Il ragazzo con le ali del corvo, or, The Boy With Crow Wings

襟裳岬 [Erimo Misaki] Cape Erimo from 鴉 [Karasu] Ravens, 1976, by Masahisa Fukase

I wrote the following tale in May of 2009 at the nervous age of 16. I was living in Sicily, attending an Italian high school bewilderingly named Liceo Statale Martin Luther King. A classmate gave me a crisp three book set of Italo Calvino’s ‘Le Fiabe Italiane’ at my birthday party, and after spending a few weeks immersed in these quintessentially Italian tales, I jotted down the frame of the following story, filling it in with my growing Italian vocabulary.

For those of you who don’t speak Italian, there’s an English translation below.

C’erano una volta un marito e una moglie poveri, che vivevano fuori della cittá in una casa piccola. Per tanti anni non potevano avere un bambino, ma finalmente, nell’anno piú piovoso nella storia di Sicilia, la moglie é rimasta incinta. I consorti erano molto emozionati, e la moglie ha preparato tanti piccoli vestiti per il suo bambino.

Peró quando il bambino nacque i genitori notarono qualcosa strano di lui. Era completamente normale nella faccia e nel corpo, ma aveva le ali di un corvo nero. Ma non importava perché per loro era ancora uno splendido bambino, che tanto avevano desiderato, bello in tutto eccetto per le strani ali nella sua schiena. Cosí la mamma con grande amore cucí nuovi vestiti per il suo adorato bambino.

Una volta cresciuto, diventó un ragazzo bellissimo, con una faccia che emanava tanta di quella luce che tutti quelli che lo vedevano rimanevano abbagliati e non notavano neanche le ali da corvo. Con le sue ali non poteva volare, infatti lui non sentiva le ali come una vera parte del suo corpo. Il giorno in cui il bambino era abbastanza grande per andare a scuola nella cittá, i genitori lo avvisarono premurosamente: -Tu sei un bambino diverso rispetto agli altri, figlio, non ascoltare quello che ti diranno.- e lui rispose: -Va benne mamma, non ascolteró nessuno di quelli che mi dicono cose brutte.-

E il ragazzo andó a scuola, con le ali al suo seguito. A scuola tutti lo additarono come un vero mostro. Purtroppo i ragazzi sono cosí, non si lasciano sfuggire nessuna stranezza, e lo escludevano anche se lui aveva la faccia piú innocente e bella di tutta la Sicilia. Lui non ascoltava nessuno e continuava a studiare, diventando cosí un ragazzo molto intelligente e studioso.

Ogni sera tornava a casa stanchissimo e triste, dicendo che nessuno parlava con lui. Era un ragazzo simpatico e divertente, ma nessuno sapeva, perché per loro, lui era solamente il corvo, un mostro. Il poverino si sentiva da solo, ma nel suo cuore egli sapeva che c’era un posto piú bello della terra, quindi lui continuava a vivere bene senza perdere la speranza. Si comportava gentilmente con ogni cosa viva che incontrava, e continuava a crescere, ogni giorno piú bello e piú buono.

Un giorno, il ragazzo stava tornando a casa quando ha visto una pecora ferita, ma ancora viva, che era stata investita da un’auto. La pecora piangeva e prima aveva paura del ragazzo con le sue ali nere, ma quando il ragazzo parlava con la sua voce d’oro e delicata si rilassó. Il ragazzo accarezzava e parlava con calma alla pecora.

Altre corvi arrivavano, e volavano in cerchio sul ragazzo e la pecora, cantando la canzone brutta dei corvi. Ma ad un tratto, un camion pieno di ciocci di legno arrivó dalla curva grande, e la autista non vedeva il ragazzo seduto sulla strada, solo le ali nere da corvo e la pecora sanguinante.

Se la autista si fosse fermato dopo che ha urtato la pecora e il corvo, avrebbe visto centinaia di corvi che portavano un ragazzo e una pecora nel cielo, sopra le nubi, e verso il sole, fino a che non avrebbe piú potuto vederli, perché la luce sarebbe stata troppo intensa.

