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Such Small Graves

The dead give me my livelihood.

There’s no other way to put it. I’ve been a gravedigger for more than 20 years, and I’m automatically grateful to hear of a death. The lines between professionalism and sensitivity are so blurred that I don’t try to make sense of my emotions anymore. It’s hard to feel sorry when the next few hours of labour will give my family its next meal, but it’s harder still to ignore the guilt and self-loathing lurking in the corner.

But slowly, I’m beginning to accept my profession for what it is. I utter a word of gratitude to the departed soul before I dig. One day, another man’s next meal will come from my death and I won’t feel bitter when he rejoices inwardly. It’s nothing personal after all – just the circle of life.

For two decades now, I’ve dug graves of men, women and children. I don’t see them as fearless, beautiful souls who gave their loved ones a lifetime of memories. I see them as a series of numbers – length, breadth, depth, amount charged. It’s only professional, my cold behaviour. If I wept for every grave I dug, I would be too dehydrated to do my job.

Where I live, you have to earn the right to a full life. My services have been needed for car “accidents,” shootings, and massacres of so many kinds that I lost track of them. I suppose I felt pain in some corner of my mind when I had to dig 15 graves at a time, but the rhythmic chant of “length, breadth, depth” tuned out all musings.

Today, the news spread like wildfire – I had to get to work immediately. As the details came to me, I fought hard to keep my calm. “Length, breadth, depth. Length, breadth, depth,” I chanted as I took down the numbers. I fought the sting of tears as my well trained mind told me how small these graves were. My children would fit snugly in them.

“Length, breadth, depth. Length, breadth, depth,” I chanted as loudly as I could, as the numbers kept growing. The wall of professionalism was crumbling as I began to weep uncontrollably. I wept for the children whose bright future was reduced to a tiny hole in the ground. I wept for each grave I dug today, each grave that marked the end of humanity. They were so easy to dig that it was impossibly hard. There were so many of them.

As I dug, I continued to chant “length, breadth, depth,” realizing this would do nothing to mask my pain anymore.

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