“bel·lig·er·ent adjective \bə-ˈlij-rənt
: angry and aggressive : feeling or showing readiness to fight”
“Bel·lig·er·ent a long word \be-lid-jaw-runt\
: when a balloon is actually wild, like a lion or a tiger.”
It was a cold day for a visit to the zoo but Gran made Cinnamon go anyway.
“Aunt Rissa will be there,” she said.
Cinnamon liked seeing Aunt Rissa, she guessed, but nothing made up for having to wear a coat and hat. If Gran had her way she’d be wrapped up in a scarf and mittens, too, though it wasn’t cold enough for all that and Gran knew it.
Aunt Rissa knew everything about everything, but most of all she knew about the animals at the zoo. For every question Cinnamon asked, Aunt Rissa had an answer. Cinnamon asked a lot of questions. Everyone said so.
On a normal day Cinnamon liked the zoo, but today was a coat and hat and don’t get to play with friends day, which made everything different. Cinnamon had a scowl firmly in place by the time she and Gran pulled into the zoo’s parking lot.
Aunt Rissa was waiting for them at the entrance, and in her hand was a string that held a bright blue balloon.
Cinnamon scowled harder. She was too old to be won over by a balloon. Still, secretly, she hoped it was for her.
“While I waited, this balloon kept tapping me on the head,” said Aunt Rissa. “It was asking to play with us today, rather than that big bunch of balloons over there.”
The big bunch of balloons bobbed lazily nearby.
“I think they were too tame,” added Aunt Rissa, “and our balloon is still wild, like the lion. What do you think, Cinnamon?”
Cinnamon eyed the balloon with more interest. The balloon did seem a little wild. Cinnamon decided to let Aunt Rissa tie the string around her wrist.
They stopped before the prowling tiger first.
“Tigers gain a stripe for every time they try to escape,” Aunt Rissa said quietly. “This one refuses to be tamed.”
“Oh, I don’t believe that’s true,” said Gran, but Cinnamon could see in the tiger’s eyes how it wanted to be free.
Her balloon bobbed against the tiger’s fence and the great cat let out a fierce growl. Cinnamon could envision it in the wild, stalking its prey. The tiger dashed out of sight suddenly.
“I believe it’s making a break for it,” said Aunt Rissa. “We’d better move along, or we’ll be forced to help it, and that could land us in all kinds of trouble.”
Gran shook her head as they strolled away, but Cinnamon’s mind was on fire with the thought of helping the great striped tiger escape. She wondered if she’d be able to see the next stripe grow as soon as the tiger was free, or if it took time to grow in, like her adult teeth.
She enjoyed how her balloon bobbed through the crowd as they walked, always seeming to find someone’s head to bonk.
She wondered if her balloon would grow a stripe if it broke free. It seemed to be trying.
A zoo employee caught Cinnamon’s attention and she walked over to see what the woman was doing. She had thick gloves on, and a large bird fluttered about, a string attaching its ankle to her wrist.
“Look!” said Aunt Rissa, “she’s teaching that eagle how to fly!”
“I think it’s injured,” said Gran, in that tone of voice that said she was correcting Aunt Rissa, but Aunt Rissa knew things like this, and Cinnamon had no doubt she was watching the first flying lessons of a mighty eagle. What a special moment to see!
Her balloon matched the movements of the bird and Cinnamon thrust her wrist forward so the bird could see it had a flying lesson friend.
The eagle did see, and Cinnamon couldn’t believe how much she’d been able to help. The eagle broke free from the woman and flapped to a nearby tree branch, well out of the zoo employee’s grasp.
“We helped it fly!” said Cinnamon, a wide smile spreading across her face.
“So we did,” agreed Aunt Rissa. Gran shook her head, but she was smiling, too.
“Excuse me,” people kept saying as they unwrapped themselves from Cinnamon’s balloon string, and Gran kept saying “sorry” to perfect strangers.
“It’s polite day,” explained Aunt Rissa. “See how everyone’s practicing? This way the next time they need to be polite it will be easy.”
“Like playing the piano?” Cinnamon asked.
“Just like it,” said Aunt Rissa. “You have to practice to become good at a thing.”
“You’re excused,” Cinnamon began to say to people, just how Gran said it when Cinnamon asked to be excused from the dinner table. She’d be good at manners, too, the next time she had to use them.
Finally, they stood before Cinnamon’s most favorite spot at the whole wide zoo. The lion. He was resting, but she could still see in that one eye he cracked open the wildness she and Aunt Rissa so loved.
Her balloon drifted on its long string toward the fence and did a dance for old wild king lion. The lion leapt to his great paws suddenly and stalked closer as if the balloon might make a good meal.
“The color blue drives wild animals wilder,” said Aunt Rissa.
“I think you mean the color red,” said Gran. “And you’re thinking of bulls, not all animals.”
Cinnamon was glad Aunt Rissa had come along. Gran just didn’t know things like Aunt Rissa did. The blue balloon was obviously making the lion wilder. It paced back and forth; studying the balloon like nothing else in the world existed.
The lion ran at the balloon and everyone jumped back, though there was plenty of fence, and space, between them and the wild lion.
People said excited things all around them and Cinnamon was proud of her balloon for giving everyone such a good time, and reminding the lion of his wildness. The lion padded away on his big paws.
“He’s seeking a private place to roar,” said Aunt Rissa. “All lions like to roar alone, though the cartoons make you think differently.”
Cinnamon nodded. He did look like he rather wanted to roar.
Cinnamon was sad when they arrived at last at the exit. She wasn’t ready for it to be over.
They had seen reptiles and rodents, elephants and insects, but the best of all was the tiger and her old wild king lion. Cinnamon studied the sky, and the balloon tugging at her wrist, and she untied the string.
“Oh Cinnamon, you’ve gone and lost your balloon!” scolded Gran as the blue balloon lifted away into the sky.
“No Gran,” Cinnamon said, wondering when she and Aunt Rissa would ever be able to stop explaining obvious things to Gran. “It got free. See, it’s wild, like the lion, just as Aunt Rissa said. But it didn’t know how to fly until it got a flying lesson. The blue in the sky has been making it wilder all day, and now that it’s free it can grow its first stripe.”
Knowing all of that, it was just good manners to let it go.
Cinnamon squinted to see if she could make out the balloon’s first stripe yet. She thought maybe she could. It looked as if Aunt Rissa had spotted it as she gazed at the sky with a knowing smile. Cinnamon threw her arms around Gran.
“What’s this for?” Gran laughed in surprise.
“Thank you for taking me and Aunt Rissa to the zoo today, Gran. It was the best day ever.”
“That it was,” Gran agreed. “That it was.”
If you enjoyed this story, please consider buying a copy of ‘The Cinnamon Circus’, where you’ll find it, and other Cinnamon stories.