One rainy Tokyo night, a waitress’s uneventful twentieth birthday takes a strange and fateful turn when she’s asked to deliver dinner to the restaurant’s reclusive owner. Birthday Girl is a beguiling, exquisitely satisfying taste of master storytelling, published to celebrate Murakami’s 70th birthday. (from Penguin)
I cannot stop thinking about Haruki Murakami’s short story, Birthday Girl.
The setting begins in an Italian restaurant, and then it moves to room 604 of the same building. The room overlooks the steel skeleton of the Tokyo Tower, while outside the wind whips the raindrops which tap unevenly at the windowpane. The waitress who twentieth birthday it is has been asked to bring dinner to the owner of the restaurant, a job usually reserved for the manager who has suddenly been taken ill. After she lays his meal out for him on the plastic laminate coffee table, the owner asks her to stay a moment for he has something to say to her.
‘Happy birthday,” he said. “May you live a rich and fruitful life, and may there be nothing to cast dark shadows on it.”
They clinked glasses.
May there be nothing to cast dark shadows on it: she silently repeated his remark to herself. Why had he chosen such unusual words for her birthday wish?
Perhaps it is because the girl is so young, only twenty; perhaps she can make wishes which will not darken the years ahead of her. Yet, which of us can escape the consequences of our wishes, not having the ability to see what they will bring?
He then makes it clear that he wants to give her a present, although this makes her uncomfortable.
“The kind of ‘present’ I have in mind is not something tangible, not something with a price tag. To put it simply”—he placed his hands on the desk and took one long, slow breath—”what I would like to do for a lovely young fairy such as you is to grant a wish you might have, to make your wish come true. Anything. Anything at all that you wish for—assuming that you do have such a wish.”
This girl has not had anything special happen all day, and no one had even wished her a happy birthday, so she makes a wish. While we are not told what her wish is, we are told that it is not what an ordinary girl might wish for. She did not wish to become prettier or smarter or rich.
Whatever it is that she wished for, she later tells an unnamed narrator that it did, and didn’t, come true. “I still have a lot of living left to do, probably. I haven’t seen how things are going to work out to the end.”
When this narrator asks her if she regrets what she wished for, she replies that she is married now, with two children, an Irish Setter and an Audi with a dented bumper. Is this an answer of a fulfilled wish? It could be. Or, perhaps wishes cannot be fulfilled after all.
“What I’m trying to tell you is this,” she said more softly, scratching an earlobe. It was a beautifully shaped earlobe. “No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That’s all.”
So as you can see, this story of merely seven pages has a myriad of meanings. Once again, Murakami leaves us wide open to possibilities. But, I like thinking about the mysterious mood he portrayed, the idea that a fastidious man can grant one wish, and overriding all of that, we can never be anything but ourselves.
Since my birthday is at the end of the month, I had to read his short story, Birthday Girl. (It is available to read online here.)