Chapter 35: Your Father's Father, My Mother's Mother
I spent one minute and sixteen seconds looking at them.
Aza and Hezekiah. I spent one minute and sixteen seconds looking at Aza and Hezekiah, back and forth, deep into their eyes, carving out the bridges of their noses, the curvature of their ample lips, and the creases of their brows. I stared at the features they shared until they were one - until I was able to believe that Miss Aza Okoye and Hezekiah Mercier were related.
Well, it was actually Camile Mercier. That was Miss Aza’s legal name - Camile Aza Mercier-Okoye. And from that, she went by Miss Aza Okoye.
Aza and Hezekiah didn’t say anything as I looked at them. They knew that I was still in disbelief. In shock. Hezekiah crossed his arms over his chest and waited patiently, a smug yet slightly anticipative look on his face. Aza was anxiously waiting for me to say or do something, her hand having left my arm and returned to her side.
When the 76th second passed, I finally spoke.
“Family?” was all I managed to say at first.
Aza nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Hezekiah is my grandfather. Well, my great great great great grandfather.”
I held up the photo, “And this is -”
“My wife,” Hezekiah said - the first words he had said since he came into the house. When he said the word “wife,” I saw a shift in his mood. He looked almost uncomfortable when he mentioned her - like he was plagued with memories that he wanted to suppress.
I walked towards them, composing myself once again. “I still don’t understand,” I began. “Aza, why would you hide something like this?”
“Because if the Coterie found out that I was related to Hezekiah Mercier, they wouldn’t be too happy.”
“You mean they would excommunicate you like they did to Doctor Ben?”
She rolled her eyes at the sound of her brother’s name. “No. I mean they would kill me.”
I sucked in a sharp breath at those words, for she meant them completely. To be related to a member of Terah’s (now Abraham’s) brotherhood, especially to an Elder, would be automatic treason in The Coterie’s eyes. In addition to Aza practicing root work and witchcraft? I felt the knife slice my neck; I could only imagine how Aza felt.
“So is that why you’re here?” I said to Hezekiah, whose presence was still making me anxious. “To prove your case or something? Because you’re still an Elder; you’re still part of Abraham’s clan.”
“I killed one of my own brothers,” Hezekiah replied, annoyed with my petulance. “Ain’t none of them want to see me right now.”
“So, you come here? Where they can track you?”
“I know how to cover up my trail, babygirl. Been doin’ it for over a hundred years.”
I raised a finger at him. ”Don’t call me babygirl no more,” I snapped. Hezekiah laughed insultingly. “And that doesn’t mean anything. How do we know we can even trust you?”
“He’s blood, Lisa,” Aza said.
“Not to me.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “I mean, Aza, you watched me have sex with your however-great grandfather and now you want me to drop all suspicion and just roll with whatever you two are saying? That doesn’t sound the least bit fucked up to you?”
That line stung. Both of them. But to me, these words had warrant. Secrets were being unveiled left and right, first about my relation to Sajida the Shunned and most importantly, Marie Laveau. Now to find out that Hezekiah is Miss Aza’s Grandfather, four times, has spiraled me into near-denial that all of this information is true. Even meeting with Doctor Ben had my head spinning still, him detailing the revelations about Marie Laveau II and her dark reign.
Hezekiah stepped forward, making the space between us smaller. Even though he was in his “normal” state, I couldn’t help but see him as the monster he was back at the safe house, completely rid of himself. The thoughts and images still haunted me, and Hezekiah knew this. It looked like it troubled him, knowing I couldn’t look into those bright amber eyes and see nothing short of a monster. But he didn’t address it. Instead, he continued on despite my animosity.
“You got reason not to trust me,” he said. “My loyalty still be elsewhere. But I’ve risked a lot for you and your sisterhood - enough to get me killed, if they ain’t already got the idea in they heads to do it.”
“Abraham values you too much,” I said. “He’d be a fool to kill you, even though you killed Beau.”
“I didn’t want to kill Beau, Lisa, but I ain’t had no control.”
I scoffed at the notion - I was too stubborn, too frustrated and conflicted - to want to understand. “Is that the excuse you keep telling yourself? The one you’re going to tell Abraham when you leave us here and run back to the other side again?”
“You’re a damned fool, Lisa,” Hezekiah said down to me, his voice low and frustrated, “You got no idea what it’s like to go days without feeding when you’re a creature like me. You ain’t got the slightest clue. The moment my body changes, all I see is black. Only thing I ’member is throwing you out the way from that boy’s arrow and breaking Beau’s neck. Everything else in between was the animal inside me’s doing!”
