It was only 6 a.m. Shilpa gave herself a good stretch feeling energetic and lively instantly. Today was her twenty-sixth birthday. A smile hovered around her rosy curved lips.
In a few minutes her parents and her younger brother would come in carrying her favourite breakfast of shrikhand poori and halwa. It would be accompanied by a huge bouquet of red roses, another of her favourite.
This was a ritual which was followed as long as she could remember. The bedroom door opened and in marched her family singing loudly “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Shilpa, Happy Birthday to you.”
Shilpa hugged her parents tightly feeling a lump in her throat. They were the best parents she could have ever wished for. And her brother Samir, six years younger to her was the most adorable brat.
All of them settled on the bed and had the sumptuous breakfast. There was much rib cracking jokes from her father and raucous laughter from her mother. Shilpa and her brother almost fell off the bed clutching their stomach.
After that it was time for a small puja at home for Shilpa’s well being and happy future. There were innumerable calls wishing her for her birthday and the morning was spent at home with her family.
Shilpa had taken prior permission from her boss about her leave. She worked in an advertising firm and was the youngest and brightest creative head. She was the favourite as she was so kind and helpful towards everyone.
Her dazzling smile welcomed each one every morning and set the pace for the hectic day ahead. They had celebrated her birthday the previous day and she was flooded with bouquets and gifts galore. Her boss had treated everyone at a fine dine restaurant.
It was a double celebration: they had clinched a deal with a new client and Shilpa’s birthday. He also announced “Our New Chief Creative Head of the Design Department- Miss. Shilpa.”
Shipa now looked at herself in the mirror. The red top fitted her perfectly and heightened the glow on her cheeks. She paired it with black high waisted slim jeans that made her appear taller than her actual height.
She left her waist length jet black hair loose letting it fall gently over her small round face. She slipped on her black stilettos and carried a long black sling bag with her.
She wore very light make up and walked out of her room. Her mother put a black spot behind her ear to ward off evil looks. She was giving a treat to her childhood buddies at their favourite restaurant ‘ The Red Rose.’
Shilpa had booked a table for five overlooking the lake. Her friends were already seated. The five of them were thick as thieves right from kindergarten. All of them had finished their graduation and their professional degrees in their chosen fields. Now each one was settled in their well paying jobs.
They had kept their promise of keeping themselves free for each other’s birthday. After the initial hullabaloo of singing and wishing Shilpa, they now turned their attention to their favourite childhood game.
Each one would guess who would be the next person to walk in through the door and try to weave funny stories about them.The next few hours were spent in lots of fun and laughter, each one trying to outsmart each other in the guessing game.
Their table was loaded with the yummiest delicacies. They ate like they were famished for days. The whole mood was upbeat and it was time to settle the bill. The waiter walked in carrying a tray with the bill and the surprise element was some fortune cookies in them.
Suddenly the mood went from merriment to sombre. All eyes were trained on Shilpa. She had turned as pale as a ghost, the colour washed off from her face.
Some very painful memories were attached to the fortune cookies. But that was such a long time ago. She decided to cheer up the mood and exclaimed, “Come dear, let’s see what is in store for us.”
She picked up the first one and read ‘Your first love has never forgotten you.’
She dropped it down at once as if it was a burning piece of coal. Shilpa hurriedly paid the bill and with tears streaming down her cheeks, picked her bag and ran out of the restaurant. Her friends sat transfixed on their seats, making no attempt to follow her.
Shilpa cursed the waiter who brought the fortune cookies. She cursed the divine for ruining her birthday. As she sat in the auto crying her heart out, her mind took her back to her eighteenth birthday.
She and her friends were sitting in the same restaurant having a gala time playing the same guessing game. The waiter brought in the bill and some fortune cookies. All were excited and there was a scramble to get their hands on it first.
Shilpa was the first to pick one and break it. A roll of paper with some inscription was found inside. She immediately unfolded it and read, ‘A pleasant surprise is waiting for you.’
Soon enough the same waiter came carrying a big bouquet of red roses with a card that read ‘Will you be my friend?’ She looked up inquiringly at the waiter and he pointed to a group of young boys sitting at the far end of the room.
The most handsome, tall boy got up from the group and came towards their table. Her friends were giggling and ogling at him. Shilpa’s heart too gave a skip.
He stopped at their table, looked straight at Shilpa, extended his hand and said, “ Hi, I am Samir.” Shilpa, blushing, held her hand out.That was the beginning of a budding romance and friendship.
First loves are so special! Shilpa and Samir were soon inseparable. They spent all their waking hours together.
They had common interests and goals. Their love blossomed. Both were focussed on completing their studies first and taking things slow.
