Chapter 49: Auntie Dearest
“Sorry about that there dock. Been meaning to get that thing fixed for ages.”
Mikael and I were inside Sajida’s treehouse, following Sajida through the hall. Our steps were slow and gracious; careful. I was still shaken up by the shadows in the water. I thought that they were going to seep through the walls or come up the ladder. The door was closed now, but I couldn’t get the image of them out of my mind, and I couldn’t get the way they said my name out of my head, either. There was a yearning in their voices. It sounded almost like a cry for help. This haunted me the most. Not that they were animated shadows, but they sounded desperate and hopeless as they held onto me. I wanted to ask Sajida about them. Not only was she familiar with these shadows, but this was her bayou - she controlled everyone and everything here.
However, I already had other pressing matters that I needed to talk to Sajida about.
Mikael was watching me as we walked further into the house. He knew I was bothered and tense from the incident that happened outside. But I wondered if he worried about me to get his mind off of the fact that we were actually in Sajida’s house?
We were now in what looked to be the living room. Everything was dark and gloomy, the walls deteriorating and close to collapse, yet somehow full of strength and ferocity; they almost looked alive. There was no couch or television, and no photos on the walls like a traditional living room. There were candles everywhere; I was careful where I walked because I was fearful I would catch my shirt on fire. There were large tree roots vining around the ceiling and on the floor; we had to watch our step. Sajida had many ancient relics that sat upon shelves - it wasn’t as decorative and ‘sentient’ as her study, but it was still mystical in the sense that everything she owned either served a purpose or once did.
“Y’all hungry?” Sajida asked us, keeping her eyes forward. We both declined, in which Sajida laughed, finding our opposition stemmed from fear comical.
At the corner of the living room by the staircase, there were six women - three I hadn’t seen before, and the other three being Sajida’s ‘daughters’ who went by the names Sasi One, Sasi Two, and Sasi Three. The Sasi’s were happily sewing together a patch on what I assumed to be one of Sajida’s dresses. I had forgotten just how hideous these girls were - green, sickly skin, decaying teeth, and stringy black hair that was missing in spots. They all had black painted numbers on their head that corresponded to who they were - Sasi One having a number ‘one’ painted on her head, and so on. Mikael couldn’t help the disgust surfacing on his face when he saw the triplets. Disgust and confusion, rather.
Sasi One looked up from her patchwork and gasped when she saw me. A smile - a rotting, empty smile - stretched across her face. Sasi Two began to clap excitedly when her eyes landed on me, whereas Sasi Three looked extremely confused at what her sisters were reacting to.
“Mère!” Sasi One said to Sajida with shortness of breath. “She came! She came like you said she would!”
“Mère is always right! Our sweet, lovely, beautiful Mère is always right!”
The triplets were ecstatic. Why? The reason was still a bit unclear. They beamed with joy and praised Sajida for prophesying my arrival, then praised her for being all knowing and all powerful. Mikael watched in awe at what happened in front of him, however, my eyes became fixated on the three other girls that sat on the floor with needles in their hands and pins in the cloth in front of them. They were normal - well, normal is subjective, however, compared to the triplets, they were normal. But something was strange about them - their eyes. They were a cloudy, ivory shade in the irises, the pupils hazily glossed over as well. There was a discomforting familiarity with them; this eye shade belonged to the bayou, it seemed. The triplets had the same, bright colored eyes that were a murky, dirtied shade of white like elephant tusks. I also remembered these same eyes in the shadows in the water.
I stared at them, these girls. Rudely, it seemed, since Mikael had to snap me out of it. But I wanted to understand them. They looked normal; they were not ecstatic like the triplets. They just sat there, plain-faced with no emotion. But suddenly, as Sajida became aware that I was curious about their presence, they began to smile widely in a cordial fashion.
Well, two of them smiled this way. The third girl - a woman with short hair in twists and deep brown skin - only stared at me. She didn’t bother to smile. I memorized her face because somehow I knew that it would be important to; she had these deep-set eyes that were hung and tired. Her face was oblong, her lips full and her nose was long but wide at the nostrils. She looked to be close to my age, as well as close to my height. Her eyes were white like the other girls’, and like her peers, she wore tattered dark clothing.
Sajida didn’t want us to waste more time looking at them. “Come on.” She guided us to the staircase. “Hurry up, now.”
Sasi One and Sasi Two waved at us as we followed Sajida to the stairs. The girls kept smiling; the last one just kept looking at me.
Who are you? I thought to myself, but in an attempt to keep Sajida from becoming curious, I brought my eyes forward and continued on.
