Chapter 38: When The Sun Sets
I said nothing to no one about the conversation between my djab and I.
In fact, I made an attempt to not even think about it; I didn’t want to let it consume me. Today was of large importance, and I needed to be focused.
Aza had dropped off the parchments at Doctor Ben’s house for him to try and translate them. We waited in her living room for her to get back. We were all dressed in white, per usual. Some of us had to borrow Aza’s clothes.
“What do you think Sajida’s going to say?” Esther asked me, nearly impatient to meet her again.
“I don’t know.” My answer was purposefully short; I didn’t want to give much of myself away.
“I’m surprised the Coterie was so quick to trust her,” Esther was nervous; I could see her boob-sweat from a mile away. “I mean, they were the ones who got on us for going to see her.”
“She’s the only one we know that knows about what Abraham’s up to,” Kizzy said.
"Allegedly," Rocio added.
Esther was eager for another opinion, “What do you mean?”
“Sajida’s untrustworthy. She’s sneaky. Messy. I don’t think this is a good idea at all.”
“You got a better idea, then?” Kizzy asked.
“Anything is better than this.”
They carried themselves off into a conversation that I had stopped listening to. My mind began to wander; I thought of the parchments and the language they were in. If only I could get my hands on them again, maybe I would be able to understand some of it. After all, I wrote them. Right? It was impossible, but then again, what I thought was impossible months ago was proven contrarily so once I came back here.
I heard my name several times, and once I pulled myself out of my own thoughts, I saw the girls staring at me.
“Are you okay?” Imani asked.
I nodded. “Yes, I’m fine.” I couldn’t smile convincingly. In fact, I couldn’t smile at all.
They didn’t believe me. Kizzy, especially. And right when she was about to ask what was wrong, the front door opened. We all stood and watched as Aza walked into the living room. Her face was unreadable in a frightening way, mouth pressed closed and eyes expressionless.
We scurried to the front door with no opposition. I was anxious, but for a different reason. Did Doctor Ben translate the parchments? What did they say?
I was purposefully the last one to leave the living room. When Aza and I were alone, I went ahead and asked her.
“Not now,” she snapped at me. I drew back immediately. Her dress flowed in the warm wind as she went to her car, not even making eye contact with me. I knew it was serious.
The drive to Mama’s house was quiet. We parked, got out of the cars and walked to the front door of her shop. The sign read ‘CLOSED,’ and we saw tourists upset that the shop wasn’t open for business as they walked on. It was near 5pm; we thought we were late.
Aza knocked, and Mambo Nene opened the door. She, too, was wearing white.
“Come on in,” she said. We filed into the lobby of the store and went up the staircase. In the living room on the second floor, the Coterie sat on the couch, talking. They immediately stopped talking once we walked in. Mama stood, walking over to hug me tight. I hugged her back, but I couldn’t help but be reluctant; there was something different about her. She seemed nervous.
When she pulled back, she gestured for all of us to take a seat. I sat next to Esther, whereas Aza stood next to Mama, surprisingly.
What the fuck is going on?
Mama wore a strained smile. “Sajida’s running a little late. Got to talk to Aza in my study for a minute, but I’ll be back.”
The rest of the Coterie was confused, exchanging looks as the two of them walked away. It was odd, for one, for there to be a discussion without the entire Coterie present, but to have Aza and Mama talk together was even odder. Ava Claudette got up and went to stress-smoke a cigarette by the window while Qadira and Missus Taima gossiped near the corner. Somehow, someway, I knew Mama and Aza were talking about me. I wanted to throw up, scream, run around, do something to get rid of this adrenaline that was suddenly coursing through my veins. Where was my spirit guide? I needed her close; I ached for her voice. Her guidance.
Time seemed to pass slowly at an unbearable pace. I got up and slipped out when no one was looking. I wanted to be alone for at least a minute before someone followed me. To my room is where I went. I was thankful that the door was open. Once inside, I took in the familiarity of the walls and tried to get my head on straight. I inhaled, held for five seconds, then exhaled; my hands were still trembling.
