I will be going to the school canteen with my friends to offer a small birthday treat, a pre-party before evening celebration. It’s a tradition in our circle that I need to follow, although I am not much in the mood. I am trying to be calm and holding myself back from everything, trying to think about the surprise that should be waiting for me today. Not the one that my dad promised, this surprise is something else. I don’t know what it could be but surely something new and something weird. I am used to face such things on every birthday. Morning dream was just the beginning, I know. Among all the vague details that I can recall from the dream, one image was still fresh in my mind, the crystal ball. Shining purple-dark blue colored ball with green hue that reflected my image as I got closer to it. It was not the most beautiful thing I saw but it contained something magical. Spheres may hold mysteries, mentioned grandpa a few years ago while teaching me geometry.

“Surface area is one of the important factors that decide about how much exchange of forces can occur between the surroundings to volume within. Consider a Sphere.”, He depicted a spherical shape by connecting his fingertips keeping maximum distance between palms and continued, “Sphere exhibits the lowest surface area for a given volume which implies that outer forces on spherical surface will have the least impact on the enclosed volume. So..”   “Like a soap bubble!”, I intervened.                                                                                                      “Yes, similar. Soap bubble is a three layer system, air-soap-air. Soap layer tries to balance inner and outer wall air pressure, with same medium (air) on both sides. Change in this balance causes a size change of the bubble, burst of the bubble in extreme case. Volume changes here so it is a different case.”, increasing and decreasing his spherical shaped hands, he explained, “However, when we talk about solid spheres, we are talking about two layer systems that implies one matter state within another matter state. A solid piece in Air, or air trapped within water, or water trapped within oil, or oil within something else. These all would prefer spherical shapes if there structural forces allow it.”                                                “But then why isn’t everything a sphere?”, I curiously asked.                                                    “Inter-molecular forces. Solids have rigid and strong inter-molecular forces that keep those in a fixed size and shape, whereas liquids or gases can easily take up any shape. Consider a piece of a plastic in a shape of bar or strip or any shape. It has a fixed shape, you lower its inter-molecular forces by heating it up and its fine edges will start taking smooth spherical shape. You burn it down completely and it will end up in a spherical plastic ball.”, he explained.                                                                                                                                                           “So two matter states would like to have the least interaction in between and therefore, acquire spherical shape.”, I thought loudly.                                                                                                 “Yes, but only one of the two entities. The one that is surrounded by the other is forced to take spherical shape.”, he added.                                                                                                                 “Like it is trying to protect itself from the other, the dominating one. When we want to protect ourselves from cold, we try to reduce our exposed surface area in winters. In air, water droplets are spherical because they try to protect themselves from air-interaction but as soon as water dominates over air i.e. air in water container, air needs to protect itself by forming spherical bubbles. They all feel protected under spherical shape.”, I went on, “It means if something needs to be protected from surroundings, spherical shape is the best for it to acquire.”, I tried to understand.                                                                                                                He was dead still, staring at me as if he was surprised that I could understand it so clearly. I am smart, right? I thought and smiled at him.                                                                                       He said, “Yes, you are.” opening his eyes wide.                                                                                           Did he listen what I thought? How does he….                                                                                        “Did you make notes?”, acting normal he asked and intervened my thought.                              “Oh yes, I have to show this to my teacher tomorrow.”, I started writing in my notebook.        He murmured, “Sphere! Spheres may hold mysteries.”                                                                        “Like pearls, they are formed in the depth of ocean within a shell. Mysterious, right?”, I spoke with my face down noting our previous discussion.                                                                            He laughed, “Yes, right. Anyway, circle in 2D and sphere in 3D has infinite lines of symmetry. So, sphere is basically the most symmetrical 3D shape.”

Who knows if he meant pearls or if he meant something more mysterious captive within sphere to protect from something.. within a ball.. the crystal ball.

Morning dream was different than previous ones and such experiences are getting more and more intense with each passing year. It holds some random and unexpected incidents, a Surprise, as people may call it. Surprise, overflown with some ‘beyond-normal’ details. Not abnormal, since definition of ‘normal’ is relative. Our observations throughout our life define something as normal or abnormal, something abnormal for one person can be completely normal for other. These Surprises on my birthdays have always been intriguing which may be very beautiful but can also be scary, really scary.

