As of today, I am twenty-nine. That event has been one of the more predictable occurrences in my biography. I am sort of on the cusp of turning into Jennifer Garner, minus the 5th Avenue apartment and the doe-in-the-headlights expression. (I am about to move into a two-bedroom flat in West Oxford, to be shared with a couple of boys. As for facial expressions, Emma Stone remains my daily inspiration.)
I suppose there is a lesson here somewhere: one about the linear structure of time, broken only by layering when you look at old pictures or read the words you had written at the age of thirteen. A great Persian king had that lesson summed up in a single line that made him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy. ‘This too shall pass.’
The lesson is that there is no such thing as too much cake, or too many friends, or enough time to read all of the books — but I should probably start with the ones I was given on this day a year ago. There is no visiting 221b Baker Street until I am done with The Complete Sherlock Holmes. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding! Unless it’s your birthday, of course.
Listen, here is a story for you. Once upon a time, in a land to the north and to the east from here, there was a girl. Her parents would move every year or so, improving their living conditions, abandoning their matchbox for a fish tank, the fish tank for a cupboard, the cupboard for an attic. Eventually, the girl got a room of her own. Its window was facing the big joint back-yard surrounded by grey five-storey buildings. There were birch trees that would be the bright, new colour of spring in May and lemony-yellow come September. The trees would lightly scrape the girl’s window when it was windy outside, because the birches were frightened of the winds and their hungry, wolf-like voices.
The winds had their own stories to tell. From the neverending cold of Arctica and the grassy slopes of the Great Steppe they brought the tales of people gone and forgotten. There was nobody left who could understand those languages, sing those songs, cry and laugh as they listened to the ancient legends. There was nothing left for the winds but to howl.
Once upon a time, there was a child. The child grew up with the implicit knowledge that she could be absolutely anything she wanted. After all, she was only eight years old. The possibilities were infinite.
One day, she happened across a family photo album. That one was dedicated to the baby she once had been. The album was full of black-and-white pictures breathtaking in their tenderness. The photographer had captured the feeling which is normally reserved for freshly fallen snow, for the wonder of sunrise, for the sensation of dog’s ears under your fingers. That baby seemed more perfect than the ones in Johnson’s commercials.
The child did not feel perfect at all. There was an angry scattering of red dots across her forehead, which would only get worse as she would get older. There was unfinished homework in her bag. She was hit with the realisation that, although she might try and become anything else, she could never (never-ever-ever) go back to being that perfect baby. It was akin to seeing a blank page ruined by an amateur author — except it was not a page, it was your life.
So, she did the only thing that was logical in that situation. She cried.
It is not so much that either story has a happy ending. The point is more that neither of them have an ending at all. I am still here, as are the winds. I still do not feel perfect. I dabble in telling stories, and the best part about that is when you stop and see that the possibilities are infinite. Sleuth Charlie, impeccably dressed and accompanied by Dr. Mortimer James and Sexy Unicorn, is walking the streets of London, trying to find the murderer. The fog is gathering around Cranbury, obscuring the old cobbled streets and the statue of the Knight. At sea, a certain ship is taking hundred years to sink, and so the crew and the passengers are paying with their lives to continue their journey.
If I can tell those stories, I can surely tell my own. And it will be anything I make of it. And there will be as much cake and as many friends and books as I wish.
And I am not waiting, not a minute, not for nothing at all.
Current album: Warpaint, Heads Up
Current book: Philippa Rice, Soppy
Current TV series: Adventure Time, Series 1 (2010)