I heard muffled sounds; I recognized the voice. It was Mama, livid about something. My room was near her study, but my closet was even closer. I opened the sliding doors, pushed through some old dresses I didn’t wear anymore and pressed my ear against the door.
“I’m tired of you keeping secrets about my daughter from me, Aza!” Mama yelled.
“I can’t trust you, Alize. Don’t blame me for looking out for everyone here.”
“What the fuck you getting on about -”
“You’re not yourself. Far from it. This is exactly what happened to Sajida before she -”
“Don’t compare me to her! I’m nothing like her!”
There was a painful silence before Mama spoke again.
“Maybe Ben read it wrong,” she said, changing the subject.
“You and I both know that’s a lie, Alize. He was surer than anything that those were the words translated.”
Mama cursed to herself. “It can’t be...”
“Alize, your mama talked about the same thing when we were younger, going on about this ‘child of an unholy union...’”
“But my mama was crazy. You know that, I know that, Sajida knows it, too. She’s the reason Sajida turned out that way.”
“It wasn’t all her doing, Sajida chose to stay in that bayou -”
“The bayou that Mama sold Sajida’s soul to?” Mama sighed shakily. “These ‘prophecies’ made my mama mad.”
“Maybe there’s a truth to them?”
“Oh, really? A truth that led her to let them do what they did to me?!”
Aza said nothing in response.
“She’s here!” someone from the living room yelled. Immediately, I ran out of the room and hurried over to the window that everyone looked out of. When Mama and Aza came in, we all went to find a seat. Aza walked in, sat on the arm of the couch and looked down at her manicured hands. Mama stared at her for a moment before getting the door by herself.
The anticipation was unbearable.
We heard the door open, then close. No voices. Heels were coming up the stairs - two sets. Down the hall, then. Finally, she was at the doorway. Sajida wasn’t wearing the white dress she wore the last time she came to talk to Aza and Mama. Her dress was black, the sleeves and collar lace, exposing her large breasts which were concealed behind thin black fabric that also covered her stomach. The skirt of the dress was made up of dark-colored rags, dragging behind her on the ground, belted around her hip. She was heavily accessorized like last time, colorful bracelets and beads coating her wrists and neck, gold rings hugging her fingers. Her hair hung down her back in knots and dreads, a red tignon wrapped around the roots of her hair only. Her bright green eyes surveyed the room and everyone in it. Then, Sajida smiled widely.
“My, my,” she said, her voice deep and smooth. “It’s a party up here, now ain’t it?”
All of us were standing; she had many options to choose from in regards to a seat now.
She chose to sit on the couch near the window; we all stood on the other side. She crossed her legs; she wore no shoes. Reaching into the pocket of her dress, she pulled out a cigarette and lit it with the tip of her index finger. She inhaled with closed eyes and exhaled with open ones.
“Good to see some familiar faces,” she commented, her eyes jumping from each of us until they landed on Kizzy, Rocio, Esther and I. Sajida smirked at us.
“I see you ladies fancied you the get-up.” Her cigarette worked as a wand, gesturing to our white outfits as the smoke danced around in the air. “I never liked white, though.”
“Thank you for coming, Sajida,” Mama said. It hurt her to say the words to Sajida. “You want something to drink?”
“Unless it’s bourbon neat, I’m fine. You can be a dear and give me a swing at your top-shelf? Maybe some Knob Creek? I can settle for Jim Beam, though.”
Mama rolled her eyes, making Sajida laugh asthmatically, “Come on, sister,” Sajida said toyingly. “You can’t take a joke?”
“I’d rather you not call me that,” Mama replied. Sajida’s smile faded until her mouth kissed the cigarette again to take another drag. She flicked some of the ashes on the ground carelessly, her toes painting them around the hardwood floor like a child playing with sand.
“I guess we should cut to the chase then,” she said directly to the Coterie. “Whole reason I’m here is for you to tell me that I was right. Right?”
“You know what Abraham is planning,” Aza said to her. “You told us the last time we spoke.”