Quando hanno visto che il loro ragazzo non era ancora tornato dopo quattro ore, la mamma e il papà, terrorizati per cíó che avrebbero potuto trovare, sono andati a cercare il loro figlio.

Hanno trovato solo il suo zaino sulla strada dove lui ha trovato la pecora, e non potevano credere a quello che fosse successo. La mamma cadde allora in una depressione piú buia di una notte senza luna, ma suo marito provava a restare forte, nascondendo la sua tristezza per suo figlio, suo miracolo di figlio perché sapeva che doveva essere forte, perché la mamma era molto ammalata, come il sole che tramonta.

Quando il papà pensava che la mamma era quasi morta, ha sentito qualcosa strana fuori della casa. Ha aperto la porta, e la luce del sole è stata nascosta da milioni di corvi, tutti che portano piccoli pezzi di metallo; monete, stagnola, tubi, e altri cose trovate in tutta la Sicilia.

È conosciuto che i corvi sono attratti dalle cose lucide, e spesso conservano le cose che trovano nei nidi. È con questi pezzi di metallo milioni di corvi hanno costruito una enorme scala fuori la casa della mamma e il papà.

Il papà rimase in piedi per quasi un ora, guardando questi incredibili corvi ammassare una pila grandissima di pezzi di metallo. Subito lui ha chiamato sua mamma, che anche ha sentito strani suoni fuori della casa. Con tanto sforzo, la mamma si alzó, ed andó a stare accanto suo marito.

Quando ha visto la pila, la mamma ha pianto lacrime di felicità, perché sapeva cosa dovevano fare.

- Mettiti le scarpone, marito mio, noi andiamo a vedere nostro figlio! –

Quindi il marito e moglie salivano la scala di metallo, mentre ancora i corvi cantavano e continuavano a costruirla. Dopo un po’ raggiunsero un posto luminoso e bellissimo, sopra le nubi. Poi, il ragazzo, vedendoli si avvicinó a loro volando.

- Ciao, Mamma! Ciao, Pappa! — gli disse.

La sua voce era ancora piú bella, come oro e miele, e la luce nella sua faccia era ancora piú intensa, gli occhi piú brillanti ma soprattutto inece di ali di corvo dietro la schiena aveva due bellissime ali bianche da colomba. La mamma inizio’ a piangere, e strinse suo figlio con tutta la forza che aveva tra le sue braccia. Poi, il padre fece lo stesso, e gli chiese cosa successe nella strada.

- Niente di tutto questo ha importanza adesso, mamma e papá. Qui ho trovato dei veri amici. –

Improvvisamente centinaia di ragazzi come loro figlio apparito, tutto luminosi e bellissimi.

- C’erano tantissimi ragazzi come me, mamma e papa, da tutto il mondo, e stiamo tutti qua. Io sono felice quai con i miei amici. –

La mamma chiese, — Peró ti manchiamo, figlio, perché non torni con noi ora? –

- Non è cosi semplice mamma, e non voglio ritornare. Questo è il mio posto, e un giorno anche voi mi raggiungerete, quando sará la vostra ora. Io posso portarvi a casa, perché ora queste ali adesso funzionano! –

Il ragazzo ha portato i suoi genitori a la casa piccola fuori cittá, dove i corvi hanno rimosso la pila di metalli, e disse: — Ciao, mamma. Ciao, papà. Ci vediamo nel cielo un giorno. Per ora, non siate tristi, perché sapete che io sono felice e con la mia gente nel cielo. Vi voglio bene. Arrivederci, mamma e papà. –

È cosi, il ragazzo con le ali da colomba salí nel cielo. I suoi genitori, guardarono il loro figlio salire sul cielo verso il sole, quasi coprendosi gli occhi con la mano perché la luce che li investiva era troppo luminosa.

And now, in English.

