I turned 14 today.
I’m twirling the waves of my hair with my index finger and gazing at the blue sky through my window while listening to my friend Kish on the phone. She’s telling me what she has to do next—and she sounds like she’s in a hurry! It seems like no one has time for me! Lying on my bed, comfortably numb and counting the spins of the ceiling fan, I doze off.
Our home was in a little town called Mohammadpur, in Dhaka- Bangladesh. People would come over to visit at any time of the day, unannounced. I used to love that.
I heard the door bell and the turning of the knob, then a voice echoed in my room, announcing, “Happy birthday!” I told myself it was a dream. It had to be a dream. But it wasn’t. It was a surprise visit from my cousin Shahed, who had come to celebrate.
I jumped right up. Quickly looked for something to wear and tried to snap into the reality. I ran back and forth from the bathroom to the bedroom, accomplishing nothing, and as my excitement reached the Himalayas, I heard more people walking in. Oh! I was actually having people over for my birthday! So, finally, mom walked in with a brand-new outfit. It was a solid white base with black flowers. She always picked the best wardrobe for me.
So was I having a birthday party? For real …?
But Abbu (my dad) was not home yet. He had told me the day before that we were not having a party as my grades were not what he expected. My mom still wanted to have one. Little did I know that they were arranging a surprise party for me! Before I knew it, my entire family,( from my paternal and maternal sides), was there. Then I figured out why Kish was in a hurry—because she needed to get off the phone to come to the party. Some other friends and both my grandmothers and my grandfather were there. How special was that?
I quietly stood by the door and glanced at the entire living room. I felt my cheeks getting wet, and I wiped away my tears as my feeling of gratitude and contentment overshadowed everything else. Each time I saw someone walk in, I wondered who would surprise me next!
Finally, I heard the horn from my father’s car and, yes, there he was. I ran down the three-story stairs as I always did, skipping one or two steps to make my descent a bit faster. As I was about to tell him what was happening, he said, “Happy birthday wasima wali 2 ( it was him and i )!” (He used to call me wasima Wali 2). Out came a box that looked almost thirty inches tall. Oh! What was it? I had to peak.
It was a cake in the shape of a huge open book. “I bet it’s black forest,” I said to myself. I kept staring at it and wondered why he picked a book-shaped birthday cake.
Today, after more than twenty years, I have asked my Facebook friends to write to me a line or two on birthdays. It’s interesting for me to find out how people experience their birthdays, especially as I see all the similarities. Someone actually sent me a private message saying that she “did not believe in birthdays,” as each birthday reminded her of death. I believe, the priest at her congregation taught her that. Interesting, I thought. What a shame! What a waste of a human journey.
We do not celebrate any particular religious holiday. So birthdays are the most important events at my home. We even celebrate half-birthdays. We talk about and plan birthdays for many days. We pre-plan the next one. My husband might give me a list of things he would like to have on his, and my daughters know that their birthday is one day I will spoil them rotten. I always try to be there for my mother’s and celebrate my father’s (baba’s) at my home whenever I can. Each time, it turns out to be very special.
Why? Because I remember that year when I turned fourteen and my father began to wish me happy birthday on the very first day of the month, even though my birthday had not arrived yet. “Happy birthday to my Wasima Wali 2.” By the time it was the actual day, he sang me a million birthday songs. My mother asked him one morning as he came to my room to wake me up with birthday wishes, “Why so early, why everyday”? He replied, “So that all her years in this birth and more are covered.”
I used to think that, being an only child then, I was just spoiled, and maybe I was. I thank my mother every time it’s my birthday, not only for being such a wonderful friend and an angel of a mother, but also to let her know, as the saying goes, “If moms were flowers, she would be the one I would pick.” I thank my father(baba) for always being there and supporting me in every decision I have made through out my adult life. His positive influence makes me a better person today.
But what about the cake that was there on my special fourteenth? My father always wanted me to be like an open book. He taught me to look into people’s eyes and talk. Which, of course, was not the norm in my Asian culture. He had a hard time trusting people who did not make eye contact. Ever since, I always make an effort to make a very strong eye contact. Then he taught me not to hide my emotions, as people should know me the way I am. There would be some who liked it, and some who wouldn’t. But we would not be able to make everyone happy at the same time. He also mentioned that being an open book makes life much easier, as one will have nothing to hide. Finally, he said that words are like weapons. You use them any way you would like. Enjoy reading, but also try to utilize those letters in expressing yourself. Today, after so many years, I take that advice with me toward the beginning of the rest of my blessed life.
There were five people who were there on that special birthday who are not here with me today, in this world. This tells me to enjoy today and cherish the friends and family I have NOW. With the tunes of “tears in heaven”…I am thinking of them today. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6t4Zs5Yq_k&feature=related
There is nothing more precious than the friends who are with you to celebrate this special occasion and the family who loves you everyday. To me, birthdays are like being a newborn every year. Our physical changes are not under our control, but the mind and one’s soul can always remain untouched and fresh. Pure and young. Uncomplicated and divine. Passionate and sumptuous. No, we cannot control the weight of our responsibilities, but we can always carry it with a smile. Birthdays are merely a reminder of “life within self.” I say party if you can—celebrate and rejoice as it’s your day!
Today, I am looking forward to celebrating my birthday with some near and dear ones, and I am telling myself to embrace the moments with humility. While blowing out those candles, as my entire life races right in front of my tightly closed eyes, I can keep repeating: “God, may you take care of the ones who were there beside me on my fourteenth and watching me from heaven above. God, please watch over my friends and family all over and the loved ones who are here to accompany me today.
God, last but not least, “grant my family peace and happiness for ever and ever.”
Happy birthday to me. Enjoy, it’s mine.