Six months ago, when my childhood best friend Madam Madan and I were floating in one of the most breathtaking beaches I've ever seen, I hatched up a plan for Shane's birthday week or at least a portion of it. We were in the South of France at the time where every evening, my friend and I could be found chilling in the ocean for hours, taking occasional breaks only to head up to our sun beds where Shane (who was usually on his third book of the day) would have ordered us a new batch of cocktails. My heart is filled with so much joy right now - just typing those words out has reminded me of the endless list of things in my life that I'm grateful for.
On this particular evening, among other things, we were checking up on each other, as friends do. Are you happy, does he make you happy, any annoying people at work, how are the parents doing, what happened in your family twenty odd years ago that makes everyone uncomfortable till date?
You know how it goes.
And while we were talking about Shane, I explained to her why he wasn't in the ocean with us. For one, he's not the biggest fan of warm temperatures - he pouts when the sun comes out and stops complaining only if his surroundings look stunning in the sunshine. And two, although he learned to swim as a wee boy, he's still traumatised by the memory of how the learning happened - his mum basically shoved him into a river after telling him that he could either learn how to swim or drown trying.
You know how it goes.
It was then that I told her that being on this beach holiday with me was actually an act of generosity on his part. Because given the choice, Shane would only visit cold countries, or at the very least, only travel during the winter. He was in Nice with me during the peak of summer because he loved me, and if only there was a way for me to reciprocate that kindness. Except there was.
If you've been reading this blog for a while now, you might remember that I attempt to celebrate Shane for a week every year, from Valentine's day leading up to his birthday on 21 Feb. There was a time when I had endless free time (or so it appears now from a distance) and limited resources which forced me to be creative with the daily celebrations. This year, as it turns out, I have less time on my hands but more resources to genuinely surprise him.
Shane and I grew up in the tropical region of India where you don't get different seasons (unless you count the tropical monsoon season) and never get used to the nearly constant humidity and scorching heat. We've both always fantasized about countries with four distinct seasons and maybe even a snowstorm every now and then. So it goes without saying that skiing was a sport we'd never had the chance to attempt growing up but it always occupied an esteemed position on our respective bucket lists, more so on his than mine. Madam Madan was in the same boat as us so hatching up a plan with her about surprising Shane with a ski trip was a lot of fun.
In November last year, we narrowed down three ski resorts dotted across the Alps - one each in Italy, Switzerland and France. After comparing costs, ease of transportation, accommodation and availability of beginners' ski lessons, we decided to go for the one in Flaine, France. The funny thing was that the nearest airport to this resort was in Geneva, Switzerland from where we had to get on a cab for one hour to reach our destination. I still find it endlessly fascinating how in Europe, you can cross borders to go shopping for a pint of milk and no one bats an eyelid.
Despite the few hiccups we encountered during the booking process (because two of us were flying in from Edinburgh and one from Milan), everything was properly sorted in December before Shane and I went on our Christmas break. He had no idea what I was doing behind his back and I've now come to realise how it's both easy and difficult to keep secrets from your spouse.
The easy bits are the planning, booking, preparing etc but the hard bits are when you realise how intertwined your lives become over the years. For example, a long time ago, I'd signed into my Instagram account on his phone for a day and we just left it that way for months to come. So every time I got a comment on a photo or a message in my DM's, he'd get an annoying notification too. Neither of us did anything about this until one day, Madam Madan texted me about the ski trip on my Instagram DMs and I thought we'd blown it. Shane had obviously received the notifications but thankfully, he never bothered to acknowledge any of them. That evening, I secretly uninstalled Instagram from his phone and he realised this only a week or so later. I'd prepared a simple lie for when he'd realise this and ask questions about it but it was all in vain. He didn't ask a single question. In fact, he forgot about this completely within a few minutes.
Now, was that easy or difficult? I still can't decide.
My mum came very close to blowing the surprise as well because she's very loud on the phone so the person sat next to me can almost always hear what she's saying to me on the phone. And she never pauses to ask if I'm by myself before saying things like, "I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE SHANE'S REACTION WHEN YOU FINALLY TELL HIM ABOUT THE SKI TRIP SURPRISE ON HIS BIRTHDAAAAAYYYYYYY".
She did this at least four times before learning to calm down a bit.
Over the course of time, I realised that he really doesn't pay much attention to my daily conversations with my mother. Later, I even tested this theory out by actively bitching about him on the phone (and making my mother VERY uncomfortable in the process) but the number of fucks he gave was exactly zero. I'm pretty sure that means he doesn't actively listen when I'm on the phone.
As we were approaching birthday week, he started asking me all sorts of questions about what I had planned this year which gave me the opportunity to whip out the impassive expression I'd been practising for some time. He later confirmed that the intensity of my creepy expression was one of the giveaways because he'd not been expecting us to leave Edinburgh although when he asked me if we were going to be leaving the city, "the creepiness somehow intensified". I've made a mental note to work on that.
I'd gotten him to take Valentine's Thursday and the following Friday off months ago so that part of the plan was sorted. And a day before the 14th, I casually asked him to list a few things on his bucket list. Obviously, skiing/snowboarding came first and apparently, he noticed a "glimmer" in my eyes when he mentioned it.
Our flight on the 14th was at 4:30 pm so we had a lazy morning where we ate eggs and watched TV. I told him that I was taking him somewhere special and that he'd have to be dressed to leave by 2 pm. My initial idea was to wait outside the bathroom door with the suitcases to surprise him but upon realising that he tends to walk out of the shower butt naked and that both my parents and Madam Madan wanted to see his reaction, I aborted that plan. Instead, after he got out of the shower and was fully clothed, I sent him off to the living room to watch one more episode of a show. It was 1:30 pm by then and I carried the suitcases up to him and screamed, "We're going on holiday!".
He looked amused for a second and stayed silent for five more while breaking eye contact and doing mental gymnastics before turning to me and saying, "Ski trip?"
Yeah, apparently the intensely creepy impassive face coupled with the glimmer in my eyes when he mentioned skiing gave something away after all. But even as he got on the cab, he had no idea where we were going. He kept guessing but I didn't tell him until he saw our destination at the gates. I know I didn't need to take it that far but I'd come such a long way! It was exciting!
In all the hours we spent commuting to the airport and having a beer while waiting for the gate to be announced, he constantly quizzed me about how I packed the suitcases without his knowledge. I told him stories of shopping for gear after work, leaving them outside our front door when I first came in, going back to fetch them after he'd fallen asleep, secretly packing while pretending to fold laundry (a time of the week when he magically becomes busy with other chores and doesn't dare to enter our bedroom), and hiding the suitcases in my cupboard and under the bed.
I told him how it's been a dream of mine since 2017 to be able to elaborately surprise him like this but I never had the resources or understanding of how to go about it. I wouldn't have known where to start. And over these past two years, he's grown to deserve this holiday even more. I'm just glad that I grew in the process too and finally figured out how to make it happen.