Saturday was a warm Spring like day in Neuchâtel. We spent the day walking around the blue lake and busy streets of this beautiful city. Music from street players drifted into one street and out the other as people walked slowly enjoying the sun.
Turning a corner we were stopped by a small crowd of people gathered around a man dressed like one of Robin Hood’s merry men.
In English, with an accent that matched my own, and then in French he explained that the price of a balloon was a smile. If a child had an especially beautiful smile they would get two balloons.
A young boy promptly offered up his smile and was rewarded with a balloon sword to ward off unhappiness. After the boy gave everyone one last smile and returned to his father, the balloon maker began to play his guitar.
As he sang in English and French, he was accompanied by his own dancing marionettes. Strings connected to the guitar caused the marionettes to sway and jump to the music. It was very amusing.
Sweet Bear tugged hard at my coat. “I want a balloon, Mama.”, she demanded.
I replied, “Go stand in front of the gentleman and smile for a balloon.”
She insisted that I go with her because she was afraid.
We went up to him and I dropped a two franc piece into his guitar box.
“The price is a smile and money doesn’t get you a balloon”, he merrily informed us.
I pressed my hand gently on Sweet Bear’s back pushing her forward as I once again explained that she needed to smile for a balloon. She looked up deep into my eyes with an expression telling me that I was a fool.
“It’s not like that, Mama!, she hissed. “You have to give money.”
My heart sank.
She had learned along the way that nothing is free. It made me sad to think at five years old she knows that money is used to buy things.
What she doesn’t understand is that money doesn’t buy everything. For example, money doesn’t buy love.
As we walked off “sans ballon”* I felt I had let her down. I had failed to explain that while most things in life are not free there are still things that are. Such as a smile.
And, when you smile people smile back.
Sometimes, they even give you a balloon.
(*sans ballon – without balloon)