On the brick steps out the back of Meow, someone had trusted Aaron with a lighter. Alpro and Amy held their jackets up so the Wellington wind wouldn’t extinguish the candles before I could get to them. When they pulled them away, revealing the chocolate cake I’d been looking at all day, I leaned forward and waited a moment as everyone mumbled the ‘Happy Birthday’ song at high speed. We’re all in our twenties and thirties now, too old and not yet drunk enough to sing without self-consciousness.
Simon had just been talking about how gross it is that people blow out candles on birthday cakes. “I think the cake should be cut first, and all the candles put on one piece of cake. Then you could blow them out, and that could be your piece. I’m not saying that you should do that now, though.” I blew out all the candles.
All? No! One small candle held out against my invading breath. Like the others, it was rainbow-coloured – ‘pride candles’, as Jen had called them earlier. I blew again, leaving nine wavy columns of thin, waxy smoke.
“Congratulations,” Shelley said.
“Thank you,” I replied. “I’m proud to have made it this far.”
“Yeah!” said Aaron, laughing. “Well done for being born!”
“Right!” said Dave. “We didn’t think the Earth would get round the Sun again this year! But it showed us all! The little planet that could!”
Cake was cut and eaten. We all praised Julia’s baking skills and talked about Christmas party costumes. Some requisite bitching about Wellington summer was done. (Was that a raindrop?) I only checked Facebook and Twitter messages once, resolving to reply to them when I got home, however intoxicated I might be.
I also only once considered my good fortune at the fine people I’ve met since moving here. It was a mercifully brief thought, one which if dwelt upon could give rise to many more thoughts – of fraudulent unworthiness, of panicked fear of loss, of overthinking introspection, of teary gratitude. In musical terms, my brain played a few seconds of Radiohead before defaulting back to a selection of 90s hits.
And then it did start raining, and we ran for cover under a crudely functional awning further up the steps. Everyone tried not to stand in the pile of pigeon shit. Joe ran and got his backpack from the wet, noting upon his return that the cake plate was still out there – and so it was, deserted on the table, the raindrops belting into it from above, filling it slowly with chocolate-coloured water.
Best birthday ever.