Written by: Imbesat Zaigham Meer
Holding birthday parties is Zaid’s favorite hobby, and somehow every year, he manipulates me into saying yes. This year he didn’t fight fair (when does he ever?). He brought it up in front of Hasan and he got all excited and then I just couldn’t bear to say no. At first I was reluctant but now I’m perfectly content by it, excited even.
I descend the stairs, excited, exuberant and expectant. As soon as I reach the bottom, I am hit by the smell of meatballs, biryani, air freshener and different perfumes. The room is toasty warm, like bed early in the morning, inviting and irresistible.
The chandelier attracts my attention immediately. It is glistening; the diamond-like crystals throwing out a spectrum of color that catches my eye. It gives a bright golden glow to the rest of the room, so the white surfaces seem to generate a golden hue. There are twirling ribbons that hang from the roof.
The walls are covered in sparkling silver glitter, family frames recently polished so you can see your reflection in the glass pane covering the photograph. There are garlands of mistletoes, flowers, and Royal purple ribbons intricately woven, hanging from the roof, spinning from their invisible threads, giving out a delicious smell of ivy. Mithu, the macaw Zaid gifted me at my birthday before last, is sitting in one of these garlands surveying the scene below, squawking occasionally.
I wander into the dining table. Kashmiri dove-white linen is draped over the large oak table, with food placed over it like a rainbow shell. I gently trail my finger over the crisp new linen, which is smooth but firm, as I move past the exquisite dishes. There are chips and dips, BLTs, salads made out of every kind of vegetable Zaid could find at Imtiaz Superstore, including something called a Rutabaga. There’s coke, Pepsi, lassi, Kashmiri tea, lemonade, mango milkshake, apple juice, coffee and tea. Zaid has placed his famous marble cake, a swirl of pinks, browns and whites, smack in the centre. He has placed rings of various flavors of cupcakes around this: chocolate, vanilla, peach, red velvet, ginger and honey. Scattered over the table are flowers cut out of carrots and radishes.
In the Library, I see the squirming litter of children who have played and run around, eaten too much high-sugar party food, and are now cranky with sleep and energy. Piled up on the sofa nearest to the fireplace, they are surrounded with silver wrappers of chocolate Kisses littered around them, twinkling in the warm glow like fairy dust. There are half-drunk glasses of lemonade now diluted with melted ice cubes, resting on the reading table. Hafsa bibi will not pleased about the blood red grape juice spilled over the cream carpet, but oh so well. The carpet needs replacing anyway.
In the living room I smile to see the small but determined group of people trying to dance, in a variety of unlikely ways to “Piazza, The Newyorker”. Fatima is being spun around by Aunt Laraib, her legs dangling in the air. She is missing one ballet flat, I notice. Uncle Mustafa is doing the robot, making creaking sounds to match his movements, Amal is twirling around the room with her eyes closed, Mujtaba and Intekhab are doing the bhangra, while Nathaline and Chris slow dance, swaying to the beat.
I walk into the odd group of dancers, with my heart thrumming like a singing bird, and all these people form a circle around me, including me, accepting me into their awkwardness. Once again I am overwhelmed by Birthday wishes and compliments.
Over Mujtaba’s shoulder I see Zaid, who parts the people and offers me his hand. I accept, and he pulls me away from the others, and starts to gently spin me around until I’m so dizzy with happiness that I stumble. Immediately, he wraps his arms around me, pressing his lips to my earlobe “Happy Birthday, darling!”
Written by: Afsah Hasan
Richard buried his face deeper into his pillow in an attempt to block out the noise of excited preparation downstairs: the clink-clank of cutlery; hi shrieking cousins being ordered to sit quietly in one room; his mother scolding everyone for being too loud; giggle and curse – they were trying too hard to make this a surprise.
He groaned when he heard footsteps approaching his bedroom. He contemplated jumping out of the window. The door creaked open and Aunt Caroline’s head peeped in.
“Richie? You’re not sleeping, are you?”
The idea of feinting sleep was tempting but Richard knew it was useless.
“No. What is it?”
“Oh great! See Richie, I’ve lost my glasses. Can you come downstairs and help me look for them?”
And thus, he declared the ordeal open.
Wearing his grey sweat pants a withered black tee shirt, he showed his face downstairs with his hands rolled into tight fists in his pockets; his mouth twisted into a scowl.
