I’m sitting with a lady friend having a Dawa in a café. It’s raining outside. She asks me what I will do on my 40th birthday in two years. I tell her I will probably be in some village in Southeast Asia. Maybe Laos. Eating rice, riding a bicycle and flirting with short women. You know, the usual.
She says, “I thought maybe you’d throw a big bash and blow out candles.” I make that noise with my nose to express my distaste for such mindless middle-class pursuits. I then tell her that I have never blown out a birthday candle in my life. I didn’t want sympathy, I was just stating a fact.
“Never?” she asks, eyes turning into saucers. Never, I say. “You have never had a birthday party and a cake with candles ever? Not even when you were growing up?”
I shake my head.
She sits back and looks at me like I’m destitute. She is an inch away from hugging me. “How did that make you feel?” she asks, suddenly sounding like Oprah. I didn’t feel anything! I shrug. What was I to feel? “Didn’t your mom ever buy you a birthday cake?” she asks in a near whisper, gently putting her hand over mine, like I’m bereaved. I snatch my hand away and spit indignantly, “ My mom was busy paying for our school fees.”
She sits there and looks at me like I missed out this huge part of my life. And she now wonders if that affected me. I roll my eyes so many times and tell her not to watch too much foreign TV. Then we finish our drinks and I go and I forget about that madness. But then at night I wake up with a start and while I lie there in darkness I catch myself thinking, “Would I be a different man if I blew out some candles in my childhood? Are men who blew birthday candles better at their job? Are they better lovers? Are they better adjusted in society?”
The next day I asked Fred, who I share an office with, if he has blown out a birthday candle in his life. “On my 25th, yes. The missus threw me a party. It was the first in my life.” Then I didn’t feel that I’d missed out.
I think men who blew out candles while growing up end up having too many expectations. They end up being the type who sulk when their spouses don’t do something for them. They sit in the sitting-room, long-faced because nobody bought them a Black Forest cake. Fred and I never have any expectations because throughout our childhood our birthdays went unnoticed. But we were loved, we know because we were beaten as kids: “I’m caning you because I love you!”
Gosh, why did love always have to be a sore line across our behinds? But look how we turned out, candles notwithstanding. We won.