“Food” on a yellow balloon
“Accommodation” on a pink balloon
“Freedom” on a blue balloon
“Language” on a green balloon
“Education” on an orange balloon
Set them free, please tell the world the needs we are asking for now will be paid back after we grow up. We came here through overloaded boats, which almost turned over during storms. We were told it was our temporary stay, we will be brought to another place of peace and safety, where we “might” unite with our parents. We are learning a new language so we could understand what the people delivering water and food are instructing, and pass on the messages to grandmas and grandpas. They are not really our grandparents, but we help each other. They teach us writing in our language, and we bring food to their tents.
We were shown pictures of balloons of different colors that were inflated and set to the sky by children living in different cities. They were helping us by reminding the public not to stop sending us clean water and food, and preparing places for us where we “might” unite with our parents.
I still don’t understand what “might” means in their language, but Mikhail told me it means, although we hope so, it won’t happen. Mikhail is older and taller than me, and he goes by Mike now. He knows a lot more than me, but I wish he was wrong about “might”.
I have lost count of days, weeks, months, and years. I don’t remember how long we have been here. Thus I don’t know how old I am now. When we ran away from home, I was several months away from being seven -years -old. I still dream of the nights we were on the boat. The tall waves rocked our boat violently, they were like huge monsters with fierce blue eyes. Their eyes were stolen stars from the sky, and they pitched and rolled our boat while roaring at us relentlessly. We clutched onto whatever we could hold on to so we wouldn’t be washed away by the monstrous tides.
Mikhail did not come with us, he said he came on foot. I don’t want to ask him if he dreams about his walking. Was it as scary as our boating? I still hear the creaking of the boat’s wooden panels and the howling wind from time to time, even in the daytime. Sometimes I still feel I was thrown into the air and completely lost the sense of weight until the sea took me first then drowned me.
But the adults always say that the worst is over, now we can hope. Hope for what? Where are my parents? I don’t want to ask, I am afraid they will tell me news that I don’t want to hear.
Although food is delivered to us every now and then, I still feel hungry all the time. We have to split food with newcomers, as the total amount of provisions is not increased. We were told that we have been lucky, because refugee is a status that many others wish to gain but have not been given. They are called undocumented immigrants and will be sent back to places they are running away from.
They told us to write thank you cards to those children who set the yellow, pink, blue, green, and orange balloons to the sky. They suggested we can write, “Hopefully one day we will meet.” But I need to meet my mum and my dad first.
I wish I were riding on one of the balloons to get out of here.
Note from the author: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) has designed this Balloon Game to elevate awareness of the needs of refugees.
C. J. Anderson-Wu is a Taiwanese writer. In 2017 she published Impossible to Swallow—A Collection of Short Stories About The White Terror in Taiwan, and in 2021 The Surveillance—Tales of White Terror in Taiwan. Based on true characters and real incidents, her works look into the political oppression and the traumas resulting from the state’s brutal violation of human rights. Currently, she is working on her third book Endangered Youth— To Hong Kong. C. J. Anderson-Wu’s stories and poems can be found in literary journals all over the world.
“The Balloon Game” was a finalist in our 2023 Blurred Genre Flash Contest, judged by Rachel Howard.