Sandy opened the door and reached out for the morning paper. The headlines screamed 'President Ousted' in bold. She vaguely remembered watching a segment on the news late last night reporting the indictment of a certain political big wig for siphoning large amounts of the nation's money into his own private account. The world is in choas she thought, just like her own life.
She opened her letter box and its rusted screws screeched, shattering the serenity of her apartment corridor. She fished out the contents and rummaged through them. In her hands was a Chinese take-out menu which she crumpled and discarded immediately. There was also a letter from the bank. She would be most suprised if it wasn't another reminder to settle her credit card dues and lastly, there was a baby pink envelope addressed with her name on it.
Sandy went back into the apartment and closed the door behind her. Delicately, she peeled it open and pulled out a card. On the front was an illustration of a three-tiered cake staked with dozens on multi coloured candles. On top of it, the words HAPPY BIRTHDAY was punctuated in some typical cartoonish font. A tired smile escaped her lips. She flipped the card open and read its message ...
May you have the most wonderful birthday this year. We're awfully sorry we couldn't make it to see you, Jake's got his soccer tournament today. We hope you understand. Will definitely try to pop by sometime next week. Make it up to you then sis.
Gabby and Jake
P.S. Hope you liked the balloon Jake had drawn for you :)
Beneath the message was a squiggly heart shaped balloon crayoned in red by her six year old nephew.
Gabby was her twenty five year old sister and also a single mother. Jake's dad decided he couldn't stomach the responsibility and had left Gabby high and dry two months before Jake was due. So for the past six years, it was the two sisters who slogged and raised Jake into the beautiful boy that he is today. They showered him with as much love as any kid could possibly digest and as a result, Sandra found in Jake the son she never had.
Today, October the 13th was Sandy's twenty ninth birthday. She felt her entire life wasting away by the minute and had achieved nothing except harnessing copious amount of unhappiness and grief. To add to it, the absence of her sister and nephew on her birthday this year added a tonnne of lead to her already heavy heart. Sandy shut her eyes tightly and tried in vain to wish away the depression that was shrouding her. Her futile attempt was interrupted by a sound coming from her bedroom. Jacob, her husband must have awoken and the thought of seeing him added to the dread within.
Sandy put the kettle to boil and spooned some coffee powder into her mug. A cube of cane sugar was added and she admired the stark contrast of white against black. From the corner of her eye, she saw Jacob coming out of the bedroom fresh from a shower. As much as she hated to admit it, he smelled delicious from his Hugo cologne. He pocketed his keys and wallet and went for the door.
He stopped there, looked at her and said 'I'm going out for a bit.' She ignored him. Two seconds later, she heard the door slamming and the echo of his footsteps going fainter and fainter along the corridor. He didn't even have the decency to remember her birthday, she thought. Fucking bastard.
Their relationship as husband and wife had been strained for some time now. He was always being occupied with something and she felt painfully neglected. Sandy desperately craved for her husband's emotional support and physical touch but as far as she could recall, this was not to be. Every little thing seemed to set off arguments and hence, the scraps of moments they had together was peppered with cold shoulders and long periods of deafening silence. It was killing her inside to go through this state of agony and she often wondered where did that sweet loving man she married dissappeared to.
The kettle whistled loudly disrupting her train of miserable thoughts. She turned off the stove and emptied the fillings in her mug down the sink. She just wasn't in the mood for anything, not even her morning brew.
Sandy must have dozed off while watching the Sunday noon talk show programme for she was jolted awake by the piercing message alert from her mobile. Still drowzy, she read the sms
Can we do an early dinner tonight? I have a game with the guys later at the club
She typed in her reply
and hit the Send button.
By half past four in the afternoon, he was dressed and waiting in their living room. He was watching one of those slutty teenage singer shaking and grinding her thang shamelessly on the MTV channel. She came out of the bathroom with her hair still wet. She put on an old floral dress and thought to herself 'When did it became so bad ...'
Sandy opened the front door and walked out. She heard the TV being turned off and Jacob hurrying behind her.
He asked 'So, any preference? Where do you wanna eat?'
'Up to you,' she answered coldly.
In the car, he was whistling almost too cheerfully as they snaked along the heavy traffic. 'So how was your day? Did anything interesting?' he questioned, trying to dissolve the uncomfortable quietness.
'What do you care,' she said.
She heard him inhaled deeply and stayed silent. Deep inside, it satisfied her to piss him off. Nothing helps with bitterness like spreading it around.
He parked the Volvo in front of an all day buffet restaurant. They had frequented this place a couple of times before not because the food offered someting to shout about but because it does the job if you want to make your money's worth. For 25 bucks, you can choose from an array of seafood, cold cuts, salads, grilled meats and a pitiful selection of overly sweetened desserts.
At 4:50p.m., the place was empty. At one corner, three Indian waiters were busy wrapping metal cutleries in gardenia white serviettes. Jacob picked a table by the glass window overlooking the street outside. One of the three came over and emptied half a bottle of water into their glasses.
'Shall we?' he said.
She got up without a word and headed towards the spread. Nothing seemed appetizing and she finally settled for some greens and ceasar dressing.
Moments later, Jacob came back with his plate filled to the brim. A wide grin was plastered on his face and he was obviously very satisfied with his haul. He dug in and found it difficult to eat without spilling some of his food on the table. So he took the huge piece of grilled dory and placed it on the side plate. 'Too much there,' he said to no one in particular.
