Dawn was still hours away and a man sat on a piano bench gazing at the candle atop the piano. Seeking inspiration for a piece, he had lighted a candle instead of switching on the light. His mind wandered. Were there candles in my childhood? I don't recall any…. Why is that, I wonder?
In a flurry of feathers, a raven entered through the open window, perching on the coat rack in the corner of the room. There wasn't much space separating the man and the bird—the room was a small one. Candles? You only used them once. It was your fourth birthday. The same year your parents gave you away.
The raven was talking. But that was not as strange as the words that it spewed.
Parents? The man who raised me was unwed. Birthday? I don't even know what that really means…
How do you know this?
I was there.It said matter-of-factly.
Who are you?
The Listener. The Reminder.
Realizing he was getting nowhere, the man changed his tack.
Why don't I remember this?
There are other things you have forgotten.
For goodness' sake! Please, tell me already!
I cannot. You have to remember on your own. There is a Word buried in the forgotten chambers of your mind. Remember that and you'll remember all you have lost.
With a parting croak, the raven soared out the window as quickly as it had entered.
The man was left pondering on the singularity of the event. Never mind that a bird had spoken it. That was secondary to the message it had given. He dug through his memory for that word. After wracking his brains for the answer, suddenly, he stopped.
Work. That was the word. Everything came flooding back. The only happy memory was his fourth birthday. And even that was tainted with sorrow. After the celebration, when the candles were blown and the lights were off, he had overheard his parents speaking in low tones. "This isn't working anymore. We're too poor as it is. He must begin working. If he doesn't he will be the first to die."
He went to bed that night, confused and cold. The very next day, his parents left him in the care of a man who told the boy to call him "Uncle". What happened next was filled with sweat, grease, and lasting fatigue. A cruel voice kept shouting at him, "Back to work! Lazybones!" He did not dig any deeper. He remembered the pain, the blood, the back-breaking work. He did not want to remember more.
The realization that his parents had abandoned him to a stranger elicited no emotional response from him. Even though he had forgotten, he had come to terms with the cold fact a long time ago. He had already cried all the tears to be shed for his parents.
When "Uncle" had died (a bullet lodged in his brain in a robbery of his house) the boy had been turned out to the streets. Begging for alms, he managed to survive. And one day an old pianist took him in. He was not kind but neither was he heartless. The old man gave him a home when he had none. It was also he who had discovered the boy's talent for music. The rest was history. He remembered everything now.
As an afterthought he said to himself, A pity I never learned when my birthday was. [The raven could have at least told me that!] Inspiration struck him and he wrote on the sheet before him:
Today I know who I am. Today is my birthday.
Music surged around him, telling the story of his life. Then at the final note, he blew out the candle.