When Sajida looked at Aza, there was a vibe; strong enough to light a fire. And Sajida, beyond disbelief, looked almost human, her eyes soft and reminiscent in that direction. Aza, however, continued to look at Sajida, in the same manner, she always did - coldly. Sajida cleared her throat uncomfortably.
“I do,” she answered.
“What is it?” Mama asked flatly, making Sajida laugh.
“I already told you last time we spoke.”
“And I want you to tell me again.”
“Maybe you should check the attitude first,” Sajida said. “You need my help, remember?”
We were annoyed. It was obvious. But Sajida enjoyed this form of torture. I studied her features, unable to help this burning hatred I suddenly acquired for her and her nonchalance the longer I looked at her.
“What’s the magic word?” Sajida asked Mama patronizingly. Mama refused to answer, so I did for her.
“We don’t have time for this,” I blurted out. Everyone turned to look at me, but my eyes only saw my dear Aunt on the couch, who, at the sound of my voice, widened her eyes. “This affects all of us, including you. Abraham was all of us dead, every voodoo priestess and priest and witch he can find; he wants New Orleans in his pocket. So, if you’d rather fuck around and watch him kill us before he kills you, then just get up and leave!”
My nails were digging into my palm, and I hadn’t realized until I opened my hand and saw red marks indented into my skin. The entire room was stunned, unable to speak. But Sajida was the most taken back by my outburst. After a minute, she finally spoke.
“I knew there was something I liked about you.” She laughed. “‘The child of an unholy union.’”
“Sajida,” Mama growled at her.
“I swear, you your daddy’s girl alright -”
“Sajida!” Mama shouted at the top of her lungs. The words came back again - the child of an unholy union.
After Mama’s outburst, Sajida spitefully put out her cigarette on the couch cushion and threw it on the floor. She stood tall, “When the Coterie was first formed, they made the stupid decision to ally themselves with the Council,” she explained. “Our dear sweet Marie II created this ritual for them with a sister of hers that was meant to harvest the power of the sun, and was supposed to perform it on some members of the Council in order to give them immunity to that big bright star that keeps causing them so much trouble. They’d be unstoppable. Until one of her sisters told Marie that the Council planned to gut them like fishes once the sun wasn’t an issue for them anymore.
“So Marie wrapped that ritual up tight and buried it. She put her seal on it that could only be opened with her mama’s letter opener. Apparently, it’s a bunch of gibberish anyway - French, English, Spanish and some Native American language mixed in with some little hyrogliphic mess, too. She didn’t want no one to read it.”
I suddenly felt like vomiting. The parchments flashed before my eyes, and soon I, along with Mama and Aza, realized the truth like it hit us at full speed.
It couldn’t be, Aza was probably thinking. There could have been a million things she was thinking. Me? I had one thought:
Go to Doctor Ben’s.
I grabbed the keys from Kizzy and I ran. My legs moved immediately, one by one through the room and down the staircase. I ran as fast as I humanely could; Aza and Mama were right behind, the same idea in their heads. My lungs burned and my dress was heavy, but I ran to the car. I got inside. I put the keys into the ignition; Aza and Mama opened the doors and jumped in; Sajida, too. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I looked in the rearview mirror and saw Sajida, for once, worried. Angry, almost.
“How could you be so stupid?!” Sajida yelled at Aza as I drove off and sped into the street.
“He was just supposed to translate the papers -”
“The papers can’t be translated! That’s the whole point, they can’t be translated by no normal joe!”
“How were we supposed to know that those papers had the fucking ritual, Sajida!?” Aza screamed back. ”You said that it was sealed!”
“Goddammit, not everything I say is one hundred percent right!”
“Shut up!” Mama yelled from the front seat; her hand hovered over mine on the gear shift, her feet pressing on the imaginary gas on her side. The sun had sunk underneath the horizon. Street lights were on as were headlights on cars.
Left. Right. Merge left.
Darkness consumed the sky completely by the time we reached Doctor Ben’s house. I parked nearly on the curb and jumped out with them. We sprinted to the front gate, where Aza wasted no time knocking and used her powers to open the door. It flung open for us and we ran inside through the hall. Aza was the first one to make it to his office.
She immediately screamed.