Sajida’s study was as alive as I remembered it - dream catchers and trinkets swaying with minds of their own, and dead flowers and plants slowly shifting their leaves and petals. Mikael was in complete shock at her study; it was beautiful in an almost morbid, macabre way.
We both took a seat next to each other on the couch while Sajida sat on the other side of her desk in her throne. She flipped a lock of hair over her shoulder and just grinned at us; she enjoyed being right. She knew I would come here. All she had to do was wait. Before Mikael and I could say anything, we both saw small shadows under a console table by the wall underneath a window. Mikael jumped slightly, but I knew what they were - the small dolls that I met the last time we were here. There were three of them - one with a pentagon on its belly, another with a triple moon, and the last one with a triquetra. Their stitching was sloppy and uneven, and they had no mouths. But they had eyes - small, black pebbles for eyes.
“What the fuck is that?” Mikael exclaimed when they began to inch towards us. Sajida laughed at him.
“Damiyas,” Sajida answered once she finished laughing. “They’re Damiyas.”
The Damiyas appeared unsure of whether they should continue walking towards us, but Sajida, unlike last time, didn’t scold them for appearing. They came closer, huddled together. I was amazed by them, even though they were unpleasant. However, they weren’t harmful or had evil intentions. The unpleasantness about them was stemmed from not knowing exactly what they were.
When they were finally close enough to see the detail in their stitching and the Theban letters that were tiny and faint all over their bodies, they gravitated towards me. Pentagram, like last time, walked to my shoe and sat near it. Triquetra looked up at me, whereas triple moon hid behind triquetra. I smiled down at them; there was a charming element to these dolls. Mikael was still afraid of them, even though they were essentially harmless. But it didn’t matter, because once they were by my side, they didn’t leave.
Sajida stared at the dolls and watched how they acted around me. Her expression wasn’t decent anymore when she looked down at the Damiyas; I immediately stopped smiling.
“Who were those girls downstairs?” Mikael suddenly asked Sajida. I was surprised that he was willing to speak directly to her.
“The three ugly little vermins are my daughters.” Sajida puckered her lips in disgust. “Done fell into a ritual pool on accident when they were barely two. Water started bubbling and shit. Fished ’em out and they were those nasty girls you see out there. Still not sure what potions I poured in that water; don’t even remember what I was trying to do with that ritual, honestly.” She admired her nails non chalantly. “Oh, well. They nice enough. Kind of stupid, but they do what I tell ’em.”
Me and Mikael were silent. I felt a sickness in my stomach that wouldn’t go away.
“The other three are my co-workers,” Sajida continued.
“They help with your voodoo practices?” I asked her.
“Among other things.” Her eyes burned into us, making it hard to continue looking ahead.
“What’s up with their eyes?” I questioned, in which Sajida leaned back and raised her brows at me. Mikael put a hand on my knee as a signal that I needed to stop with the questions before the real questions were to be asked.
“You a nosey little thing, aren’t you?” Sajida said with a smirk, intentionally avoiding answering the question. “I was waiting for when you’d bring your happy self over here.” Her green gaze landed on Mikael and his hand on my leg. “I didn’t know you was gonna bring your little ‘friend’,” she said teasingly, waging an accessorized finger at him.
Mikael sucked in a sharp breath and sat up pin-straight, removing his hand from my leg. I should have known Sajida would say something about us; she loved causing discomfort.
“It’s not like that, Sajida,” I said sternly, but it was clear she had made us both very uncomfortable.
Sajida laughed, sending chills up my arms. “Okay, if you say so. Damn, I forgot you and ’Kiah have been fucking around, anyway. Nevermind about Mikael, then.”
I glared at Sajida from above the frame of my glasses as I felt embarrassment and mortification overcome me. Mikael slowly turned to look at me, grimacing and hoping Sajida was lying. But she wasn’t; her instincts and intuition, whether powered by the loa or her dark magic, were truly unparalleled. Nothing could be hidden from her.
She got comfortable in her throne and clicked her tongue at me disapprovingly, although she was the opposite of disappointed with me. “Oh, Lisa, Lisa,” she purred, shaking her head. “Not one, but four times you done gave that vampire your goods? You bold to be throwing it back on him in these perilous times, niecey. But I don’t blame you - Hezekiah is fine, even though he damn near two hundred years old. I swear, if he wasn’t no bloodsucker, I might have had a go, too. But I can’t be messing around with none them vampires, niecey. Oh, no ma’am. No, thank you. Well, Mr. Boone could get it, too, but he come on too strong sometimes - ”
“It’s complicated, Sajida,” I interrupted in an attempt to explain, but there wasn’t much I could build the courage to say after that. Mikael remained quiet, diverting his eyes.
