Chapter 33: Who We Come From
I stayed quiet, though there were more than enough questions floating about in my head.
I watched silently as Mama tried to patch up my wound. It was sunrise, which alieved only a portion of our anxiety.
“There,” Mama said, tightening the bandage around my arm. “That should hold you off until we can get you stitched up.”
I barely heard these words coming out of her mouth. I gazed out of the window, looking at the sunrise. Somehow, I wondered if those vampires were burning; if they were caught outside when the sun rays broke the horizon, burning to a definite death. I thought of this, over and over again the higher the sun rose in the lavender sky. Perhaps I didn’t wish this death upon all of them; I couldn’t help but imagine Abraham burning by himself. Him and only him.
Mama’s voice snapped me back into the reality of the destroyed house - the living room with its misplaced furniture and broken vases, the turned over chairs and scattered books. Mama looked around, too. She looked around and sighed, then went back to making sure the bandage around my arm was tight enough; it was already bleeding through.
“Lisa,” she said again. “You burned those papers. Did you?”
I just stared at her. I didn’t lie, because she would know if I was. Slowly, she became upset.
“How?” she asked me. “How, if you lit that fire and burned the altar?!”
“I didn’t light that fire,” I said. “Mama, I tried burning the papers, I did. But something stopped me.”
“Who?” she asked.
“I don’t know what or who it was. They were in my head, telling me not to burn the parchments. And when I kept trying to light the match underneath them, it threw the match onto the fire and made it burst into flames. It - she - was speaking to me.”
“She?” Mama’s eyebrows furrowed, then suddenly, they relaxed. Her eyes became big and wide like she saw something horrid outside. But there was no one there. It was a memory overtaking her. A memory or realization or something she knew would come back to haunt her. And I knew she wasn’t going to tell me; Mama was still in denial, thinking that keeping information from me would help protect me. But after the outburst I gave her in front of everyone in the meeting room, she didn’t know how long this would last.
“Who know who it was, don’t you?” I asked her. She looked at me, wondering if it would have been a good idea to tell me, but by the irate and frustrated look on my face, she knew she didn’t have a choice.
Mama inhaled, taking my hand and bringing me into the dining room. We sat at the dining room table, staring at each other silently as the birds sang outside.
“I do,” she answered. “At least, I-I think I do.”
“Who was it?” I pleaded with her. “Who was in my head? Why was she in my head?”
Mama took a moment to get her words together, simplifying them in a way I would understand. “In Vodou, there are what we call Lwa met tet. It’s similar to a ‘guardian angel’ in a sense. It’s a personal guardian or spirit. Everyone got one. Not all of us know exactly who our lwa met tet is. If you were to go to a mambo or a houngan they might be able to tell you, but it’s best not to have nobody else know who your met tet is; it’s a personal bond.
“Lwa got different identities; Rada lwa, Petro lwa, Ghede Lwa - spirits with ties to the Motherland, dark counterparts of Rada lwa or lwa who are associated with the dead. Any of these lwa can be anybody’s met tet.” Mama paused, clearly pained by something. “I’ve known who my met tet was since I was young. Around the time I had you. But I think of them more as a Djab.”
“What’s a djab?” I asked.
“A family spirit.”
I spent a moment putting the pieces together in my head, but it still wasn’t making complete sense.
“Djab are passed down, generation after generation,” Mama continued. “But most the time, we don’t speak ’bout them. A met tet or djab can be risky to talk to - some are malicious, others mean well. Ain’t no way to tell.”
“And yours -”
“Ain’t mean well,” she interjected. “At least that’s what I think.” Mama looked out the kitchen window. “Ever since I found out who she was, she been tormenting me. Using me. I try not to let her out. Most times I keep her out my head, but sometimes I get so scared or mad that I can’t help it.”
Mama’s powers. It made sense then, at least that small detail. Her power came directly from the spirit world, channeled through her by her djab - her personal spirit - by possession.
“So, that’s what Sajida meant when she said the spirits chose you,” I said. “She meant that your met tet or your djab had been channeling you - possessing you - all these years from the spirit world?”
Mama nodded. “Sajida and Aza were the only ones who knew about my djab when I was younger, and around that time, Sajida had come into contact with her own djab. She let it consume her. Completely.”
“Who is her djab?”
“I don’t know. No one knows except her. It got to be someone from our family line.”
I froze still at the sound of ‘our family.’ Mama saw the change in my expression, quickly regretting letting the words slip out of her mouth.
“What do you mean by ‘our family’?” I asked, but it was no use asking. I already knew; I had an idea.
I couldn’t help but laugh. I laughed, standing up from the table and pacing the room as if I was losing my head. Mama didn’t say anything, but she stood, too.
“Lisa, sit down,” she asked me, but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I could only process this information standing and moving around.
