The man stretched his neck and long arms, careful not to bump anything in the small trailer. With the day’s filming in the can, the crew had been heading home for the past half hour. He’d dawdled, unsure why. It wasn’t as if he expected a surprise gathering; he’d been careful not to tell a soul about his birthday today. As he’d grown older, birthdays seemed irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. Now that he’d moved solidly into middle-age, the downside of choosing a youth-oriented profession preyed occasionally on his mind, if he were honest. Many of his colleagues were younger. Had he reached this point in his career a little too late?
He shook his head, as if dispersing the thoughts. Adjusting to a new project, new faces, and a new impersonal hotel room, combined with an annual reminder of one’s own mortality would be enough to make anybody maudlin. Rubbing a sore neck, he eyed the small figurine on the kitchenette table, a replica of his character from the last project. A wave of homesickness hit as he fingered it. Yup, definitely getting maudlin.
Briskly packing the script into a backpack, he stepped out into the summer night and headed to the waiting car. Spotting him, the driver turned and nodded. The man found himself reflexively looking around for any loitering fans. A few friendly ones had sought him out around lunch time in the past week or so. After the problems back home, he felt reassured and gratified by the attention. Before the fans had appeared asking for him, none of the puzzled crew knew who his was. Seeing nobody around, he chuckled. Guess I could have used some ego stroking today, he thought.
As the car swung out of the studio grounds towards the hotel, he considered the evening ahead. A hot shower followed by a fancy dinner? A night out on the town? He smiled ruefully. Most likely it would be running in the hotel gym, dining by room service, returning some calls, studying lines, and finally, lights out. If he felt really crazy, he’d open one of the insanely expensive little bottles in the wine bar. Maybe not. After all, it was an regular night like any other.
Still, he found himself noting the empty pavement as he stepped onto the curb. He peered through the doors into the hotel lobby. None of the crew was about. Not a soul, actually. Things looked pretty dead. Maybe he should ask the driver for someplace to go. He turned back, but too late. Hands in his pockets, he watched the car recede into the darkness and sighed. Oh well. That’s that, then. Time to hit the gym.
A few cheers from across the road caught his attention. He looked over to see some men, a few children, but mostly women. A few held up signs. He moved closer to read them: “Another Rubbish Sign,” “Yet Another Rubbish Sign,” “Still Another Rubbish Sign.” The fans! During the week, they’d brought signs, each more ridiculous than the last. Was this a country thing? He grinned from ear to ear. Did he recognise some faces? A little boy he’d met earlier in the week waved a hand while clutching a small toy in the other. The man laughed and the crowd cheered louder.
Suddenly, everybody fell silent. Another sign appeared. It read simply: “Happy Birthday.” From behind it emerged a small brightly coloured plate on which sat a lone cupcake with a single candle. A hand holding a match reached out to light it.
Happy birthday, they shouted.
The man rushed to greet them.
Happy birthday, Richard Armitage. I hope you told somebody.
[Happy birthday, too Elsa!]