by Anastasia Shakhverdova
It was May 9th, 2018. Most people celebrate Victory Day on May 9th, but I was celebrating for a different reason. You see, two days before that my best friend Victoria turned 18 but refused to make a big deal out of it. So, being the great friend that I am, I decided to take the matter into my own hands and throw her a surprise party.
I woke up around 8 a.m. and immediately got on my phone to finalise some details and get everyone else who was supposed to attend the party on the same page. We were planning to have a picnic in the park several train stations away from our school, where we booked a gazebo near the lake. We agreed that everyone would pitch in and bring something for the picnic. I took it upon myself to provide beverages and fruits, so at about 10 a.m. I loaded everything in my backpack and left to catch a train to meet up with the others. As soon as I stepped outside, I realised that it was going to be an incredible day. Springs are quite unexpectable here, so you can never be too sure what kind of weather you’re going to get, so we definitely got lucky that day. The sun was shining bright, spreading its warm rays across the land, and the sky was a pretty baby-blue colour. It was certainly a great start for such a special day.
When I got to the station, I met up with some of my friends and handed over the drinks and fruits, so that they could go ahead and set up the table before Vika and I arrive. I thought it would be better if everybody was already there to surprise her. After they left to prepare, I was sitting at the station, waiting for Vika with excitement and adrenalin building up inside of me. The anticipation was killing me! I couldn’t wait to see all the emotions on Vika’s face when she saw what we prepared for her. I was sure that she would love our surprise, although it was a shame that some of our friends couldn’t make it. But still, I was determined to give Vika the best birthday I could.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait at the station for too long, and Vika showed up on time, which already made that day stand out from the rest. After struggling to find the ticket office, she finally managed to buy a ticket and make it to me. At that moment, I started filming her because I already knew that it would be a real treat – watching her reaction later. Naturally, Vika seemed confused about why I was filming her all of a sudden. From her point of view, we were only going for a walk, and she was oblivious to what was about to happen. But when I handed her a sleep mask that I brought for the surprise, the confusion in her eyes grew even more. She looked at the mask, then at me, then back at the mask and said: “Okay”, as if she accepted her fate not knowing what lay ahead. At first, I tried to insist that she put the mask on right there at the station, but then I decided to have a little mercy and postponed this torture for her peace of mind. When we finally got to the station, where the picnic was taking place, Vika had to put the mask on and let me take the lead. The poor thing was so scared of what I had planned for her, that I almost took offence. Obviously, I would never do anything dangerous or unpleasant to my best friend, so why would she be so afraid? But when I look back at it, I think I’d probably be somewhat on edge as well, so I get it.
Once Vika put on her mask, I squeezed her hand, and we set out to the park. I was trying to calm her down and reassure her because she was trying to chicken out, and I just couldn’t let her ruin her surprise party.
I’ve never been to that park before, so I didn’t even know the way there. That’s why our friend Elina met us near the train station, took Vika by the other hand and began walking us to our picnic. Vika’s pulse was probably still a race car, even though Elina and I were trying to lighten the mood and persuade her that she’s going to love the surprise. After some time, we finally made it to the park, and it was only a matter of minutes before we joined the others. So, I gave my phone to Elina, who was now in charge of the filming and took out my Polaroid camera, which I got for my birthday about two weeks before that, to capture Vika’s face once she took off her mask. It seemed that the closer we got to the finish line, the more unsure Vika became. She almost didn’t want to know what was about to happen.
But when we came up to the gazebo where all the others were patiently and, what’s more important, silently waiting, it was the point of no return. I positioned Vika in the centre so that everyone would face her and warned her not to peek unless she wanted to let everything she suffered through go to waste. The moments right before the reveal felt pretty epic. Two of the boys were standing on each side of her, holding confetti guns, ready to fire on my command, Elina stood in the back, filming with my phone, I was standing right in front of Vika with my Polaroid camera, ready to catch her priceless reaction and the others were filling their lungs with air to scream “Happy Birthday”. I finally told Vika that she could remove the mask, but she hesitated for a couple of seconds. And when she finally opened her eyes, our plan came to life. The boys fired the confetti guns, the others cheered, I took a picture, and everyone began laughing. It was probably a mix between being excited and being relieved that everything went according to plan. After the reveal, we had a good old group hug and went inside the gazebo to gift our presents and enjoy the rest of the day. I can only imagine the kind of emotional rollercoaster Vika experienced that day: confusion, fear, anxiety, surprise, happiness, gratitude and maybe something else.
Somebody brought the party hats, which were the icing on the cake for us, so we shamelessly put them on. You could see genuine happiness and joy on Vika’s face when she was unwrapping her presents. Everyone did a great job and gave her things that she actually liked and wanted. After going through all the gifts, we could finally have lunch. There was pizza, different fruits and berries, some drinks and of course what is a birthday celebration without a cake?
The rest of the day went smoothly. We were laughing, playing board games that somebody brought along and enjoying each other’s company. Once we finished the picnic, we decided to roam the park together, talking, basking in the sun and having photoshoots, so we would have a little something to remember this wonderful day. Then I remembered to take a look at the Polaroid photo of Vika, which had to have developed by then. And when I saw it, I was so disappointed and discouraged that it seemed that the whole celebration was spoiled. With all the excitement of the reveal of the surprise, I forgot to change the setting on the camera, so almost the whole picture was white, and it was nearly impossible to make out Vika’s expression. And the worst thing was that it was clear enough to be able to make out that it would be a great picture if only it had fully developed. To this very day, I regret not having the coolest picture from that party. But as The Rolling Stones said, you can’t always get what you want, and I realise that having the memory is more valuable than having a photo.