“Well, I’m sorry if I can’t seem to get the image of you trying to kill me and my friends out of my head!” I shouted impulsively, unaware that such words would even escape my lips. But these words stunned Hezekiah into silence. He knew for certain what was truly bothering me, and I hated that I was even bothered in the first place. But I couldn’t help it. I remembered his teeth, his eyes, his claws, his screeching. I remembered his submissiveness to Abraham - his master - and I remembered how he easily he killed Beau - the power Hezekiah possessed.
But if it weren’t for him, Beau would have killed me.
Hezekiah sighed, sliding his hands into the pockets of his dark brown trousers, “You want an apology? For what you saw? You want me to apologize for what your mama did to me?”
“No,” I said coldly. I couldn’t even look at him. At either of them. “I want you to be honest. I don’t want trusting you to be a mistake. Again.”
“We are trying to be honest with you, Lisa,” Aza said softly. “You just got to listen. Take a deep breath, calm down, and listen. Please."
“Plus, you ain’t got much time, babygirl,” Hezekiah said while tapping his imaginary watch. “Your Mama will be back any minute.”
Aza rolled her eyes and her head towards him, “’Kiah, stop.”
Kiah. How comfortable. How quaint and familiar.
I ignored him and decided to indulge, at least for just a moment. But I had questions. A lot of questions.
Aza looked to Hezekiah, eyeing him askingly as if she was curious as to who should start, but since he kept his lips pursed, she decided to begin.
“I’m not sure where to start,” she said, bitting her rouge-tinted lip.
“You and your clan killed Marie Laveau and her family,” I said, directly to Hezekiah, ”My ancestors. Why don’t you start there?”
“They had it coming,” was his response, callous and heartless like his nature.
"Seriously?” I replied, disgusted and nearly fuming.
“What he mean is,” Aza interjected, “Marie pioneered the war between voodoo and vampires. She learned from her mistakes too late, and in turn paid for it with her life.”
“The only reason she started a war with your clan is because the Council tricked her into believing that you killed her husband, Jacques,” I argued.
Hezekiah cocked a brow, “So, after she done had her spirit friends terrorize our clan and kill our human families, she then realized that we had nothing to do with her husband’s death? Forgive me if that don’t warrant none of our forgiveness that quickly.”
I said nothing. Even though I would never admit it aloud, Hezekiah had a point. But one look at Aza toned down a bit of his defensiveness.
“But surprisingly, it wasn’t Marie that was what made us cross the line,” Hezekiah said. “It was her daughter, Marie II. That bitch was...s-she was...”
He couldn’t even finish his sentence. In fact, Hezekiah seemed to drift off into space, caught in a memory that wouldn’t let go of him. It was only until he realized Aza and I were staring at him that he snapped out of it and continued on, not bothering to finish his previous sentence.
“Terah killed Marie I and her kin because of Marie II’s doing.”
“But she got away,” I said to him. “How?”
“’Cause of me.” Hezekiah rubbed his eyes, his long legs slowly pacing around the room, “She wasn’t supposed to get away. She was supposed to die with the rest of the priestesses and co-workers that served them.”
“But Hezekiah, knowing that my grandmother Camile - his wife - was also a voodoo priestess, warned her about Terah which gave her some time to escape,” Aza added.
“It was only supposed to be Camile and Suzie,” Hezekiah resumed, more bothered than before. “I told them the path they were to take to get out New Orleans, north-west into some Indian territory underneath Kansas. I gave ’em a map and everything.”
“Suzie?” I asked. At the question, Hezekiah’s jaw clenched.
“Suzette, my girl,” he answered. “My...my daughter. She was grown at the time; I was turned into a vampire when she was six or seven.” It was apparent that he didn’t want to talk about her anymore. “But I...I gave ’em the map, Marie II caught up to ’em right after her mama was killed and forced them to take her and a couple others along with them to the Indian territory. Terah and Abraham, they never found out how they got away.”
“But it was you all along?”
Hezekiah shook his head. “Had I’d known that Marie II would have followed them, I would have tracked her down and killed her myself. But I didn’t want to be missed. Last thing I needed was one of my brothers to come looking for me. So, I made sure that my girls got out the main streets and went back to my clan. Five years later, Marie II come trotting back with a group of priestesses she called The Coterie to come ‘reclaim New Orleans.’ Fighting was back on like it ain’t never ended.”
The irony - the founding member of the sisterhood that Terah’s clan hated the most was the wife of the clan’s Elder jewel, Hezekiah Mercier. It boggled my mind, how everything connected in the most twisted of ways. Twisted, but still connected.
Aza then huffed, her hands firm on her hips. “And all while the Council stood by and watched. Divide and conquer, right?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Somehow, my blood began to boil as if I was in the middle of the confrontational period, watching the Council stand in the shadows and laugh while we killed each other.
