Noted Japanese author, Harukui Murakami celebrated his 70th birthday recently. As the septuagenarian enters his 41st year as an author, closer home Penguin Random House chose to pay homage to the literary genius by a fresh publishing of his short story ‘Birthday Girl’.
First printed in 2002, ‘Birthday Girl’ was a part of a compilation of short stories — all with a birthday theme. A light read, the author has in the past himself conveyed that the narratives be read as light entertainment, despite the fact that the theme is disturbed by an unsettling sequence of events.
This particular short story traces the tale of a girl on her twentieth birthday. A part-time waitress, a fight with her boyfriend and her colleague who was to fill-in for her falling sick lead to a lonesome birthday spent waiting tables at the restaurant. The stale evening witnesses a twist as the clockwork-like sequence of events is shaken up by the sudden illness of the restaurant manager. Now, instead of him it is the birthday girl who has to take the owner’s dinner up to his apartment. And it when the owner, whose face has been seen by no one before this moment, opens the door to her and his dinner, that a strange exchange ensues between the two. What happens during this near surreal encounter, and its consequences is what follows.
Signature Murakami sequences make appearances, which you’ll be able to recognise if you’ve read the author before. A presentable elder lady with a classic look that never changes over the years, routines that are followed to the tee day in and day out, neat arrangement of knick knacks in rooms, and the one slight aberration that kickstarts a butterfly effect of change in the protagonist’s life. However, as in his novels, while there may be certain loose ends, an overall conclusion comes about, it’s not the same with ‘Birthday Girl’. The open to interpretation climax has had many theories prevail over the years — had she wanted to never have a wish again? Was her wish to have a life opposite of her then lonely existence? And so on. The mystery is for the reader to solve on their own, as their thoughts deem best.
Pick up the short story if you’re looking for a quick read, and revel in it for the joy of it, sans heavy speculation.