“And that ain’t even counting the times y’all ‘allegedly’ got in on back in the day day,” she continued, fanning herself. “’Course, you don’t remember none that. Not yet. So we’ll stick with the number ‘four’ for now. That alright with you?”
Speechless. We were stupidly speechless. Sajida always had to have the last word, and she enjoyed leaving people with nothing to say; she enjoyed making people squirm. But in this instance, I couldn’t allow her to succeed with the upper hand. I wouldn’t allow it. I had to put my foot down and show her that I could be assertive. I wasn’t the same woman she met the last time - a girl that was frightened and confused. Misled. I would conceal any weakness with Sajida. The shadows in the water and the girls downstairs hadn’t affected me; I wouldn’t let this seep through.
“You know why I’m here, Sajida,” I said to her. “So, cut the shit. Trying to rile me up isn’t doing anything for either of us because I know how you are, Sajida. I know how you work. And I don’t have time for your usual mischevious bullshit. I came for answers. That’s it.”
The room went quiet. Everything immediately stopped moving. Sajida stared at me with a fallen smile. She was completely still like she waited for me to shed my skin and reveal I was someone else. But I wasn’t - this was Lisa Dumont, in the flesh, speaking. And Sajida was stunned that I had the nerve to talk down to her in this way. I had done it before at Mama’s house when Sajida was invited over to tell us information about Abraham’s plans. But this time was different. This time, I was on her turf. I didn’t have the Coterie to protect me. I was in Sajida’s Bayou, where damned souls were under her control; where she was a master in the art of black magic.
Where she could easily kill me or damn my spirit with the snap of her finger, regardless of whether or not I was her niece.
Mikael looked as if he had just seen a ghost. Terrified, not necessarily of the moment, but of what could possibly come next. Sajida’s face was as hard as stone for an extended period of time, and this look she gave me was intimidating, but I stood my ground. This went on for a while, Sajida and I staring at each other without letting up. The more that I looked at Sajida, the more I saw my mother in her; the more I saw me. We favored each other in looks; we were all beautiful Dumont women. But what was found inside always seemed to scare people away.
Eventually, Sajida leaned back in her throne and let a smile tease her lips. Still, she didn’t break her eyes off of me. She opened her drawer without having to touch the handle; a wave of her hand and the drawer slid open, and in the air, a cigarette arose. I knew what was going to happen - Sajida would light the end of the cigarette with her pyrokinetic powers and enjoy a smoke. Only this time, it didn’t happen this way. She grabbed the cigarette from the air but didn’t light it. Instead, she looked at me and said:
“Light my cig.”
Mikael and I exchanged looks before I reached for my backpack in the hopes that I had a lighter handy. But Sajida stopped me.
“No, no, no. Not with a lighter.”
Sajida tapped her temple, and when she did, Mikael opposed fiercely to what she was implying.
“That’s not fair,” he said. “There’s no way she can do that.”
Sajida wanted me to use pyrokinesis to light her cigarette - utilizing my mind to create a fire. It was a ridiculous request because everyone in that room knew that I wasn’t a witch. I knew little about witchcraft at all. “Knowledge by blood” wasn’t a possibility in this case; I was not brought up the same way Mama and Sajida and Aza were brought up. I was intentionally shielded from this world, even more so shielded from witchcraft; Mama spat on the practice. But Sajida wanted me to do it. She wanted to see what I was really capable of.
“You got a deep connection to the spirit world,” she said. “To our ancestors. To the loa. Hell, they chose you for a reason. Channel them. Channel the universe, and in turn, the gods and the universe will give you just a fraction of they energy that you can use.”
“Sajida, I can’t. I-I can’t! I don’t know how!”
She cocked her head to the side, “Really? The girl who achieved tempus summatum - the hardest, deadliest spell there is - don’t know how to light a little cigarette?”
“I haven’t done that yet,” I pleaded. “That’s why I came here, to...to ask you how it works -”
“You do it by mastering the craft. And to start mastering it, you got to start from the ground up.” She wagged her cigarette and me. “Come on. Concentrate, Lisa. I’m getting the jitters.”
I sat there with sweat beading on my forehead. I didn’t know how to concentrate; I didn’t know what to concentrate on. Mikael, annoyed that the mere suggestion of pyrokinesis was being brought to the table, sat and waited for me to tell Sajida, once again, that I wouldn’t attempt it. But I didn’t say anything. I sat and pondered on her request. Would I truly be able to light something on fire?
