Sapna let out a deep, soft sigh, shut the old diary, and placed it carefully inside the drawer of an old, wooden table that was once her study table.
Sapna stood fidgeting beside her mother, who was busy in the kitchen peeling potatoes.
“Go on, what is it? What do you want?” Neerja asked, suppressing a know-all smile.
“Tomorrow is…my birthday…”
“My friends are asking for a…treat…”
“I’m afraid to ask daddy…”
“I need some money to take them – only four or five – out for pizzas and burgers.”
Neerja thought over carefully.
“Sapna, you understand our finances very well. Still, I’ll speak to your father. Let me see what I can do.”
Sapna dragged her feet away from the kitchen in silent disappointment.
“Listen, tomorrow is Sapna’s birthday,” Neerja reminded her husband, Chandrashekhar.
“I remember, Neeru.”
“We haven’t bought any gift for her. Her friends are asking for a party.”
“You know our precarious condition, Neeru, and with the income tax deduction, it will be very tight for the next couple of months. We cannot even think of such expenditure. I am sorry, dear,” Chandrashekhar said gently.
Tears welled up in Neerja’s eyes instantly.
“Our only daughter and we can’t even give her a simple gift on her birthday.” She sniffled. “I must have pulled the wings of a dragonfly in my childhood that God is punishing me like this.”
“No, Neeru. Better days will come. Be patient.”
There was no stopping Neerja’s tears. Chandrasjekhar hugged and cajoled her.
“Sweetheart, I’ll see what I can do.”
A glimmer of hope shone in Neerja’s tear-blurred eyes.
Chandrashekhar was usually a reticent man, especially when it came to such a sensitive and sentimental matter.
“It may not be possible, Sapna,” was all he gently said to his daughter.
The three of them celebrated Sapna’s birthday in a simple and solemn fashion. They offered prayers in a nearby temple and returned home to a private, family-only party bereft of all deemed-compulsory items such as cake, candles, and happy-birthday-to-you song. The mother and father whole-heartedly blessed their daughter when she touched their feet. Later, the three of them had a simple but tasty dinner that Neerja had prepared. At the end, Chandrashekhar took out from a carry-bag a long-stemmed red rose wrapped neatly in cellophane paper. Chandrashekhar and Neerja together held it and offered it to their daughter while they wished her, “Happy birthday to you, dear daughter”.
“Sapna bitiya, can I have some tea, darling?”
The trembling voice of her father pierced through the near-impervious layers of Sapna’s nostalgic time-travel.
“In a minute, dad.”
Sapna smiled at the sleeping figures of her husband, daughter, and son. She briskly walked to the kitchen, blowing a flying kiss to her mother smiling from within a garlanded photo frame.
The red rose petals were dry and flat against the time-tanned, crackling pages of the old diary. They crackled as she shut the diary.
She could almost hear them say, “Happy birthday, my dear daughter.”
… Shyam Sundar Bulusu