On Monday, God created the world.
On Tuesday, God distinguished the order and chaos.
On Wednesday, God honed the numerical values.
On Thursday, God allowed the Time to flow.
On Friday, God overlooked every corner of the world.
On Saturday, God rested.
And so, on Sunday, God—
The land was basically created to be a graveyard.
What once used to be a rich and fertile hill was now completely barren, boulders scattered everywhere. The fossil-like rubble cackled when the dry air blew upon them, and the deforested hills laid bare, with nobody living there.
It was likely to take a hundred years to revert it back to its original state. The land was that desolate.
A group of dead remained there in slumber for a long time. That place was truly a naturally formed graveyard.
And now, in a corner, a little gravekeeper could be seen shovelling hard.
Ai was a gravekeeper, who was twelve years old.
Of course, her job was to manage the graveyard.
With all her might, she kept digging. Putting all her strength into the large shovel, she dug deep into the ground, and used it as a lever to scoop the soil into a basket.
At the bottom of that knee-deep hole, Ai let out a sigh. She stretched her back, and looked at the sun that was in the west. Her vision sighted the sun that was about to set, and the howling winds were icy.
With a begrudging look, she stared at the setting sun, and after a while, she seemed to have made up her mind as she hopped out from the pit she had just dug. There were many similar pits around her.
Having taken a look at the new pit that had just joined the other pits, Ai let out a haughty snort,
She then carried the tools down the hill. There was a shed and a well at the bottom of the hill, where Ai washed her tools. The tools were used for an entire day, and were completely sullied with mud.
Ai held down the handle until it creaked, soaking the tools in the water, and then moved a table and brush over before rolling up her sleeves. She got ready to clean up and washed the tools nice and clean. She removed the dirt and the sediments, dried the tools, and then applied oil upon the necessary parts, making sure the large and small baskets, the scythes and the hoe were glittering under the setting sun.
Then, Ai raised her partner.
It was simple in design, with a silver head attached to a wooden stick, which also had patterns of deformed trees and roots engraved at the head, poignantly proving Ai’s identity as a gravekeeper.
And Ai washed the shovel with utmost care.
Various tools starting from the well to the shed were prepared by the villages. To repay their goodwill, Ai was always very appreciative when using the facilities. Finally, she kept the tools inside a shed.
The only thing remaining in her hands was the shovel.
“Then everyone, see you tomorrow.”
The door closed with a thud, and the tools reflected the light for the last time.
Once she was done packing, Ai finally noticed her appearance. Her face was covered in dirt. Her hands and nails were completely black. She sighed, took off her boots and shirts, and undid her hair.
It seemed as though there was another sun born under the sunset.
That was how bright her golden hair was.
She washed her hair and skin with just water, and the red light on her hair became golden. Like a gemstone buried in the dirt for tens of thousands of years, the hair glittered once it saw the light of day.
However, Ai was way too casual with how she bathed herself. She showed no less than a tenth of the care that she showed towards her tools. She grumbled about how cold the water was, and ignored the fact that she still had soap bubbles on her as she simply put on her clothes.
The limbs that were as thick as a young tree slipped into the boots and clothes.
She put on the hanging belt that acted like a bandolier, with a hammer and trowel attached.
Then she wore the coat that had a pendant and round jumprings attached to them.
She combed her hair that was once then into a bun, put on a straw hat, and pulled the strap till her chin.
Then, she twirled the shovel around to let the crest face forward, and let it rest upon her shoulder.
Thus, Ai had donned her formal clothing as a gravekeeper.
And so as the sun quickly set in the distant horizon, Ai went home.
Today I begin to dig the 47th grave. I hope I will be done by tomorrow.
Ai walked up the hill as she sung a song with an appropriate melody to go along with it. She tapped the shovel on her shoulder, humming away as and when she wanted to, showing no fear as she hopped down the pitch dark hill path. It was impossible for Ai to fall over. She was so familiar with the place, she even knew what birds lived on which trees.
Soon after, the path ended, and the night sky and village opened up before her eyes. The night sky and village ripped her vision apart, and beyond the far end of the endless fields, there were lights coming out from houses. A lone thin village was hidden in the valleys.
She stopped humming.
Ai solemnly cleared her throat, and checked her clothing thoroughly, one by one. Was her shirt tucked in? Were the buckles of her boots loose? Were there any stains on her?
Finally, she patted herself hard on the head. Then she erased the expression off her face.
A gravekeeper was a guardian of death, an envoy of the dead, a god of death.
Ai always felt that there was a need for a gravekeeper to maintain a stoic look on their face.
Having made up her mind to maintain some dignity just for today, she started walking towards the village.
