Chapter 37: Have We Met Before?
I struggled with sleep for the rest of the night. I was a fool to believe that sleep would be easily achievable after what happened between Hezekiah and I in the kitchen.
I laid awake in the darkness, my body tense next to Esther’s on the blow-up mattress. Hezekiah had left into the night then, but his presence still loomed over me; his influence still lingered. I felt like he was still inside me; I felt his lips on mine. The taste of them. I heard the sounds of his moaning, and I saw his eyes, so bright and fluorescent like hellfire, but dark in intention and motive. All of my senses were overtaken by him completely no matter how hard I fought against them.
It was just sex, I assured myself - a meaningless encounter between two bodies that meant nothing beyond this. We both let lust overcome us in a moment of poor judgment. I told myself this over and over again until I somewhat believed it.
It was just sex...it was just sex...
These thoughts danced around in my mind until I finally managed to fall asleep. But that night, I dreamed of him.
When I woke up, I felt the heat first. It was like a blanket made of the thickest wool was draped over my body, covering me in sweat. I opened my eyes, looking around the living room to find it empty, thin sheets sprawled on the floor and over the couch.
“How you like your eggs, baby?” I heard Aza ask in the kitchen.
“Scrambled, please,” Esther replied.
I slowly got up, felt around for my glasses and put them on carefully; I had a headache. And my hips hurt; my inner thighs were tender and sensitive. I walked out of the living room and into the sunlit kitchen, where Kizzy, Esther, Imani and Rocio were sitting around the dining room table. Aza was by the stove, cooking a large pot of eggs - scrambled. There was a pan of bacon sizzling right next to it, and a pot of grits right behind it. Her eyebrows were drawn in. Focused. She was deep in thought but hiding it well. Not well enough, however; I saw through her.
When Aza saw me enter the kitchen, she smiled faintly. “Morning, sleepy head.” She poked the eggs. “You hungry? Everybody want them scrambled, but I’ll make some over easy if you want.”
I shook my head. “No, scrambled is fine. Thank you.”
No one could know. No one would know. Last night would remain a secret; I would never say a word about what Hezekiah and I did. My lips were sealed, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they had an idea already. What if they heard us? What if Esther, somehow, got into my mind? What if Aza got into my mind?
I walked over to the dining room table and sat down next to Imani. Everyone was looking down at the table surface, looking out the window, sipping coffee or orange juice, deep in thought. I sat still, my mouth pressed in a firm line.
After about five minutes, Aza told us to come make ourselves a plate. We all stood up and made a single file line, Esther first. Aza had made herself some toast with butter and a cup of coffee, carrying it to the table where she sat at the head of it. She tightened her purple silk robe, poured some creamer into her mug and sighed like she was gathering her words; a discussion was coming.
I grabbed a plate and loaded it with as much as I respectfully could. I was suddenly starving; Kizzy stared at me make my plate like I was crazy, grabbing three pieces of bacon because Imani, thankfully, didn’t want any. I dolloped a large spoonful of grits on my plate and poured some sugar over it.
“Damn, Lisa,” Kizzy said, laughing. “You eating for two?”
It was a joke - everyone was laughing. But once the words left Kizzy’s mouth, I suddenly became paranoid. I thought she knew that Hezekiah and I had sex. Was she insinuating that I was pregnant? That was impossible; he didn’t come inside me. He couldn’t - it was impossible -
“Relax,” she said, placing a hand on my shoulder. “I’m just kidding.”
I laughed shakily, “Right, right.”
I took a deep breath, sat down at the table and began eating. We all did. There was no conversation sparked. Instead, Aza just looked at us eat quietly. I felt her eyes on me as I ate my eggs; I refused to look at her.
Halfway through breakfast, she cleared her throat, and immediately we all stopped eating. Forks were dropped on plates gently, glasses of orange juice and water were finished then set down empty on the table. Aza, with her legs crossed and her long hair weaved into a thick braid down her shoulder, looked over us as her congregation. We stared on; we weren’t used to seeing her without any makeup. She maintained the same amount of beauty without it, faint freckles sprinkled over her nose, her eyes mature and wise.
“Just got word this morning from the Coterie,” she began. “Sajida agreed to meet with us this afternoon and they want every priestess to be there, so I’ll be heading over to sit in on the meeting.”
“We’re coming, too,” I said surely - then phrased it into a question. “Right?”
Aza’s lips curled up into a slight smile, “I won’t force y’all to come, but the more of us there with her around, the better. Sajida’s unpredictable. Most of you know that for a fact.”
Kizzy shook her head at the mere thought of Sajida while Esther practically cowered. Her memory stuck with us like hair on soap, and it bothered us, how it didn’t seem to go away. I wondered what the girls would think if they knew that Sajida and I were related - that she was my Aunt?
Despite this fear, I was going to accompany Aza, without a doubt. In fact, we all were - we were under the impression that we were going to go with her even before she brought it up. The Coterie couldn’t trust Aza. This was clear. But they couldn’t trust us either, me especially; we had each other. We needed each other.
