I didn’t actually have any birthday plans. Having only been in France for a few months, no one knew when my birthday was, and because I’m currently renting someone’s bed while he sleeps on the couch, I didn’t think throwing a party was an option.
So when I went out for drinks after work, I didn’t feel any need to raise the fact.
There were six of us – four Aussies (myself, Louise, Julia and Andrew), an English girl (Imogen) and an American girl (Adrienne). After we had drinks and dinner, we decided to buy a few bottles of wine and relocate to Imogen’s flat.
I’m not entirely sure how, but the subject of IDs came up. As the four Aussies were from three different states, we all have different driver’s licences. Mine happens to have a large 09 – 86 on the back (September 1986).
Louise frowned as she looked at it, “wait a minute, it’s September now. When’s you’re birthday?”
I grinned sheepishly, “it’s today . . .”
Cue a chorus of ‘oh my gods’ and ‘how come you didn’t tell us?!’
After the birthday wishes were out of the way, we continued with our usual plan . . . or so I thought.
After buying some wine from a Monop’ we took the metro to Imogen’s place. One station before Imogen’s, Louise seemed to inhale and freeze with a big smile on her face, like she was about to say something.
After a few seconds I frowned – was there a problem?
Suddenly the group broke into song:
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear Jolie,
Happy birthday to you!
And then they did the same thing in French, at the top of their lungs! Everyone on the metro was looking at me and grinning as I turned an attractive shade of beetroot.
“Who knows another language?” Louise asked, “let’s see how red she’ll go!”
Luckily no one knew any other languages, so I was spared as we walked from the station to Imogen’s. At Imogen’s, the six of us hopped into the elevator (for those of you who have seen Parisian elevators, you will know it was a tight squeeze), noting that the sign said the elevator could fit up to 6 people, or 400kgs.
The elevator door closed, and the elevator started making a lot of noise. We all laughed and joked about how it was struggling, and continued with our slightly giddy, tipsy conversation.
After a couple of minutes, Imogen said, “hey guys? Does it feel like we’re moving?”
Everyone fell silent. No, it didn’t.
We looked at each other and laughed.
“Well at least we have wine,” Julia lifted the bag of bottles.
“Um, the doors aren’t opening,” Andrew said, after repeatedly pressing the button to open them.
We burst out laughing again.
“Be careful not to use up all the air!”
“Can you imagine trying to explain this in French over the intercom?”
Then, the doors opened slowly.
We looked out. We were still on the ground floor, about 30cms higher than we had been when we entered the elevator.
As we walked up six flights of stairs instead, I tried pressing the button to call the elevator on a couple of floors. There was no movement – we’d officially broken it (I blame Andrew – he must be at least 6’4″).
We spent the rest of the evening drinking red wine and talking, and I was even treated to an improvised birthday cake. The cake was a small, unsliced batch of brownies with a tea-light for a candle.
I think it was supposed to be a surprise, but as soon as I saw Adrienne walking around with tea-light I knew that something was up. And when Imogen asked if anyone had a lighter, I think everyone knew their cover was blown. Unfortunately none of us smoked, so we couldn’t find a lighter or matches. So Imogen, resourceful girl that she is, stuck a rolled up a post-it note in the toaster to create a flame.
As I blew out my candle and ate my piece of brownie, I felt touched that they had gone to such an effort to make the day special.