She straightened her back, lowered her eyes, and had let the iron and leather boots make their marks on the dirt as she walked forward. She then placed her shovel on her shoulder like a musketeer, shoving the crest on the head, and that ensured that she gave off a pressuring vibe despite her little size.
At that moment, an old man in the field suddenly lifted his head up. Ai pretended to glance at him nonchalantly, having caught by the corner of her eye. It was the old blacksmith Yuto. He was always creating tools for everyone.
The moment Yuto spotted her, he vanished into the other side of the fields. Ai wondered that he must have been startled by her dignified presence, and discreetly did a guts pose.
“Hey~ everyone! Ai’s back!!”
Suddenly, Yuto returned, and once he yelled, ten villagers or so showed up suddenly. Every single one of them were dressed in patched up garments of shirts and pants, straw hats on their heads. They were the males and females, young and old of the village. Most of the villagers were either wounded, some blind, and some even had defects in their limbs. Even those that did not often come by the fields often were out. The farms in Spring were so bustling.
It seemed that everyone was awaiting Ai’s return.
Ai curled her lips unhappily, but stopped in her tracks. She then lowered her knees and head slightly, and raised her shovel. In a fluent manner, she recited the words of a gravekeeper,
“Good evening everyone. Today, I shall again pride upon my dignity as a gravekeeper and ensure that everyone has a good life—”
But those words were drowned by the voices of the villagers.
“Why are you so late!? Didn’t you promise to return before the sun sets?” “Are you hungry?” “Oh yeah. There are some candies left, eat up!” “Here’s some lemonades!”
She couldn’t maintain her dignity for even a moment. The villagers patted her head without a thought. An old lady served her candies and an old man tried to continue her words.
In the middle of the flock, Ai sighed.
“I don’t want candies or lemonades! I have the food I need to eat at home. Please leave me alone, everyone. Please continue to live your lives!”
Ai insisted on her rights as a gravekeeper. However, the villagers merely nodded it away, unwilling to let go of her.
Suddenly, a shout was heard from afar. A young man approached them, waving his hand from the other end of the farm.
It was Yoki.
Once she saw the reliable helper showing up, Ai showed a smile.
“You can’t go about pampering Ai here, everyone! Now now, all of you, don’t gather here. Go home once you’re done with work!”
Everyone else had averted their faces with sheepish looks. After all, the notice board last week had the message “Do not feed the gravekeeper candies.” Only for it to turn out like that. Ai stood proudly by Yoki’s side, glaring at the villagers. The people having noticed her glare escaped, and the remaining ones too were cowed into leaving her sight.
Finally, the two of them were left behind. Ai gave a snort of victory, and lifted her head at Yoki, wanting to share that victory.
“Now then, Ai…no, gravekeeper!”
But Yoki showed the same icy look from the villagers back at Ai.
“Didn’t I tell you not to take the sweets from everyone!! Goodness, you’re a glutton…”
Ai felt that she couldn’t pretend not to hear that line. She did voice her objection after all. And so, she lost her temper,
“I beep refill dib tougg happione giv me! Peace dab bad wut uu sad!”
I did refuse the stuff everyone gave me. Please take back what you said. That was the meaning of the words that nobody understood. For some reason, Ai’s mouth was stuffed full with sweets.
Yoki’s icy glare was pricking at her.
With the perturbed look of a squirrel, Ai was left momentarily frustrated, and in the exact next instant, she swallowed all the food, excusing herself,
“I can’t do anything about this.”
Yoki merely pointed at her hands, seemingly unable to be miffed due to how astonishingly hilarious Ai appeared. There was a cup (third one) of lemonade in her right hand, and her left hand was holding a pile of sweets. The body remained honest.
And the shovel symbolizing the identity of a gravekeeper remained casually impaled into the ground.
Yoki placed his hands on his waist, and lashed out. That was the ‘Yoki’s Thunder’ that left every villager intimidated. His lectures were long and boring.
But Ai merely turned a deaf ear to his words. Even at that point, the words entered from the right and exited from the left as she thought about other matters. She stared at the black eyes that were raised nicely in a scowl and the pretty shaped ears.
Ai felt that Yoki’s were really pretty, unlike the others. The black hair and eyes were ordinary, but there was a dazzling presence to his appearance as a whole.
“You’re pretty, Yoki.”
Yoki, still giving his lecture, was left dumbfounded.
“…Ai, are you listening to me?”
“Yes! I want to be your bride when I grow up, Yoki.”
“You aren’t listening at all!”
With a look of someone with a migraine, Yoki knelt down and pressed his hand against his eyes and head. Ai realized that she had left his sight, and hurriedly used the opportunity to clear the stuff in her hands.
