This was the first time that I wasn’t excited at all about my birthday. I have had a couple of birthdays in the past where jumped in and out of the decision to let it pass as just another day vs. organizing a huge celebration for the day. But, this year, the number 27 didn’t sit well with me. In my mind, I was already 27 years old when January 2020 hit. I had never been shy about declaring my age. Never understood why some women liked to hide it- not judging anybody’s choice here. It’s just a lie that I never thought was worth telling others. Infact, each time I happily shared my age when asked, I was not believed. I admit that I look older than my age. Call it genes, love for junk stored as fat in my body, or just my desire to carry myself maturely.
I wasn’t unhappy because I was getting old. I was unhappy because the life that I had envisioned for myself by the time I hit 27 was nowhere close to the one that I was currently living in. I had dreamt of having a family of my own- one husband and 2 kids. I didn’t have any kids and of course, no husband to make them. 27 and Single. Worst combination, ever. Where’s the love?
I decided to just let this year slide and silently accept the failure of a woman I’ve been. Luckily, my birthday fell in the month of Ramadan where celebrations like these are anyway frowned upon. It’s a controversial issue but deep down, I never vibed with celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Rose day, Festival of Sleep Day, Ice cream for breakfast day, leave the office early day, Milk day, hugging day, and Nothing day. I didn’t make any of these up. They are 100% legit. Someday, I’ll reflect upon each of these days. Perhaps on the World Toilet Day? That day exists too.
My organization had recently begun a tradition of arranging a Microsoft Teams call to send birthday wishes to make the day special, since Work-From-Home was on. Lovely initiative, I must say. But I was just not in the mood to answer the question: how old are you today? So, I got that call canceled and decided not to let anyone know about my special day. Was it even special? It’s not that this day would magically bring what I was really missing in life- l o v e. Why bother then?
At 12 am, my family called to wish me. I expected that. My sister had made a beautiful décor with my photo and name that she managed to print out amidst the ongoing lockdown in Saudi Arabia. I wasn’t expecting that. All I had thought was a simple birthday wish coming my way. But this felt good. I got a little teary eyed but had to make a few stupid jokes to change the mood. We don’t express our thank you-s by crying on camera! Eastern family problems. We express. In our own way.
Good start. I hit the bed. Got up for Fajr and went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, I saw a list of messages on my Whatsapp, Facebook and IG, all wishing me, you guessed it: happy birthday! How could they have known? I thought. I had been such a passive user of Facebook that it didn’t cross my mind that it plays the role of a good girl in remembering and reminding everyone about dates!
Two of my friends had shared a photo of me on their IG Story to celebrate the day with me. It felt like it had been ages since I last saw those photos. And, we looked fab in it. So, I decided to add it to my story to appreciate the memories and great times spent with them. And, so, one by one, everyone found out and the wishes began pouring in. It was too late to stop it.
On one hand, I was excited to reconnect with so many of my friends who I had lost touch over the past few months because: life. But, on the other hand, I was still not sure why I was behaving hypocritically. What did I really want?
A good friend of mine, S, sent a gift voucher online as he was miles away stuck in another country due to the pandemic. And then, performed the customary ritual of sending a birthday message. I called him up and even before he could answer, I said, “Tum pagal ho? (Are you mad?)”
I told you. We, easterners, have a different way of showing gratitude. We don’t use phrases like, ‘Aww, how thoughtful of you!’ or ‘I am so blessed to have you as a friend in my life’. No, that only happens at the getting-to-know period of any relationship- the formal stage. I have tried being sweet and saying something along the lines of ‘I value the care and love…’ but it didn’t work. As much as this concept of expressing love with elaborate words is weird to me, it is weirder to the ones on the receiving end. Almost instantly, I’d get slapped with, “Bas na. Aadat nai hai ye sunne ki (Enough, I’m not habitual of listening to this)”.
The time to break my fast had arrived and I was peacefully enjoying my Futoor when the doorbell rang. I quickly grabbed my Abaya and Tarha and opened the door.
He was so excited as though he knew that this wasn’t something, I was expecting at all.
A little squared paper hung at the top corner of the box. It had my name and address handwritten on it. A mobile number was also included with my name, only that the number didn’t belong to me. I left the cake unopened on the tabletop and reached out to unlock my phone. I typed my friend, H’s name in the dialer. It was his number! He had to pull this stunt off. I had heard nothing but a short DM with the wish. He is not the type of friend I hardly interact with. He is the type who won’t let a day pass by without sharing funny TikTok Videos that I had already seen a while ago.
I hit the call button.
“What were you thinking?” I asked.
Get over it. I can’t be sweet.
He started acting all innocent.
“Cut the drama. Your phone number is written right next to my name. I am not speculating. I KNOW it’s you!”
We began to laugh and discuss how I could finish the cake all on my own.
The doorbell rang. Again.
I told H that I’d call him back in a few minutes.
I opened the door to find a Zomato delivery guy holding a food parcel for me. He wasn’t excited as the Cake delivery guy. Instead, he looked at me with suspicion when I reached to check the details of the invoice attached.
The same number. That’s H again?
I called him back. “Tum pagal ho?”, I asked for the second time on the same day.
“Wasn’t the cake enough that you had to even deliver food?”
I had never been so surprised for quite a long time. I did have my suspicions when he didn’t talk to me the whole day, but I couldn’t tell him to not plan any surprise. What if he never thought of it? I’d embarrass him then. So, I kept to myself.
“That’s not from me”, he said.
“Your number is on this one too, just so you know.”
“Well, this was a combined effort from your family and me.”
I later found out that my mother had freshly made an Instagram account at the last hour just so she could DM my friend, H, to be a partner in crime in getting a cake delivered to me. She doesn’t know where I live. It’s funny, I know. But she never asked, and she knew that if she had asked about my address on the day of my birthday, she was never going to get it.
But H, had already ordered the cake. So, instead she asked him to get a plate of Mix-Grill delivered at my doorstep.
It was a roller coaster of a day. I knew that turning 27 was something that I’d never forget. For all the wrong reasons, though.
But, this year, I did turn 27. It’s not something that I’ll ever forget. And it is for all the right reasons.
If this is not love, what is?
-27th April, 2020