Shilpa found Samir very caring and sensitive. He was ambitious but also had his feet firm on the ground. He gave her the personal space to grow on her own terms. He was an only child and four years older to Shilpa.
Samir finished his MBA and got a very good offer from a multinational company. And as all Indian parents, his parents too started pressurising him to settle down. And that’s when the trouble in their paradise began.
Shilpa had just finished graduation and had started applying for post graduation in foreign universities. She was only twenty-two. It had been her long time desire to go abroad and explore her interests there. Samir was well aware of her dream.
She had her whole life charted out for her. They had been together for four years now and understood each other perfectly, supporting each other’s goals and ambitions.
Why is Samir falling into this pressure? Why can’t he convince his parents about their aspirations? Both sets of parents approved of this relationship. Why this sudden change of heart?
They had their first serious fight in four years. “ I am not ready to be the sacrificial lamb”, wailed Shilpa.
“My parents are much older, they have serious health issues. I can’t oppose them” said Samir.
An urgent family meeting was called. Shilpa spoke her heart out. Her parents supported her decision. Samir’s parents were unreasonable, adamant. They wanted to see their son settle down as soon as possible.
“Just give me two years to complete my post graduation and get a job”, pleaded Shilpa.
But they were not ready to budge. Samir was silent throughout.
That hurt Shilpa a lot and she left the room. Samir didn’t follow her. There were no more phone calls or any other means of communication. Shilpa was heartbroken. Samir was her first and probably the last love.
That was the last time she saw Samir. She immersed herself in applying for some prestigious universities. She was on top of the world when she secured admission in London. She needed time to get over Samir. She promised her parents that she will return as soon as she finished her education.
Shilpa kept her promise. She was the topper. She received many job offers but she refused them all. She wanted to return to her country and be with her family. She was confident of bagging a very good job in her hometown and she did get the job of her dreams.
Just a little over a year in the new company and she was already promoted. But she could never erase Samir from her mind. She pined for him even now. Will she ever get over him? Will she ever find another love?
The auto stopped in front of her house. She got out of the auto and ran towards it. Her tears had dried up but she was still upset. The fortune cookies had spoilt her beautiful birthday by raking up her painful past.
She quickly composed herself and rang the doorbell. She didn’t want to distress her parents. Her brother opened the door, a sly grin on his cheeky face. She entered the house. It was filled with bouquets of red roses, more than a hundred of them.
She stood gaping at it when there was a slight flutter of movement. She turned her attention towards it and saw Samir standing in the hall holding the biggest bouquet of red roses she had even seen in her life.
Her eyes welled up. Samir put the bouquet down and hurried towards her, gathering her in a close embrace.
“Sorry, Sorry, Sorry. I have been the biggest fool. These four years have been my worst. I love you Shilpa. I love you so much.”
Samir continued, “ My parents brought forward many proposals but I rejected them all. You were and will always remain my first love. I took the courage to tell my parents that I am ready to wait for my love.”
She hugged him tightly. She loved him so much. A little while later she heard some sniffles and giggles. Embarrassed, she freed herself from Samir’s tight hold and looked around.
Samir’s parents and her parents were all standing there,crying and laughing at the same time. Samir went down on his knees, popped out a ring from his pocket and proposed, “Will you marry me, my dearest Shilpa?”
Shilpa jumped up with joy crying, “Yes,Yes, Yes.” Samir slipped the ring into her thin graceful finger. Magically her parents came forward with a gold ring for Samir. She slipped them onto his finger. Samir held her in a close embrace. They were surrounded from all sides by their loved ones congratulating them.
Suddenly the doorbell rang. It was her friends trooping in one after the other. All were grinning from ear to ear like Cheshire cats.They were carrying all the gifts she had left behind at the restaurant and also one heart shaped red box.
One of them opened the box and Shilpa found herself staring at another red heart shaped box inside it. Her friend opened the little box and removed a fortune cookie from it.
Shilpa’s heart gave a flip.
Her heart was fluttering and beating so loudly. She wasn’t ready for another fortune cookie. She held onto Samir’s arm tightly.
“Oh no, Please do not do this to me. I can’t bear the sight of another fortune cookie.Please take it away at once,” cried Shilpa.
Her friend didn’t relent and instead broke the fortune cookie, took out the roll of paper and read slowly and loudly ‘ Your first love has never forgotten you.Your happiness is before you.Cherish it.’
Shilpa beamed at the message she heard. She clapped her hands and began jumping up and down with joy. Everyone started laughing at her kiddish behaviour but she was beyond any care.
She realised it was all a ploy by her friends to unite her to Samir. This was the best birthday ever. Her fortunes were definitely turning for the better. Fortune cookies had really made her day.
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