Written by Nandini Sethi
Today I am 10 years old. I blew out my candles, wished for a million different things in a single breath and then sliced through my big, creamy birthday cake. All the kisses and hugs and wishes sat warm and content in my stomach. I love my life. The day after, I saw something that I never did before. I saw mamma stroking the cheek of a strange man, smiling a smile that painted her eyes in a new light, the lips of an outsider haunting her face. Today I am 17 years old. My friends snuck me into a party. The confetti lay splashed on the floor like little droplets of paint, the smell of cheap booze stuck to my skin like cheap perfume. I step out to an empty sky and think to myself, it’s been a starless night for far too long. There’s something eerie and magical about a lonely night; only the intoxicated can’t see through their hazy mind, but the rest of us are lucky enough to bask in our own misery. Today I am 26 years old. I’ve opened my own bakery and it’s running rather successfully. The thick pastries are lined up on the front shelf, and the Christmas Specials fragrance the chilly air with flour and chocolate. This winter has been long and difficult, but every warm kiss that I get, every home-cooked meal I eat after work, makes it all worth it. My love is tall and dark, he’s handsome and outgoing. He adorns my neck with diamonds, brushes my locks with his pudgy fingers. But I don’t need any of it; I love him even without his family name, without his expensive cars and clothes. He made me a pie because he didn’t know how to bake, but I ate it all the same. It’s only frost and snow outside, but the fireplace keeps me warm, the touch of his hands on my skin keep me snug. Today I am 40 years old. Sitting on the kitchen slap, I cook some meat, sip my wine, chop the vegetables, then sip my wine. It is my daughter’s first bake sale at school and we never go anywhere unprepared. I am divorced and single, happy and sad. I never realized when I lost control of time, when the years started getting away from me, when the birthdays just came to be a tick on the calendar. But I believe that love comes in different forms. I have a dog now, some friendly neighbours, and my daughter to love. I think I have a lot of love to give. But sometimes, just sometimes, I feel I have nobody to give it to. In those rainy afternoons, I plaster a smile on my ageing face, give my thin hair a snazzy trim, loiter around the kitchen, then try out a new recipe that I’d been meaning to. Today I am 57 years old. Our dog died last year, and my daughter has moved out to begin college. She is reading law. I always saw it in her, the way her eyes would grow in size at the mere mention of women’s rights, how she would ball her fists when someone on the streets threw her a racist remark. I think she got that from her father. I live alone now, so I tend to flip through old photo albums. The texture of the plastic covering on my wedding photographs feels soft on my skin, and then I crave the touch of his tender hands on my waist. On my legs, my wrist, my hair, and my breasts. I feel it everywhere. I feel it with the same burning passion, the same anger I felt when I saw him with her. How the hands that had caressed my skin were now on someone else. Lashing rain against the windows, the whistling of the wind; but all I heard was silence. All I felt was silence. Stroking the cheek of a strange woman, smiling a smile that painted his eyes in a new light, the lips of an outsider haunting his face. Life can be funny like that, sometimes. They say the way it came is the way it will go. Today I am 70 years old. The image still stabs at my diseased mind from once in a while, but time is a healer. She reduced the constant, intense ache in my heart to an occasional tugging. Time has taught to me to give my love to whoever is willing to take it. My telephone pressed against my ear, she sings to me- happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear mamma. I can only smile and thank her.15:06 Pari had a chocolate cake delivered to the house. Once again, I blew out my candles, wished for a million different things in a single breath and then sliced through my big, creamy birthday cake. The wish sat warm in my stomach. I love my life.