A Birthday Episode

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.


Less than a week left now, and almost everything is in place. I know I will be living in Chigasaki, a city of about 220 000 people on the coast south of Yokohama. I know I will be training for the first two weeks in Shinjuku, and heading into the busiest train station in the world each of those days. I have a work visa and Certificate of Eligibility respectively stickered and stapled into my passport, ready to get me into the country without any problems (hopefully).

What I didn’t anticipate is that the last couple of weeks would be so difficult. In a good way, mind. Somewhere in amongst the haze of ongoing dinners, lunches, parties and drinking sessions I suddenly got a sense of what I’m doing, what I’m leaving behind. Warning: the following may not make sense, and reads more like a drunken leaning-on-the-shoulder , ‘I fuckin’ love you, man’ speech.

There’s my life here, with all its material comforts, which I’m cutting off to restart somewhere else. It’s another clear break in my life, like going to boarding school, or moving to Christchurch: a point of definition at which one section of my life ends and another begins. As such, it is very easy to wrap my head around. This will stop, and that will start. Simple. Short paragraph.

The same cannot be said of the many relationships I have built up with people. There’s everyone in my immediate family (who I am lucky enough to have all seen in recent weeks), then there are colleagues at my job of more than 2 years, then there are good friends – some from school, some from uni, and one from hometown. With each of these people, I have a unique relationship that has grown over the years, with particular idiosyncracies and patterns of conversation that don’t exist with anyone else. As a result, I struggle to even begin comprehending all the change that is happening on that front. In my brain, in their brains, in our lives.

I mean, there’s always email, and telephones, and webcam exchanges, but none of those afford the intimacy of actually talking to someone in the same room as you. I’m not trying to make myself seem more important than I am (despite the fact that I am the centre of the universe), but to me, it’s a bigger deal than anything else involved with this move. I wonder why I have these people around me – why not way shittier people, y’know? They’ve (you’ve) all taken the time to hang out with me and say goodbye and say other very nice things, and I just feel extremely fortunate… and sad to be going.

Enough of that. I need to go and watch Kubrick and Altman movies on a loop to purge all this sentimentality out of my system…