In a review of Haruki Murakami's third short story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, published in 2006 in London's Guardian, Tobias Hill wrote: "In many of these stories, narrative tension is prolonged by a refusal to explain." This description aptly fits Murakami's short story, "Birthday Girl," which is contained in this collection. The story easily carries the reader's interest as the tension builds up, but at the end of the story it is difficult to say exactly what the story is about.
Murakami is one of Japan's most popular authors. His stories easily fascinate his readers as his plots takes them places they may never have been before. Readers continue to turn the pages of his stories, hoping they will finally solve the puzzles that Murakami's stories pose. It is not until the final page that readers often realize Murakami does not always solve the mysteries he has created. This is true in this short story about two unnamed people who are discussing the events of their twentieth birthdays. Readers are privy only to what happened to one of them.
This woman, who is now married and a mother, reflects on the day she turned twenty. She was working as a waitress in an Italian restaurant in Tokyo, when the manager of the restaurant falls sick and has to leave. One of the manager's everyday tasks was to deliver a chicken dinner to the owner of the restaurant who lived on the sixth floor. As the manager leaves for the hospital, he asks this twenty-year-old to perform the task for him that night, which she does.
After she knocks on the restaurant owner's door, a short, well dressed, elderly man appears. She had never seen the owner before, as he never stepped foot into his own restaurant. The owner asks her to come in. After the girl sets out the plates, the elderly man asks her questions and discovers this is the girl's birthday. As a present, he offers her a wish. The girl carefully considers his suggestion and makes a wish before she leaves.
In a conversation with a friend several years later, she refuses to reveal what her wish entailed. She is also vague as to whether the wish came true. She merely makes a statement that no matter what happens to a person, he or she will always be who they were meant to be. And that is how the story ends.