Eventually, Sajida rolled her eyes and pushed herself up from her chair, “Just like your mama. A scaredy cat. Afraid of your own damn self. A shame.”
She was standing now, looking at me with an annoyed gaze, “If you can’t show me that you can light a little cigarette, I see no use helping you.”
“W-what?” I drawled out in disbelief.
“Just a waste of my time. I ain’t got time to be wasting valuable information on a girl who too scared to use it.”
“Sajida, just wait a minute!” I pleaded, but she was already stretching her limbs and shuffling to get away from her desk. I don’t know what came over me - this anxiety to keep her close and this eagerness to get closer to the truth drove me to a point I had never been to before. I remember blacking out for a moment after yelling at her to wait. These voices entered my head; my vision blurred, and adrenaline coursed through me as the voices grew louder. I felt goosebumps rise on my arms. And then I was quickly brought back into my own reality. However, this reality was a little different - in this reality, Sajida’s cigarette was consumed by a small flame, making her drop it on the desk. Mikael and I looked at the burning cigarette with wide eyes until Sajida put out the flame with her own magic. I stared, stupefied, almost, at what happened; the cigarette was nothing but a black, charred remnant of what it used to be.
Sajida stared at the desk, then looked at me. She didn’t know what to say. None of us did, actually; Mikael was cowering.
“I...how did...how did that happen?” My head throbbed. I refused to believe I did something like this; I didn’t know how I accomplished it. But it happened. Yet I still couldn’t come to terms with it. I contemplated the possibility that Mikael had set the cigarette on fire in order for us to move on from the trial, but the expression he wore said otherwise; he was just as surprised as I was.
Sajida smiled deviously; her grin could entice demons. “Well, would you look at that?” she said. “Just look at that. What I tell you? Your mama tried to keep you hidden from yourself for all these years. But look at what you’re capable of? You ever thought you could do something like that?”
I shook my head, though it hurt to do so. “No. Never. But I still don’t understand...”
“It ain’t no rocket science, niecey. You channel the gods and the universe; you channel energy. Then you expel it. That’s what magic is. That’s what witchcraft is. Channeling the energy the universe gives you and using it.”
“But witchcraft and voodoo are - ”
“Like cream and coffee,” she said smoothly. “Call upon the ancestors to grant you with a piece of their power. Their guidance. Their knowledge. That’s what voodoo is - giving praise to our ancestors who, in turn, reward us with power. How the Coterie could think that voodoo and witchcraft can’t coexist is beyond me.”
Mikael’s face twisted at Sajida’s words, but I received them in a different way - a way that I wasn’t supposed to receive them. Sajida, who used her connection to the loa for her own personal gain, would also use witchcraft to manipulate the spirits; voodoo and black magic went hand-in-hand for her to aid in her corrupt doings. But at the time, the way she spoke about it entranced me. After being shunned from witchcraft and shielded from voodoo, Sajida brought it to me in a way that mixed them both together in ways they weren’t supposed to be mixed. Like Mama and Aza said, Sajida wasn’t the same woman that they knew her to be. Her mind was tainted after the lave tet was performed.
But these details didn’t enter my mind. My interest was piqued. After my small but commendable act of pyrokinesis, I was intrigued with not only Sajida and what she knew but intrigued with what I could do.
Sajida sat back down in her throne. Her attention was fully caught now. “Alright, niecey. What you wanna know? Pick your questions wisely.”
The Golden Ticket. This was it. I accomplished the simple spell and in turn, earned Sajida’s trust. Her favor. Now, I could ask her anything I wanted to know - all of the things that Mama and Aza and even Hezekiah refused to tell me, I could find out here and now. But she also advised me to pick wisely, so I most likely could only ask her a couple of burning questions. My heart was racing. My fingers, twitching with anticipation. The Damiyas looked at their master on the other side of the desk, and when the quiet became heavy, they looked up at me. I didn’t know what to ask her first - how does tempus summatum work? What is a ‘child of an unholy union?’ How was I the prophecy; how was I chosen?
Who was my father?
I thought long and hard; Sajida’s time was valuable, even though she prompted me to come here. But the longer I thought about it, the more my mind kept coming to the same conclusion.
It hit me like a freight train, this conclusion. My djab, whoever she was, knew all the answers. Did Sajida know all of the answers? Maybe, maybe not; she didn’t know exactly what was written in the parchments, and she didn’t know where the real ritual was buried. But my djab - my spirit guide - knew where they were. She knew what was written in the papers because she apparently helped me write some of it. My djab had all of the answers, and the only way I could come into full contact with her was if I went through what Mama and Aza refused to perform on me - a head washing:
A lave tet.
