I was six years old and Papa’s Bullet was the coolest thing in the world. The Bullet was red and its engine roared when I sat on it. My dad’s village, which was always one of my favorite places to visit, was known for its hills and rubber trees. The ride up the hill was not particularly fun but as any native would know, every up has an associated down. And unlike in life, here, the ride down would always be the most fun! The bike would change its sound from a roar to a loud hum and the wind would push my face into my dad. I could feel the edge of his helmet on my head.
The man at the photography studio was Papa’s friend. He had pinched my cheeks and given me a blue balloon, the color of the Ulysses butterfly that rested on July on my calendar. I had smiled at him albeit with missing teeth. The white ribbon had smooth edges that curled into spirals, like my own hair. Papa picked me up and placed me on the bike. I waved goodbye, the balloon dancing in my arms.
The first hill was approaching. I knew these paths so well. The marks on the trees looked freshly cut. Rubber milk dripped from their edges. From the top, one could see the paddy fields down below the trees. They were lime green, in perfect rectangles. Occasionally, white birds added an extra color. It was my favorite sight on these rides. We zoomed below; my stomach did a backflip, my face scrunched at the wind. rollercoastercoasterroller. It was almost like flying.
The second hill smiled at me and winked. I didn’t understand what it was trying to say. From the top here, I saw the familiar stores- a tailor’s, a bakery and my favorite, a fruit stall that sold watermelon. “Papa,” I screamed over the Bullet-wind duet, “let’s stop there.” The father in the mirror raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t hear me. I cupped my hands around my mouth and screamed, “Watermelon!” Thannimathanga. All of a sudden I turned around in shock. A flying blue butterfly. My balloon! In my excitement, I had let go of my balloon as we flew down the hill.
The sense of loss was unbearable. Tears loomed in my eyes and my heart matched the earlier acrobatics of my stomach. I wailed and wailed, so much that the maaman at the fruit stall gave me an extra piece of watermelon. Saaramilla, moley, saaramilla. It’s just a balloon. Your father will you buy better ones soon. He didn’t understand, and neither did my dad, that this was my first experience of loss. It didn’t matter how small or how big the object. All that mattered was that I had lost it. It was no longer with me. Rather, it felt like the butterfly had entered my throat and sat on my chest, scratching it with its tiny legs. The wails eventually stopped but the grief didn’t.
Today, all of a sudden, I feel like that six-year old who lost her balloon. What did I lose now? I’m not quite sure. It’s not the object that matters anyway. It’s just that sense.