One day, eight years ago, I was ironing. Thinking about my mom’s big anniversary approaching. She is a woman who has taught me so much, not just how to be modest in life. But she’s done that too. I knew that even though she would look pleased, deep down she would not be really happy to receive an expensive gift of any sort. So I had to do a different kind of brainstorming about what I should get her.
She would certainly enjoy a big surprise party, I was thinking, as I was ironing, my brain in idle running. But where would this party be? Not just at home, even though our lawn full of surprise guest stars rappers would please her immensely… especially if they’d invite her to rap with them (what can I say… my mom is… a lot of things), and as for some restaurant, that’s boring, and expensive.
Let’s see… Can I draw ideas from real life? Where do I go every day?
I go on a hike with my dog, for example. To the woods, in the middle of the city. Next to the ZOO from where the female lynx escaped last month (The secret). In these woods there is something called a trim track, more or less a running track with different stations, twenty in all, where the runner performs depicted exercises, such as lift a provided log, press-downs, crunch-ups, and this concludes my arsenal of English fitness words.
The path is very solitary, very natural, far from the city crowds. It runs around and around and ends where it started, by a lovely little brook where my ex dog (unlike the present one who doesn’t enjoy getting wet) regularly ended our daily walk so that he could roll in the leaves after and end up in the car very wet and dirty.
The woods, then. When I thought of it as the location for my mom’s surprise party, everything started to come together nicely. Yes!
Here is how it shall happen: One unassuming day before her actual birthday I order her a taxi (the same driver who often drives her around so she trusts him), and he gives her an envelope with instructions to just relax and surrender.
When he drops her off by the brook, the first thing she sees is our dog tied to the START board of the trim track. She was always afraid to unleash him, you see. And now there is a notice stuck to the board saying: Unleash me. She does that and the dog automatically runs down the track to the first station where I’m hiding. I sing her a song from my favourite children’s film Happiness on a leash which she took me to see so many times. The next station is my sister, banging on a drum, all shaman-like. The third one is dad, her first husband, as she likes to say, in a little cove, overgrown with greenery and trees, and he’s singing opera for her.
This is where she melts for the first time.
Then follows her cousin with her husband, performing a little orienteering routine, for this is something they do. A jogger in a woolly cap runs by and nobody pays him much attention until he comes by the second time and then my mom looks at him, and lo, it’s her brother-in-law.
We pass some people sitting on a bench, and now her alertness is up, she realises she better has another look at them, and indeed, it’s her team mates from the times she was a basketball forward hitting three-pointers before they were invented. Now she’s melting all over.
I didn’t invite her most usual friend suspects, on purpose, I knew they would celebrate her birthday together at another time. Instead, at every station our little growing party is greeted by their children or grandchildren, certain special people with whom she doesn’t have regular contacts, and assorted friends of me and my sister who have grown to be her friends too.
Our friend, who is a puppeteer, gives a little puppet show from behind a tree. Another poet friend, who couldn’t attend since he was out of the country at the time, is represented by his book of poetry laid on a tree trunk. I press play on a cassette player and his voice reads out a poem entitled Happy birthday to me.
Her co-workers from her first job at an airport duty-free shop are another melting highlight. She had not seen them for quite a while. My mom doesn’t know how many stations there are left, it seems never-ending, people keep appearing out of nowhere. Her favourite boss from the big company where she worked most of her life, planning a visit by Gorbachev among other things, is a big surprise. He’s elderly so I designated him a station close to the brook where the terrain is flat.
I wonder now where I found all these people… How nice of them to take time for it. I just remember I’d told each that I didn’t wish to know in advance what their act would be. I wished to be surprised too. All I gave them was the number of the station where they were supposed to wait for our party.
At the start of our march a chronically disorganised friend of mine called informing me that he was lost and couldn’t find his post. And just then my phone died. So now, as we’re nearing his designated spot, I have no idea if he managed to find it or not. We turn the corner – and there he is: he placed a wine bottle and two glasses on a log, together with a wooden board with cut salami and cheese, and olives in a little bowl. Always a charmer.
And then, one station before the last, as we gather in a clearing, the amazing low-pitched hum by a singer friend is heard through the leaves, the nature goes quiet, and we stand there in reverie, realising we shall never be together like this again, in such a number.
As we come back to the brook, my mom’s brother, who just got home from his holidays in Turkey, steps up from behind the bush and recites his poem for her. It’s a sonnet. But it’s not just a sonnet, it’s the sonnet of sonnets with an acrostic. And yes, in Turkey he also wrote her the 14 corresponding sonnets, each beginning with a line from the first one.
The tour is thus complete.
The evening closes with a selected few, mom and the singer included, crooning under the moon in front of a nearby inn, long closed. I love to watch my mom singing. She gives it her all.
She has told me many times since what a memorable day I prepared for her. And as she’s saying this she looks at me as if I was a witch, knowing exactly what she’d most have liked. And this makes me feel really good.