The sky opened up its blackened maw and spewed out rain and arching lightning from angry clouds. On one of the many rooftops surrounding the central city square stood a lonely figure, black wings protruding from its back made improvised umbrellas. The figure had the shape of a man, a man with pale skin and dark hair lined with streaks of silvery greyness. This black-feathered Icarus of a man pulled up the collar of his black coat against the rainy winds. In spite of his improvised wing-shelter the rain still found ways to soak him through. He was too distracted to notice.
A spirit in the guise of a crow huddled underneath his left wing. “Why do you always come here, Mann?”
Mann glanced at the little bird beside him. “Look,” he said and pointed towards a lit window. “There is something about the way they cry. I can’t wrap my head around why their sadness speaks to me so. I just don’t understand.”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it, Mann. No one understands humans, not even the humans themselves.”
Mann glanced down at his feathered companion again and shook his head. He let his eyes wander back to the lit window. The woman was still there, half sitting and half collapsed over a plain kitchen table. Mann had studied humans through the ages and he had come to recognise the slumping shoulders of sadness and the tremor of despair that shook them in that erratic way of theirs. He shifted his ears, adjusted his hearing. Sobs.
Holding out a hand towards the crying woman he said, “This one has come to a point in her life where meaning, joy and the promise of a future has been stripped away from her. She is broken, wing clipped. She cries and for every tear she sheds she draws closer and closer to empty.”
He closed his hand and diverted his eyes. A sudden flash illuminated the rooftop, roaring thunder followed shortly thereafter. In the light Mann’s face was revealed. A scruffy chin was the only humane aspect of an all but too symmetrical face. There was a sense of depersonalised perfection about it, marred by the timeless harrowing of not understanding what caused his pain. Mann had never understood why he felt empty. He had never understood why sadness and tears didn’t revitalise him as well.
“Look at that one over there,” Mann said and pointed at a young man in his twenties in another window. “I can see the lines of worry etched into his face by the unyielding yoke of an education that is just a fraction too demanding. He’s holding an envelope in his hands. Inside it resides the verdict. Will his life be thrown into chaos? How will he reassemble the shattered pieces once he cracks? His tears are silent, and dry. Yet they are no less potent than those of other humans. Look carefully, little Crow. It is about to happen.”
Mann and the Crow both watched as the human opened up the envelope. It was a slow affair, as if it dreaded what the answer might be more than anything. Even so, it pressed on still clinging to hope with a desperation only humans could muster.
“You see that, Crow?” Mann asked as the human fell unto its knees. “Those laughter-blended tears are different somehow. Their meaning is ambivalent, I can never understand them outside of their context. You see how the lines carved into the human’s face are receding ever so slightly? If you had my eyes you would see the entire world flooding back into that human’s heart. The void that sadness once caused is slowly being filled up as the promise of continued life is fulfilled.” Mann scratched his chin and fell silent.
“It seems to me,” the little Crow said. “That they are pursuing something. The hunt I understand. It is not a foreign concept to me, though I much prefer scavenging.”
“Yes,” Mann replied. “They all seem to chase after something, run blindly towards eternity for the duration of their short lives. Each and every one of them always seem so shocked when their time is up. I’ve always wondered why. Even so, I often find myself envying them.”
“Envy?” the Crow cawed hoarsely. “Death is what it is, Mann.”
“It seems to put things in perspective, a perspective I cannot see. I’m empty, little Crow. I too have cried for the longest of ages. It is my fault the sky is the way it is, I cannot help it. It does not seem to matter how many tears I shed. The emptiness never fades like it did for the human.”
“What about that one?” the little Crow wondered.
“The one on the corner of the street?”
“Yes, under the street lamp.”
Mann studied the human standing out in the pouring rain for a while. It was another young man, perhaps even a few years younger than the previous one. His face was turned up facing the furious sky. “Wild abandon,” Mann explained. “He is drowning his sense of self in powers beyond anything he will ever be able to grasp. He listens to the sound of the roaring rain and crashing thunder and allows those sounds to assimilate with the pain he harbours in his soul. Death, again it is death. This one has never experienced loss before and the emotion is tearing him apart from within. I can’t hear him scream, my ears are not attuned to the frequency of breaking souls.”
“I can hear it,” the Crow said. “I know that pain.”
“Do you have the answer I seek, little Crow? Why does this void not go away?”
“I do not, Mann.”
“There is only one thing left to do,” Mann said and closed his eyes.
“And that is?”
“I will live as they live. I will die as they die. I will suffer as they suffer. If I can only learn how to feel as they do, then perhaps I will find my answer. Perhaps I will learn what it truly means to be alive. As I am now, all I have ever really done is simply lived.” Mann sighed. “Oh, sweet sadness. There is such beauty in Sadness, little Crow. Farewell.”
Mann straightened himself out, spread his wings and disappeared in a flutter of black feathers. The rain did not stop pouring down. The thunder did not stop its arching dance between the clouds. Humanity did not stop shedding tears. As the night went on, the only sounds coming from the rooftop overlooking the city square…
… were those of a disgruntled raven suddenly bereft of its shelter.