A birthday on wheels

A sigh escaped my six (soon to be seven) year-old self’s mouth. Leaning my head against the cool glass window of the coach, I wistfully stared outside at the bright lights swishing past the train.

I used to enjoy train journeys a lot. However, at that time my mood was as glum as the night of the 20th of July, 2010. While the night still had the luxury of stars and a crescent moon to brighten it up just a tad bit, I wasn’t so lucky.


There were several reasons which had put a huge damper on my mood. Moving is never easy. Leaving one’s home to shift to a new city is daunting, even more so for my young self who was in the second grade. Another reason was the then-two-month-old baby who sat beside me, hogging up all my parents’ attention onto her greedy little self. A few months ago when I had been told I was getting a baby sister, this was SO not what I had envisioned. The final straw was the fact that I would not be getting a grand 7th birthday party.


I had kicked up a fuss over postponing our moving date but my parents refused to budge. I had thrown all kinds of tantrums but the result was still me being dragged off to the railway station to board the train to Nagpur.


So, I had been sulking ever since.


And why would I not sulk? 21st July was my day. I wanted my birthday to be grand; even more so because my best friend's birthday was so grand. Ever since having gone to hers, I had been fantasising about mine.


Shallow, I know but I was very young and my priorities were Barbies, Hot Wheels, Cartoon Network; in that order.


My parents had tried to ask me if I wanted a party a few days prior or later after we settled in Nagpur, but I had stubbornly refused. I wanted 21st July to be special, no other date.


But it had been very tiring in fact, as traveling often is. My parents had tried to cheer me up by telling me we were going in first class AC, where they give private compartments so I could take whichever bunk I wanted. I had just shrugged and sat close to the window, wishing I was anywhere but there.


My pity party was halted though, just as the train halted at the next station. The bright lights and the yellow signboard of the station assaulted my eyes, making me turn away and find myself staring at my baby sister, who was giggling, her black eyes bright. My mom was cooing at her, making pangs of irrational jealousy flare in me, but I swallowed it down as I stared into the baby’s eyes. To my surprise, the baby stared back, giggling in the absentminded way that infants often do. It was then, with a sudden lurch, that the train started again, on its course to Nagpur.


The door to our cabin swung open but I did not bother to look up, turning back to stare outside the window. Maybe my dad was back with a bottle of water which mom must’ve asked him to get from the station or something. Boy, I was wrong!


When I suddenly heard my mom and dad break out into an off-tune ‘Happy Birthday’ song, I jumped up from my seat. My startled eyes landed on the plum cake my dad had purchased from the station we had just halted at and then fell to mom and dad’s beaming faces.


A swirl of emotions ranging from happiness to guilt, surprise to delight, were swimming in my mind as I looked at the cake and then back at my parents. I instantly regretted my petulant behaviour. To make up for it, I enveloped both my parents in a big hug, making mom stagger back a bit from the tightness of the hug. She laughed and ruffled the top of my head lovingly.


While the square-shaped chocolate plum cake wasn’t even in the league of my previous year’s fairy cake or my best friend’s Power-Rangers-themed two-tiered cake, I still loved it. I loved it even though I loathe plum cakes because of the fruit and raisins in them. I abhor two things religiously: raisins and mushrooms. Still, I loved that cake.


The big question which arose though was how to cut the said cake. We had no knives and dad couldn’t buy one from the station. As my parents debated amongst themselves, my mom’s eyes suddenly lit up and she rummaged through her purse, producing a brand new Wespa nail cutter. When my dad raised an eyebrow at her choice, she shrugged and handed me the blade from the nail cutter.


Milli with her baby sister.

That is how I cut my birthday cake, with the rattling and whooshing sounds from the train punctuating my parents’ offkey birthday song, the nail cutter blade in my hand, and a big, satisfied smile on my face. Before my mom could feed me a slice of cake after the unforgettable cutting ceremony, my baby sister started wailing. The memory makes me smile even today. After all, I couldn’t be more grateful to the little one for helping me steer clear of tasting the plum cake!


This Night Owl Original has been authored by Mrinalini. Mrinalini, or Milli as she likes to be called, is a college student who loves coffee and is very much partial to British Classics. She is usually found nursing a cup of coffee while reading in her cozy study. When not daydreaming, she likes to string together verses or pen down stories. She is a theatre enthusiast and plays the guitar (but only when forced!).


Image credits: Sumana and Milli.

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