphere of this place, and the wonder of a child. This tugged at my heart.
Dee Yoder 07/20/07
This is a beautiful story that shows how a simple balloon can bring happiness to childen who have very little. There's a good message in here as well.
Jan Ackerson 07/21/07
Oh, wonderful! I just wanted to take them all in and give them hugs! How much we take for granted, and how easy it is to give joy to a precious little one like this! You've created a wonderful, wonderful character for your readers to fall in love with.
Seema Bagai 07/22/07
Wonderful story. I could picture the scene and feel the emotions.
Kristen Hester07/23/07
Oh, I loved experiencing this special day through the eyes of your MC. His POV was so refreshing. From seeing a balloon for the first time to his description of a caucasian. Vivid writing.
Betty Castleberry07/23/07
This made me realize how something as simple as a baloon is a treasure for many children in our world. We take so much for granted.
I enjoyed this very well done piece.
Lynda Lee Schab 07/23/07
Awww...Simply superb. Excellent storytelling. What a sweet and touching entry for "happy." Well done!
Dixie Phillips07/24/07
clutching a punctured yellow balloon.... that line nailed this piece for me --- Talk about yanking my heartstrings. You do have a gift from God. May HE enlarge your writing influence.
Sharlyn Guthrie07/24/07
This story grabbed me and won't let me go. The love between brothers and then the imagery of the ballon at the end. Excellent job on this amazing, informative story!
Marilee Alvey07/26/07
Helen, this story was divine. The simple joy of a child is captured for all to see. Some people, born under adverse conditions, keep this childlike wonder with them as they grow up. It is an incredible thing to observe. I felt that in this moving story. Thanks for doing your homework, then sharing it with us.
Elizabeth Baize07/26/07
Wow! This is so poignant! Congratulations on your EC!
Dee Yoder 07/26/07
Congratulations, Helen! This is a lovely story!
Sheri Gordon07/26/07
Congratulations on your EC.

This story is incredible -- and wonderfully written. You had me captured from the beginning.

Our family has sponsored a child from Ethiopia -- his name is Worku. I saw his face as I was reading your story.

Great job.
Loren T. Lowery07/26/07
Wonderful and congratulations on your well-deserved EC.
Dixie Phillips07/26/07
Helen, I thought this was you. A well deserved win.... Our babies are supposed to be here before Christmas..... All I can think about is yellow balloons....
Lisa Holloway07/26/07
Interesting story with a real feel for the place and the children. Congratulations on your EC!
Jacquelyn Horne07/28/07
This is a very heartrending story. Very well written. Congrats on the win.