“How come you guys didn’t go after the Council?” I asked Hezekiah. “I mean, they were the ones that framed you?”
“A group of black folk going after a group of white folk back in Jim Crow New Orleans?” Hezekiah laughed at the notion. “C’mon, we weren’t dumb. Even though we were bloodsuckers, the Council still ended up being stronger than us. They had connections, money, power. Hell, some of ’em were turned into vampires before they even stepped foot on the goddamn Mayflower. “Cause of this, we were just forced to...to - ”
“Coexist,” Aza finished. “And once Marie II formed an ‘alliance’ with them? It was a wrap.”
Doctor Ben was right - not only was Abraham the enemy, but the Council was, too. They were masters at lingering in the shadows, puppeteering. They let Marie and the vampires destroy each other, and now, history was repeating itself. The Council, well aware of Abraham’s rage and hatred against the Coterie for burying him alive for twenty years, would stop at nothing to get rid of us.
And once that happened, The Council would get rid of him, too. And everyone like him.
My first thought was to bring this information to the Coterie. But the moment I even mentioned the mere idea, Aza and Hezekiah were both fiercely against it.
“Hezekiah, I understand your reservations,” I argued, “But, look at the big picture, here. You’re the reason why the Coterie exists! Why me and Aza exist! I mean, that should be some type of consolation -”
“It’s not,” Hezekiah said sharply. “There ain’t no way your Mama gone forgive me for what my clan did to Marie Laveau. And we ain’t just talking about Marie’s time neither - there be a lot of shit that happened back during your Mama’s time that just kept turning the knife.” Hezekiah shared a look with Aza, and I knew there was a story that they wouldn’t tell me that night. “I ain’t ready for no one else but y’all to know what I did. ’Cause if Abraham find out, he’d kill me. Without question.”
Without question. I felt chills run up and down my arms, my lungs shrinking in my chest. In that moment, I went from feeling an ounce of hope to feeling powerless again.
“Abraham’s still my master,” Hezekiah added. “My loyalty to him never change, it not gone ever change, neither. In the end, it’s in my nature to go back to him. I got no choice.”
My face went sour at his testament, bringing me back to the beginning of our encounter when I felt like I couldn’t trust him. Turning away, I looked at the photograph of Hezekiah’s wife, Camile, in my hand. I wondered how she would feel about this - how she felt about it during her time.
“This stays between us,” Aza said, though I still couldn’t look up from the photograph. “Nothing we said leaves this room.”
I heard Hezekiah’s footsteps near the window, staring out into the night. “I gotta go.”
He walked over to Aza, staring down upon her, “Be safe, you hear?” he said, like a parent scolding their child. Aza nodded, and it was then that I looked up to find Hezekiah staring at me. I stared back at him, though I didn’t know what to make of him. He had a history that made him vulnerable, almost human in a sense. But at the same time, he was still heartless; his heart literally stopped beating over a century and a half ago. In truth, I didn’t know how to receive him, nor did I know how to give him away. Therefore, we just locked eyes, my being feeling as if I was being sucked into his gaze. Then, he turned around and left out the window; in the blink of an eye, he was gone.
The room was quiet for a while. Painfully quiet. I put Camile’s photo back on the dresser, then looked at Aza, almost asking her non-verbally if what happened really did just happen.
“Not a word,” Aza said to me. “At least not until we figure this out.”
“Alright.” I held my breath before asking, “Don’t you ever wonder, though, what telling the Coterie this information might mean for you? They’ll know that you’re the descendant of one of the Coterie’s founding members, Aza.”
“I don’t want none that,” she replied, almost sickened by the idea. “Especially with your mama around.”
I took a slight offense to those words, but Aza, feeling so deeply about it, disregarded how I felt.
“There was a time when her and I were close,” she explained. “But now? I’d be a fool to trust her. I don’t know her no more.”
“What do you mean?”
Aza shook her head. “She told you already. Her ‘met tet.’ ‘Djab.’ Whatever she calls it. I don’t trust it.”
“But her djab is Marie Laveau,” I said, but Aza shook her head again, this time gravely.
“No, no, no. That spirit of hers ain’t Marie, I know for sure. It be someone else. Something else.”
“Who?” I asked, my heart slowly sinking in my chest.
“I’m not sure. But it’s someone close to us. Someone powerful in this life and the next.”
It took me a moment. It took both of us a moment; Aza didn’t think of the possibility until she looked at me and saw the resemblance in my eyes like I saw the resemblance to Hezekiah’s in hers. And when we said the name - her name - it felt as if a force had entered the room to sit and watch us. It watched us contemplate the possibility that perhaps Mama’s djab - her met tet, her spirit guide - wasn’t Marie Laveau.
It was Marie Laveau’s daughter.