“Do you know how to perform a lave tet?” I asked Sajida. Sajida froze. The words seemed to impact her in a way that she didn’t expect them to. Mikael rested his head in his hands, upset that I asked such a question.
“A lave tet,” Sajida said. “Why you want a lave tet for?”
Then it hit her. She nodded slowly, then hummed in satisfaction. A low laugh from deep in her chest followed after.
Sajida pulled out a cigarette, lit it, then inhaled smoke, exhaling soon after. Mikael waited impatiently for the answer; we both did.
“I asked Mama and Aza to perform one on me, but they refused,” I said.
“Why?” Sajida asked. When I remembered the reason, I was unsure if telling her was the wisest choice. But it didn’t take long for Sajida to figure out the answer on her own. Her face fell a bit, and only for a second, she was caught in memory.
“I see,” she tapped the excess ash onto the desk. “Can’t believe they still beating themselves up over that. Shit happened over twenty years ago.”
“They were scared that the same could happen to me.”
Sajida shook her head. “No, it wouldn’t. Only reason that shit went ‘awry’ is ’cause we were young, dumb and foolish. But I don’t got too many regrets about that lave tet; a lot of good things came out of it for me. But your Mama and Aza are so caught up in their own worlds that they think everything revolves around them, so when they fucked up, they couldn’t help but be showered with guilt that they held with them for years and years after, even though I was fine.”
“Fine” was clearly subjective, but I didn’t dwell on this.
“What went wrong?” I asked her.
“A mambo or houngan is supposed to perform the lave tet. No if’s, and’s or but’s. Some regular smegular hounsi or co-worker or average joe try to do it, the loa see it as you trying to take a ‘short cut’ to enlightenment and refreshment. A priestess is supposed to perform the lave tet. Period. We were only hounsis at the time; we weren’t priestessess for another, what, five, ten years? Loa weren’t too happy with that.”
“But if you performed it on someone now, there wouldn’t be the same ‘complications’?”
“Lisa,” Mikael hissed, grabbing my hand. “This is ridiculous!”
“I’m a mambo,” Sajida said, ignoring Mikael’s opposition. “Have been for a real long time. My life has been revolved around voodoo since I was born; our ancestor was the most powerful voodoo priestess that ever lived. So, no. There would be no complications.”
I was convinced this was the best way, but I wasn’t sure if Sajida was going to say yes. She was teasing the idea, but was she really willing to go through with it?
“What would I have to do?” I asked. “For you to perform it on me?”
Gray smoke misted out of her nose like a brazen bull. She smiled at me, smoke clouding her face.
“Oh, Lisa.” Sajida leaned in. “Forgive me; I underestimated you. You are smarter than you look. Going straight to the spirits for all the answers instead of to a witch for only some of them. Brilliant. Just brilliant.”
I didn’t respond. I only waited. And Sajida liked to make people wait. She liked the discomfort of anticipation on their faces.
“When’s the last time you had sex?” she suddenly asked me. I blinked rapidly, as if what she asked didn’t come out of her mouth.
“Um...w...well...well, I -”
“Be honest,” she urged.
“Last week,” I answered.
“Good. As long as you ain’t had sex the day before or the day after a lave tet. I hope you ain’t lying to me, Lisa.”
So, the answer is yes?
“Those your only clothes?”
I nodded, “I didn’t think I would need a change of clothes.”
“Would be nice if you had your own clothes, but I’m sure I got something that will fit you. I’m taller than you, though, and you got more ass than I do -”
“So, you’ll do it?” I blurted out. I couldn’t take the waiting game much longer.
“You’ll need to sleep over,” she answered. “And be up at the crack of dawn. No later.”
Mikael was rendered speechless, whereas I was speechless for a completely different reason. This was happening. This was really happening.
I didn’t know if I should thank Sajida; she seemed like someone that reacted negatively to gratitude. Nevertheless, I did thank her for agreeing to initiate the ceremony. I asked her what I had to give in return, in which she replied:
“Nothing?” Mikael said, suspicious.
“Nothing.” Sajida grinned. “Think of it as a gift from your old Auntie Sajida. And also, I think the loa will put me in their favor for helping out their little savior.”
Sajida got up from her desk and called to the girls downstairs to rally the rest of the co-workers to prepare for tomorrow morning’s ceremony. I still sat on the couch with Mikael, who was beyond furious at me for agreeing to this. However, I couldn’t focus on him, nor could I focus on the Damiyas who were crawling lightly at my leg for an unknown reason. I could only focus on the morning that was approaching. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was certain of one thing:
Come tomorrow, I would finally know the truth.