The Sun is barely visible from behind the clouds, trying to cope up with our bus but of course, we are faster. Trees, dustbins, signal boards everything is running in the opposite direction. People on sidewalks, uninterested in teenagers, showing off their skateboarding skills, are running to the subway station downstairs rushing to their offices; some with coffee in one hand and sandwich in the other trying to arrange their side-hanging laptop bag as they run. I see them every single day on my way to school. I even can recognise some of them. The lady who dressed in business formal every day for past few weeks, is now wearing a blue uniform; she probably has got a job after several interviews. Some university students who used to wear casuals with a backpack until a few months ago, are now hitting for interviews with gelled hair, business wears and leather hand bag. Watching all this, I am resting my head on the glass window in the bus and reflection of my watch on the glass sympathising me that the time always runs slower if we wait for something. Unaware of what it will unfold, I am waiting for my Surprise today.

On the same day 8 years ago, I was happy, very happy like every kid on its birthday. Even on my way to school. I was thinking how I was going to be the most dressed up among all other kids that evening, I could eat my favourite chocolate cake as much as I could without any restriction from mom and I was going to get many gifts. When I entered the class, the whole class wished me happy birthday and clapped. My favourite teacher Ms. Jen presented me a beautiful Ink Pen, dark brown, golden nib, a small pearl at the top. It was normal to anticipate small presents in the school from friends and big ones in the evening from elders. On the way back to home, I was looking out of the bus window, waiting eagerly for this 30 min ride to end and excitingly thinking about the preparation that everyone would have done for my birthday back at home. People were returning from their offices, people are mostly coming out from Subway station. A car behind our bus was trying to overtake and as soon as we realize this, we all started shouting “Faaaster..faaaster..faaaster..” urging our bus driver not to let the car overtake but kids have no say in this cruel world. The car overtook us, followed by voices in bus, “faster… no… no… noooooo..”. This was usual, every day involving a different car or a motorbike. We never won and every time, we hated our bus driver, not that he cares at all. “Alia, Sam! You’re up!”, called the bus driver. We had reached our stop. I and Sam got down, Sam’s mom was there to receive us. She was a very kind and loving lady. She was looking very pretty, obviously was invited by my parents in the party. We walked for two blocks talking about who other than Sam was invited from my class, where they lived and so on. As we reached our homes, she said, “Alia, we will be there in a few minutes. Don’t cut the cake until we come, okay!”. I smiled back and rang the bell of my door. Sam and his mom reached across the road to their door by when my mom opened the door. Sam’s mom waived at my mom and signalled, give me 5 min. My mom nodded and smiled.

