My birthday appears just as I am about to leave for the North. I was willing to forget it, but my pals wouldn't hear of it. When I get to the Huerta late in the afternoon on the last day, they bring out a cake that they've bought with their own money. One of the birthday cards has been painfully assembled by Chalin's five-year-old son. There's a cut-out of a large red heart, pasted upside down, and when I open it up, it says, in child letters, in English, very large,


It's one of those silly little things that unexpectedly turns me weepy. Boo-hoo, they are my best friends, and now I'm boo-hoo sixty-six and I'm getting old and wrinkled and they are so good to me even though boo-hoo I'm such a old fuddy-duddy and now boo-hoo I'm sixty-six years old.

They take all my tears and hiccups in good humor: give me hugs, sing to me, remind me that cumpleaños are supposed to be feliz --- happy, not sad. My workers, my friends --- Jesús, Manuel, Chalín, Poldo, Jorge --- despite all their nightmares of growing up poor and orphaned and hungry, are filled with such good-will --- for me, for the world. They don't fret on that dark surprise waiting for all of us, over there, on the far side of the hill.

It's now near sunset. The Mexican Jays with their absurdly long tails and crowns of feathers are coming in dark and noisy flocks to rest for the night. Down in the arroyo, the grey Colonel bird starts up his evening song, co-lo-NELL, co-lo-NELL. From a neighboring valley comes a cry that I don't recognize, that I've never heard before. Aye, Aye, Aye, it says. Aye, you're old, Carlos. Aye, you're going to die, Carlos. Aye, you're not the only one, Carlos.

I am surrounded by those who choose not to brood on that sad truth. The whole of humanity is teetering on the edge of the abyss, ready to fall in, but --- despite poverty, sickness, terrible childhoods --- my very kind friends are still alive, still singing, merrily singing that old love song,

    Happy Bird Day To You,
    Happy Bird Day To You,
    Happy Bird Day Dear Carlos,
    Happy Bird Day To You.

--- Carlos Amantea

Go Home    Go back to Part 1 of this story     Go to the top