“So, when Sajida called you ‘sister,’ she wasn’t playing?” I asked, cackling at this point. “She really meant ‘sister,’ as in Sajida the Shunned is your sister? Sajida is my aunt?!”
“We don’t look at each other that way no more,” Mama defended herself. “I stopped calling her sister ’long time ago.”
“But you two are still related, Mama,” I pointed out, my voice louder than I would have liked it to be. “A-and these djab that are part of our lineage, one of them turned Sajida into what she is today. Who says that can’t happen to you? Or me?”
“So, that’s who was talking to me upstairs? My spirit guide? My djab? Was she trying to possess me like yours?”
“No!” Mama shouted, then shook her head. “I-I mean, I don’t think so. W-what happened to Sajida and what’s happening to me ain’t gonna happen to you.”
“How do you know that, Mama?” I asked her. And so it began - the knot in my throat, the tears pooling in my eyes. I began to cry, finding it hard to breathe. But I didn’t cry for me. I was crying for my mother, because I was scared - if Abraham didn’t get to her, then this djab would consume her, possess her body and spirit, turning her into Sajida the Shunned or something worse. When Mama let the spirit overtake her, I couldn’t even recognize her. She was someone different. Someone evil and scorned.
It was then I asked. I asked Mama who her djab was. Maybe finding out who hers was would lead me to figure out who my met tet was. I didn’t know much about my family tree; my family was small, with my only aunt cast away in a demonic bayou and my father dead before I turned six. I didn’t know my grandmother; Mama barely talked about her, but I know she hated her and could barely honor her when she died. As for siblings? I was an only child. I knew nothing of my family, dead and alive. I knew nothing. But two words - a name. A name that came out of Mama’s mouth made me know everything all at once, like a harsh tide or a hurricane’s eye smacking me into reality. Mama looked me dead in the eye, again, like we were equals; this made it easier for her to tell me truths, looking at me like I wasn’t her only child.
“Marie Laveau,” Mama said ruefully.
Marie Catherine Laveaux, commonly known without the ‘x’ at the end of her surname. That x, however, she used to sign her name; she was illiterate.
I knew of her. Everyone in New Orleans knew of her. Every voodoo priest and priestess in the city had her photo in their houses and places of worship; The Coterie had a large, framed painting of her in Mama’s shop. Marie was - is - the most well known Voodoo Priestess to have ever existed. Ever. Google her name and see for yourself. She was the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans before that “Queen” became plural and more priestesses stepped up and popularized themselves.
She died in 1881. To the public, she died of old age - natural causes. But the truth was revealed an hour before Mama said those two words to me; Terah’s clan killed her. Vampires killed her and her kin. Back then, as Mama explained, tensions between Marie and the vampires were at an all-time high. Why? No one knows exactly. But after years of feuding, they finally decided to kill the Queen herself in the hopes that it would squash voodooism in New Orleans forever.
“It did the opposite,” Mama explained. “Because while they were killing off the last of Marie’s family, her daughter ran off into hiding.”
And as Marie’s daughter, Marie Laveau II, ran off into hiding with a few novitiates, serviteurs or ‘co-workers’ and two priestesses, the vampires thought they had won. But those two priestesses and Marie II eventually formed The Coterie with the refugees. And the war resumed until Terah’s declaration of peace a century or so later between the voodooists and his clan.
From Marie II, all the way to Mama, Sajida and I - we were descendants of Marie Laveau herself. And Marie Laveau was Mama’s met tet. Her Djab.
Her “Holy” Guardian Angel.
It explained why Mama tortured Hezekiah the way she did on the porch. It wasn’t her, it was Marie Laveau, using that opportunity she had with Mama’s body to hurt the man that killed her and her family. It explained even more than this, but by this time, my brain was overheating; I couldn’t speak. I hadn’t spoken since Mama said “Marie Laveau.” My mouth was drilled shut, my eyes following Mama as if Marie was going to come out of her body any moment. Even when Kizzy and Aza ran into the house, I still didn’t speak.
“We came over as soon as the sun started coming up,” Kizzy said, setting her crossbow down on the table and making sure we were alright. Aza came over to me, asking me a plethora of questions regarding what happened, touching my wound and assuring me that she could heal me. It sounded like muffled white noise, their rambling. I wanted to be happy to see them, but I couldn’t be. And immediately, by my silence, Aza knew something was wrong. She looked at mama, and mama looked at her; Aza knew. This was what she meant by there being a lot that Mama wasn’t telling me. This was it. And it was finally out.
At least part of it.
We drove into the city back in Aza’s car. None of us spoke. We only stared out of the window, watching the sun anxiously, waiting for nightfall with dread even though it wasn’t even noon yet.
The trunk was filled with whatever we could fit in it; whatever was too important to leave behind. I held the parchments in my hand in the back seat, forcing myself not to look at them. Mama said I could look at them if I wanted to, but warned that I wouldn’t be able to understand it. She didn’t tell me what the papers meant, knowing my brain couldn’t process anything else.
