Birthday Girl (Murakami)

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Birthday Girl
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A young waitress celebrated her 20th birthday by working at a restaurant and delivering a meal to a mysterious old man. He granted her one wish, which she carefully chose, shaping her future life.

On a rainy day in November, a young woman celebrated her 20th birthday by working as a part-time waitress at a well-known Italian restaurant in Tokyo. She had originally planned to take the day off, but her coworker fell ill, so she had to cover the shift. The woman was not too disappointed, as she had recently had a terrible argument with her boyfriend, and they had not spoken since.

Female Protagonist — narrator; 20-year-old part-time waitress at an Italian restaurant; unsure about life, thoughtful, curious.

The restaurant was owned by a mysterious old man who lived in an apartment on the sixth floor of the same building. He never showed his face in the restaurant, and only the floor manager ever saw him.

The Old Man — mysterious owner of the Italian restaurant; short, skinny, white-haired, stylish dresser; polite, enigmatic, seemingly powerful.

Every night at eight o'clock, the manager would deliver the owner's dinner to his room. The owner always ate chicken, and the chefs tried various recipes, but he never seemed to notice or care about the differences.

On the woman's birthday, the floor manager suddenly fell ill with a stomach ache and had to go to the hospital. Before leaving, he instructed the woman to deliver the owner's meal to his room. She did as she was told, and when she arrived at the owner's room, she found a well-dressed, polite old man. He invited her in and, upon learning that it was her birthday, offered her a glass of wine to celebrate.

'Your twentieth birthday comes only once in a lifetime, young lady. It’s an irreplaceable day.'

The old man then told the woman that he would grant her one wish as a birthday present. He warned her to think carefully, as she could not change her mind later.

'Just one. You can’t change your mind afterwards and take it back.'

The woman thought about her life and her uncertain future, and eventually made her wish. The old man seemed surprised by her choice, but he agreed to grant it.

After the encounter, the woman returned to her job and continued with her life. She eventually married a CPA, had two children, and lived a seemingly normal life. Years later, she met a friend and told him about her experience with the old man. She revealed that her wish had been granted, but she could not say what it was, as she believed that wishes should not be shared. The friend asked her if she ever regretted her choice, and she replied that no matter what people wish for, they can never be anything but themselves.

'No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That’s all.'

The woman then asked her friend what he would have wished for if he had been in her position. He thought about it but could not come up with an answer. She told him that it was because he had already made his wish, implying that everyone has their own unique desires and experiences that shape their lives.