I ran to the main hall, expecting grandpa sitting on the sofa chattering with other guests, dad serving drinks to the guests, music turned on, decoration all over and my 1.5 year old cousin playing with the heap of packed gifts with his tiny hands, trying to eat every gift box. There was nothing, the lights were down. I asked mom, “where is everyone?” and crossed my fingers that she doesn’t ask why?. They cannot forget my birthday, mom cooked pancakes in the morning and grandpa! he wished me yesterday and I reminded him that he was this time only a day too early, how can he forget again? I was disappointed, hurt and about to cry. My mom bowed down to me, smiled and said, “We have planned your birthday bash somewhere else. Happy birthday love!” She kisses my forehead and I hugged her, couldn’t help but cried, “I thought you forgot!” She laughed, picked me up still hanging on her neck and said, “How can we? You are the loveliest kid in all worlds! Get ready, we have to leave in 5 min, we have to pick Sam and her mom as well, now hurry!” I rushed to my room , quickly opened the door and BOOM here it was, I was showered by at least a thousand tiny sparkles and I heard a loud, “Surprise!!!!” from my back. Everyone was hiding in the dark corridor behind my room and dad was in front of all with a huge Teddy in his hands. He reached towards me, kissed my forehead, wished Happy Birthday and handed over the Teddy, it was huge. He picked me and held me in his hands; I was still holding the huge Teddy. Everyone reached me, wished me a happy birthday and touched my cheeks. Although my sole focus was that none of them had any gifts in their hands; elders, huh! I got down from dad’s lap and dragged the huge Teddy into my room, turned on lights and stood awestruck. It was decorated as never before, all the walls were filled with sparkling stars and balloons and my photos. The wall behind my bed read Happy Birthday Alia, decorated with LEDs around it. White and golden shining balls and stars were hanging from the ceiling, evenly distributed, beautiful. This would remain in my room forever that was the reason they did it in my room and not in the main hall. On my bed there was a pile of packed gifts. So those guests did bring presents for me. Well, they deserved a smile so I looked back at them and exchanged smiles as thank you and you’re welcome. My mom reached me and put a birthday cap on my head, bowed down to me and said, “May I help you with your new dress? You will cut the cake soon.” I smiled and nodded. Everyone moved out to the hall. I heard my father asking who wanted what in drinks and chips and so on, chattering and laughter followed. I opened my wardrobe, a beautiful greenish white dress was hanging there. I remember that I asked mom to buy this for me when we went to the city last month. Mom took it out and I got ready. For final touch to the birthday girl, mom was putting pins in my hair preparing a fancy hairstyle, at the same time answering dad that she had put the wine opener in the kitchen on the table behind the fruit basket. I asked her, “Where is grandpa? I also did not see him in the morning.” She did not listen and asked looking into the mirror, “Look, how do you like your hairstyle?” It was beautiful. I smiled and said, “It’s perfect, you are the best mom!” She laughed and asked, “Where would you like to cut your cake, here or in the hall?” “Here!”, I said and started running my arms wide open circling around mom, allowing air to fill into my dress. She laughed, nodded and turned to go outside for preparations. I was happy, still running in circles arms wide open singing Happy birthday to me.. Happy birthday to me.. Tired from running, I jumped onto the bed, unknowingly hitting the pile of presents and knocking two of those down to the floor. I didn’t care but laid down on the bed, staring at the decorated ceiling. Suddenly, it hit again, where is grandpa? I got up and rushed to grandpa’s room.

He was sitting in an armchair, eyes closed. He always stayed in his room in the evening but that day, I expected him to come out and enjoy my birthday party. I stepped in, stood there and stared at him angrily. Of course, he did not notice, his eyes were closed. Intentionally trying to get his attention, I said, “huh !”. He opened his eyes, looked at me and said with a smile, “Happy Birthday my little princess!” I asked him angrily, “Why are you not there with others? And by the way, why are you not dressed up nicely?” He laughed and asked me to come to him, got up from the chair and took me to the window and asked, “Do you see the dark sky, Alia?” Of course I could the dark sky but that did not answer my question, I was about to say this but stopped as he signalled me not to make any sound. He looked at his watch and asked me to stand quiet and wait. He looked at his watch again, smiled at me and pointed outside to the far in the sky. There was something going upward, bright with the speed of a fire cracker. Gone high in the sky, it stopped and burst into lightening fountain of violet, white and yellow light. I got excited, it was neither X-mas nor New Year and I loved watching firecrackers. I was staring at it all, pressing my nose against the window glass, trying to see as closely as I could. This continued for a couple of minutes, many fire-crackers with different shapes, scattering sizes and colors. A pause and another cracker burst into the shape of cake with candles on top of it and simultaneously, comes another, going in circle, round and round, ends with a tail, makes a ‘6’ beside the cake. Yes, it’s me, it’s my sixth birthday; I was amazed. After a short pause, it started again, many more crackers together, circling around here and there randomly and when faded, left the white smoke in the shape of Alia. I could not believe it. I stared till the last, until all the smoke faded away. I stood there until he pointed towards the box on the table. I knew what in the box was. I had myself asked him to gift me this a week ago. I took the toy-gun out of the box and started shooting, firing at imaginary enemies. I was crushing the enemy with the sound of animated fires and red yellow blinking lights. Escaping their bullets, I got onto the bed, jumped several times, rolled two times left to right and right to left, stood up and jumped down from the bed. I was doing this in all over his room, on the sofa, behind the TV and he was just laughing. A few minutes gone and I won the battle, showing off my gun and celebrating. He said, “Alia, your hairstyle is ruined. Don’t you want to cut your cake?” I realized everyone should have been waiting for me in the hall, I thanked him by hanging on his neck and asked him to come to the hall. He nodded, said, “You take care of your hair and I will be ready in a minute. There is the mirror, over there!” I stood in front of the mirror, it was dark. I turned back and asked him to turn on the big light. He nodded and did so. I turned back to the mirror and there standing my mom behind me, putting pins in my hair. She asked, “Look, how do you like your hairstyle?” I looked at her and looked around, it was my room. “It’s perfect.” I responded as I did a few minutes ago. “Where would you like to cut your cake, here or in the hall?” I stared at her and to my surroundings. How did I come in my room? Where are the two boxes that I knocked down from the pile? She was puzzled by my reaction and I was with everything else. “Alia, would you like to cut your cake here in your room?” , She repeated. I nodded and she went out. I sat on the bed, still staring the decorated walls and thinking about the fireworks, what is happening? I ran to my room window looked at the sky, it was clear.

