Title: BIRTHDAY GIRL
Writer: Haruki Murakami
English Translation by JAY RUBIN
Genre: SHORT STORY, FICTION
Birthday Girl by Murakami is a short story and fiction book of 42 pages. The book seems very cute and little and I chose to read it since I have heard about the curiosity that every reader faces after ending the book and I wanted to discover for myself what the wish was?
Well, not making you much inquisitive I will now move to the storyline and my take on it. In the book, the narrator is telling a story of a girl who is a waitress in an Italian restaurant and spends her Twentieth birthday working, due to the other part-time girl being sick. But she doesn’t mind working since she was not going to do anything special that day. One reason for her disappointment was her fight with her boyfriend which turned up into some serious mess between them.
After an elaborate description of the restaurant, the old receptionist, the other waitress and manager, there is a mention of the owner who has his own room on the sixth floor of the same building and is served his daily meal by the manager at 8 o’clock just like a ritual. Nobody in the restaurant has ever seen the owner except the manager and none of the employees has the idea of how does he look like. In the narration further, it is described very interestingly, how the owner is served the same food every day and many chefs have tried something different with the same chicken dish but there has never been any response from the owner’s side and they simply switched back to the plain dish being served to him daily.
The narrator tells, how her workday starts on the 17th of November, the day of her twentieth birthday. It has been raining heavily and there were hardly any customers. Suddenly the manager starts feeling sick and develops a stomach ache and he goes to the hospital immediately, which was a never happened thing because the manager had the achievement of never taking leave even sick leave. While moving in the taxi he instructs her to serve the owner his meal at sharp 8 o’clock in room number 604.
As per her manager’s instructions, she goes with the meal and rings the doorbell of the room. A man smaller than her height, well dressed, seems to be of old age comes out and she takes his permission to keep the meal inside.
‘Yes, of course, if you wish. That’s fine with me’, he says.
After she has arranged the meal on the table she requests him to set the dishes in the hall and she will get them in an hour.
‘Oh yes, of course. I’ll put them in the hall. On the trolley. In an hour. If you wish.’, he says.
She finds the reply to be strange because of the word ‘wish’ he uses again. Strangely, the owner asks her to stay for five minutes as he wants to say something to her. She agrees and surprisingly he asks her age. She tells him that she has turned twenty that day.
He wishes her happy birthday which was the very first time all day that anyone had wished her a happy birthday. He offers her some red wine as a token of the celebration of her birthday to which she refuses but he insists and she agrees. He then very kind-heartedly says that the day demands a gift for her because she, on her birthday served him his meal in spite of celebrating. She refuses but he says that the gift is nothing tangible but a wish that she will make and he will fulfil, but it has to be a single wish. She does not take him seriously but since her birthday was about to end with nothing interesting, she decides to go with the flow.
The wish she makes surprises the owner and he even asks her if she wants to change it and ask something that an ordinary girl would ask for like the beauty and riches. But she doesn’t.
After that incident, she never sees the owner again and also leaves the job after new year’s because she doesn’t feel better to go back to that place as the incident was so vivid and actual to contradict what she felt. She started to feel that whatever happened to her on her twentieth birthday was an illusion but it did happen and that changed things.
When you read the story till this point the only thing you will be struck within your mind is, “What was the wish?”. The curiosity is obvious as I was constantly searching for it for the next few pages. Some would feel disappointed in the end when she doesn’t tell exactly in words what her wish was but asks the narrator a question, “What would you have wished for if you had been in my position?”
“I can’t think of anything,” the narrator confesses, to which she confirms, “Not one thing?”.
“Not one thing.” the narrator says
“That’s because you’ve already made your wish.”
The end seems very abrupt when you read it for the first time but still, you will not be able to leave the story behind because the most intriguing part of the story, which is, ‘The Wish’, she asked for on her twentieth birthday has not been discovered yet and that will make your mind go round the twist.
Every person has a different interpretation of the book they read so I will not say that the wish I think she made is only true but since I was also left with the same wonder just like many others I read the book again and then I could get what the wish could have been.
The wish that I think she made was, “Not to have any wishes”. There is an instance in the story when she tells how happily married she is and is a mother of two. She drives an Audi, plays tennis with her girlfriends twice a week. This was the point where it strikes me that she leaves it to the destiny to decide for her instead of asking for things because when she was asked to make a wish, she said that, she doesn’t know much about life yet.
Also when the narrator asks her whether or not the wish has come true, she replies that she has a lot of living left and she hasn’t seen how things are going to work out to the end. These lines somewhere explain her wish, which was to see where life would take her and leaving it to the life to decide for her, she says that the wish has come true partly till then.
The best line from the book is when she says that she drives an Audi with two bumpers and then the narrator says, “Bumpers are made for denting”. (which could be a great bumper sticker, she says and I agree…lol)
This line somewhere shows, why she did not ask for wealth and lavishes in life because she knew that life is always full of ups and downs, which cannot be prevented by even the Richie rich.
This was my little understanding of the book and I tried to explain my take on it. I would leave it to you to read the book and decide if there is another side to the story and did she make some another wish that you could understand.
I would end by a very beautiful line from the book that will make you think what she could have wished for
No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That’s all.”
How did you like the storyline? Would you take up the book to know what she wished for? Do share your thoughts, I would love to hear.