Great things were expected from Bocchi from the minute he was born. He was, after all, the only son of our leader, our messiah, our saviour. While Bocchi was a swift boy and far brighter than most kids his age, he was more like a jack of all trades. Over time no one had been able to identify his true talent, or even the lack of it. Now that might be a normal thing in the world out there, but it was a grave disturbance to us all.
And it’s not like the pressure to perform ever decreased for Bocchi. His brother-in-laws were everything from skilled embalmers, crematorium technicians and even obituary writers. Me wife was one of them obituary writers too. Exceptional, I tell you. She just had a knack for making strangers care about dead strangers. Me? I was only a humble grave digger. But I could do the work of three good men in me young days. Good days, they were.
I knew Bocchi from the hour he was born. Skinny little brat, trying to wear his father’s boots every time he got a chance. Only to fall or crash into something. Injuries were old friends of his. He participated as a cleaner, on growing up. Not an entirely respectable job in his father’s opinion, but there was never time for bickering in those days. In those days, we needed all help possible and even our leader admitted, albeit grudgingly that a cleaner made good money.
Bocchi was still quite young when his father died. We folks are so used to dealing with death professionally, but under our hardened shells we’re soft as putty I tell you. We don’t stay in a city any longer than required, or even country for that matter. The minute we’ve earned enough to sustain ourselves till the next assignment, we pack our bags and we leave. But things changed when Our Leader died. Responsibilities fell on Bocchi’s fragile shoulder like a deluge on a budding creeper. A community like ours can’t survive itself for long without a leader. And while we had braced ourselves for disappointment, young Bocchi had a few aces up his sleeve.
His ideas were downright unconventional. Even horrid and morbid to some, to be honest. From a mere sweeper, he became a part time businessman. Everything Bocchi could get his hands on, he sold. The silver lining of being the longest ones to stay at a bombsite, I tell you. It was a clever plan all in all. Somehow the police and the kin and everybody was always more interested in the bodies of the deceased, not in the jewellery they were wearing or their watches or clothes. I seen Bocchi sell everything from shiny shoes to them pearls and diamonds in the black market.
Death is one rewarding industry, I said it. We do jobs other people don’t want to do, and we do those jobs well. They even have a fancy term for us now – freelancers. Makes me think of lancing and those knights and their jousts. Whenever we see death, we flock. We sweep, we dig, we burn and we bury. All we have to do is lay low. Bocchi’s mother and two of his sisters sell these gorgeous urns. His father, Our Leader, may god bless him, was a certified mortician. Me youngest kid is one of them make up people. Only that, she does make up on dead bodies. Makes me laugh every time I think of it. And me mama, god bless her soul too, was a legendary mourner. A professional one. She was invited to funerals to cry. I have her eyes, they say.
My beard had seen some darker days but nothing darker than the edgy peace of the Cold War. Our kids had begun to starve and die. Our women got diseased and our men, lazy. There wasn’t enough death happening for us to survive. A change of leadership was whispered about in the community. But Bocchi wiped it out ruthlessly. He did not, however, wipe their blood off his knife after. He said it was to scare off people from mutiny. All things considered, I don’t think that really worked. Bocchi was murdered in cold blood by his niece, Rubela.
Oh Rubela, oh dainty Rubela. Her sweetheart face and pale skin. Rubela has defected from the community when she was twenty. She wanted no part in our dealings with death. Can’t quite blame the poor child. Her mother was a respectable funeral manger until she was discovered to be overly fond of cadavers, in all the unholy ways. Nutty woman. When word got out, Rubela’s father killed her and then himself. Ah, Rubela wasn’t forgiven either. Once too many did people wonder if she was the child of a corpse.
You’d think life would’ve gotten easier for her after she ran away. Or at least, that’s what I was thinking when I gave her the keys to me bike five years ago. But when she came back, she was worse. Bruised and broken all over. Her husband, she revealed was a monster. She begged Bocchi to kill him, I heard. She begged and begged but Bocchi wouldn’t budge. Always solemnly quoting his grandmother to her. ‘We are what comes after death’. Old woman had a thing for me, I tell you. But I was never fond of her gigantic melons.
Killing Bocchi was the easier part of her plan. If Bocchi’s regime was an unconventional one, Rubela’s was out of the godforsaken park. Fortunately for her, we were all desperate to survive. She planned the whole thing herself, from the start to the end. We didn’t even understand the plan because she never explained the whole of it to us. All we were told was what our jobs would be and there was no time for us to connect the dots. Only after we had done what she wanted us to do did we realize what we had done. Her monster was killed. Along with forty three other people. And the building where she had first met her husband. Poof! Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. All at once.
Like a well oiled machinery, we slip in the cracks and took up our regular jobs. This time sweeping, wiping, washing, burning and burying a massacre that was of our own creation.
And that, officer, is how it started.
Can you get me another cup of coffee? More sugar this time, please.