Chapter 15: Sajida the Shunned
Sajida the Shunned was not beautiful.
There was nothing beautiful about that woman. From her body to her dress to her desk and even to her entire room, she was a disgusting excuse for a woman. There was nothing alluring or interesting about her; she was frightening, demonic and sadistic.
At the time, my breath was caught in my throat because her study indeed amazed me. Every inanimate object was full of life. The dolls she had danced, the brown and decayed plants swayed, and the charms and dream catchers twisted when her fingers moved the same way. Nothing about Sajida’s study was bare; there was some spell, parchment, charm, locket or potion scattered around the room. You could even hear everything; there was a magically-induced sound to the entire room.
Sajida sat on a large throne covered in spikes and horns. She watched the four of us come in, smiling at the fact that none of us wanted to sit down on the couch across from her desk.
“Come on, now,” Sajida said. “I don’t bite.”
She snapped her teeth at us, making us jump. Her laugh was maniacal; chilling. Kizzy walked through first, excusing herself past the animated dolls that stood on the carpet, looking up at us. The dolls followed us to the couch and sat by the legs of the furniture once we squeezed ourselves in. I forced myself not to look at the rag dolls, fearing for my sanity.
Sajida didn’t say anything to us yet. She just looked at us, studying our faces like she could read our intentions. The darkness emanated from her, from the subtle face paint on her skin to the tattered rags and beads she wore. Her arms were covered in bracelets. Her fingers, covered with rings. In her hair were weaved pieces of yarn, feathers, and gold clasps tightened around her thick locs that resembled a water fountain draping down to her shoulders. I wondered how she could have been related to Rashida - Sajida’s skin was close to obsidian; the richest, darkest shade of brown that made her hazel eyes hypnotic; her onyx lips an abyss. I wanted to stop staring, but I couldn’t; we stared at each other.
“Y’all gonna sit and stare at me all night, now?” she asked us. The four of us stammered nervously before she laughed again. It was clear it was all a game to her. And since it was, how we played made all the difference.
I felt something brush up against my leg the moment Kizzy built up the courage to speak. It was one of the dolls - the eyeless, mouthless dolls that only had symbols on their clothed stomachs. The one doll touching my ankle had a pentagram on their belly, drawn in red. Aside from yarned hair on their head, everything else was bare. If they had stories to tell, they wouldn’t be able to tell them.
At first, I moved my leg away from the thing (as would anyone, being touched by a walking rag doll), but it was a gentle creature, using the little nub-arms to feel my skin against theirs. All four of us stared at the thing in disbelief. Its spirit was more alive than we initially believed.
Sajida suddenly hissed at it, startling everyone. ”Chat! Go on, stop bothering her! Go on, get!”
The dolls - Pentagram, Triple Moon and Triquetra - scurried away silently and hid in a corner. I saw Pentagram continue to peak out of the shadows at me. I was terrified yet entranced by it; I didn’t know what it was.
“Sorry about that,” Sajida said to us. “Those things can be quite the intrusive bunch.”
Kizzy, nervous, skipped right over Sajida’s apology and went straight to the matter at hand.
“We understand that you’re a busy woman,” Kizzy began. “We wouldn’t be coming to you if it weren’t serious.”
Sajida nodded, her eyes intrigued in a cynical way. Her eyes jumped on every single one of us until they finally stayed on me. And they didn’t leave. Sajida kept staring at me, smiling a little like I was of any importance. Kizzy spoke, making her case before coming out with the golden question, but Sajida didn’t pay her any mind. Suddenly, Sajida silenced Kizzy with the rise of her accessorized hand.
“You,” Sajida said. I looked around aimlessly, even though I knew she was talking about me.
“Me?” I asked quietly.
“Yes, you.” She leaned forward; when she smiled wide enough, her teeth blinded us. “Alisande Clarie Dumont-Ngando.”
It would have been foolish of me to ask how she knew my name. Did that mean I couldn’t be shocked? Nope. And not only was I shocked, I was scared shitless.
Entertained by my reaction, Sajida placed a finger over her blackened lips. “Oh! I done forgot. It’s just Alisande Clarie Dumont; you don’t use your daddy’s name.”
