I want to surprise my parents.
It is my nineteenth birthday and I want it to be unforgettable: the type that neighbors talk about during their children’s graduation parties and whispered after Sunday masses. After all, I am a year closer to full independence and grown-ups love talking about mature topics like that.
Our family never celebrates birthdays. I cannot blame them. It is unnecessarily expensive and a family of six can barely feed itself, cannot afford the luxuries that only the privileged enjoy. But it left a gaping, blank hole in my childhood. I never got to experience the awkward stares from all my friends and family as they chant in chorus the familiar “Happy Birthday” song. I never got to blow out candles for wishes or to take the first slice of that cake. I never received presents. So this year, I want to throw a surprise party that will not trouble my parents.
This is not the first time I try to make my parents happy. There have been several attempts but they always find out about my plans. Always. I am thinking it is because of my brother who likes to sneak around and check my phone to see what I talk about with my friends. Some of those text messages include my scheming. My brother also likes to be the best son, which is probably the only motivation he needs to tell me off. I have been scolded for my scheming, of course. My parents do not know how to handle those kinds of seedy situations and I pride myself for being the creative kid that thinks outside of the box.
This year, I plan to do things correctly. My parents have been fighting a lot lately because of the finances. All my other siblings have already graduated college with flying colors while I have been recklessly spending money because I cannot make up my mind. I have been to three different colleges and tried five courses, but they never felt right. These constant shifts added that to all the debt we have accumulated over the years. They try to be understanding but the wrinkles on their faces have increased and there are more patches of gray on their heads. They are growing older, and soon, they will not be able to support me anymore. I feel horrible for bringing them so much trouble, so I thought maybe a surprise could cheer them up to the point where they can forget their problems. Hopefully, this will fix things.
So far, the plan is going well. I am home alone so everything is going smoothly. My family will be home from the mall in a while and all is set. Just above the table, I hung a banner. I place seats around the living room. One chair is in the middle right below our low-hanging chandelier. This is where the surprise comes in.
I hear them arriving by the gate, along with the happy banter between my siblings. I am so glad they came home in a good mood. They will definitely feel better after they see what I have in store for them.
As my father unlocks the padlock, I climb up the chair propped in the middle of the room and wrap the noose tied from the chandelier to my neck. I tighten it and I can hear my father struggling with the gate. Good, gives me more time. When they get in, they will be spending ten more minutes outside to play with the dogs.
I take one final look at the banner I made myself, the stinging bold “I’M SORRY” hastily written with black paint. Soon, father finally undoes the lock. I breathe out all the air in my lungs and without further deliberation, kicked the chair aside.
Nal Andrea Jalando-on is from Koronadal, South Cotabato and sometimes writes in Hiligaynon. She is a former student of Philippine Women’s College of Davao.