After she put the final cookie into her mouth, another voice could be heard,
“Hey. You two! What are you doing~”
Turning her head around, Ai found that a woman was walking down the path surrounding the village, headed towards them.
“Ah, it’s Anna! I’m back!”
Ai recognized her, and immediately ran over with a beaming look, having completely ignored her dignity as a gravekeeper as she leapt into the latter’s clutches, twirling around as she pulled, laughing away.
It was a dazzling woman. Black hair, black eyes, rich makeup on her gorgeous face, and lots of perfume.
“Hm, what’s wrong?”
Ai, who was in Anna’s clutches, suddenly moved away, and pinched her nose, saying, “Anna, you stink.”
Upon hearing that, Anna raised her tender eyebrows, and with a smile on her face, she knocked Ai on the head.
“A~i~? This is called perfume! You know? It’s the smell of perfume! You can’t say it stinks!”
With tears in her eyes, Ai apologized in a hurry. She was not intimidated by the millions of times Yoki told her off, but one punch from Anna was terrifying enough.
“Well, it is a little too early for you. Adult matters can only be understood when you become one.”
Ai too had something to say about that, but she did not voice out for fear of being hit. She nodded her head, wondering.
Why the perfume and makeup? Ai personally preferred the normal smell of a person rather than the compressed fragrance of herbs. She preferred the old-fashioned scent of people when they embraced.
With regards to that, she asked the women in the village many times, but all of them merely smiled and passed it off ambiguously “You’ll understand soon.” Would that day when she would understand come? Ai could not picture herself thinking of it as a good thing.
“I’m back, Anna. You’re as pretty as always. Oh, you changed perfumes? Nice smell.”
Yoki kissed Anna in a natural manner, praising her perfume scent. Anna in turn showed a delighted look, hugging Yoki’s arm.
Ai widened her green eyes, and learned something new.
And so, driven by her immature jealousy, she jumped in between the lovey-dovey couple.
“Hey Ai! You’ll ruin the makeup! Hey, what’s with you?”
“Hey, Anna! I tell you–”
Ai told Anna of everything that had transpired in the day. How she had started digging the 47th grave, how there was a new owl on the hills, and how everyone gave her sweets.
“And I just talked with Yoki!”
For Ai, being scolded was the equivalent to a conversation.
“Oh, what did you two talk about?”
“I say! Yoki will get married to Ai!”
Yoki immediately spat out air. Anna hissed,
“…Oh my, you already have me Yoki. Even a little child too…”
“N-no! It’s a misunderstanding!”
Yoki panicked, and frantically tried to explain. Anna looked back at her husband who was flailing around, and smiled at him, calmly stating, “Just kidding.” She then turned to Ai,
“Ai, you can’t marry Yoki. He’s already married to me.”
“Ah, that’s right.”
“So you understand, don’t you? Enough with the foolish words.”
“Then how about I get married with you, Anna?”
“…I have no idea what you mean by this?”
“Don’t you know, Anna? Other countries do allow people of the same sex to marry…”
“I’m not asking you to show off your knowledge here–well, I guess it. I know you like us, so much that you want to marry us…but there should be better ways to express such a sentiment.”
Anna gulped. There was some strange tension that somehow developed between them.
“You and us…well…”
Till this point, Anna paused, and lifted her head to look at her husband who was next to her.
“–Parents and child, I guess?”
“That’s not it.”
Ai immediately answered,
“My mom’s already dead. I was the one who dug her grave. Dad’s the Man-Eating Toy Hampnie Hambert. That’s what mom said. One day, we will meet.”
Ai said those words with a smile on her face, nary showing a negative emotion. The duo watched her with pained looks.
Anna hugged Ai, and the latter was momentarily startled,
“Ai, your mother is Alfa, just her. And so, your dad will find you one day…but they aren’t around now, so for the time being…just for the time being, can i be your mother?”
Ai’s voice quivered,
“…Anna, you’ll be mama?”
Startled, she repeated the words again. ‘Mama Anna’ those words were like sugar that instantly seeped into her heart.
She danced with joy, and leaped into Anna’s clutches. Then, she realized something, and turned her head around.
“Then Yoki is papa!?”
“Looks that way.”
Like a child receiving her presents, Ai kept calling Anna mama and Yoki as papa.
“…Okay, let’s go home. I’m hungry.”
Hungry! Ai yelled, grabbing Anna with her right hand and Yoki with her left, beaming away in the middle as they went off. There was a little house slightly far away from the village, and that was where they were headed back to.
“Oh yeah, Ai…”
Yoki pointed at Ai’s hand, asking,
Her right hand held mama, while her left hand held papa, Ai’s hands were holding things precious to her, and she had completely forgotten the symbol of a gravekeeper.