The word ‘daddy’ was foreign to me, given my daddy died when I was little. I only had one memory of him - sitting in a meadow, having a picnic with him and mama when I was around the age of five. That’s it. Nothing else. I didn’t even know his name; Ngando was new to me. Maybe that was a good thing. Knowing me, I would have gotten too attached to the mere idea of him and his past existence.
“I don’t,” I answered her, wiping the sweat off my nose to keep my glasses from slipping.
“I knew your daddy, you know,” she told me. “Your mama never talks about him, right? Shame. What a handsome man Ekwala was; you have his eyes. Ekwala and I used to be very close before he died since he was a root doctor with all the hoodoo mystic up his sleeve.”
I didn’t know what to say. Either Sajida was bluffing to get a reaction out of me, or she was telling the truth to get a reaction out of me. Regardless, this ‘information’ about my dad was rubbing me in all the wrong places. If Sajida was telling the truth - if my father was a hoodoo practitioner - it explained why my mama hated the craft so much in present day.
Sajida was reveling in the confliction on my face. In a minute, she successfully steered us off course and onto a dark road that had never been walked on. She then asked me if I wanted to know how he died. Since my interest was piqued, I wanted to know. And I almost said yes before Kizzy cut me off.
“She doesn’t want to know,” Kizzy said to her. I snapped into my proper senses then; I had to remember why I was there. But Sajida was smart - she knew that she already had a hold on me. The way she toyed with your mind was fascinating and invasive; frightening and intruding.
“Alright, alright, I’ll stop beating around the bush.” Sajida got comfortable in her throne. “What brings y’all down here?”
“We want you to help us kill a vampire,” Kizzy said. After minutes of honeyed words and sly language, Kizzy knew that bluntness was the best and possibly only way to get through Sajida and that thick head of hair she had. But Sajida looked upon us with disappointment on her face once the words came out of Kizzy’s mouth.
“That’s it?” Sajida asked. I didn’t know if she was joking, but eventually, we understood that she wasn’t.
“Yes,” Kizzy answered hesitantly. “We knew that you would be the ideal person to ask for help.”
Sajida pursed her lips in a patronizing manner. “Oh, Kisaiya. I thought you were the strong one. It seems you ain’t.”
“What does that mean?” Rocio suddenly spoke up, defensive. I was beginning to map how Sajida worked - she enjoyed poking people in the simplest of ways until they snapped. That was her attempt with me, bringing up my late father. And now, she tested Kizzy and her valor. But Rocio, surprisingly, was the one who took the most offense. Sajida’s smile was chilling enough to freeze a room in the middle of a Louisiana July.
“I didn’t mean to offend nobody.” Sajida said, slowly and coyly. “It’s just that I expected more from Miss Kizzy right here. Before you left your coven to be Mambo Nene’s little lapdog, you had great potential. Ambition. And now, you’re asking me how to kill a vampire?”
Kizzy tried to plead her case, but loud racket against the door put a halt in our “conversation.” Sajida stood up and frowned at the door.
“Hey!” she yelled. ”Fait pas une esquandal!”
Sasi Two quietly entered the room, apologetic in the face. ”Pardon, sweet and beautiful Mère. We’ll be more quiet.”
Sasi Two stared at us a little longer before leaving the room and softly closing the door. Sajida rolled her eyes and sat back down.
“Anyway,” she began. “I don’t need no sob story about how you done changed your ways, you’s a better person serving the Loa, all that shit. If you wanna kill a vampire, you go on and do it yourself. It ain’t hard - Leeches are the dumbest, most goddamn useless things. Them mother fuckers can be fast but -”
“We don’t want to kill a Leech,” I interrupted. “We want to kill an Elder vampire.”
That caught her attention.
Everything in the room stopped moving. The room began to quiet down to nothing but the sounds of the bayou outside. Everything was completely and utterly still then. Sajida looked at us for a long time until she realized we were serious.
“Which one?” she asked me. Not us, but me. I didn’t want to be the spokesperson for the group; that was Kizzy’s job. But frankly, I was the reason we were there, so it was only fitting that I describe our Worthy Warrant to this dark mystic.
“Hezekiah Mercier,” I told her. His name on my tongue was poison; an ailment consuming me. Sajida could feel my rage at the mention of his name. I wanted to hide it, this rage. But I couldn’t anymore. And Sajida loved how this vampire made me feel.
