This year, there were three balloons on her bedroom door and an overused happy birthday banner hung on a string.
“Ah well, what does it matter? It’s not like I’m a high school teacher, or like my darling children are going to give me a big surprise.”
“Something like that won’t happen to me!” thought Mrs. Norris as she walked into her room. She pulled the book out from under her pillow, carefully opened it to the marked page and began to read.
The letters continued to float and blur, making it impossible for her to read what was happening to her favorite character. Her eyesight was betraying her again.
She closed the book with a disappointed sigh.
“Without being able to read, how am I going to survive the rest of my life?”.
For any other 85-year-old in the nursing home, the inability to read wasn’t much of a dilemma. They had different ways to entertain themselves.
They watched TV, played endless games of bingo or took long walks talking about their sons and daughters and their lovely grandchildren.
But Mrs. Norris had found no relief or comfort in any of those things. For her, books were the only form of fleeting satisfaction.
Ever since she was a child, she would sneak books out of the only library in town and read them on her school bus. The next day she would return them and store them on the library shelves, exactly as she had found them.
She has been in love with all the genres she has immersed herself in. And if it weren’t for books, she would not have met the excellent and charming Mr. Norris.
On an August afternoon, when most people preferred to spend time socializing on the beach, Mr. Norris and his future wife were sitting in two corners of the oldest book cafe in the neighborhood. The two were immersed in two copies of the same book.
After a year and a half of reading and falling in love, they were married in the city’s public library. The couple’s love remained strong through every alternating season of happiness and adversity.
Mr. Norris had dedicated every book of poetry he had ever written to her.
“What I do as a writer can never measure up to your work as a teacher,” he often told her.
Today, on her 85th birthday, Mrs. Norris missed the love of her life very much. It had been seven years since his death.
Before he took his last breath, she was holding his hand and narrating one of her favorite poems for the hundredth time. At that moment her heartbeat stopped.
She was remembering that heartbreaking moment, and as she did so she let her tears escape.
“I wish you were here, David. Here I am, without you, and the sun has the audacity to rise as if the world hasn’t ended.”
Mrs. Norris wrote these words in her mind. She knew that she would soon forget them.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Nancy and Nataly were the only two women who always cared enough to visit her.
“Open up, quick! You’ll get us caught!” said Nancy, doing her best to whisper.
There stood the two old women, standing one behind the other. They looked like bimbos in cardboard party hats, poorly hiding what was obviously a brownie with a lit candle.
“What are you silly girls doing?”.
“Well, we could smell the gloom from two rooms over, and we couldn’t just stand by and do nothing,” Nataly said.
“Come on, Grandma, blow out the candle!” said Nancy to her, forcing another party hat on Mrs. Norris’ head.
The 85-year-old was just blowing out the candles on her cake when knocks sounded at the door. Nancy quickly grabbed the brownie and hid it under the bedroom table.
“Mrs. Norris! Happy Birthday!” a young woman said with a smile that reassured the three old ladies.
The birthday lady had no idea who her visitor was.
“You don’t remember me? I’ll refresh your memory. I’m Diana. Diana Falcon.”
The name sounded familiar, but not familiar enough.
“Forgive me. My memory and eyesight are not serving me well these days.”
“Yes, you should stop reading those books with the tiny print. We tried to get her to listen to audiobooks. But you have no idea how uncompromising she is!”.
Mrs. Norris was trying to shush her chatty friend when the young woman said:
“Actually, I do have an idea!”.
“You may not remember, Mrs. Norris, but I was in your English literature class in 1993. I was a shy child who was always getting sick. You insisted that my parents test me. That’s when we found out I had a severe form of diabetes.”
The old woman began to remember everything.
“Yes, I remember, Diana Falcon!”.
The former student and teacher hugged each other tightly.
“How wonderful to see you again – you look healthy!”. Mrs. Norris was looking Diana over from head to toe.
“I am, thanks to you. I remember you came home one day and realized that my parents were having a hard time making ends meet.”
“They confessed that they didn’t have enough money to buy half of the medications to treat my condition. Do you remember what you did the next day, Mrs. Norris?”
Mrs. Norris had initiated a fundraiser at the school, inviting children’s parents and teachers to help Diana’s parents pay for her medication.
“With the money you collected, my parents were able to buy medicine for the whole year!”.
“That sounds like something our friend would do!” said Nataly excitedly.
“If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have been cured and I wouldn’t have become the mother of two!”.
“That’s not true. Someone else probably would have done it in my place.”
Mrs. Norris kissed Diana on the forehead and wiped away her tears.
“Well, you’ve come on a perfect day. Your old teacher turns 85 today.”
“I know! And there’s a little surprise waiting for you, Mrs. Norris.”
Diana escorted the old lady to the library. As soon as she opened the door, a group of young men and women appeared from behind the aisles and cheered in unison:
“Happy Birthday, Mrs. Norris!”.
The smile on her former teacher’s face filled Diana’s heart with warm satisfaction. She was glad to have tracked down Mrs. Norris and reunited some of her dearest former students on her big day.
“Just like old times!” the old woman said as students began to approach to greet her.
That day, celebrating her 85th birthday with people whose lives she had helped shape, she felt young again.