After a few years, and lots of adventures, I began to think of Billy as a close friend, or at least as close a friend as a retired pirate who lives alone in a ship can be. I was making up a guest list for one of my birthday parties and I thought that, well, why shouldn’t Billy come as well? So I put an invitation in this mailbox, but then I didn’t hear anything from him, either to say he would come or that he wouldn’t. In fact, I didn’t see him at the Chatterbox, the Crow’s Nest, or even the library. So, after about a week, I went out to the ship to see if I could find out what was up. I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again and, after a minute, I could hear those familiar footsteps from inside. Slowly the door opened.
“What do you want?” he asked, clearly feeling pretty grumpy, even for a pirate. I said that I was wondering if he wanted to come to my party.
“Now why would I want to do that?” he asked.
I said, “I don’t know, but I thought maybe you’d find it fun. And besides, you’re my friend and I’d like you there.”
“Well,” he said clearly mulling it over, rubbing his beard. “If you want me there, then I suppose I’d come, but only that. Don’t suppose I’ll find any fun in it.”
“I hope you’ll be surprised,” I said. But when he arrived at the party, he clearly wasn’t in the mood for any fun. He showed up grumpy and quiet, a devastating combination. He didn’t play any of the games. When there was cake, he just sat away by himself eating slowly, gazing out the window. After everyone had left I asked him what was wrong. And that’s when he told one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard.
He said, “Well, I’m guessing it’s like this, see. I’ve never myself had a birthday. Everyone seems to have them except me.”
“Why have you never had a birthday?” I asked.
“When I was young, still just a baby, I showed up in the orphanage. I have no idea how I got there or why. No one know my name, so they called me William Trelawney, but of course they also didn’t know they day that I was born. They could how old I was, or thereabouts. But I’ve never known the day that I was born. So, I’ve never known whenever I should be having a birthday party. In all my years, argh, there’s nary been one.”
I couldn’t get his story out of my head and after a few days, decided that I had to do something about it. I decided, well, it’s probably better late than never, I’m going to throw Billy a birthday party. I chose a day about two weeks away, the fifth of July. He was, um, reluctant.
“What do I do?” he asked.
I said, “You don’t have to do anything. I’ll take care of everything. All I need is a list of the people you’d like to come.”
I left him and came back the next day for his list. Sandy Bottom, Peg-Leg Pete, Captain Salthwart, Old One-Eye. Not exactly the kinds of names you’d find in the phone book.
“How can I go about finding these people?” I asked. He said to just go down to the Crows Nest pub the next afternoon and I’d find them all there. That’s what I did and he was right.
Now throwing a party where the whole guest list are pirates is a bit unusual, and indeed, the whole event was, well, let’s say a bit on the weird side. Pirates aren’t much for ringing the doorbell, for example. As each arrived at our front door the door would fly open, there’d be a loud stamp on the floor followed by something like “Argh, so it’s Billy’s Birthday is it? Well. I never!” or “Shiver me TIMBERRSSS, but isn’t Billy a year older! HA!”
They all came in and slapped each other. They laughed a lot, though if there were any jokes, I didn’t catch any of them.
Watching them eat was interesting too. It’s like they’d never seen silverware in their lives, and maybe they hadn’t. They tore into everything, even salad, with their bare hands. Before long you could see bits of the whole meal in their beards and down the front of their frilly shirts.
Then came the cake. They didn’t know “Happy Birthday” so they all sang “it’s a pirates life for me,” and then did a pirate cheer, which is smashing their glasses together over the table. They raised their glasses, shouted “huzzah!” and … smash! Glass and juice went flying everywhere. To pirates it’s a tradition, but to anyone else, it’s just a very, very big mess.
Anyway, there we were, cake in front of Billy, candles alight, and me realising that, if Billy really hadn’t done this before, he may not have any idea that he’s supposed to make a wish and blow out the candles. Just as this thought is sinking in, doesn’t Billy bolt up and loose his sabre from it’s scabbard. He held it high for a moment, then in one continuous swoop, he whooshed his sabre above the cake, which blew out all the candles, then came around and smashed his sabre down to cut the cake. It was all one continuous move, and fast as lightning. Before you even knew what was happening, the candles were out, little wisps of smoke rising from a cake, and a cake plate severed entirely in two. The sabre was stuck right into the table. After a moment there was another loud “Huzzah!” This time, my mother had thought better and given them paper cups, which meant that, instead of a crash, there was a thud of cups above the table, and more juice flying everywhere.
But all of that was nothing compared to watching a table full of pirates eat cake. They didn’t even use their hands. They just leaned back, and then fell forward on the cake like a dog on a bone. Then they’d come up, laughing just like you’d expect a bunch of pirates to laugh, but with cake, icing, everything, all clinging to their beards.
The gifts were every bit as weird. Billy unwrapped them with his sabre. It was amazing. With a quick fssssst each gift was unwrapped and the paper was on the end of his sabre. It all happened so fast you couldn’t even see it happen, but there it was. First, a stack of pirate’s favourite. Then some old mouldy books that seemed to get him really excited. They were four volumes of Ben Wallace’s journal. A stuffed parrot (his old parrot, who knows where it had been all these years, with a special frame where the legs should be so that Billy could strap the parrot to his shoulder). A tube of mint-scented foot rub. Billy loved it all.
When it came time for the guests to leave, instead of shaking hands or hugging, they each would say “ARGH” stamp their left foot, and punch each other on the right shoulder. After they had gone, Billy thanked me for all I had done. I thought I could see his eyes welling up as he told me that, all his life, this was something he had always missed. And now he had a birthday and friends so share it with, and that—more than the stuffed parrot or Ben Wallace’s journal—was the best gift of all. We each stamped our feet and punched each other on the shoulder and then he went into the night, pretty much the happiest pirate I think I’ve ever seen.