“I loved them so dearly - but why can’t they get their snooping faces off my back?” I pondered. If not for the things that went awry, my birthday would have been a lovely evening of witty repartee and festive get-together. In time, the sense of uneasiness over the matter worsened. It was the bone of contention within the family, and I guess, for every family who lived in this little Spanish town - where a timeless tradition was on the brink of extinction.
I walked to the comedor, and placed on a small plate, a sliced of the velvet cake which mother kept for me. I slowly swallowed a mouthful and stared at a beautiful rustic centerpiece – a wooden platter of artificial flowers accented by golden twig branches and three big scented candles, placed on top of the table. It was a gift from my best friend Ana. Just by looking at it, my thoughts drifted back again to the bothersome evening two days ago - my 28th birthday.
The celebration was a small family affair, the way it had been the past years. My enthusiasm for this event faded into oblivion as time went on. Like a mystery that haunted me through the years, my family and relatives became the kind of sweet annoyance – if there was such a thing - I endured for the past five years. To sum it up, there was really nothing special about it, aside from the fact, another year was added to my ever-glorious life as a single woman.
Mother cooked some of her special holiday dishes – Paella Valenciana with chicken and rabbit, two big legs of jamon Serrano, patatas brava, and albondigas. Tia Manuela brought her classic tapas and vermicelli recipes. For dessert, we had leche frita and the cake. Mother arranged, and lined up these mouth-watering dishes on a long Norwegian wood table, father brought home from one of his trips to Barcelona. He sang his favorite bolero piece, to everyone's satisfaction. Prima Marietta danced the flamenco, while the parientes played classical music with a Spanish guitar. Everything was great! We all enjoyed it, until my mother’s voice hollered from the kitchen like the siren of an ambulance, la cena esta lista! It only meant one thing. It was dinner time.
The adults were all seated at the main comedor while the children were in the adjacent room, and can be seen through the open door that connected both rooms. When everybody was settled on their seats, the long dinner table became the setting for this year’s most-anticipated hullabaloo series - the courtroom drama entitled, The Agony of Alegria.
Like an old telenovela series, it had its fair share of suspense. My father acted as the judge. My relatives were the prosecutors and jury. I was seated on a trial dock, and interrogated for a case I was not guilty of. Sure enough, it left me with no choice but to act as my own defense lawyer. As we all savored the delectable goodness of mother’s special meals - for the love of her unica hija, - they bombarded me with questions which plagued their minds every year. In fact, it put me in a great deal of stress. Of all the days in the calendar, they made sure to unleash the fury of the moment, on my birthday, like it was a matter of life and death.
“Alegria Mia, you’re 28 years old, when are you getting married?" Abuela Charito began. "I’ve been waiting for my little nietos and nietas, running around the house and kissing me on the cheeks.”
“We are getting old now, and we only have a few years left to live, Hija. Would you rather see us die in pain without ever meeting your children?” Abuelo Pedro seconded her statement and hoped for an iota of guilty feeling from me.
“Ayy! Don’t say that, Abuelo Pedro, Abuela Charito. I’m sure, both of you are still good for another twenty years. Lo siento, I am just too busy with work.” I replied.
“Don’t you think you’re old enough to find yourself a husband? convinced Tia Manuela. "Your cousins were all happily married. Even your best friend Ana, have a beautiful family. Please hurry, the last train is about to leave.” she added.
I let out a deep heave of sigh. “Let the train leave, Tia Manuela." I waved my hand in the air like I said goodbye. "I am very happy for them. They should be happy for me too. Besides, I am married to my books.”
All the family members who were seated on the long table, looked at each other, and questioned in silence the meaning of the phrase, “married to my books.”
I waited for the backlash. Yet, I wondered why nobody dared to ask.
Tienes novio? Prima Marietta asked. “I will find you a date, cousin. We can do a foursome with my fiance Romeo, it's gonna be fun.”
“That sounds terrific, but, no thank you. For now, I am not looking.”
“There were a couple of eligible men in the office. Would you like me to arrange a meeting for you, Alegria?” Tio Peles asked.
“Maybe some other time, my hands are full right now, Tio.” I replied.
"Alegria desperately needs a make-over. A little makeup here, a new hairdo there. And remove that ugly eyeglass. It’s disgusting, Have you ever heard of contact lenses?" said another female cousin.
I smirked behind the napkin. I gazed at them like they were alien beings who came down on earth, and searched for human captives to use as experiments.
I turned to my right where Ana was seated. I gave her a “save-me-from-this-quicksand-mess” kind of look.
Instead, she said without a hint of regret, “They are concerned about you, because a woman's body is like a ticking time bomb. To make matters worse, she added, “By the way, remember my cousin Leo? He is coming home for vacation next week for Daniela’s christening. I want you to meet him again."