Chapter 60: A Break in The Trees
I wanted to remember what it was like to be possessed by my djab, but it was an event that would not come back to me. But everyone else around me had seen what I became during my body’s surrender to Marie Laveau, and they could not see me the same because of it.
All of the priests and priestesses that attended the Council’s party the night before were hounding the Coterie with questions about what happened to me. Word had spread that I was possessed by Marie Laveau’s spirit, while other rumors consisted of me being a demon, a witch, an incarnate of a voodoo god. Regardless of the validity of these rumors, there was no denying that what everyone witnessed was anomaly of sorts; Marie Laveau had been quiet since her death, so to now harness my body as her vessel raised a lot of questions about me. I was no longer just Madam Dumont’s only daughter. People knew my name. And they would continue to know who I was from that day forward.
But I didn’t care about this notoriety. My priority was Mama, whom I still hadn’t spoken to yet; Sajida had just left, and I was alone in the sitting area. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there as I heard her in hysterics upstairs with Aza. I felt that no matter what move I made, it would lead to someone’s ruin, so it was just wise to stand and wait until some epiphany came to me. But nothing ever did. I was just a hollow shell, waiting to be filled again.
The front door to the shop opened. I turned around and was met with the Coterie entering the shop. They stopped at the doorway when they saw me alone in the sitting area wearing a white night gown that belonged to my mother; not a very fitting image after what they saw me do last night. Or rather, what they saw Marie Laveau do with my body.
Mambo Nene treaded slowly inside of the shop, her eyes fixated on me not in a threating way, but in a curious way; in wonder. Yet at the same time, she could sense that something had happened. Something more domestic.
“Lisa,” she said to me. “How you feeling, baby?”
I was surprised to hear this comforting tone out of Mambo Nene. Before, she saw me as a traitor. As someone who could not be trusted. Now, she was concerned with my well-being.
I only nodded slightly, for I couldn’t get any words out of my mouth, or at least words that would make sense. I saw Kizzy, Imani, Esther, Rocio and Mikael come inside last. The door closed behind them; they stared at me in this same expectant way, like they waited for my djab to possess me again, or even wanted it to happen.
It was safe for me to assume that the Coterie did not know about what Abraham had done to my mother, since they were unaware that Abraham was my father to begin with. So, I spared them the details of the argument Mama and I had before and just told them that she was upstairs speaking to Aza. I didn’t care if they went up to disturb them or not. In fact, I didn’t feel much at all. Again, I was hollow.
Mama Hepzibah, whose eyes seemed to appear the most tired and worn down out of all the other sisters’, took cautious steps towards me. “You don’t remember what happened last night, don’t you?”
“No,” I replied, my tone slightly annoyed with the question I had been asked already and with the fact that I couldn’t remember this event that had effected everyone else so deeply. “I don’t remember anything. I swear.”
“Do you feel different?” Ava Claudette asked me, her blue eyes large with interest.
“I don’t know how to feel,” I answered, but they didn’t know the true reason for this numb feeling. They just assumed that a possession like the one I experienced leaves you in this numb state, but I was numb for so many reasons besides one.
“It was incredible,” Qadira boasted, smiling as if the situation called for it. “She spoke right through you, Lisa. It was her voice, I just know it!”
“You saved us,” Ava Claudette said, her soft voice big with gratitude. “If it weren’t for you, I fear what Abraham would have done to us.”
“Marie saved us,” Mambo Nene said. “We should be thanking her and the loa for our lives right now.”
The Coterie all agreed with Mambo Nene’s testament, but still, the sisters couldn’t help but marvel at me like I was a prodigy. When Sajida had told everyone that I was the prophecy, it was a claim that hung in the air; there was no proof, and Sajida’s word was less than trustworthy. But now, they had the proof they needed. They heard Marie’s voice and saw the influence she had over spirits. They heard the whispers, too. All because of me. Mama had assured them it was all nonsense, but they could not believe in this “assurance” any longer.
