Body Balloon

 

It was blue - though also came in red, yellow or pink, depending on how you viewed the world you made such laborious progress through. Blue was the colour least likely to emphasise its size and, more importantly, the customer's size.

The Body Balloon came with options to support the “average overweight” to “unable to get up from a chair without assistance”.

Herbert fell into the last category. He could never work out why, especially after cutting out fizzy drinks and junk food, and even attempting to peddle the exercise bike he purchased from the same company until it buckled. It shouldn't have done; being designed for users of a certain size, unlike workout equipment for the physically active, which made the assumption that their users were fit and mobile.

The doctor had fobbed Herbert off with platitudes about fluid retention and 'Why not try substituting fruit for chips or a hamburger,' sooner than saying, 'What? You on a diet? Pull the other one.' There was no point in trying to remonstrate. The medical profession was developing zero tolerance towards people they perceived to be victims of their own weakness. Yet, without them believing you, what hope had anyone of finding out why their waistline was expanding when they were not consuming enough to account for it?

So Herbert gave in, opened his online account and bought a bright blue Body Balloon, the newest innovation to replace the ubiquitous mobility scooter, which could be dangerous, unstable, and only emphasise the fact that you were so overweight you couldn't walk anywhere. The Body Balloon was not only bright blue, but fun, totally stable and saved both rider and pedestrians from dangerous collisions.

It arrived next day in a box containing the instructions, an air pump, charging unit, sturdy frame to which were attached several fans, a motor and battery. Neatly folded on top of that was what looked like a deflated dinghy.

After his breakfast of one slice of toast and cup of tea, Herbert dragged the box out into the small garden of his ground floor flat and assembled it according to the instructions.

When the Body Balloon was inflated he sat in the armchair shaped dirigible and gingerly switched on the motor, fully expecting it to collapse under his weight.

But it didn't. The fans levitated him a few inches from the ground so the chair could be turned in any direction with the slightest motion.

This could become very addictive. Herbert would attract attention of course, but surely only from people who wanted to know where they could get one.

Herbert manoeuvred the Body Balloon through the side gate and found himself sailing along the pavement like potentate on a magic carpet.

People did stare.

Many of his neighbours had assumed Herbert to be housebound, no doubt disapproving of somebody barely out of their twenties being too overweight to work. Yet he was beyond embarrassment, knowing that the fault was not his, but that of the medical profession who refused to listen and diagnose what was actually wrong with him.

When it became apparent that the astounded expressions were not reflecting envy, but confused annoyance at the contraption taking up so much of the pavement, Herbert floated into the local park which was usually empty at that time of day apart from the occasional dog walker. Goodness only knew what small children leaving kindergarten would have made of his bright blue Body Balloon as it approached. Parents would have no doubt hustled them away with dire warnings against wanting one. All the same, he kept to the herbaceous borders for fear of being accosted on his maiden voyage.

Just as Herbert began to accept that this may be the mode of transport for the rest of his life and something to be enjoyed, the Body Balloon wobbled a little. He leant back to slow it down and take cover by a stand of philadelphus. Its perfume seemed overpowering enough to buoy him up higher. Herbert dismissed the ridiculous idea, and then realised that he was definitely going up.

Nothing in the instructions covered this eventuality. The buoyancy of the Body Balloon should have been strictly controlled so it could not rise any higher than six inches from the ground.

The instructions were wrong.

Soon Herbert's hair was touching the highest branches of mock orange blossom. Then, to his horror, he realised that he was being slewed sideways towards the huge, unpruned tangle of rose bushes. Many comments had been made about the viciousness of their thorns. The gardeners had planted them to deter children making dens in the border where they could secretly light fires, or drug addicts using its cover to shoot up.

Herbert tried not to panic and gently attempted to bounce the Body Balloon back to the ground. Unfortunately this made it more unstable.

He was now directly over the rose bushes.

This was embarrassing as well as scary. What would happen if the infernal device tipped him out? He would be left sprawling on the ground until some passer-by was obliged to call for help to get him up. No, not again, Herbert thought. The idea was too demeaning. So he tried to nudge the bright blue blob away from the brambles. But it refused to budge.

Then the inevitable happened.

After one last, desperate nudge the Body Balloon turned turtle, tipping Herbert into the thicket of rose bushes.

The Body Balloon was punctured by the vicious thorns, yet refused to deflate.

Herbert fared far worse. Stabbed multiple times by the ferocious barbs, he had no choice but to roll through the brambles to escape. He lay on the grass, panting, mortified with embarrassment, and lacerated.

Herbert glowered angrily at the bright blue Body Balloon hanging innocently above his head. There was no point in wishing it would deflate. He had to get back home somehow.

At least no one else had witnessed the mishap.

He managed to push himself up into a sitting position and, as the pain became more bearable, he realised that it was easier to move.

In fact, Herbert actually managed to stand up unaided for the first time in years.

Then his trousers fell down.

His waistline was rapidly receding. All the rolls of fat that had been the bane of his young life were deflating like a balloon. He looked down in amazement to see the pounds evaporating from him like melting snow.

Even more peculiar, the skin that had been stretched to contain his huge circumference retained its elasticity. Now Herbert was just a young man in ridiculously oversized clothes.

Once he had recovered from the astonishment, the next thing that occurred to him was bizarre. Would anybody recognize who he was? Some busybody was bound to complain to the council that he had a lodger.

But that hardly mattered now. Herbert could find a job, perhaps even a girlfriend, and make something of his life.

He glanced up at the blue Body Balloon and decided to leave it there to amuse the children and baffle adults.

Who could tell? Perhaps there was some previously undiscovered life form on earth that might like to nest in it.