(Today’s my father’s birthday, so in honour of that, I wrote this little piece of fiction. Congratulations!)
H walked down the street when a man stopped him, looked him up and down and said, “Happy birthday, sir.” H stared at him. He was a tall man, dressed in a dark suit, wearing a tall hat and holding a polished wooden cane. Next to his left eye he held a monocle.
“What did you say?” H said with surprise.
“I said,” the man began. “‘Happy birthday,’ sir.”
H took a step back, frowned and opened his mouth to say something; however, after a moment of indecision, he closed it again. He gazed at the suited man for a couple of seconds and contemplated the particular situation. But before he finished thinking about the strange scene, the man touched his hat bidding goodbye and walked past him.
H stood there for a moment, going over what had just happened. But suddenly he remembered the appointment he had with M (she’d invited him for breakfast), so he shook his head and resumed his step, quickened the pace. Soon he reached a crosswalk that stopped him cold and made him look with annoyance the hand-shaped red light above him. He sighed and looked at his watch; anxiously he gazed at the seconds’ hand of his golden watch, moving fast. All of a sudden, a hand touched his left shoulder. H turned around and saw a young woman standing in front of him. She was short, had long dark hair and wore gym clothes. She was looking at him, smiling.
“Congratulations,” she said.
H, as he had done with the monocled-man, stared at her with surprise. “Why do you congratulate me?” he said.
The woman widened her smile and said, “Why, for your birthday, of course.”
The light turned green and everybody around them began to cross the street. H stood amidst the chaotic gait of businessmen and passer-bys, wondering what the hell was happening. He looked at the woman, then to both his sides and back at her. She had grey eyes and now her smile had been replaced by an idle sense of uncertainty; whether she should walk away or wait for the birthday-man to say something. But H said nothing; he frowned, stepped past her and quickly crossed the street. When he reached the other side he glanced behind him but the woman was no longer there. He began to run.
The diner’s name was Rick’s and H came to its doors sweating, breathing heavily and with a deep cut on his trousers. He rested his body on the metallic bar of the door. He breathed deeply and looked at his reflection on the glass. He somehow fixed his hair and dried his face with his sleeve. Then he pushed the door and walked into the diner. As he crossed the threshold, dozens of people jumped and yelled at the same time: “Congratulations!”
H stood motionless, his mouth locked; his eyes wide open, not blinking. Confetti and pointed hats flew everywhere, the restaurant a sea of blue, red and yellow. A few children inflated balloons and blew them up right away; older boys made strange sounds with their hands and whistled loudly; adult couples simply grinned and clapped mildly. Behind the counter, cooks and waitresses looked at H in sincere happiness, some of them showing more teeth than they should have.
A piece of cake splashed on H’s face. H immediately woke out from his state of estrangement, slowly he raised his left hand and began to wipe the chocolate cream off his face. He stared at them: two teenagers at the right hand corner of the entrance lobby, laughing, celebrating the bullseye shot. H smirked. As he tried to wipe all the meringue off his hair, one of the waitresses went to him and handed him a small towel. H took it and cleaned his face carefully. Then he made a thankful gesture, gave her back the towel and gazed at the crowd. M was standing right in the middle. She was smiling and held in her hands a big chocolate cake of which a piece was missing.
“What happened to your trousers?” She asked, tilting her head; her pony-tail rose, floated in mid air for an instant, and fell back on her back.
“Nothing,” H said, his voice shallow. “I fell down, it’s nothing.”
“Come, let’s go sit down,” M said, walking towards him. She took him by the arm and led him to a table.
They sat on a booth facing each other while the rest of the crowd went back to their tables. One of the waitresses went to their table and asked what it was going to be. H said nothing. The waitress looked at him and then at M, who simply smiled. After a couple of seconds she intervened and said that a couple of scrambled eggs and a tall, pulp-less orange juice would be fine. The waitress wrote it down and walked away.
“So?” M said, grinning widely. “Happy birthday!”
H stared at her intently just as he had done with the hatted man and the grey-eyed woman. This time, however, he said nothing. Instead, he thought about what had happened and tried to remain as far away as possible from metaphysical thoughts. He nodded a few times and whispered to himself, “What-the-hell…”
Then, out loud, he said, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
It was not his birthday.