Aza raised her coffee to her lips, “Then it’s settled,” she said before taking a sip. This sense of togetherness gave us a hope that we thought was unreasonable to have. We all met each other’s eyes, wondering if we should smile. We settled on just the eyes; it was only the beginning.
As we all resumed eating our breakfast, I could still feel Aza’s eyes boring into me, like she was dissecting me, peeling off my skin, trying to get inside. I stuffed a piece of bacon into my mouth and tried my damnedest not to look at her, but her stare was so invasive that it was hard to ignore.
She knows, I thought to myself. Maybe I should just throw in the towel?
When breakfast was finished, we all got ourselves dressed. Aza asked all of us to go out into her garden and pick out sage leaves; the girls already were familiar with what the plant looked like, whereas I had to look through one of Aza’s alchemy books. However, I didn’t need to look through the book because I wasn’t going to help pick leaves. Aza had another use for me.
“My study needs reorganizing,” she said to me as I made my way out to the garden. The task was quite odd to bestow upon me, but I didn’t argue against it. I followed Aza up the staircase and into her study, which happened to overlook the garden. Her study was a familiar place to me - it was the place where we all participated in the ritual to summon the Loa Erzulie Freda. Erzulie’s shrine was still on the other side of the room, but her veve wasn’t drawn on the floor in the center of the room like before. In its place was a red and gold rug with Arabic-inspired designs sewn into it. Bookshelves lined the sides of the room, with potions and incantations similar to Doctor Ben’s own study. What startled me the most, however, was what was coiled around the lamp near her desk - a green and black snake, the same one that Aza used in the Coterie’s ceremony out in the garden yesterday. The snake hissed lowly and tightened its body around the lamp pole.
“Don’t be scared of Medusa,” she laughed. “She won’t hurt you.”
Aza walked over to Medusa and began running her fingers over her scales lovingly. Medusa nudged its head against Aza’s hand as if she loved the attention Aza was giving her. Aza whispered some words to Medusa, and suddenly, the snake slithered down the lamp and into a metal box near the window, where it coiled inside and disappeared.
Aza told me to take a seat across from her desk. Immediately, I knew that she didn’t need help reorganizing anything in her study. Aza sat behind her desk and just looked at me. I couldn’t hold my tongue then.
“What’s the real reason you invited me up here, Aza?” I asked.
Aza chuckled. “I keep on forgetting just how damn intuitive you are.”
She wasn’t wrong, but it didn’t explain the reason for me being in her study. She adjusted herself in her chair, putting the words together in her head. I waited for the dreaded words - “Lisa, I know what you and Hezekiah did last night.” I waited and waited for them, but they never came. In fact, she told me a set of words that I wasn’t expecting.
“Before you woke up this morning, the girls told me about the vision you had yesterday,” she said. “During the ceremony.”
I felt tense and uncomfortable when I remembered what she spoke of - Papa Legba approaching me during the ceremony and granting me the vision of Doctor Ben’s Root House. This is what I told Aza - exactly what I told her. And after I finished, Aza was at a loss for words. Perplexed, rather. Dug right into a stupor.
“There was a reason Legba wanted me to go to Doctor Ben’s house,” I told her. “Maybe he wanted me to know about the history between Marie and Terah’s clan - what Ben told us.”
“Maybe,” Aza said, thinking heavily. “It’s strange - there were a group of trained and initiated Mambos during that ceremony, but Legba went to you.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I feel like he was trying to give me a push forward towards something. I think he just wanted me to know the truth - that the Council was the one that started this war between these two factions.”
“He probably don’t trust the Coterie anymore.” Aza sighed. “A lot of people don’t. But that means something, the fact he went to you."
“And it wasn’t just that,” I began. Aza frowned a bit. “That night, when Mama and I were left at the safe house with Abraham, Mama told me to go upstairs and find these papers hidden underneath the altar. She told me to burn them, but I couldn’t.”
“Someone - something - told me not to. And when I lit the match, this entity practically smacked it out of my hand. The only thing I know for certain is that it was a she. That’s all I know.”
Aza looked like she was holding in the biggest breath. “Have you told anyone else ’bout this?”
“Mama. I told Mama. And after I told her about it, she then told me about her met tet being Marie Laveau -”
“She thinks it’s Marie Laveau,” Aza corrected. “It could be anyone.”
“It could be Marie II,” I said.
“Could be. Has this ‘she’ spoken to you again?”
“She helped me put together the offering to summon Legba at the safe house, but that didn’t work. Only one more time after that, though. She spoke to me when you were patching me up - she basically fueled my suspicion into the woman pictured on your dresser drawer - Camile Mercier, Hezekiah’s wife.”
“So, this spirit wanted you to find out about Hezekiah and I being related?”