Sandy stared at him with anger brewing within her. She took her fork and stabbed his fish. 'This is ME!' she said too loud.
The three waiters were staring now. Jacob looked up from his plate, his mouth stopped chewing and his eyes expressed bewilderment.
'Huh?' he uttered.
'You heard me. THIS.IS.ME!' she said through gritted teeth. 'Everything on your plate now is your fucking life. You see the steak, that's your work. The rice, those are your colleagues. The prawns are your family and the chicken ... your idiot friends. You have too much on your plate and there's just not enough space in your life for me,' she exploded. 'Don't you see???!!! I'm just this fucking fish that you can easily do without. I don't fit anywhere in your life anymore'
'Aw come on, this isn't fair. It isn't like that,' he replied trying to soothe her.
A waiter came over and asked 'Is everything with the food alright?'
'Everything's fine. Thank you,' Jacob replied.
The waiter stole a quite glance at Sandy who had her face buried in her hands. Eventually, he turned and walked away.
Jacob reached out to hold her hand. She jerked back and said 'Let's just eat and go.'
They ate what's left on their plate in silence. Jacob signalled for the bill and they left the restaurant. Once outside, Sandy said 'You go on ahead. I need to be alone for a while.'
'Come on dear. Don't be like this. Let me take you home. It's cold out here,' Jacob pleaded.
Sandy started walking and Jacob tried to hold her arm. She turned around and pulled herself away with a little too much force. 'Don't touch me,' she hissed. 'Go, just go. Go to the club with your friends. Don't keep them waiting,' she said spitefully. With that, Sandy walked away rapidly leaving Jacob standing on the walkway alone. Across the street, an elderly couple stood watching and shaking their heads.
She didn't know where she was going and was walking aimlessly. She felt utterly lost. Tears were uncontrollably streaming down her face. Every now and then, gust of wind would sweep across and send chills down to her spine. She wrapped her thin jacket tighter around but it doesn't help with the frosty weather. Her nose was runny and she was beginning to shiver. The sun was fading on the horizon and by now, the soles of her feet were aching. Her mobile rang and she saw that Jacob was calling. She pressed a button and it sent a busy ring tone to the other end of the line.
Fifteen minutes later, Sandy was climbing up the stairs to her apartment. By now, her tears have stopped flowing but her eyes were still red. She felt exhausted and the idea of going back into an empty home dismayed her tremendously. She wanted to curl up in bed and call her sister. She desperately needed someone to talk to.
She turned the key and pushed opened the door. She heard what was like a child's giggle and a wave of panic blanketed her. She was certain the noise came from inside of her house. Someone was in there. She quickly fumbled for the light switch and flipped it on.
The brightness blinded her for a moment but her ears were pounded with shouts of SUPRISE!!!
When she regained her vision, she stood there dumbfounded. Staring back at her were all the people she loved and cared for. Her closest family and friends. Gabby was there with Jake in front of her, his hands clutching on a nicely wrapped box with a yellow ribbon going around it. He was smiling at her revealing a missing tooth in front. Sandy's mother was there too, sitting on the sofa with her eyes wide, as if willing her to have at least some reaction. At the back, members of her book club were standing, all sportingly wearing party hats and grinning. Finally, standing in the center was Jacob, holding up her beautiful birthday cake. It's tiramisu, her favourite. He remembered ... he didn't forget she thought. Then she was burdened down by so much guilt for the way she had treated him earlier. Tears started to form once more at the edge of her eyes. She couldn't hold it back and her vision began to blur.
Before she knew it, Jacob was hugging her tightly, squeezing a little breath out of her. It helped with stopping the tears.
'Jacob, I ...,' she started to say but he stopped her mid sentence.
'Today's your special day. I spent the whole day making this happen, so promise me you'll go and enjoy it,' he said with a smile. 'Besides, you've kept your guests waiting for quite a while.'
She could only nod in response.
Jacob let her go and her nephew was there next, throwing himself at her legs, clinging to them for dear life.
'Happy Birthday Aunty Sandy,' he said shyly. And then Gabby was there, embracing them in a group hug.
'I hate you,' Sandy told her sister. 'You don't know how much grief this caused me,' she said between sobs and laughter at the same time.
'Jacob made me promise not to tell,' she said with her hands up in a surrender pose.
Soon everyone was mingling in the party and was having a good time. They then sang Sandy her birthday song and she made a wish. A wish that if came true, would guarantee a happily ever after for her and her Jacob.
'The cake's delicious,' she said to her husband.
'Especially when all you had earlier was salad,' he teased cheekily.
As the night was getting late, the guests began to leave. There was school tomorrow and Jake had to be up early. So Gabby took both her son and her mother home. One of her book club member was actually drunk and had to be helped by two others as they staggered home.
Jacob and Sandy were left cleaning the place up. She was doing the washing by the sink when he came and hugged her from behind.
He whispered in her ear 'I know things haven't been so good lately. I'll make it better ok. Promise. I ...'
But she didn't give him a chance to continue. She turned around to face him, tiptoed and kissed him deeply. He was taken aback but only for a split of a second and then, he kissed her back locking their mouths together. Sandy felt overwhelmed with love and a thought came to mind, as long as our lips still fit perfectly ... our lives will too.