It happened on my birthday. The day I turned sixteen.
A morning unlike any other. It was my birthday after all. I woke to Aniya’s face in mine, our eyes almost touching. A wonder our noses didn’t get in the way. Although considering Aniya, not so much. She is capable of the most amazing feats, when she sets her mind to them.
It was thus that my morning began with me waking to Aniya, grinning like mad, eyes twinkling. The eyes I could see immediately. The grin though, took a while. N eeding me to push back a little, to focus. Waking up just then, pushing back wasn’t easy. Took some effort that wasn’t expended with as much ease as would have been preferable.
When her face registered, her grin was mirrored so fast it was like the two had broken out together. In that moment, just as the smile broke out on my face, she burst out. Leaping. Falling over, as she pulled me into a tight hug. Whispering, in the softest voice, into my ear.
That was the cue. I hugged her back, as unbelievable as it might be, harder. Whispering back, “Thank you.”
I knew what came next. But knowing, and being able to act are completely separate. Her hands slid with the usual too-fast-to-catch speed to my sides, her fingers began their wiggly dance grazing lightly on my sides. Throwing me into uncontrollable thrashing accompanied by maniacal laughter. I was absolutely powerless against the tickling. Incapable of even asking her to stop. The only good it brought along was the volume. Too high to remain within the walls of my room. Having heard the laughter of my suffering, our parents knew before even reaching for the door what was happening inside.
“Okay kids, break up now. Give us some space too, to get in,” dad crooned, the teasing grin on his face.
Sometimes I wonder, which of us is older. Dad or I? It would be understandable for a sixteen year old boy, teasing Aniya and me. But a forty plus man? Hard to believe. Anyone would call it juvenile. But that was dad. Always teasing. No care for who else might be present. He loved laughing, especially at the expense of Aniya and me. There was thus none in the room who didn’t catch the undertone in his voice. None said anything though. On the morning of a birthday, a bit of embarrassment and a littler bit of suffering was warranted.
“Yeah, let us join in the wishing,” uncle said, lining up by dad, as the four of them pulled me to my feet, then into tight hugs.
“Happy birthday,” they wished, louder than Aniya. Dad first, then aunt, uncle, and lastly mom. Mom the longest, warmest.
It was perfect. Just the way a birthday morning was supposed to be. With everyone I love. Laughing. Smiling. The love just filling the room, overflowing. The only thing missing was just beyond the door. Down the stairs. Lit up in the living room. Waiting for the one to blow out the flickering flames so very eager to be blown out. Melting into the deep brown semi-liquid chocolate cream squandering at the base of the bearers of the flames. The letters alternating between vibrant pink and joyous blue and the shade of white too hard to pin a name to.
Happy 16 Ani !!!
Aniya had her hands over my eyes. I could hear her silent smile in anticipation of how much I’d love the cake, drowning out the other smiles. She took her hands off, freeing my eyes to the cake, sitting on the tripod. Waiting just for me. I could see the wax creeping down the candles, reaching for the chocolate. That couldn’t be allowed.
“Blow blow blow.”
They all broke into the chant, the grins on their faces letting on their dirty thoughts. There was no stopping though. Not today. Today, even mom let everyone run wild. Dad was rearing to go, tease us into a plump pink. Uncle, the loyal supporter stood by, already falling into gear. Aunt and mom were eager spectators. And Aniya, a willing participant. My partner. My co-sufferer.
Sixteen candles, a perimeter around the edge of the round cake. I had to run my head a full circle to blow them all out in one breath. Not too difficult though. Happiness makes everything easier. When the last of the candle was blown out, the five of them erupted into the song. Loud. Boisterous. Practiced.
“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Ani. Happy birthday to you.”
They were far from done though. As they sang out the last syllable, dad pulled out the remote, and pushed the home theatre to life. Off to a sputtering start, the indistinguishable notes were followed by the start of my favourite version of the song. With the piano going insane, the ever popular tune sung light, riding the stronger, noisier notes. Like a beautiful playground run amok by little children on a sugar rush. Absolute madness. My favourite version. And it was on a loop.
The candles blown out, even the smoke after the flames go pop spent, we rushed about pulling them out. Sixteen candles took no more than seconds. There was no need for a knife. No need to cut the cake proper. We were the ever hungry chocolate wolves. Our fingers were claws sharper than heavenly blades. Digging through the soft, warm chocolate was easier than digging through air. The six hands had torn the cake to shreds, leaving little on the tripod. Crushing in our hands, pushed into our watering mouths, the devouring mouths of hungry monsters.
All the laughing, the eating, the dancing about was bound to tire us. By the time our hands were licked clean of the last of the chocolate, we were falling beanstalks. Collapsed in a heap over each other. Huffing over laboured breaths. We would have loved to remain so, if only it weren’t for the schedules of the day. The older ones had to get to work, they only had the evening off. Aniya and I had school, which we couldn’t skip.
“You’ve gotta enjoy with your friends too,” was dad’s order. When dad ordered, we had to listen.
That settled the discussion. We would go to school. We would return to the older ones waiting for us at home, then we’d change and head off to the evening party. To dinner.
“Alright kids, get up to leave if you want to be on time to school,” dad announced. He was at the bottom, the one to get up last. But the first to give the order for the rest to get up.
It was mom who got up, pulled Aniya and me up to our feet, and pushed us off to ready for school. It was always mom helping with school. I looked at her, begging one last time for permission to skip school, and was met with the stare of denial. We were going to school. Aniya took my hand, telling me with her quiet eyes, she would be with me. That was true. The silver lining in the overcast sky.