By Hendro Darsono
“Where are you going to take me, Win?” asked Shanti curiously.
“To my house,” replied Winda shortly.
“I wanna show you my lovely Persian cat.”
“Your Persian cat? Hey, since when have you been interested in a cat? You always say you don’t like any pet.”
“Well, I just wanna feel how you feel. You look after several kinds of cats. I don’t know how a cat can give you a great pleasure.”
“For me a cat is a nice, smart, attractive and faithful friend.”
“We’ve arrived, Shan,”said Winda when her car entered her house yard. “While I’m parking this car into the garage, you can get into my house first. The door isn’t locked.”
Shanti was startled and got mixed up. She found her classmates in the living room. “Hey, wh…what is it?”
“Happy birthday, Shanti.” Shanti’s best friend Dewi hugged and kissed her.
Winda entered the room and hugged Shanti. “Happy birthday, my best friend. Two weeks ago—beyond your ken—our class discussed to hold a party for you. We do it only for you because you’re so special. You’re a girl of many achievements. You’re not only clever but also active in our school organization. You’re the best student and also an exemplary student who really become a role model for all of us. You’ve created a good atmosphere in our class.”
“C’mon, don’t make me flattered.”
“No, you deserve it!” Winda said smilingly.
“All right, guys. Now let’s sing a happy birthday song for our beloved friend, Shanti.” Heru, Shanti’s other best friend, led everybody to sing.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday, dear Shanti.
Happy birthday to you.
Everybody clapped their hands. Then Heru lit the eighteen candles standing on the beautiful birthday cake prepared for Shanti. “Now it’s time for you to blow the candle, Shanti.”
“Before blowing the candle, don’t forget to close your eyes and make a wish,” Dewi suggested. “People say if we can put out the candle in one single blow, our wish will come true.”
“All right, I’ll do it.” Shanti closed her eyes for a moment and then blew the candles. “Phuh…!” Everybody clapped their hands.
“What was your wish, Shanti? “ Dewi wanted to know. “Did you make a wish in order that you can have a gorgeous boyfriend?”
“No, no. I just prayed that God gives me happiness… here and hereafter.”
“Only that?” asked Heru.
“Okay Shanti, now you can cut the birthday cake.” Winda handed Shanti a knife and Shanti used it to cut the cake.
“The next surprise, Heru.” Winda squinted at Heru.
“Sure.” Heru went to take three boxes wrapped with glossy and colorful paper. “These are the birthday presents from our class.”
“Oh, you’re all so kind to me.”
“Unwrap the boxes one by one, Shanti. Starting from the smallest one,” said Dewi.
“Oh… cool! This T-shirt is so cool! It suits me.”
“Next … this one. Please open it!” Heru handed Shanti the bigger box.
“What is it? Ah… some English books.” Shanti took a look at the books one by one. “Energize Yourself! by Vera Pfeiffer, Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. And these ones… oh novels! Silent Honor by Danielle Steele and If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon.”
“We know you’re crazy about reading. Hopefully, you’ll like them,” said Heru.
“Now the last one. It’ll be a great honor if Your Majesty would like to open it,” Winda said jokingly.
“This box is so big. And there’s a hole on each side.”
“Oops! Don’t take a peep. Just unwrap it,” exclaimed Winda.
“Okay, okay.” Shanti unwrapped the box carefully. “Oh my God! A cat! A Persian cat!” She held the cat in her arms. “I love it!”
“Give a name, Shanti,” uttered Dewi.
“Uhm… well, since this cat comes from Persia, I’ll name it ‘Percy’.”
“Hmm… what a good name!” Heru said.
“Guys, now let’s give Shanti a little time to say something about her birthday.”
“That’s a good idea, Winda,” Dewi agreed.