Sajida suddenly burst into a fit of laughter. Loud, cackling laughter. The kind of laughter that made it hard to breathe. And as she laughed, the charms in her study began to move again. Faster, if I may add. Her potions rattled and her books swayed; her chimes made loud music. Even the lights brightened and dimmed over and over again. Her influence was everywhere in the room.
Pentagram and Triple Moon walked up to the couch again, deeming it safe to emerge from the shadows, given their Master’s laughter. Triquetra stayed in the corner; it knew better than to come out without being asked. Pentagram sat by my foot while Triple Moon sat by Kizzy’s foot. We didn’t mind, but Esther couldn’t even stand being near them.
Sajida finally finished laughing at us. “Now, that is a worthy warrant,” she said.
“Can you help us?” I asked her. She knew I was restless. And I was - either she could help us or she couldn’t. If she couldn’t, I didn’t want to continue wasting my time.
“What did he do to you?” Sajida asked. She wasn’t concerned; this was comical to her.
“He killed one of our own Queens,” Rocio told her.
" Abraham had the other bloodsuckers kill the rest of her House,” Kizzy said, voice cracking.
“Then Hezekiah came into our safe house and stole precious items of ours,” Esther explained. She side-eyed me discreetly before looking forward.
Sajida waited on me. I didn’t know that I was expected to say something. The girls’ testaments were enough reason as to why Hezekiah had to die, but apparently, my silence wouldn’t suffice. I was silent because I was thinking - thinking of everything ‘he’ had done to me and the Coterie. It was enough to justify his death.
“What about you?” Sajida asked me.
“What did he do to you?”
I looked down at my hands. I had to tell a lie. I had to think of a good one, too. One that would fool the girls and would fool Sajida. I doubted that I would have much luck fooling a mystic, but as for Rocio, Kizzy and Esther, I had a chance. They knew that I witnessed Tia’s murder; the brutality of it. That’s reason enough to wish him dead. However, that didn’t rid the event of me inviting him into the house. They didn’t know what happened while he was in the house, nor did I want them to know. Which meant that they probably thought I had a weakness towards him.
I didn’t want them to think that.
“I saw him kill Tia Valeria,” I expressed to Sajida. “I was there with another novitiate and watched him kill her. Then after that, he kidnapped me and tried to turn me into a vampire.” I showed her the faint scars still on my neck from his influence - two dark indentions about two inches apart from each other. “He should die for everything he’s done. Simple as that.”
She was a panther, Sajida - stalking her prey, eyeing them until the time to strike was right. That’s what she was doing to me. Her hazel irises seemed to burn into my face at my confessional. She believed me, but she also knew that I was leaving a part of the story out.
“What else did he do to you?” asked Sajida. The corner of her mouth tugged up into a smirk.
“That ain’t all of it. He did something else to you. Something vile. Something that’s got you so pent up.”
“He didn’t do anything else to me.”
“Go to bed.” She leaned back into her throne, consumed into the cushion and the knives that protruded beside her head. “What did he do to you, cher? Did he hit you?”
“No.” I was becoming upset. She cherished my anger. “I told you, he didn’t do anything else.”
“Did he kill someone else close to you?”
“She said that he did nothing else,” Kizzy stressed. But Sajida the Shunned was a persistent woman.
“Did he touch you?” she asked. That was her final question. The girls looked at me, waiting for me to say ‘no’ again. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know why I couldn’t lie again, but no matter how much I tried, the words just wouldn’t come out.
Sajida leaned forward again, “And did you touch him?” she added. Kizzy wanted to defend me somehow; explain my ignorance was the reason for Hezekiah to come into the house. But she couldn’t defend me, knowing that Hezekiah and I possibly did more than ‘talk’ the night before.
Sajida got up out of her throne and walked around her desk, savoring her movements like a snake slithering towards me. Her dress dragged against the floor. It was rather revealing - her breasts were exposed on the sides as were the sides of her legs. Her dress should have been the last thing I cared about. But I was desperate to find anything to put my mind on that didn’t include the topic of Hezekiah; she wasn’t wearing shoes, either. Her toenails were painted a nice evergreen color.