There was once a poor husband and wife who lived outside the city in a small house. For many years they tried to bear a child, but God would not grace them with the fulfillment of their desire. They had almost given up for good, regretfully accepting that parenthood was not in their fates, the wife walked slowly into the bedroom as her husband was getting into bed, her hands pressed against her middle over her dirty dress. “I’m pregnant!” she spoke with quiet joy.

For the next few months she sewed and stitched together pieces of blankets and sheets to make the baby’s clothes, sitting by the light and warmth of the fireplace while the husband snored in bed, crouched over her work, smiling and humming as she worked.

They were extremely excited for the coming of their child. So much so that they didn’t notice that it was the rainiest year Sicily ever had, and as the abnormally large droplets crashed against the tin roof, the child slid gracefully into the world. It was a remarkably clean birth, and only out of religious superstition were the bed sheets burned in the fireplace.

The baby boy was beautiful in every way, with little golden curls and a magical smile that couldn’t help but warm the deepest caverns of the souls of those who saw it. But there was something peculiar about the boy, in fact, something monstrous. On his chubby little back were two black wings like those of a crow. They twitched and were warm to the touch, truly a part of their child. The parents didn’t care. Finally they had their baby, and a beautiful baby he was. The mother’s only concern was to begin on a new set of clothes with holes in the back, for the wings to peek through.

The beautiful baby grew to be an even more beautiful boy, and every day his face glowed brighter and godlier. His golden baby hair grew into thick locks of blonde hair, which was extraordinary in that neither of his parents had blonde hair. But this was a boy with crow wings; therefore little else surprised the proud husband and wife.

His wings grew as he did, but never provided him with the gift of flight. They just twitched and squirmed when the boy willed them too, maintaining control over them about as much as one has control over one’s smallest toe.

When he became of age, it was time to go to school in the big city over the hill. As most children are, the boy was thrilled by the prospect of school and the companionship of others like himself. The night before his first day, the boy’s parents sat him by the fireplace, and by the flickering light of the fire they warned him, “You are not like the others, my son. You have a gift, as God has marked you with a strange sign that even we, your parents don’t completely understand. You must ignore what people say to you, can you promise this?”

And the son promised, and although more than a little shaken by their words, he slept peacefully by the fire, lulled to sleep by the crackling embers and popping bursts of the dry wood.

At school he was regarded as a monster, and no one would talk to him or sit with him in class. Despite his angelic beauty, the children could see nothing but the black wings sticking out of neatly cut holes in his shirt. But the boy heeded the words of his parents, listening to nothing and no one, which was difficult when even the priests and teachers were whispering about, far louder then they realized they were.

The boy studied and studied, becoming an exceptionally bright and studious pupil. But each day he returned home on the dusty road over the hill tired and sad, complaining to his parents of his isolation at school.

He did not become bitter, as anyone would in his situation, for something in his mind told him of a place more beautiful than earth. It came to him right before dawn, as the light crept in through cracks in the walls and under the door. Then he would awake, eat a small breakfast of fruit and milk, and set off for school as his parents stood at the door proudly watching him down the road. The boy was kind and gentle to every living thing, in fact the closest he got to any physical contact at school was snatching a butterfly from a boy’s hand as another boy held a match under it’s wings.

And he continued to grow into adolescence, more beautiful each day, the glow of his hair and his face rising.

One day as the boy neared the big curve on his way down the road from the city he saw a bloody sheep lying on the road. A wagon had hit the poor creature, and its soft white hair was dripping with crimson blood. As the boy approached the sheep struggled to stand to run away, as sheep are nervous and shy animals, but when the boy began to talk, his nurturing words in a voice like gold and honey relaxed the sheep, which began to cry, tears running down it’s furred face. As the boy stroked the sheep, speaking in his calm tone, hundreds of crows began to amass above him, circling and clamoring their brutal songs.

And as the crows circled, the boy comforted the sheep, his back to the curve around the hill. A large carriage loaded with freshly cut firewood swung around the turn, and the driver, seeing but a crow and a dead sheep on the road, didn’t bother to veer around, and even felt a sick satisfaction as his carriage bumped momentarily.

