Twenty five of them, she’d counted as they’d sung Happy Birthday in the small restaurant that they insisted was her favourite. The other candle must have dropped off somewhere, or the staff at establishment had been given false information. Exasperated by their inclination to not really care. But there they were now, twenty five of them standing up in the frosty platform as her friends and family chorused in with the jubilation. She smiled patiently, looking at the other couples in the place staring at her in quiet satisfaction that it were she that were the spectacle.
The song ended, and they all applauded as she blew out the misleading twenty five burning flames that represented her life on the planet. She hadn’t done it for years, but this time she made a wish while she blew, closing her eyes to make them all disappear for her small moment of intimacy with the universe. The applause died down and she blinked back into reality, reaching for her glass to silently toast her desire. The cake was whisked away from her by the staff, to be dissected for all in attendance, and listened to the others at the table talking about their own progressive years and the fear of reaching thirty, or forty; or whichever milestone society had pegged out for them all to have achieved a certain thing by.
Her mother asked if she’d had a nice time so far. She sat there next to her in her one good dress, or so it seemed, the one she saved for extra special occasions. She had spilt a little something on it up by her neckline, a drip from the red wine she had eagerly been enjoying that evening. She wondered if it would come out, or if this were its swan song evening. She nodded in reply, saying something about having a lovely time and how nice it was everyone could make it.
It was a half-truth really. Though she appreciated the effort all had made, she would have been happy spending the evening at home. She drew a circle of eight on the tablecloth as her mother returned to her friend whom she’d brought with her that evening. Circling around the small stain of her own that had bled into the white landscape that stretched out before her. Her boyfriend squeezed her knee, chatting animatedly with her friend Paul next to him who had turned up late, pushing himself into a space at the head of the tiny table.
She sighed, and took another sip from her glass. It was already 10pm, and she could hear people talking about ordering another round and some coffees to go with her cake. She picked up the small travel journal that lay on the table behind her, a gift she’d opened earlier from her sister who couldn’t be there that evening since she was on the other side of the world. She’d sent her a small, yet expensive looking journal, tied up with old flight tickets from her own exhaustive travels around the planet. She opened it up, noticing a small message at the front:
“Time waits for no (wo)man”
Typical of her, she’d thought, and reached behind to put the book back onto the pile of gifts and treats everyone had nicely brought with them. She sat there again, quietly watching the others. For her own celebration, no one had really spoken to her much that night. She seemed liked a stranger at her own party, lost in crowd of noise, feeling like a spectator to someone else’s play.
She had work in the morning, and she was getting tired. She spotted Katy; her friend from the office who had come with her girlfriend and sat the other side of the table. Laughing and drinking with such ease. Unlike Katy, she hated her job, which she’d started about six months ago and had been miss-sold from the start at what it would entail. The office was grey and dull, and their building was tucked away on the side of town that bled into the industrial estate. She had promised everyone she would look for something else, but hadn’t done so yet; owing herself the biggest apology for being so lazy. Her boyfriend squeezed her knee again, his constant sign of being both there and absent as he drank his beer and chatted with her friend whom, she could tell already, had hastily becoming intoxicated.
The cakes arrived back at the table, the waiting staff smiling as they placed the tiny plates in front of the guests and took orders for more drinks. She pushed her chair back, about to excuse herself, when she realised either side of her were both consumed in their own conversations, so she said nothing. She apologised to a waiter as she accidently bumped into her, nearly sending the birthday slice high up into the air; and made her way towards the bathroom. She stopped, only for a second, and then walked straight passed it.
She left the restaurant, and out into the cold night air where she exhaled deeply, standing on the street. A few other diners stood by the door, sending their smoke swirling around the door like a revolving dragon. She stood there herself now, still in the night with her arms down by her side. Her fingertips moving to a secret rhythm only she could hear. She turned to glance into the restaurant, its glass steamed up slightly due to the dropping temperature outside. She watched as all at her table continued on their merry gathering, laughing and enjoying themselves.
“Avant que ça ne se produise.” She muttered under her breath, and started up the street, in the wrong direction to home.