“Vampires can’t enter a house they haven’t been invited into, Alisande,” Sajida reminded me in a sing-song tone. She already had her answer, yet loved to toy with my guilt. She stood before me, looking down at me like I was a child in trouble. Then the pieces clicked together in her head completely.
“The big one just said that Hezekiah stole some shit out of your house,”
Esther gasped. “Hey! I’m still here!”
Sajida ignored her. “So, you invited him into the house, didn’t you? That’s how he was able to steal these precious items of yours -”
Then Sajida gasped, placing both of her hands over her mouth and over dramatizing the fact that she hit the jackpot.
“Wait. That bastard seduced you, fucked you, then stole all your shit?”
Technically, we didn’t fuck. He used my vibrator on me. But otherwise, spot on.
Sajida laughed again. Only this time, she was laughing solely at me and my foolishness. I kept my head down; the girls’ were staring at me, shocked at the truth.
We waited for Sajida’s laughter to subside. It was clear that Kizzy was the most disappointed in me. Rocio was just angry, while Esther was disgusted. I felt all three of these emotions about myself once again.
Her dress danced behind her as she walked behind her desk to sit back down. “I am glad y’all came to me tonight; this is a good one. A really good one.” She pursed her lips at me. “I don’t blame you for giving up the pussy so easily. Hezekiah Mercier is a fine piece of ass. Too bad he can’t stand the sight of me, or I’d do the same thing, girl.”
“We just want him dead,” Kizzy urged. She was done with the games and the lies and wanted what we came here for; the distress was evident on her face.
“Well, it ain’t that simple. Elder vampires are different from your average Leech. Elders have been dead a long time, meaning they’re a lot more powerful. Strong. Fast. Smart as a mother fucker, too. Some can shapeshift, others are telepathic or hypnotists. Hell, some can even turn invisible. Bottom line is, your average silver crossbow or wooden stake will not cut it.”
We were all a lot more anxious once Sajida was finished explaining. Under the impression that your average anti-bloodsucker tool would kill an elder, we suffered a rude awakening in that moment.
“So, do you have something that can kill an Elder?” I asked her. Wordlessly, she stood and gestured for us to follow her. No one got up for a second, but anxious to see what she had in store, I got up first. Everyone else stood and followed afterward. In a door frame, a beaded curtain hung in front of us. Sajida swiped her index finger left, and suddenly, the beads parted in the middle to let us through. When we all walked underneath them, she let them fall again without touching them. I ran my hands across the beads one more time; lifeless. She brought life into anything she wanted. It amazed and frightened me. I wondered if Mama was capable of this type of magic?
The room we were in was the size of a normal bedroom, but nowhere near decorated like one. From the floor to the ceiling, wooden chests stood high around us. Shelves were filled with jewelry, charms, books and other expensive items. A pile of jewels sat in a woven basket inside a locked cage - jades, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, garnets, and gold rings formed a mountain of worth. We could barely navigate ourselves through, there was so much stuff.
“Wow,” Kizzy breathed. We all realized that it must have been the room where Sajida stored all her offerings - gifts that people have given her in exchange for her services. Some things looked priceless, others looked like junk. But if Sajida was as superficial as we had discovered from that room, then it was clear that every item in that room carried a considerable amount of wealth to its name.
We approached a long, narrow chest right by a boarded up window. Sajida snapped her fingers, making one more lamp flick on to illuminate where we stood. The chest we stood in front of was locked shut until she pressed her hand against the lock. In moments, the lock slid off the chest like melted butter, falling onto the ground. Then the chest opened. Before us was an item I had never seen before.
“Lucky for you, I had a group of vampire hunters come by a couple of weeks ago that were fixing for some invisibility potions,” Sajida said to us.
It was a dagger, what she showed us - a dagger made of silver, the handle dressed in dark leather that had a figure carved in it. I immediately recognized who it was - Ra, the Egyptian sun god. In the middle of the Quilon was an orange orb, clouded and foggy, but still ripe with power. The blade had hieroglyphs etched into the silver, covering the entire surface.
"Aubade,” Sajida said. “This here will kill you an Elder.”
“So, how does it work?” Kizzy asked. “Surely, there’s something we have to do to make it function?”
Sajida shook her head, smiling at Kizzy’s curiosity. “No, no, no, cher. Aubade’s power comes straight from the sun. Slip this into a vampire’s heart, and they ole sainted bloodsucker from then on.”
