Chapter 59: The Guilt of Being Alive
When I awoke, the sun had already risen. It poured into my room, filling it with warmth.
I sat up but very slowly; my head was throbbing to the point of it being hard to concentrate on where I was. It took me a few moments to realize that I was in my bedroom, lying in my bed, in my mama’s house.
The last thing I remembered from the night prior was Abraham threatening to kill Miss Aza. With this memory, I jumped out of bed in a panic, wondering if he had succeeded and oblivious to the events that preceded his threat.
I ran out of the room, through the quiet hall and downstairs, yelling her name. The longer the silence carried, the larger my fears grew, I imagined that everyone was at a service for Aza or burying her body in secret without me, hence why the house was so quiet. There were many questions I should have been asking myself, but the only thing on my mind was Aza’s safety.
When I had gotten to the bottom of the staircase, I froze in my tracks when I saw Aza, Sajida, and Mama sitting on the couch. I looked at them, wondering if they were even real. Looking past the odd presence of Sajida, they all seemed calm and collected, but it looked like they had to force themselves to act this way.
But I dismissed this immediately. I saw Aza, and surrendered to her.
“Aza!” I exhaled, nearly in tears as I ran over and embraced her the moment she stood. She hugged me back, but it felt off.
“I had no idea what had happened to you,” I cried.
“I’m fine,” she said, holding me a little tighter. “It’s alright.”
Once I convinced myself that she was real and not just an over glorified figment of my imagination, I broke apart from her. She smiled at me, and I smiled at her, but her smile waned; Mama, who sat across from Aza, did not smile at all, whereas Sajida had this small smirk on her face. They were all dressed normally (or their idea of normal). No white dresses, and surprisingly, no tignons. Just their normal wardrobe. I was in one of Mama’s night gowns, and I quickly wanted to switch into something familiar, too.
There were so many elephants in the room to address that none of us knew where to start, but I was the most clueless, for I blacked out the rest of the night. Mama glared at me, trying to dissect me until there was nothing left. Even when Aza sat back down, Mama continued to look at me this way. But she wouldn’t speak.
“You remember what happened last night?” Sajida asked. Mama turned her neck quickly in Sajida’s direction with a sharp look, whereas Aza just began to stare off blankly as if that was better than being part of the conversation that was about to begin.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“What do you remember?” she rephrased. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I was on the balcony speaking to Abraham,” I began. Mama rolled her eyes. “There was a... confrontation between him and Hezekiah. He asked Hezekiah to give Aza the ‘Gift of Darkness’—”
“None of that would have happened if you would have just stayed out of it,” Mama said coldly. Even Sajida made a sour face at Mama’s response.
“Mama, come on—”
“No!” she snapped, standing up with stiff limbs. “Shut up! This is all your fault. All of it! If you would have stayed where you were supposed to, none of this would have happened. None of it!”
“You’re not serious,” I said, but she was. As serious as the plague. Aza and Sajida just remained silent as Mama was preparing to rip me a new one. But after last night, I wouldn’t remain silent about it much longer.
“Abraham wanted this to happen. You were his golden ticket for all of it. He knew you’d skip along trying to find him, he just knew! Was it worth it? Putting Aza’s life in danger? Our lives!?”
“I had no idea that he was going to bring Hezekiah out there!” I said. “I just wanted answers from him! Answers that you wouldn’t give me!”
“And did you find what you were looking for? At the expense of our livelihoods, did you find what you were looking for, Lisa!?”
“I don’t know!” I answered honestly. “But I do know that there was a lot that you were keeping from me and a lot of lies you were feeding me at the same time.”
Mama couldn’t help but laugh, but it wasn’t a joke to me. In fact, Mama’s outburst had pushed me over the edge, and there was no going back.
“My birth was planned,” I said to her. “Either by me, or by Marie II, or whomever wrote the part in those papers that says a Child of an Unholy Union needed to be born to bring everlasting peace. To you and Abraham, I’m nothing but a tool you need to survive and achieve your goals.”
Mama was floored. “Don’t be stupid,” she said with a short breath.