If the driver had looked in his rear view mirror he would have seen hundreds of crows lifting a bloody boy and sheep into the sky. Then he would have seen the crows lift them above the clouds, until they could be seen no longer, as the light of the sun would have been too bright.

When the boy’s parents had waited almost four hours for their son’s return to no arrival, they set out on foot to look for the boy, terrified for what they would find.

Only the boy’s books were left at the spot on the road. The parents couldn’t fathom what evil may have befallen him. The mother fell into a depression as dark as a moonless night, and the father, fearing for the wellbeing of his wife, was forced to hide his tears and yells to the sky to the fields and pastures.

The wife lost what little extra weight she had, so poor were they. Dark bags hung beneath her eyes, her hair turned grey and fell out. The husband feared for her life, until one day when he was sure she was to take her final breaths. As he sat by her side, holding her thin hand and trying to nurture her as the boy had, he heard a strange sound outside, and rose to see what it was.

He opened the door, and no light flooded into the house as it usually would. The sky was black with millions of squawking black birds, all carrying small, shiny pieces.

Now, it is known that crows are collectors, attracted to metallic objects such as foil or coins. They often hoard these treasures in their nests, taking pleasure in the splendor of their beggar’s bounty. And with these things, thousands, maybe millions of crows were building a massive pile outside the door. The husband stood in awe, a chilly excitement reaching up his back and into his mind. The sound of the thousand beating wings, the shifting of the metallic objects on the pile, and the haunting squawks entranced him, until his wife, who had also heard the noise, called weakly for him to come and get her.

He led her outside in her dingy white gown, which waved from the wind stirred from the millions of black crow wings aflutter. Blood flowed back into her face, and she knew what they must do. “Get on your boots, my husband, we are going to see our son.”

They climbed up the pile, nudged and led by the crows. For hours they climbed feeling no exhaustion, only a deep determination and excitement. Finally they reached above the clouds, emerging damp and refreshed to a strange and bright place.

They noticed that the crows had left, descending back to earth in a terrifying cloud of darkness. As they stood on the top of the pile the boy appeared.

“Hello Mama. Hello Papa!” he said, his voice warmer and deeper then they had every heard. He looked more beautiful then they had ever seen, and most importantly, his black crow wings had been exchanged for those of a white dove. And they worked, too! They pumped and kept him aloft as he hovered above them.

The mother stepped from the pile to hold her son, and to her own surprise she arrived safely next to him. She grabbed him and held him close, sobbing tears of happiness onto his young man’s strong chest. Then the father joined them, holding the two of them tightly. “What happened, my son?” the father asked, and the son responded, “None of that is important now! I have found my place here, and there are others like me, thousands of others, just like me.” And as he spoke thousands of beautiful children appeared, all with the white wings of a dove, laughing, playing, speaking in voices much like that of their son.

“Mama, Papa, these are my friends. This is a good place.”

And the mother knew that she could not take him back to earth. She swelled with pride and joy as she knew that her son had found his people. She knew as well that earth was no place for a boy like him, and cried tears of joy, holding his perfect, soft hands. The son spoke: “I can take you home, for you cannot stay here!” And he lifted them up as if they were weightless, and, accompanied by others of his kind, flew the two joyous parents below the clouds.

When they arrived at the door of the house the pile was no longer towering. The crows had reclaimed their jewels, nesting them safely back in their hiding spots. The boy placed them down on the earth, and he hovered above them, fearful to touch the ground. He lifted them into hugs, kissing and whispering into their ears, “You will come and see me some day, when it is your time. For now you must stay here, but can know that I am happy and safe with my friends in the sky.” And the mother bravely dried her eyes, holding her son tightly.

He ascended slowly into the sky, pumping the beautiful white wings rhythmically and powerfully. His parents watched them as he reached higher and higher, until they could no longer look. The sun was too bright for their eyes.

This piece was originally written in May of 2009 in Favara, Sicily.