Light music started playing in the room and I turned back. Everyone entered in the room wearing birthday caps and stood around the cake with 6 lit candles. Dad bowed down, picked up the decorated birthday cake-knife from the table and asked me to come. My cousin was in Mom’s lap and trying to reach the cake. Mom said, “Alia, quick honey! Cut the cake or he will.” Everyone laughed and I reached to the knife from Dad’s hand. Everyone was smiling at me, ready to clap. Sam’s mom pointed to the candles to tell me to blow out those first. I did so and cut the cake, all went “Happy birthday to you.. Happy birthday to you.. Happy birthday dear Alia.. Happy birthday to you.” followed by lots of clapping. I cut a small piece and headed to my cousin; he took a small bit and put rest of it on his nose and cheeks. I then moved to Mom and Dad. They cut another piece for me and that went on with others, my Mom’s sister, Sam’s mom and so on. After that, my friends started bursting the balloons, sparing not a single one and everyone else moved out to the hall for dinner and drinks. We kids stayed in my room and mom put a big plate with a pile of sandwiches and left us alone to play and eat and play and eat and so on. People in hall were watching an old Football match, some smoking in the balcony, Mom and her friends preparing something in the kitchen. We all were sitting on my bed, in front of the pile of gifts. I started unwrapping those, little boxes first and big ones later on. Every other kid was equally excited to see and every time a gift is unwrapped, a loud Wooow followed.  I got a musical wrist watch with calculator, a flowery hat, a laser torch with designer lens, a few soft-toys including puppy, turtle, teddy, minion, rabbit etc, a small kid-sized guitar, a bag with Spiderman print and many other, not-too-interesting things. We all played with every gift of mine for a long time until two of us fell asleep in a chair and on the sofa. “Let’s go, it’s late. You have to go to school tomorrow.” said Sam’s mom entering the room followed by other parents. “We don’t have school tomorrow, it is going to rain and I am not feeling well and Alia has birthday today so teacher said we can play till late.”, said Sam seeking my support, “Right Alia?” and winked. He was the worst liar in the world; my 1.5 year old cousin could catch his lie. I could not not-support him, he was my friend after all but I also could not look complete idiot by agreeing to him. Fortunately, I did not have to answer, his mom took his hand and said, “You should definitely rest if not feeling well, we have many umbrellas if it rains and let’s talk to your teacher tomorrow if she really said that. okay?” Everyone giggled; I refrained not to hurt him. I would laugh once he is gone. He had no option but to leave. Everyone wished again happy birthday to me and left with their parents. I laid down on the bed, with minion in one hand and rabbit in the other staring at the ceiling, filled with shining stars. I do not remember when I fell asleep and I most definitely forgot that grandpa did not show up in my birthday party, for some reason. Next day was usual except two things, I was one more year older then, 6 and, although it was mild and I already forgot it the next day, I had experienced my first Surprise.

Driver honked, waking me up from my thoughts and signalling that we have reached the school. The bus is already empty; Sam is standing outside signalling me to come down. I have to get ready for pre-celebration of my birthday in school.