Shanti took her position and began to speak,”Well… first of all, I’d like to thank you so much for your attention to me. I’ve never thought before that you’re gonna hold this kind of great and unforgettable party. Today is my eighteenth birthday. I don’t know for sure whether or not I still can celebrate my next birthday. The proverb says,’Man proposes, God disposes.’ I’m really touched to the core by your kindness, guys.” Winda gave tissue paper to Shanti and Shanti used it to sweep teardrops trickling down on her pinkish cheek. “Yeah…our class is very different from others. We have a strong bond of friendship… and solidarity. That’s why, other classes are jealous of our class. Guys,” Shanti furthered,”in this happy occasion, please let me remind you that next month we’ll sit for final exams. We’re now in the third year of Senior High School. Let’s help one another in our study. I hope our class will be the best again. And above all… these final exams will become a stepping-stone to reach our future. Uhm… I think that’s all. Once again, thank you so much for what you’ve done to me.”
“I think this party isn’t complete without poetry reading,” Heru said. “Shanti is the winner of the poetry reading contest in this city.”
“Yeah, you’re right, Heru,” Dewi seconded Heru’s idea.
“Yeah, c’mon Shanti, show your ability.” Everybody urged Shanti.
“All right, all right.” Shanti didn’t want to let her friends down. “If that’s what you want, I’ll do it. So, what poem should I read?”
“It’s up to you,” said Winda.
“Okay, I’ll read a poem by Christina Rosetti who lived in 1830-1894.” Then Shanti began to read the poem….
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dye;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacock with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleur-de-lys
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
The party continued with some kinds of entertaining programs. Everybody sang, danced, and played an interesting game designed for a birthday party. Then they enjoyed the meal. When the party was about to end, something happened.
“Oh… my head!” shanti sighed.
“Hey, what’s wrong with you, Shan?” Winda approached her.
“My head is so dizzy,” Shanti complained. “This earth… looks like turning… upside down.”
“Do you need aspirin?” asked Winda anxiously.
“No. I think… I… I….”
“Shanti… Shanti…!” Dewi cried out. “She’s unconscious!”
“Let’s take her to the hospital!” said Heru.
Shanti was brought to the hospital. In the hospital she regained her consciousness. But she needed more medical treatment and had to be hospitalized. Shanti, in fact, suffered from a serious disease and the medical team wasn’t able to cure it. Five days later Shanti passed away.
* * * * *
“We’re very sorry for what has happened, Ma’am,” Winda apologized to Shanti’s mother, Mrs. Diah.
“No, you didn’t make any mistakes.” Mrs. Diah caressed Winda’s hair.
“But… it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t held a party for Shanti,” uttered Heru sadly.
“She passed away not because of the party, Heru,” replied Mrs. Diah.
“But….” Dewi interrupted.
“Did Shanti ever tell you about her disease?” Mrs. Diah asked.
“Her disease?” Dewi was curious.
“What do you mean, Ma’am?” Winda wondered.
“All right, I’ll tell you all about it.” Mrs. Diah took a deep breath and began to tell the story,”Around three months ago, Shanti and I went to see a doctor because Shanti often complained about her head and her sight. From the medical examination, the doctor concluded that she suffered from a brain cancer.”
“Cancer?” Heru was shocked.
“Yes. And the doctor predicted that Shanti wouldn’t live long.” Mrs. Diah’s eyes were wet. Teardrops rolled down.
“Did Shanti know about her illness?” asked Winda.
“Yes, she did.” Mrs. Diah wiped her tears. “But… as you all know Shanti is a tough girl. She didn’t want other people to know about her real condition. She did everything as if nothing had happened. She kept studying hard. She went to school in the morning and gave private English and mathematics lessons to Junior High School students in the afternoon. She ever said,’Life is so short, but meaningful. That’s why, I must make good use of it as well as I can.’ She helped me much in my daily activities.”
“What a girl!” said Heru.
“Yeah, I’m very proud of her. Since her father passed away a year ago, she has helped support the family by teaching Junior High School students. She realized that the pension money I received from her father wasn’t enough to satisfy our daily needs. Let alone, her younger brother and sister need money for their schooling.”
“She’s a great girl!” Dewi praised and admired Shanti. “We are very sorry, Ma’am, we couldn’t attend the funeral ceremony yesterday. It was because…it was hard to say goodbye and to see Shanti leave this world. She has left us for good. We all have lost her, Ma’am.
“Yes, that’s right.” Winda sobbed. “Let us hope and pray that Shanti rests in peace there.”