There was hope—I was their hope. But I didn’t want to be because I didn’t know how to be.
A wave of their questions began to tower over me, crashing down when the voices became too loud to distinguish. Questions about me, about the lave tet I had gone through with Sajida, whether it was really Marie Laveau’s spirit and how Abraham being my father tied into this. They asked what I was going to do next, as if facing Abraham and The Council could possibly be the next step I needed to take to save everyone. There was a lot of irrationality in their voices, but only because they were excited—for once since the conflict rose to an unbearable heat, they felt as if they had the upper hand on Abraham and The Council. And they had no problem watching me crush under this newfound burden.
“I need to lie down,” I announced. Immediately the chatter stopped. I pushed past them and made my way up the staircase with haste. As I continued to climb, it became harder to breathe. It was like the walls were shrinking in around me, caving in with the intent of burying me in the rubble. But it wasn’t just the walls. It was something else. Someone else.
Aza had intercepted me before I could make it into my room. I bumped into her as she was exiting Mama’s room, and the moment she looked at me, her eyes narrowed in. She looked distraught, and on top of this uncomfortable feeling, she became upset.
“How is she?” I asked her before she could get the first word out. I was shaking with anticipation, and there was also this feeling of guilt I couldn’t shake until I knew how my mother was. But what scared me was that I wouldn’t be able to rid myself of this guilt even if my mother had stopped with the hysterics.
Aza could see how worried I was. She could see that I was barely holding onto my sanity, and that I had lost this sense of self. But she didn’t care. All she saw was red when she looked at me.
“You were wrong to snap at her like that,” Aza scolded. “Wrong. You had to open your mouth about shit you knew nothing about and look what happened.”
I was speechless for a moment. “I didn’t know,” I said to Aza slowly as if the first time I stressed this went in one ear and out the other. “No one told me—”
“For a reason!” Aza yelled. She had never yelled at me this way. “No one told you for a reason! You were never meant to know! It wasn’t something that people were supposed to find out, it was a secret for a reason! We pushed it deep down where no one would find it for years and you just had to dig it up even though you got the hint before that it wasn’t supposed to be out in the open!”
I blinked at her multiple times, speechless again. “You were the one that was against how secretive the Coterie was, Aza. You hated how the Coterie just masked everything in a lie—”
“Yes. That’s true. But this? This is different. This was never supposed to come up again. For your sake and your Mama’s sake. No one was supposed to know, but now everyone knows, and its ruining your mama every passing second!”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Aza was a completely different person right in front of me; her words didn’t even sound like her own.
“You’re just like him,” I said quietly, and when she asked what I had said, I repeated it louder; with vigor in my voice.
“Like who?” she asked.
“Hezekiah,” I answered, followed by a laugh. “You are just like him. You both can’t pick a side. One minute you’re black, the next white, then you’re in the gray. It’s never consistent with you. You hate the Coterie one day, then you’re participating in ceremonies and letting them stay in your house the next; Hezekiah claims he wants to take down Abraham, then the next moment he’s literally kissing Abraham’s feet and begging for his forgiveness. You’re both so afraid of what the consequences might be with either-or that you jump from one to the other when it’s convenient for you. There’s no loyalty with you two!”
“I’m on the side that is right! Whatever side that may be!”
“And what side is that now!?”
Aza didn’t have an immediate answer. She just looked at me, shaking her head, then looked down at her shoes. She blamed me for what Hezekiah almost did to her last night; if I weren’t at the party, then there would have been a chance that the confrontation between Hezekiah and Abraham wouldn’t have happened, or at least wouldn’t have happened there.
“Just stay out of the way. Please.” The “please” came out like the next thing I touched would turn to fire; would burn to ash.
“I can’t promise that I will,” I said, for we both knew that I couldn’t be a bystander anymore. But Aza was allowing her emotions to cloud her judgment.
“Then more people are going to get hurt,” she said. “And the blood will be on your hands.”
