An Unforgettable Birthday
By Joya Pariyal
Birthdays can be hard when you lose a loved one. But how much harder does it become when you have to remember that loss for seven hundred years?
I blow out a sigh as I clutch my cup of morning tea tightly in my hands. Despite this morning being no different physically from all my other mornings, I can’t ignore the pressing pit in my stomach. I close my eyes, breathing in the crisp autumn air in an attempt to soothe myself. After a few inhales and exhales, I give up and go back to sipping my morning tea.
I thought after celebrating my birthday for almost 700 years that the process would get easier, and the pain of waking up on this day would slowly ease. Unfortunately, the opposite has proven to be true. Each year, the pain grips my heart more and washes my body with a mixture of sorrow, regret and unease. Taking another sip of my tea, I shake my head. Birthdays freaking suck.
I look down at the birds sitting on my windowsill. I smile, stroking the head of each one with my index finger. Is it sad to call them my friends? Because that’s what they are. Out here in the middle of a forest, there aren’t any humans to interact with so I’ve taken a greater liking to animals, specifically birds. Their presence is fleeting but comforting, which is perfect for someone like me. These particular birds are my most recent companions and they come to my windowsill every morning. I feed them; they accompany me. A mutual, non-committal relationship. This morning, however, they are chirpier than usual. Maybe they can sense the sadness in me and are trying to comfort me with their chirps. Maybe they’re trying to remind me that they’re here for me even though no one else is.
I finish the last of my tea and quickly wash the cup before letting it dry on a cloth rag. I walk up to the front door, open it and take a few minutes to allow my senses to overwhelm me. I allow myself to hear the crunching of leaves as animals walk around the forest, feel the hairs on my arm raise as a gentle breeze rolls by, smell the oddly comforting scent of the death of summer and taste the lingering flavors of this morning’s tea on my tongue. I do this every morning as a way to absorb the world around me and focus less on myself. But, sadly, this morning seems to be an exception. Man, birthdays really freaking suck.
Pulling on my boots and a thick jacket and slinging a cloth bag over my shoulders, I leave my house and close the door behind me. I watch my bird friends fly off to their next destination and wave goodbye. I know they don’t understand human gestures, but they’re my friends and it would be rude of me to not say goodbye.
I start walking in the direction I’ve always walked on my birthday for the past 20 years. Twenty years ago, I moved into this forest. I know everything within a 15-mile radius pretty well. I could explore beyond that radius, but it just doesn’t interest me. Fifteen miles all around is a perfectly sized bubble for me. Not too small, not too big, just right. The more lonesome version of Goldilocks.
After 15 minutes, I stop at a field of flowers. I sit down in the middle of it, pulling my knees close to my chest. I feel my chest growing heavy and tears pricking my eyes. Twenty years of picking flowers and I still can’t sit in this field without crying and feeling the world slipping out from under me. I look around at the colored pansies as a few tears escape the cage of my eyes. Given that my birthday is in autumn, not many flowers grow organically due to the harsher temperatures. Pansies are one of the few exceptions. Every birthday, my mom would go into the little field behind our cottage and create a small bouquet of pansies for me. They’re not the most grandiose flower in comparison to roses or orchids or hydrangeas, but they were perfect for me. Delicate, but tenacious. Now, every birthday since, I’m the one creating small bouquets to remember and honor the memories of her.
Returning to my house, I tie the flowers together with some twine and place them beside a drawing of her I made after her passing. I find some wax I made a couple of weeks ago and light it beside the flowers and the photos. Seven hundred years ago, I would have been eating her homemade cakes and tarts, laughing at the frosting smeared across my mouth. Today, I have an assortment of fruits and an empty smile as I stare at the drawing. I can feel the tears filling my throat, forcing me to swallow harder and breathe heavier. I hold the candle in front of me and watch as it illuminates my mother’s features. Her freckles, her laugh lines, her squinted eyes.
I blow out the candle, feeling a tear slide down as I can hear her say for the seven hundredth year, “Happy birthday, Camille.”
I really struggle with getting past my writer’s block and becoming inspired. I get so bent over every little word and detail. With this story though, everything just seemed to flow out of me. One day, while I was freewriting in a park, I thought why not write about a girl celebrating her birthday alone for seven hundred years? The immortality concept has been done time and time again, but I wanted to give my twist on it. My main inspiration for the tragedy behind this story is the Japanese movie Your Name. It’s about two people who share memories and a connection with each other despite being from different time periods. It is a tragic love story that inspires a lot of my writing. The twist and the interconnectedness of these two stories is something I want to develop in a future development/sequel to this story. Eight hundred fifty words is a small space to let my mind run free, but I forced myself to get as many emotional details as I could squeeze in there. I don’t have any detailed outlines or storyboards that usually accompany my writing. This story just randomly appeared in my brain and burst out of me so freely and quickly. Between listening to the Your Name soundtrack and rewatching the movie multiple times, I came up with this sad story of a girl missing her mom on her seven-hundredth birthday.
Joya Pariyal is a 19-year-old college student who has had a passion for writing since she was in the second grade. Besides writing, another passion of Joya’s is South Asian activism. Breaking down barriers and stereotypes, Joya always seeks to advocate and inform people about South Asian culture and social issues. With her writing, she seeks to inform people about South Asian culture through a fictional lens. Sometimes though, she will deviate away from South Asian stories and try her hand at something new to expand her range. Joya dreams of being an author one day with pieces like these.