“You said that silver wouldn’t suffice for an Elder vampire,” Rocio scoffed.
Sajida pivoted to face Rocio. For once, Rocio regretted opening her big mouth.
“That’s right. But no vampire is a match against the sun. Not one.”
We had our answer. Aubade was the key to killing Hezekiah and possibly all of the other Elders if we were lucky to even catch one. Kizzy reached out to take Aubade from Sajida’s hold, but Sajida held the dagger high above her head. We jumped and huddled together, ready to flee in case she had plans to use it on us.
“Aubade comes at a price,” she told us. Her mood had rapidly changed; from historian to a drug dealer, expecting their pay out. Quickly, all of us began to pull out all the money we had brought with us. But once we held out the currency to Sajida, she almost spat on it.
“Money,” she growled. “Money is of no value. Paper. Dirty. Worthless. In forty years, no one will care about this trash.”
Our hands were held out to her like beggars, unsure of what to do next. We were aware of our foolishness - coming to see Sajida the Shunned without an offer to give. We redistributed our money to each other and stood like four fools. Sajida’s patience was waning, and so was my confidence.
“Don’t tell me you done wasted my time, now,” she said, nearing us with the dagger still in hand. We were frantic to find something of ours that we could give to Sajida; something valuable. Something worth a vampire-slaying dagger. Kizzy offered Sajida her crossbow, but that made Sajida even angrier; the crossbow was nowhere near the worth of Aubade. Eventually, we began to argue with each other over our inability to have thought this through. We had to think - I had to think. Not only did we need this dagger, but we needed our lives along with it. I thought hard as the girls argued. I thought and racked my brain, mentally sifting through my bag and everyone else’s but coming up short. My breath was growing shorter and shorter, only to be completely knocked out of my lungs when Sajida lunged forward and tried to stab Esther with Aubade. Instinct kicked in. I reached for the gris-gris around my neck and took it off right in the middle of Esther’s horrified screams. I ran in front of Esther, willing to take the blow if my pendant wasn’t adequate.
“Here!” I offered Sajida my pendant, begging her with my eyes to take it. She froze mid-pose, looking down at the gris-gris glow brightly in my hand. She lowered Aubade slowly until it was at her wretched side. I pushed the gris-gris continuously to her until she took it from me and examined it with her Viridian gaze.
“My mama - Madam Dumont - made it with Priestess Qadira.”
I knew my mama’s name carried a substantial weight in New Orleans, and I had hoped that it would make a difference with Sajida. By the grace of the Loa, it did. In fact, it did more than that. It sent her into a fit of joy. She held it in her grip tight, never to let it go.
“I like you, Alisande,” she said to me. “You’re a clever girl. Naive and arrogant, but you’re clever.” Sajida closed her eyes. We waited with bated breath. “My spirit guides are telling me that you’ve got a lot in store for your future, Alisande: Power. Love. A lot of truth and a lot of pain. But most importantly - power. Be ready, girl.”
I didn’t know what she meant by her revelation. All I cared about was getting everyone and myself out of her presence alive. Sajida put my pendant into her pocket and handed me Aubade onto my two open palms. I felt the heat radiating from it. Kizzy took the leather scabbard from Sajida and placed Aubade inside of it, hiding it in her bag. We all held onto each other, watching Sajida and preparing ourselves for any sudden moves. She took out the gris-gris and admired it one more time before looking up at us.
“Your daddy,” Sajida suddenly said to me. “Ekwala Ngando. I know you’re still curious about him, child. I see it in your eyes. Don’t you want to know how he died?”
It was clear that Sajida wanted to keep us wrapped in her grip. But I knew how she played, and I didn’t want to match her.
“I’ve been fine all these years not knowing about him, I’ll be fine the rest of them,” I told her. She huffed, amused, then nodded.
“Thank you for your time,” she told us. “I hope Aubade works out well for y’all.”
We’re free to go, was the first thought in my mind. I ushered a trembling Esther out of the Offering’s room and guided her to the door. Sajida followed us out - I told everyone to leave first since Sajida seemed to tolerate me the most; I was less likely to piss her off with my presence.
Not only that, I made her smile - she smiled at me, rolling the gris-gris in her palm as I walked out of the door.