The Balloon Man

I work in one of the busiest areas of Dhaka City. If you want to get a taste of the rush of Dhaka, you need to stand in the Gulshan 1 Circle for five minutes [preferably holding on to another person for support]. People cross roads wearing their heart as a protection helmet, rushing into oncoming traffic as though the cars are made of air. If you stand still, the oncoming rush of people and motorcycles [two-wheelers rarely use the roads in Dhaka, they prefer to think the pavements are made for them and honk on the people trying to walk there] will drag you along – a lesson about life itself.

A few days ago, I was standing in the middle of the pavement in this busy area during rush hour. The evening was comfortably cool and uncomfortably busy. I was surrounded by office-goers, shoppers, families, street-vendors and a hundred different types of people going about their day. I had an arm full of groceries. As I waited for my ride, I stood next to a shoe store, and found myself contemplating my experience of the city, always good fodder for the next blog post for my often-ignored little blog.

My eyes were drawn to a man sitting quietly next to where I stood. He was old, wearing a long white panjabi and lungi. He had an impressive beard and wore a traditional cap on his head. And he held a large bunch of orange and blue balloons in his hand.

Balloon Man
Balloon Man

I had seen him around that road a few times before actually. He sold balloons in the area. I had often wanted to buy some from him to keep in my room – just to brighten the place up. I would like to believe we are never too old or too lost to buy balloons for ourselves.

Balloon-man was content to stare at the world pass him by, holding on to his balloons, not even bothering to approach potential customers for a hard sell. It was like he had taken it for granted that nobody was in the mood for his balloons that day in that busy street.

I put my paparazzi skills to use and furtively took a picture. I wanted to ask his story. I wanted an orange balloon. I wanted to haggle over the price and figure out if this is all he’s ever done. Had he always sold things on the sidewalks? Has he come to hard times? Why on earth did he look so wise and peaceful? Why was he not trying to sell his balloons?

But I couldn’t. I could not gather the courage to walk up to him and ask for a balloon, and have a thousand people turn their heads as they passed me by, a young female standing in the busiest road in Dhaka, holding groceries and an orange balloon floating over her head.

I do not blame the city or the people who would stare. I blame myself and my own hesitance to be uncomfortable for a few minutes and trade money for a balloon. I also blame the thoughts in the man’s head and the stories that he kept. I was too intimidated to break his quiet contemplation of the world. I just did not want to bother him.

I left Balloon-man sitting on his perch, the balloons floating calmly as he did in his thoughts. I look around for him when I pass that place now. I have not caught him since that day. If I do see him again, I’ll get myself a balloon. Hopefully that day, he will just be an ordinary balloon-seller, and not the most interesting, most intimidating person in the busiest intersection in Dhaka City. If he happens to be that again, hopefully, I will not be a wimp.