There were many things in this I was very unsure of, and so this ended up lying around the computer, finished, but unedited for a long time. And that's never so good, because that way I end up growing tired of it. I don't know, but maybe that is why I like it less than I did when I first wrote it?
Between Life and Afterlife
The flowers of muenzuka bloomed without fail. They did that this year too, like they always did. There were many red higanbana flowers, so many it was as if each of them represented a soul that had entered the next world. They covered the ground, and there was no grass, no moss--there were only flowers.
Stepping on one by mistake was so easy, in fact, it would happen for sure if one was not paying any mind to her step. Onozuka Komachi would often crush a flower or two below her large and heavy geta, having severed their stalks in a misstep. Sometimes she would notice, but most of the time she wouldn't.
"Oh. Um... Whoops. Maybe that wasn't so good."
The flowers would get stuck there, below her shoes, squished into something unrecognisable, and even then she would probably not notice.
If the spirits that came here had any noses or mouths, many of them would surely comment on the calming and enjoyable scent the flowers gave off. Komachi had been here for too long already, the smell of the flowers were cancelled out, and she smelled nothing but air, given there was nothing else to smell, and most of the time there wasn't.
She'd go away from this place at times, either sneaking out secretly, going on allowed vacation, or on an official business-related trip. Because, of course, shinigami do stuff like that too, just like everybody else.
But rather then walking around too much, Komachi would rather sit in the shadow of a lone tree, be it raging rain or a splendid sun in the skies during the days that passed. And in that place she was, when she was not working; managing the proud but simple vessel that went across the Sanzu River. The river that would be, depending on the day, a stormy ocean or a silent pool, was the one she crossed each day.
The spirits have no mouths or ears, but she talks to them, and her words flow like the waters, but unlike the flow of the river, they depend on her mood. But even so, the amount of words doesn't seem to differ from day to day, because Komachi always likes to talk. And the silent types are her favourites.
But at all other times, she is sleeping below one of the trees, napping or sleeping for the night--or the day. She has a habit of snoring. It's not a horrible sound she makes when she does it, but maybe enough to annoy someone sensible to disturbance, or keep someone who needs absolute quiet when they sleep awake, in case she'd ever share a room with anyone.
Her snoring can be heard from a while away, but that doesn't really matter. The only one heading her way with a voice to use and a reason to speak would see her below the tree before the snores would hear and know that when Komachi is below the tree, she is sleeping. And so a frown would not come upon Shiki Eiki's face when she hears the snores, for she was frowning already.
Sleeping on the job-- such a sweet yet simple luxury; of course shinigami do stuff like that too, just like everybody else.
One would think that Shiki's reason for seeking Komachi out would be her distrust towards her. This is ironically prejudice. But it is prejudice for a reason. And out of all reasons Shiki would have to go to where Komachi is, it is the most likely one. This doesn't mean that the case is always like this, and though it might seem like something uncalled for, they do happen to get together at times, and while those times are often simple days off shared in a loss of anything else to do, they are enjoyed days.
Shiki Eiki is the kind of person who knows to separate her private life from her work life, but she knows it because of her profession and it tells her; it is the right thing to do. But also because of her profession, it might be hard for her to separate work and free time, considering the personality it takes to be a yama. She knows to do it, but that doesn't mean she does do it. Sometimes she notices it herself, but most of the time she doesn't.
Komachi is the underling, and Shiki is the boss, and thus they are friends. It's not the other way around. Komachi was not Shiki's friends and thus became her underling; it was all the work of people with whom they share merely a professional relationship.
As a third party observer of the two and their unbalanced personalities, a question is asked to oneself in silence; "Why does the hard-working yama not let her slacker shinigami just nap forever at the bottom of the Sanzu river?"
There is a reason for everything, and while the yama in question might not be reasonable towards the dead, for she can see all the lies they would tell if they had mouths, she is never unfair in judgement.
The ghosts, the deceased have always arrived in this place, all of them having been parted with life, joys and sorrows, friends and solitude, and all the other things that come with it, quite recently. Some of them have a few memories remaining, others don't. They are often weak and a bit shaken, often lost and confused. Always worried, worrying about the judgement of the yama that is surely to come.
Heaven or Hell? Heaven or Hell?
But amidst all that worry, and between death and judgement, there is the Sanzu River. The Sanzu River and the shinigami who ferries the one available ferry across it. That never differs, regardless of who you are. And similarly, neither does Komachi differ, regardless of the ghost that rides in her boat. Unlike Shiki, she cannot see their sins, neither can she their good deeds. They all look the same to her, so she treats them all the same.
She talks to them, and she tells them all sorts of trivial, useless things. Like how the fairies are noisy when they play, how the wind is cold in the afternoons, how the strap on her geta broke. And like how Shiki-sama always gives her hell and never heaven.
"I'm always doing my best to work really hard, she just doesn't see it because she's like that…"
She smiles and laughs, but of course a frown or a sigh are let through at times. She doesn't wait for them to answer, but she gives them a few pauses and a few glances. Komachi isn't thinking about how she acts too deeply, and if she's ever to be asked if she thinks the departed ever listens to a single word she says, she would think for a second, shrug, and then not think about it until the next time asked.
Shiki has been the yama for quite some time. She has been it longer than Komachi has served as her shinigami. Before Komachi, there were other shinigami, all of them more hard-working than Komachi. Some of them less pleasant as company during a rare holiday or business trip, others more so. Some of them were more faithful to her as her underling, others more keen to question her authority.
Komachi is a talented shinigami, she is strong and knowledgeable. Komachi is a good person, she is kind and indifferent.
Though the number of ghost she ferried across the Sanzu River are less than any other shinigami, there is still a significant difference elsewhere. Ever since Komachi was installed at her current workplace, the souls of the dead brought to Shiki do not always, but at times, posses a serenity to them, and this in the stead of some of their unsettling worry. It would never be nearly enough of a change to make the difference between heaven and hell, but enough for it to be an easier decision to make.
A calm and collected spirit can look back on their life and reflect reasonably, and even if it is only in her mind, Shiki can easier imagine a smile on their faces as they pass on.
If it's all thanks to Komachi, she cannot tell. But when the dead come to this place, and are in the moment of where they are most aware of how dead they are, no longer in the world of the living, they meet a person who most naturally acts to them no differently from anyone from when they were alive. The situation seems less frightening at that time, and one deceased might think that maybe being dead isn't so bad.
And so, Komachi keeps her job.
Just like she keeps sleeping on the job, and just like how Shiki keeps nagging her about it.
They probably won't stop spending their days off together, either.