Difficult, disappearing birthday!

Difficult, disappearing birthday!

Had everyone  forgotten his special day? Arjun could not bear the thought!

The thought came to Arjun for the umpteenth time. It was February, his favourite month, and on the 28th, tomorrow, he would be eight years old! No other celebration or festival brought him so much joy.

His parents spared no pains to make it a perfectly lovely day. His mother would bake a cake the day before. It was always beautiful, shaped exactly the way he wanted. There would be other delicious treats as well. Because it was his birthday, he was allowed to go to school in his best clothes and not the usual uniform.

He also carried a packet of chocolates which he distributed to his classmates and teachers. In the evening, he could look forward to a party with his close friends. They always brought him presents. His parents’ friends also dropped by and gave him thoughtful gifts. It was his own, special day of the year because it made him feel wanted and loved.

When the bell rang at close of school, Arjun rushed home. His mother would have put the cake and all the goodies away, but the air would be redolent with the aroma of baking and all the wonderful spices. Amma opened the door and what a shock it was! No scented smells greeted him and there were no signs of unusual activity. On the other hand, she told him to help himself to some biscuits and milk as she had to visit a friend.

Had they forgotten his birthday? Arjun could not bear the thought. Gloomily, he munched on the biscuits and gulped down the milk. Amma left, but he was not alone. His older brother, Ranjit, was at home studying for his Board exams. Arjun entered his room warily for Ranjit considered him as a bit of a pest.

“Anna,” he ventured, “what happened today?” It would not do, he knew, to question him directly.

“Huh,” a slightly startled Ranjit replied. “What can happen, you silly fellow?  Just the same as ever. Nose to my books. Now get lost. Don’t disturb me.”

With slow steps, Arjun walked to his room. What a dreadful evening it had been and there was worse to come the next day. Arjun got through his homework somehow. Then he lay on his bed feeling very miserable indeed. He heard his mother come in and call to him but he felt too tired to get out of bed. In a little while she came in.

“What, already in bed?” she asked. “Are you feeling ill, Ajju?”

Her kind voice almost brought tears to his eyes. Should he tell her about his fears? But no, it would not do to force her into remembering his birthday. Perhaps he was now too big for celebrating it. Or were they having money problems?

Swallowing his unhappiness, he muttered, “It’s my head, Ma. It’s hurting.”

“Oh, you poor thing. You must be hungry. Come have dinner and then go to sleep. You will be all right tomorrow.”

All right tomorrow? If that wasn’t so sad, it would be funny, thought Arjun. He followed his mother obediently.

Though he went to bed early, sleep took a long time in coming. Perhaps that is why he got up late the next morning. Just as well, he thought. There were no new clothes and no chocolates either. He reached school just in time. Wistfully he wondered whether some classmates would remember.

No one did. Arjun then threw himself into his work He told himself that he was childish. After all there were many boys whose birthdays were never celebrated. Walking home that evening, he felt that this day was the worst he had ever known.

When the door opened, his mother stood smiling and the air inside held familiar and delicious scents. Ah, they had remembered after all and perhaps they would have the cake at tea. But Amma did not bring it out at all. Arjun could not fathom what was happening. But enough is enough, he told himself; he wasn’t going to ask.

The next morning Amma woke him up early, hugged him and wished him a very happy birthday. Arjun was both surprised and pleased, but reminded her, ‘My birthday was yesterday, Amma. It’s on the 28th, remember?’

“Of course, darling,” his mother said. “For three years, yes. But on the fourth, which is a leap year, it comes a day late, not on the 28th but the 29th. You were born on the 29th of February, 2004. This year 2012 is a leap year.” There presents from his parents — new clothes and a toy aeroplane. Anna had bought him a brand new football.

In his new clothes and carrying a big packet of chocolates, Arjun went to school with a joyful heart. The entire class wished him and his best friend gave him a book of adventure stories. In the Geography class, Mrs Nair explained what a Leap Year is.

She said, “This is a year that contains one extra day. The Earth takes more than 365 days to circle round the sun – 365.25 to be precise. If we didn’t add a day on February 29th every four years, we would lose almost 6 hours off our calendar every year and would mean 24 days after a hundred years!”

As he walked home that evening, Arjun was delighted. There were more joys to come – a special party for a very special birthday!

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