His entire family was here. They shouted a “surprise Richie” and clapped and cheered for him. Somebody had put on the clichéd happy birthday song on the music player. They had gathered around the dining table which had his chocolate cake on it and chairs placed on either side with red and blue balloons tied on them.
Richard took two steps forward when suddenly a hideous clown jumped in front of him and blew a loud, shrill horn in his face. His face was painted white with his nose and mouth a bright red and perfect circles on each cheek. His rough wig was the colour of Calpol 6+ cough syrup. His clothes were striped with silver, blue, white and green.
The clown and his mother – each holding one of his hands – propelled him towards the cake. As he blew his fifteen little candles, he was assaulted with snow sprays and party poppers. His head was covered with white foam – it went in his ears, under his shirt and even burned his eyes. Its sickening smell made him want to regurgitate on the floor.
Nobody understood how embarrassing this party was – he was fifteen and they were still treating him like a child! Other kids at school got cellphones or a new room! And here he was getting the most childish party ever!
In the midst of his jovial family members, he swallowed hard in his anger. Any attempt to smile resulted in a grimace. When he cut the cake, he imagined ruthlessly murdering each and every one of them.
Just when he thought “nothing could be worse” his mother happily announced that it was time for the next surprise in the garden. His cousins headed for the door with alacrity. Richard followed behind with slow, hesitant steps.
As he stood at the door, his jaw dropped and his eyes opened wide with shock. The “surprise” hung from one of the lower branches of the apple tree. It was bright orange and brown and resembled a cat: A piñata.
His eyes blazed with fury. Are they serious? Are they joking? Hot tears of disappointment and frustration stung his eyes. He was handed a baseball bat, and he ran to the piñata and struck it as hard as he could. It burst open to release a shower of candies but it was still hanging. He hit the branch; he struck the piñata till it fell open on the grass and even then he did not stop hitting it. He hated his family for being so stupid and embarrassing. He took out his anger for his family at the pitiful piñata.
That soothed him a little. So the rest of the party was spent with detachment. Dancing with his aunties was just useless spinning. The pizza was just bread and cheese in his mouth. Whatever money he received was stuffed into his pockets without being count.
When everyone had left, he sat, exhausted, on the stairs and looked around at the remains of the worst party ever. His father came home, also weary from a bad and tiresome day at work. And the condition of his house did nothing to improve his mood.
He looked up at his son and said, “Happy birthday, how old are you now? Five or six? Seven? At least TRY to grow up!”
Written by: Mahnoor Arif
“Happy Birthday Ali” it reads on a banner in the shape of a wave , attached to the sides are two orange clown-fish with big bambi-esque eyes and a twinkling smile.
The pool is filled with bouncing and gurgling children bobbing up and down like buoys , their tiny hands splashing chlorinated water on my manicured lawn.
A brown haired boy with unruly curls and wide laughing eyes crashes into me and hugs my leg.
”Come on the water slide with me” he pleads ”Please Baba! Please!”
Giving him a tight-lipped smile I shake my head and push him towards his mother.
I survey my house and see a chaotic bunch of little six year olds running around in bright neon coloured costumes , shrieks and hysterical laughter emit from every corner and the smell of baked cookies wafts around. A little girl wearing bubble gum pink costume cries , streams of tears pour down her chubby cheeks while runny snot makes its way to her lips ; shaped in an O , grimacing at the sight I hastily make my way inside the house. Stopping mid-way I stare in shock at the orange puddle in front of me , an orange ice-lolly melts peacefully on the white marbled floor , its toxic colour seeping in the flooring ; leaving an unsightly tangerine mark behind.
A large crash echoes throughout the house and my eyes dart towards the drawing room.
Standing on the red plush arm-chair , a little boy smiles sheepishly at me , shards of lacquered cream enamel lay scattered on the floor like a broken string of pearls. I pick a piece of it and feel it around , the fine lines on it shows the centuries it spent. Its sharpest point pricks my thumb and a pool of deep red appears ; it is maroon and glossy in the middle and almost cherry-like around the edges.
”Shhh , shh, its okay , its okay” a mother tells the child. Angrily I brush past them and enter the kitchen , there are fluorescent coloured buntings mangled together , lying on a heap on the white tiled floor , bulbous sized clown-fish floats in the air and the smell of chocolate and helium permeate the air around.