“I’m not being ridiculous. I’m telling you the truth, because all you’ve wanted to do was run from it since I was born. At least Abraham wanted to exercise my full potential!”
“Full potential? You mean to be a murderous hybrid witch!? That’s what he wants to turn you into—his puppet! You saw what he did to Hezekiah—”
“That’s different.” I walked close to close the gap between us. “Yes, Abraham is a sick bastard and he’s evil, but he has motive. Warrant. After being buried alive for twenty years for just wanting to see his child, I would be vengeful, too!”
Mama was speechless. And at this point, Aza had snapped out of whatever “trance” she was in and was sucked into the conversation. She stood up and gave Sajida a quick look. But what caught my attention the most was Sajida’s face—it was deadpan. No trademark smirk.
“You buried Abraham in the ground for all that time because he wanted me to live up to my destiny, whatever that may be. He didn’t want me to live in a lie, but you did. Now, you’re surprised that he wants to murder everyone in the Coterie?”
“You ain’t got no idea what really happened—”
“That doesn’t excuse everything Abraham has done, but it doesn’t paint you out to be the ‘saint’ that I believed you were either. You made my entire life into a lie, whereas Abraham wanted me to see the truth in just the single night we spoke to each other.”
“Lisa,” Aza said cautiously. “Stop.”
“No!” I exclaimed. “I’m not going to stop. I won’t stop until I’m not lied to and locked away anymore. You literally locked me in a room twice. You burned the only chance we had at defeating the Council. You kept Hezekiah hostage in a basement, and you turned my blood into acid! Blood you knew he would probably drink! So, don’t go around pointing fingers and chastising me when you’re probably as evil as Abraham is, if not more!”
Had I known the extent of the rabbit hole, maybe I would have kept my mouth shut. In truth, I’m not sure what other option there was. Mama would have never told me the truth about my birth if it wasn’t for the lave tet that revealed it to me. She had planned to keep the details a secret, not only for my protection, but because it was a memory that was too dark to bring up again. But I didn’t know this, so I pointed fingers out of this anger and confusion inside of me.
I had never seen Mama so hurt. Angry, yes—I’ve seen her angry many times. But never this hurt. The look of disbelief at the words I had said was so striking, that even I was taken back.
“Fine!” She screamed at me. There was this vulnerability in her that I had never seen before; she had this constant guard up, and this time, she finally let it down, allowing everything to pour out. “You want to make me the enemy? Go ahead! After everything I’ve done for you, everything I have sacrificed for you? Everything I have done and everything I do has and always will be for you!” Mama began to cry. Sob, rather. “Abraham ain’t done nothing but bring ruin; that monster ruined my life! He took everything from me! But if you want to stand behind a räpist and a murderer then you go right on ahead! Go on and forget about me, then!”
The rabbit hole—deeper than I thought. Deeper than I could have ever imagined. Now I saw the abyss for its true mass. It’s true monstrosity. I could only look at my mother, but I wanted to reach out to her. I wanted to hold her. But I couldn’t move. I stood still and watched her cry while her face became contorted and upset by the memory. Aza and Sajida knew. They had kept it a secret for this long. They knew of the trauma my mother had gone through; all of the things Abraham took from her.
They knew that I was the product of räpe.
Mama had then pushed past me, walking up the staircase. A door slammed shortly after, and Aza, Sajida and I were left in silence. Sajida pulled out a cigarette nonchalantly while Aza tried to think of what to do.
“I’ll be back,” Aza said, but Sajida advised against.
“Leave her alone,” Sajida said, lighting the cigarette with her finger and puffing out smoke. “Ain’t nothing you can say or do that gone make her feel better.”
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Aza snapped at her. “To hell with ‘leaving her alone!’”
“You the last person she would want at her side,” Sajida said, laughing. “Y’all hate each other.”