When we arrived at Aza’s, we were welcomed outside by the Coterie, still in their night clothes, rushing to the car to welcome us. The Priestesses wouldn’t stop bombarding Mama with questions, and the House members did the same with me. Aza told everyone to give us room, especially considering the wound on my arm was bleeding out. Aza, with an asking look towards Mama, took me into the house and straight up to her room. She ordered me to undress and bathe, and I did exactly that without uttering a word. Even though my entire body was sore, I washed the dirt, blood and grime off my skin with scalding hot water that nearly cooked me alive. I scrubbed and scrubbed as if it would erase the entire night I endured from my mind, but when the images of Hezekiah in his monstrous state and Abraham still lingered, I looked down at the dirty washing into the drain and turned the shower off.
I dried off, dressed in what Aza left me to wear which was a long, blue cotton dress of hers, and exited the bathroom. Aza was waiting on her bed for me. When I appeared, she immediately told me to sit at her desk.
“Lemme see your arm,” she said to me. I held it out to her, watching as she examined my wound. I hissed when she touched it.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s alright,” I assured her - the first words I had said in hours.
Aza reached over and grabbed a stone mortar and pestle from across her large desk. Opening the cabinet above the desk, she brought down three bottles labeled in a language I didn’t know; the letters looked ancient. One bottle was brown, the other two were a deep burgundy. Then, she got up and ripped leaves from two plants by her window that overlooked the garden. She carried them gently back to her seat, placing them in the mortar, and poured liquid from each of the bottles on top of the leaves. As she sealed the wooden top on the last bottle, she began to ground everything in the mortar with the pestle, using all her strength. This went on for a while; she didn’t stop until everything resulted in a thick, dark green paste.
“This gone hurt a little,” she warned, but ‘little’ was an understatement. The moment she scooped the paste onto her hands and onto my wound, the burning pain raced through my entire arm. I gritted my teeth and tried to power through it as best as I could as she rubbed the concoction deep into my laceration. It pained her to see how much it hurt me.
“I’m sorry, baby,” she said to me.
“I’m fine,” I assured. Gradually, the pain began to reside. Aza continued to massage my arm with the paste in silence. I looked at her do this until she met my eyes. She sighed.
“She told you,” Aza said. I averted my eyes to the other side of her room, staring at the charms. “You know that it don’t mean it’s gone happen to you.”
“How do any of you know that?” I said, fatigue starting to wear in as my eyes became heavy. “Aza, I heard her. She was in my head. She smacked a match out of my damn hand. These spirits? It’s clear that they’re powerful and angry. Look what they did to Sajida? Look what they’re doing to Mama?”
“Because they let them in,” Aza said. “They both let these spirits in, invited them in, and now look? They got a hold on them. You can’t be trying to mess with your met tet ’cause you don’t know what type of lwa they be.”
"I haven’t messed with my met tet,” I argued. “I don’t even know who she is. But she’s clearly trying to come into contact with me; she must be one of Marie’s family members that Abraham or Terah killed. She has to be.”
“What if she was killed by one of the Elders?” My blood runs cold at the mere thought that comes to mind. “Aza, what if Hezekiah killed her -”
“Lisa!” Aza exclaimed. Her hand was firm on my arm but no longer moving. I stiffened in my seat; her expression was suddenly bothered. “Don’t be conjuring up no nonsense like that.”
I waited expectantly for Aza to continue grilling me, but she caught herself instead.
“I...sorry,” she stammered. “I didn’t mean to...yell.”
“No, you’re right,” I said, eyeing her. “I’m just...shaken, still. I don’t know what I’m saying. ”
Aza wore a sympathetic look before resuming her work on her arm. There was a comforting warmth on my skin before she was finished. I looked down to find the wound nothing more than a faint scar, the pain gone. She grabbed a towel and wiped the excess off my arm. I thanked her, a bit wary of our previous episode.
“Come on,” she got up, smiling down encouragingly at me. “Let’s go downstairs.”
I got up to follow Aza, marveling at my arm. As we left the room, my eyes were enamored by a portrait on top of Aza’s dresser. It was a small photo, trapped in a gold frame. It was old and dated, but the woman pictured was young. She was beautiful, this woman - calm face and gentle eyes, hair tied up with ribbons and bows. I stared for a long time - long enough for me to remember where I had said the same comments about the same photo I had seen before. My eyebrows furrowed as I continued to stare; I had definitely seen that photo before, and it took me a moment to remember where.
Come on, child. You’ll get it.
She was back, but I wasn’t alarmed. I was focused on the photo, trying to remember. And I continued to stare until I remembered.
Hezekiah had this exact same photo in his locket - the one that I found at the Jubilee while it was burning down.
Your Mama ain’t the only one with secrets, the spirit said to me seriously.