I nodded. “I think so. But I still don’t understand - the parchments, you and Hezekiah, Legba, how does it make any sense?”
“I don’t know.” Aza got up, walked over to the window and watched the girls down below pick up sage. “Where are the parchments?”
I dug into the pocket of my pants and pulled them out; I always kept them close to me since I found them. I gave them to Aza and watched as she read them over, but like me and Mama, she couldn’t understand it.
“I’ve never seen this language before,” she said. “It look like a mixture of French and some other words I ain’t never seen.”
“It’s signed with an X, which led me to believe that Marie Laveau might have written it.”
“But Marie Laveau couldn’t read or write.” Aza shook her head. “I can’t translate this.”
“Do you know anyone who can?”
“Maybe.” She rolled her eyes at the thought. “Actually, I do. Ben. He might be able to decipher what it’s saying.” Aza flipped through the other pages. “They’re all different from each other, though.”
“They must be important if this spirit didn’t want me to burn them.”
The idea I was about to propose was a bit outlandish. Actually, it was extremely outlandish. Dangerous, is what it was. But if it worked, it would answer all of our questions.
“What if you perform a leve tet on me,” I said to Aza. “I could come into contact with this spirit and ask her herself?”
Aza laughed. Cackled, actually. Until she saw I was dead serious.
“Lisa, are you crazy? No. Absolutely not.”
“Aza, this spirit who spoke to me will know exactly what these parchments mean!”
“A leve tet is too dangerous.”
“Not if you do it.”
“It’s dangerous no matter who does it. You don’t know what this spirit wants from you. She might not be as nice as she’s making herself out to be.”
“She’s been trying to guide me,” I argued. “She’s the one who told me not to burn those papers, she’s the one who probably made it possible for Legba to come into contact with me. She even led me to find out about you and Hezekiah. She knows a lot. All I gotta do is ask her ‘why’?”
“Lisa, it is way too dangerous. I’m not gonna be the one responsible for something bad happening to you.”
There was no swaying Aza’s decision. Defeated, I kept my mouth shut. Aza looked down at the papers again.
“I’ll call Ben. See what he can do about this.”
Aza walked out of the study, closing the door behind her. I sat in the chair, looking around at the trinkets of her study. Medusa had risen up, staring at me. I trusted Aza’s words and was no longer afraid of the snake. In fact, it was frighteningly human to me, staring at me as if she wanted something.
I keep on waiting for you to stop letting people walk all over you.
I shot up out of my chair as if it was as hot as a stove top. I looked around the room, my heart beating scarily fast. Medusa hissed again, staring at me.
Aza a sweet girl, but she in over her head sometime.
“You’re back,” I said into the air, my voice trembling. “Where’d you go?”
I always been here. I always here.
“You don’t talk much.”
Not to you. But I watch you. All the time. I’m your djab - that’s what I s’pposed do.
There was so much I wanted to say, but my mouth went dry and stagnant. So, this was her - this was my djab - my spirit guide.
You shouldn’t a let Aza take those papers.
“Why?” I asked, not knowing where to look. “I’m the last person who would know what to do with them.”
That’s where you wrong, baby.
“What do you mean?”
You the only one who know what to do with them.
“How does that make sense?”
’Cause you wrote them.
Impossible. I had never seen those papers in my life, nor had I ever seen that language. My brain was burning in confusion, but I entertained this spirit further.
“I wrote them?” I asked, nearly laughing. “Okay. Why did I write these papers?”
Because you knew you’d need them soon ’nough.
“Do these papers talk about how to defeat Abraham? Or the Council, perhaps?”
You should know that -
“But I don’t!” I yelled. “I-I don’t. I don’t know what language that is on the parchment.”
I teached it to you ’fore I died, Lisa. Part of it. You came up with the other part yourself.
This spirit was enjoying this - she enjoyed dangling the treat in front of me and watching me jump for it like a dog. But maybe this spirit’s influence only stretched so far. Perhaps the only way I could come into complete unrestricted contact with her is if I went through the lave tet to communicate and find out who she was.
But for now, I needed to get the papers back. The spirit claimed I wrote them and I would be the only one who could understand them. And even though I was certain I had never written them, I would listen to this spirit and where she took me.
But I needed to know - before she left.
“You’re my djab,” I said to her. “That means you chose me. Why?”
I knew, when I met you, that there was something different ’bout you.
“When did we meet?”
She laughed, We haven’t yet.
Somehow, I knew she was gone again. The air felt different all around me like a weight had been lifted from it. I looked to Medusa, who had succumbed back into her box.
I wish I knew then just how fucking important those goddamn papers were. Because if I knew exactly what was in them as I stood dumbfounded in that study, I would have tackled Aza to the ground to get the papers back. But instead, I decided not to jump on my instinct because I had no idea just how grave, important, and explanatory the parchments that I apparently wrote were.
And because I didn’t snatch these papers out of Aza’s hands, the journey - my own journey - thus began. And I didn’t even know it.