“That ain’t no reason to leave her alone,” Aza argued, and from there, her and Sajida began going back and forth. They went on and on about what the right thing to do was, but I couldn’t hear their words. Everything started to fade out, and I was thrown back onto that balcony with Abraham the night before. His words, the way he looked at me, the fury he felt towards Hezekiah for having slept with me. For a moment, I felt like Abraham was different than what everyone had painted him out to me. Of course, almost killing Aza swayed my opinion on him, but somehow this feeling of adoration for Abraham seemed to come back.
Until now. Now, Mama had revealed what he really was—a räpist. He had done this to my own mother; I’m a daily reminder to her of what he did. And all of these years, she concealed the trauma, looked me in the eye, and pretended as if she didn’t see him in my gaze.
The sound of Aza stomping up the staircase brought me back into reality. Sajida was laughing to herself as the pungent smell of tobacco started to fill the living room.
I walked towards where she sat. “How can you even be laughing right now?” I asked her, my voice trembling.
“You’ve got to learn how when you live lives like ours,” she answered.
I wanted to vomit; her uncaring nature was sickening. “You knew, didn’t you? Why didn’t you say anything to me? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Not my story to tell, niecey.” She looked up at me, and when she saw how I was slowly withering, she fed off of it. “What you all slumped over for?”
“I didn’t know,” I said, tears pooling in my eyes. “If I knew I...I would have never...I wouldn’t have spoken to him at all. Fuck, she...she never said anything about it—”
“Would you have said anything if you were in her shoes?” Sajida asked, cocking a brow. “Who would want to...relive something like that?”
Sajida’s mind wandered off, her eyes lost in time; a time before. Then she brought herself back as if she never left.
“She didn’t wanna burden you with the ‘guilt’ of being alive,” Sajida continued, relaxing on the couch. “Everybody knows you can be a little ‘sensitive.’”
The guilt of being alive. I felt this guilt in my bones, resonating through my body. My existence was what caused chaos for everyone, not only in this lifetime, but in the past, and most certainly in the future. I couldn’t help but wonder what life for everyone would be like if I had ceased to exist?
Or if Abraham was out of the picture first?
“Abraham needs to pay for what he did,” I declared, wiping away my tears. Sajida stood, put out her cigarette, and walked towards me with an almost excited expression.
“We probably won’t have to worry about Abraham for a while after what happened last night.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, growing anxious.
Sajida looked down upon me like she saw right through me. And she did—she knew more than I did the extent of my power. Of my influence. And she knew that I could do extraordinary things. Or dangerous things. I was a wanted woman for several people, and she was aware of this, too. Sajida was smart—she played on my emotions, for I was a very emotive person back then. She knew how I would react to hearing about Marie possessing me the night before, which is why she deemed it appropriate to tell me what happened to me. She knew I wouldn’t remember. She knew I would be shocked.
Sajida knew everything.
“I’d never seen nothing like that before,” she said as I processed what she had told me. “That power. That energy. The wrath. You put the fear of the gods in those men’s eyes.”
The image wouldn’t come to me. I tried with everything I could, but I couldn’t remember what happened.
“That is the type of power we need,” Sajida continued. “Your power. Your connection to the loa. It’s special. We all know this! You just need to learn how to harness it and make it your own. And when you reach your full potential, none them bloodsuckers will know what to do. We’ll be unstoppable.”
I didn’t know what to say. Sajida looked at me in a way that no one else did—she looked at me like I was more than just the Child of an Unholy Union. She saw me, and what I could be capable of; what I could do. Who I could save. I could avenge my mother. I could avenge Marie Laveau. I could do it if someone was willing to teach me how.
And Sajida wanted to.
“You’ve had a rough week. Why don’t you take some time to think about it. But just know that at the Bayou of the Shunned, with me, you can come into your own, niecey.” She nodded towards upstairs, where Mama and Aza were. “They don’t have the ‘means’ to teach you how to harness your power. I do. It’s time you start taking matters into your own hands.”
And with that, Sajida left. She left without seeing if her sister was alright upstairs, and she left without saying another word to me. The shop door opened, and she left with the wind. I heard Mama yelling upstairs, and I couldn’t help but think that I was the reason why.
The guilt of being alive. Now I felt it completely. It had seeped into my spirit, and I lost all sense of self.