More than four decades ago, in an army cantonment far away from the city, a young Captain and his new bride sat watching ‘The Little Tramp’ in action. As the Captain rolled over laughing, his young bride peered into his sparkling eyes with admiration. Her own eyes, then darted towards the wall clock. Half past eleven.
‘Another thirty minutes,’ she mused. She couldn’t wait to watch him spring out of bed, and produce a bunch of roses magically from under the couch or maybe he had already placed a bar or two of her favourite chocolate right beneath the pillow! She slid her hand under the satin covers to see if there was anything there, but then withdrew it immediately because she did not wish to spoil the fun.
The credits rolled on the screen. She looked at the clock once more. Ten minutes to go. She couldn’t stop marvelling at her husband’s perfect plan. Sitting late on pretext of a movie, he was leading them to a midnight birthday bash. But what excuse would he have to stay up for ten more minutes? She was only wondering, when he leaned forward and gave her a peck on the cheek, which immediately turned the colour of raspberry.
‘Good night darling,’ he said and then turning over to his side of the bed, switched off the lamp. It took a moment or two for reality to dawn on her. But she instantly waved it off.
She loved surprises but wasn’t a fan of thrillers. She hoped he wasn’t planning a ghastly celebration. Imagine glittery red roses flying towards her in the dark night! Or, ooh la la, did he have something else on his mind?
There was no way she could read the clock, so she simply turned her mind into the second hand and began to tick away.
1,2,3,4….576,577,578…600. That was it! Ten minutes over, well, not in a jiffy.
But the night had come to a grinding halt and her husband continued to lay on the bed, absolutely still, oblivious of his anticipating wife…and…uh…well…snoring!
Had he forgotten her birthday after barely a few months of their wedding? No! It couldn’t be. He had mentioned it just the day before, enough reason for her to have hoped for a pack of surprises. She waited long enough, her heart a flurry of emotions, before sleep stole her.
The next morning, as the rays of the sun tiptoed through the silk drapes, she opened her eyes to see the dashing Captain in a green camouflage and maroon beret, standing next to her bed holding a cup of tea in his hands.
‘Good morning darling. I made you some tea,’ he said, placing the cup on the bedside table. She smiled, waiting for him to pull out something from his pocket or from behind his back. Instead, he bent forward, carefully placing his moist lips on hers and then whispered into her ear, ‘Happy Birthday, my love!’
‘Thankyou!’ she said, returning the favour. The Captain then stood up, giving his lady-love a distinguished military salute and moved out of the room.
The woman sat right there, wondering if the whole thing was a charade. A contrived effort to shield something bigger that had perhaps been stashed away for the latter half of the day.
She spent the morning cooking some birthday-worthy cuisines, and getting the house ready for a supposed celebration. She pulled out a lovely floral dress from her trousseau and pearls to go with it. A gentle touch of rouge on the cheeks gave her the perfect shade fit for a bashful birthday girl. After plucking flowers from her mini garden, she placed them in a china vase which was a wedding gift from a dear friend. And she baked a cake as well! A tiny one. They were both wary of calories and with the Captain sure to bring one along, it would be a bit too much.
As birds began to fly home and the evening sun cast its long shadows into the living room, her eyes rested on the gate, waiting for her lover to walk in, sanguine that a most glorious evening awaited her. He did, soon enough, rushing in at the speed of light and melting her away in a titanic hug.
‘I love you, my sweetheart,’ he said, looking at her. ‘Ah! The birthday girl looks beautiful. What a lucky man I am!’ She fluttered her eyes that seemed to be working like a surveillance camera at that moment.
Releasing her, the Captain walked into the house, empty-handed, welcomed by the ambrosial scent of the cake wafting from the oven.
She, on the other hand, stood at the door, her mouth agape, her listless hands dangling in free air and her eyes, a pool of water.
‘Aaahhhh… I’m famished,’ he said, drawing into his nostrils the sweet, fragrant smell and turning around to look at his wife. But what was it that he saw? His beloved, his little birdie, the one he loved most dearly in the entire world, was standing at the door with tears flowing down her orbs, smearing the mascara that had embellished her long, black, eyelashes. Her cheeks were blotchy and redder than before.
It took him a moment to register the changed scenario. And then, with lines of worry cast on his forehead, he walked back to her.
‘What is it, my love? What happened?’ he asked, holding her hands, pulling her towards him and trying to wipe off her tears. She pushed him back, rushing to her room and burying her head in the pillow. He ran right behind her, shocked by the sudden turn of events.
‘Please speak to me once darling. What is it that makes you cry? Am I the one to be blamed today?’
She sat up, looking at him with her bloodshot eyes. She wasn’t sure if she should be the one to spell it out. He was supposed to know, wasn’t he?
‘My love, I can’t bear to see you like this. Please speak up,’ he implored.
‘When I was with mumma-papa, oh, what splendid celebrations we had on my birthday! Each year. They made it so special for me. It’s just…just that I’m missing them.’ She wanted to say so much more, but something held her back.
He stood there, frozen. Oh! He hadn’t thought of it at all! He loved her, yes, he did. But that’s how it had always been at the military school. Birthdays meant wishes. Maybe if his birthday had fallen before hers, he would have got a demo just the way they did at work. But now it was too late. Or, was it?
‘Give me a moment darling,’ he said, storming out of the room. The next she heard was the sound of the engine revving up. She ran out, only to see him speed away in his scooter. Where had he gone? The city was more than an hour away. She sat down on the stairs, right outside the door with the wind ruffling her hair. As the tears on her face dried up, it felt like a patch of earth in peak summers. She was parched, but she refused to move inside, not until he returned.
As night descended, she looked up at the blanket of stars, secretly cursing herself for sending her husband away at that hour. It must have been around nine in the night when she caught sight of a bunch of balloons at a distance. The rumbling Bajaj Chetak then appeared outside the gate, and the Captain alighted from it. In his hands he carried boxes and roses, bright-coloured balloons and party hats!
No prizes for guessing what transpired in the young couple’s home that evening. But what’s of more significance is how birthdays and similar situations panned out for them in the next four decades.
Well, the husband didn’t quite learn his lesson and regretfully the years only expanded his skills in forgetfulness. And the wife? The tantalizing glimpse of their forthcoming life, on that eventful day, taught her precisely how she was to have her way with the man.
And that is how love bloomed, in the midst of unharmonious music and brush strokes gone wrong. For, you know what, it is only the wild flowers that make the woods beautiful.
This blog post is part of the ‘Petals of Love’ Blog Hop by Swarnali Nath. (The Saffron Story Teller)