Cold air rushes into my room as I prop open the window. I stick my head out for barely a second, just long enough to glance up at the night sky. The moon and stars are there, but I can’t see them under their blanket of dark gray clouds.
I sit back on my bed and wait for the coming downpour, something I can sense in the heaviness of the air. The drops come down lightly at first, but within minutes a full storm is raging. Water pours violently off the edge of the roof and floods the narrow dirt paths around my house. I listen silently to the sound of the final autumn rain, and before I know it, I’m not the only one in the room.
“Hi, Haku,” they say.
“Hi,” I say back. “It’s raining.”
“I know,” they say, smiling a little. “What are you up to?”
The rain is now coming down in sheets, and the wind is starting to blow it sideways. I get up to close the window and then fall back onto my bed.
“Why are humans so stupid?” I ask, staring up at the ceiling.
They smile again, sadly. “We just are.”
“I don’t get why people refuse to learn,” I say. “I don’t get why we teach our children to hate, or why we spend our short lives just killing each other and everything else on the planet. I don’t… I don’t understand any of it.”
They think for a moment. “I don’t understand it either. But what do you mean people refuse to learn?”
I try to get my thoughts in order before I answer. “It’s like this,” I say. “We’ll start this huge, stupid war, right? And millions of people die horrible deaths. Soldiers and civilians alike. Children too. And during the war, because of our fear and distrust, we’ll decide to ignore basic human rights, and we just start locking people up and torturing them and killing them for no legitimate reason. And then the war ends somehow, and everyone who’s still alive will say, ‘That was terrible, we mustn’t let that happen ever again.’ And for a few years we all believe that. We believe that we’ve come out of the war having learned something. We believe we’ve become better human beings. And we write down the history of the war and all the terrible things that happened during it, hoping that future generations will learn from our mistakes. But the thing is, we don’t learn. The war generation forgets the war. Their children don’t read the history books, or they read them but don’t know enough to care. And then after some years have passed we start another stupid war over some pointless thing and everything goes to hell again and at the end everyone promises, ‘Never again,’ except nobody really believes that anymore. At least, I don’t. Because nobody remembers, and nobody learns.”
As soon as I’m finished, a roll of thunder pierces the stormy sky. The windowpane rattles. I look out into the darkness of the night and wait for a reply.
They think for a while, as they always do, before posing a hypothetical. “You sound like you’re not happy as a human being,” they say. “So if you could choose to be reincarnated as anything you want in your next life, you wouldn’t come back as a human?”
The question makes me laugh. “Of course not.”
“Why?” they ask, sounding genuinely interested.
I ponder this for a minute. “Don’t get me wrong — I think humans have won some very great things in life, and I agree that we should all be grateful for the comforts and pleasures we have now. You know, medicine and technology and sanitation and things like that. These things are amazing and I’m duly grateful for them. But I think humans overall don’t deserve all of this. We don’t deserve such great lives because we spend them just being so terrible to each other, to the world, to ourselves. So no, I wouldn’t come back. The legacy of humanity is not one I am willing to bear on my shoulders again.”
“You’re not even willing to bear it now,” they say.
I feel my face flush. “Sometimes I can’t deal with it,” I say.
“Pretty often, right?” They look at me with soft concern, brushing their hair out of their eyes with slim fingers.
I look at them and nod. “Yeah.” I’m a little embarrassed now, and I shift my gaze towards a streetlight that has turned on outside. The raindrops on the windowpane cast little dots of shadow onto my desk, and I stare at them, entranced.
“Why don’t you play something for me?” they suggest. “On the piano.”
We get up and walk downstairs together. They crash on the small sofa in the corner of the room, and I go over to the piano bench. My fingers find my book of sheet music, and I flip through it absently, trying to find something to reflect my current mood. Another roll of thunder shakes the house around us.
I put the music away and sit down at the keys. Within moments the fragile melody of Yiruma’s “River Flows In You” fills the room. I play without thinking, and they listen quietly.
When I finish the piece I pause for a short breath and then go straight into a Brahms intermezzo. Then it’s more Yiruma, “Hope” and the much darker “Indigo.” The music fills my soul and calms me with a powerful grace, but it just as equally threatens to tear me apart. I finish “Indigo” and just sit for a minute, staring at the off-white wall, listening to the sound of the rain.
“What now?” they ask after a while.
“I don’t know,” I say. I touch the keys again, and we’re automatically enveloped in a rich, solemn Chopin nocturne. They close their eyes, and for a moment I close mine, too, letting my fingers run, letting the piano take over.
A few minutes later, the piece comes to a dramatic conclusion. I look over at them, curled up comfortably on the sofa, and ask, “How was it?”
“It was good,” they say. “But could’ve been better, right?”
I nod. “I’m tired of being human,” I tell them.
“I know. But there are humans out there who need you, so for now, you’re stuck with it.”
“I’m stuck,” I agree heavily. “It’s okay. It’s not all bad. Just sometimes.”
Outside I can hear the storm easing, the violence of the sky over and gone within an hour. I get up and open the front door, peering out into the dripping darkness. The clouds seem brighter, the moon and stars shining more powerfully behind them, even though the clouds are still all I can see.
They move up beside me, and we stand side-by-side in the doorway, watching the lingering raindrops hit the ground.
“Time to go,” they say finally. They look me in the eyes then, something most people these days never do. “See you later, Haku.”
I nod and smile. “Later.”
I miss them as soon as they’re gone, but I’m just as glad to be alone.