“Party of 16”

The evening that was supposed to be about celebration quickly turned into an evening of screams, blames, and insults. Yet when I think about it now, all I feel is gratitude for those 16 guests.

It was Mom’s 50th birthday. And like always, she wanted no celebration, not even a cake. All she asked was a day off from the routine followed by a quiet dinner and a movie if any of us was available. Mom had lost nanaji (Grandfather) a day before her 9th birthday. Therefore, she hated everything about her birthday. I remember dad gifting her presents weeks after her birthday had passed. But one thing mom loved were flowers. Maybe because it was nanaji who taught her everything about gardening. And now she had a beautiful garden of her own, her biggest pride after us 3, of course. And so even as a kid I only remember, dad buying mom beautiful flowers on her birthday. The only thing she allowed to celebrate the day she was born.

Her 50th was going to be a different one, for that is what my oldest sister had decided. Mom had spent the whole day at a spa with her 2 best friends. And we had organized a grand celebration of over 50 guests at our house in the backyard. We had been planning the party since over a month now. Strangely, none of us even considered how our mom would feel about a surprise party? We were too excited to be doing something for her, after all it was her 50th. It was all supposed to be very smooth, just like any other surprise party. Mom would come home and we would all be there waiting for her in the dark to scream, SURPRISE.

Dad and mom lived in the outskirts of the city, so we had a lot of issues hiding the cars of the guests, literally. We had parked a couple in our own garage. Scattered the rest of them around the neighborhood so mom would not be thrown off by the parked cars. We had to be extremely secretive not just because it was a surprise party but because our mother was capable of driving past the house if she saw so many cars parked outside. Anyway, as I was saying we did a great job with hiding it from mom.

And then, the evening came. Mom returned from her spa day. Walked inside laughing like a teenager in love. He was mom’s oldest friend. One who had stayed by her side when dad died in a car accident. He was the one who drove mom to the hospital while we stayed home with our neighbors. They had known each other since forever. And in the past few years they had gotten quite close. Close enough to meet once a week for lunch and at get-togethers at common friend’s places. Mom turned on the light, resting her head on his shoulder, the man we had called ‘uncle’ all our life.

I don’t know who was more surprised, mom, uncle, the three of us or our very involved extended family members or the 3 neighbors whose driveways we had used to part our guests cars, or the 20 odd couples my parents had been friends with. The lights turned on and the evening quickly turned into a night of horrors. Mom was accused of being immature and disgraceful. She was insulted for bringing disgrace to our family, for cheating on my father. There were a few who even called her desperate and immature to be dating a man after only being a widow for 5 years. I don’t remember all the curse words hurled at her while two of my sisters tried to shut them. They both stood up like lionesses for our loving and extremely respectful mother. The one who had raised us to be kind and strong individuals. Only recently my sister had come out as a Bi-sexual to which my mom had the coolest reaction. She had simply hugged her and said, “I am proud of you, Sara. Always follow your heart and be happy. I love you my baby girl.” And to think tonight on her 50th birthday my mother’s character was being battered just because she had dared to date another man. While the three of us rushed to hug mom and uncle with big smiles my mom’s blushed cheeks turned pale white.

All of us forgot about the party and the very expensive catered food and drinks. The waiters who were ready with champagne flutes stayed on their spots staring at each other like lost puppies. The DJ too stopped playing background score after 10 minutes into the screaming match. I stood there watching everyone, shocked and quiet. Till date I don’t know why I became so silent. And why I did not get into the arguments like my older sisters trying to defend our mother’s honor.

I froze. I looked up at the night sky staring at the stars and thought of dad. “I wish you were here to make this stop.” I did that a lot, after dad died. Wished for him to come back, anytime I froze in a tough situation. But it was only tonight that dad came to my rescue.  

Dad shut us all down with just one roar. The ground below our feet shook and we all felt the trembles for 15 seconds straight. We all heard the trays of glasses shattering into pieces. A few fickle-minded souls falling from chairs. Others who were busy insulting now looked for cover and hands to hold on to. But no one got a chance to cry for help or even realize what was happening. We were all cowered into stillness, by a very scary and extremely short earthquake. Till date, my middle sister & I argue, if it was, she or I who implored dad to intervene to shut everyone up. Of course, we all know the truth, it was me.

Right after the earthquake, the guests started to leave. Maybe it was the quake, or the very big hug mom gave uncle that made them all walk out. Away from the birthday celebrations of the woman who hated her own birthday but always threw best parties for everyone else’s. Their heads were down while they walked past mom. Some looked up with hopeful eyes, hidden love, and admiration. Others with just disgust. In the end it was just a few of us left. A small bunch of 16 people who truly loved mom and the very elaborate catered food.

The night we were supposed to give mom a wonderful and maybe the best present ever, she gifted us her bright and calm smile. The twinkle in her eyes was back where it belonged. They looked lovely together dancing and singing. It was the kind of love we all yearn for. The one that has respect, patience, friendship, and peace.

The night ended with no more earth shakes but with chocolate ganache cake all over mom’s face. I was the one who did that for the very first time, because mom let me.

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