The number hit her as she opened her eyes. The warm October sun filtering through the curtains gave her a sense of relief as she breathed out in anticipation of the unknown. It’s the end of an era.
From the bathroom came light noises of splashing and gurgling. She grabbed her cell phone to check the time, it was ten minutes to eight, her husband had apparently overslept.
Perhaps he’s not planning on going to work at all today. She thought.
Trying to keep her expectations in check, she shook that idea off. After all, it wasn’t the first time he ran late. No expectations, no disappointments, She reminded herself reluctantly.
The bathroom’s door flung open as her husband hurried out in a semi-panic state. “Second time this week.” He said as he went around the room with desperate attempts at multi-tasking. “Perhaps if traffic isn’t so bad I can still make it on time.”
She stared at him with half-closed eyelids as he sat on the edge of the bed fumbling with a sock. “Damn thing!” He uttered under his breath. Catching her sleepy smile with the corner of his eye.
“I’m sorry. Good morning, honey.”
“Good morning. Looks like a bad hair day already.”
Taking things too literally as he always did, he reached a hand and stroked his black mop of hair. She felt inwardly ashamed knowing she was fishing for a compliment, one that never came.
How could it be a bad day when you were born on it? She could think of a hundred other things he could say that would brighten up her day, none of them included “dandruff” and “stupid barber”, like what she got.
He mumbled on about his boss, meetings and parking spaces. A moment of silence lingered in the air as he leaned in to kiss her forehead, smelling of the cardamom scented toothpaste she hated, a fact he never fails to forget.
As he left the room, her eyes transfixed on the door, waiting for him to come back. To remember. To almost forget. The sound of his car’s ignition pulled her out of her wishful thinking.
Having your morning coffee alone on your 30th birthday must be one of the saddest things for a woman, she thought as she sat in the kitchen, half awake, sipping at a cup of Turkish coffee and scrolling down her Facebook timeline. A post about a refugee who had lost her son in the sea sent pangs of guilt through her chest. She closed the application immediately, not to be opened again for the rest of that day. Just for today, she thought, I am the center of my own universe.
She looked at the clock on her phone again. It’s still early, perhaps he will call once he has a chance to catch his breath. She reasoned. It’s just a matter of time – or timing- she was positive. He couldn’t forget her birthday, that would be preposterous; not just because it was only their second year of marriage, but also because he had forgotten it last year. As much as she resented it, and resented him for it and for not even trying to make it up for her, she cut him some slack on account of his career shift. It wasn’t an excuse, but it was at least a reason.
She pulled herself up from the chair sluggishly to wash some dishes from last night as she contemplated what to do for the rest of the day. It was her first day off in months and she felt like she earned it. No chores today, that was the number one rule, soon to be broken by the heap of laundry needing to be stuffed in the washing machine, and the aftermath of her husband’s daily shaving job on the bathroom sink.
Several calls came in from some friends, her expatriate sister and her parents. Nobody offered to take her out as they all assumed she’d have other plans. She had already hidden her birth date on Facebook to avoid the influx of birthday wishes by those who didn’t matter. She left the house at around noon, stopped by a small restaurant for a snack and a cup of tea before proceeding to her manicure appointment, and then did some window shopping. This was the height of indulgence for her.
A couple of things caught her eye, but she refrained from buying anything. A pair of running shoes were the hardest to resist, a bit too expensive but surely what she needed for her daily walk. The ones she had were too worn out, as signaled by the pain in her back. But she refrained again, thinking of the Rolex she’d been saving up to buy as his birthday was in 3 months and she wanted to get him something nice. She’s never seen a man with so much love for watches and such a lack of punctuality.
Then as if summoned by some telepathic power, his name flashed on her phone’s screen. Finally…
– Yes, hi. Sorry I left in so much hurry today I totally forgot to tell you I won’t be home by supper today. I’ll be late a couple of hours so I thought I’ll just grab a bite at work.
She paused for a moment.
– No problem, I wasn’t planning on cooking today anyway. I figured I’d make it a day off from everything.
– Oh, great then. See you tonight. Love you.
– Love you too.
She felt the blood boiling up to her face as she hung up. She didn’t know whether she was more angry he still didn’t remember it was her birthday, or because he didn’t bother to ask why she was taking the day off. How could he be so apathetic? Unless…
Her face lit up. Perhaps he’s being slick for a change. The idea appealed to her, she didn’t make any effort at suppressing it. She felt a new bolt of energy surging through her, and she found herself heading back home.
She put the laundry out to dry, watched a political talk show where guests hurled insults at each other, folded the laundry while watching a movie about a whale that needed to be rescued and sent back to the ocean and talked on the phone with her cousin who wanted to welcome her to the 30’s club.
She looked at the clock on the wall, it was around 6. He must be home soon. She opened her closet and picked out a dark blue satin dress. Admiring her figure in the mirror as she tried it on, she thought that cutting down on carbs for the past two weeks had done her good. The last thing she wanted as he started her fourth decade is a dress that didn’t fit.
She opened her jewelry box and put on a silver necklace with a butterfly pendant, which matched her silver high heels. She thought if he wanted to take her out, she’d be fresh and ready, if not, there’s no reason she shouldn’t look good on her birthday.
It was almost 8 and he hadn’t shown up yet. She leafed through a book to pass the time, and just when she was about to call him, the phone rang.
– Hey, sweetheart, I’m so sorry I got caught up at work.
– No problem. When will you be home?
– Actually I just remembered tonight is the Classico and the guys are all going to watch the game at a coffee shop near work.
She didn’t say anything.
– But of course I could just come home.
– No. She said quietly. It’s okay. I think I’ll just go to sleep early tonight anyway.
– You’re the best wife in the world! It would be two hours tops, I promise.
– Take your time.
– I love you.
– … Take care.
She changed into her pajamas, made herself a cup of tea and sat to watch an episode of some crime drama that gave her the chills. Suddenly her phone vibrated with a text message that had the same effect.
“I COULD NEVER FORGET. HAPPY BIRTHDAY.”
Thoughtful bag of crap. She thought as she deleted the message from her ex and tossed the phone as far away from her as possible.
She flipped through channels for what seemed like an eternity, switching between heart-wrenching global news, mind-numbing celebrity news and sitcoms that didn’t make her laugh. Sometime around 10 she heard his key turn in the lock.
– I thought you’d be asleep.
– Well, it turned out I wasn’t sleepy after all.
– Good for you. I’m exhausted. It was a long day.
She didn’t say anything.
– Real Madrid won. 2 to 1.
He nodded. She realized he wasn’t on their side anyway. Just as he was about to head to the bedroom, he turned around and faced her.
– Aren’t you coming to bed?
– I think I’ll stay up for a while. You go get some rest.
He nodded again and disappeared in the corridor. She could hear him splashing and gurgling in the bathroom as she sat in the silence of the living room, mute and motionless like a dusty sculpture in an abandoned ruin site.
The sound of his snoring pulled her back to reality. Dragging her now numb feet, she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth, but there was only the cardamom toothpaste, which she grabbed and threw in the waste basket. With a heavy head, she slipped under the blanket beside him. Normally, she wouldn’t have a problem with his snoring, but tonight she desperately wished for a pair of earplugs. She turned to the other side, facing away from him, trying to tune him out. He was getting farther and farther away, finally falling out of earshot as she drowned in her own thoughts. The last idea on her mind before she sailed away into deep sleep was that, come tomorrow, she’s going to take that money she’s been saving up, and she’ll go get herself those running shoes.