On the sooty black marble top lies a bag of chocolate chip cookies sitting invitingly , looking so warm and delectable. My stomach grumbles at the sight and in response my hands reach for the cookies , but I force them to settle on the bottle of diet coke ; its colour a murky black with brown froth appearing on the surface.
Sloshing it around my mouth I taste fizz and a sweet tastelessness , I force a gulp down my throat.
In the background I can hear Macarena and laughter coming from the outside ; I feel the onset of a headache coming.
The granite coloured fridge with its sleek edges stands erect as i drag open the fridge door towards me. Furtively I look around me one last time before settling my gaze on the contents of the fridge.
A bowl of salad rests on the top shelf and I hastily avert my eyes from the offending object and look instead at the big chocolate cake covered in blue icing with two orange clown-fish drawn on top. Surreptitiously I dip my fingers into the sides and pop a morsel of it in my mouth ; making me crave for more.
”Haan Sarah , i’ll just get the cake , you bring the kids towards the table.”I hear my wife in the background. A small yelp escapes her lips as she finds me on the floor ravenously gorging on the supposed Birthday cake , my mouth covered in brown streaks , I dive my hands in the moist cake and swallow large hunks of rich , satisfying chocolate.
Looking at myself in the mirror, I slide my arm into the grey sleeve of my dull uniform. Its colour goes perfectly with the expression on my face. Getting ready for school is always such a pain. I drag myself to the kitchen, slouch into a chair and stuff my mouth with the usual egg and French toast. Gulping it down with a glass of milk in one go, I hop off to put the weight of books on my shoulder. Just before reaching my room I can hear giggling from my younger sisters’ room, I think she’s talking to my brother. I press my ear against the wooden door to eaves drop. I can’t make out much but I hear something about a surprise party. I pull back and give a thought to it, a few seconds later, after analyzing all aspects, I realize it’s my birthday today. My family’s throwing a surprise party for me? A big wide smile masks my dull face. I grab my bag and stroll off to school.
I don’t have many friends in school, except a few, but unfortunately even they don’t seem to remember. Or heck, even know about my birthday, and I don’t bother telling them either. I’m too excited about knowing about my surprise party. An eagerness grows as the day continues. The knowledge of knowing what they think I don’t know fill me with excitement. For the first time, my birthday might not be rotting with boredom.
The school day passes and I find myself leaving the school bus and walking toward the shiny elevator of my apartment building. I step in and push the silver button. A glowing red 13 appears on it. I glance up to see the numbers increasing, each increase corresponding with my excitement and heartbeat. Slowly rising till I hear the soft “ting” sound indicating the arrival of my destination.
I step out and walk towards the brown polished door with a golden doorknob. I step on the mat which once said “Welcome” but now only says “We-me”. My hand reaches out to rest on the cold smooth doorknob, clenching it now. They must be all waiting inside, hiding in places. I picture the house from the entrance and imagine all the hiding spots, imagine all the people hiding in those spots. I feel my cheeks lifting on both sides, my heart racing, a mischievous feeling growing inside.
I twist the doorknob and hear the satisfying click sound. I push it softly and it croaks open. The lights all switched off, all I can see is the golden tint behind the curtains, nothing else. I wait for the lights to flick on and a blaring “SURPRISE!” sound to spread throughout the whole floor. I wait five seconds, ten seconds, then take a few steps and reach my hand towards the switch suspiciously
I flick it on and the lounge is illuminated immediately. The colour red tints the whole place. The first thing I see is the limbless body of my beloved brother hanging by the head from the motionless fan, blood leaking from all four sides of his body making a red pond on the marble floor. My dad, beheaded, sitting on his usual chair, laid back, facing the blank television. His clothes darker at spots than others, I recognize him by his favorite coat which was now stained in red. My sister lay on the glass dining table, peacefully resting, hands on her chest, carefully dissected from the stomach. Blood trickling down both sides of the table onto the chairs, soaking the cushions.
But my mother is nowhere to be seen. I freeze, my whole body trembling, aching to let out a scream but terror blocks it. I take a few steps forward till I’m in line with the corridor to my left and my eye catches a figure deep down walking towards me. “Mom,” I gasp. She slowly emerges, head cocked to one side, huge devilish grin on her face, blood splattered all over it. She held a large blade in her right hand and held tip with two fingers of the other. Coming closer, glaring at me dead straight in the eyes she snarled,
“Surprise, happy birthday son.”