Aza then turned to walk to the staircase. When we both looked in that direction, Mikael was standing there quietly, his eyes jumping back and forth between me and Aza. Aza didn’t care about what he heard; she walked by him like he didn’t exist. Mikael then met my eyes, and in them were just pure confusion. I couldn’t meet them for much longer.
I went into my room, closed the door. I paced around in a cold sweat, trying to process the situation. But my brain was in over drive. Voices were bouncing against the walls in my head, telling me what to believe and what was right and wrong. These voices told me that it was all my fault. That I was the reason we were in danger. People would get hurt, these voices said. And it will be your fault.
My djab was silent; these voices were different. I heard them in my head after my lave tet, and now, they were back haunting me. In that moment, I remember feeling like I was going completely insane. Like my spirit didn’t belong to my body anymore. I sat on the ground by the bed and tried to narrow in on the voices, but they overtook me and my willpower. I was weak, and becoming lost to them.
Suddenly, my attention was brought to the door. Someone was knocking, asking for entry.
“Lisa,” Mikael said on the other side. “Can I come in?”
I said nothing. I didn’t want him in, nor did I want him to leave; I didn’t care. After a few moments, he slowly opened the door, peaking in and asking if I was decent. But when he saw me having a small panic attack on the floor, he allowed himself in, closing the door behind him. He sat by my side, calling my name and trying to calm me down. But I could not stop shaking, and the glazed look in my eyes alarmed him, because it didn’t look normal; it wasn’t normal. But it could not be explained.
“Lisa, look at me,” Mikael advised. “Breathe. You need to breathe.”
I fought through the panic and looked at him. His hand was grasping mine tightly, as to make me focus on his strong grip instead of the meltdown I was going through. And it worked. But for the wrong reason. When I looked at him, I didn’t necessarily feel better. I saw an escape through him; a moment where I could forget the pain and the hurt I felt in my heart. I wanted to forget, at least for a second, how many people hated me. Depended on me. Lusted over me. I wanted to forget that I was myself.
Mikael furrowed his brows when he saw the odd way I began to look at him. I studied his face without restraint and I delved into his eyes.
“I’m gonna open the window to get some air in here,” he said to me, but when he tried to get up, I wouldn’t let him. I pulled on his arm, prompting him to sit back down at my side. And before he could ask me what was wrong, I leaned in and kissed him. I gave him no time to react because I didn’t want him to. It was all impulsive and allowed no room to decide whether it was a smart move or not. It wasn’t. It was selfish on my end, but I didn’t acknowledge why it might have been selfish and wrong to do this to him; I didn’t have an idea or a good guess. I was completely oblivious.
Mikael was stunned at first, but shortly after, he began to kiss me back. I rested my hands on either side of his face as I kissed him deeper. It was a pleasant escape for me—one that I wanted to be completely consumed by. I wrapped my legs around him, straddling his body. My hand rested on the foot of the bed behind him for support while his hands rested on my hips, groping me as he began to invest himself. I moved his hands underneath my nightgown to my bare breasts and guided his palms over to massage them slowly. It felt good to feel him caressing me in this way, but I wanted more.
I broke my lips from his for a moment and began trying to undo the button of his jeans, which his erection was straining against. At first, he looked at me do this, but the moment I unzipped them, he began to stop me.
“Lisa, wait,” he said, but I ignored him. He said my name several times, but I continued trying to get his manhood out of his boxers and inside of me. Suddenly, Mikael grabbed my hands—both of them—and stopped me.
“Lisa!” he said firmly. “Stop.”
I did stop. I looked at him, my expression almost frustrated. But Mikael was frustrated, too, for different reasons. He buttoned his jeans and gently placed me off of him.
“What are you doing?” I asked him as he got up. “You don’t want to fuck me?”
Mikael was taken back by my verbiage, but it seemed to strengthen his central case. “I...yes. I do. I really, really, would like to. But not like this.”
“Like what?” I asked irate, standing up as he did.
“Like this! You don’t want to have sex with me, Lisa.”
I laughed at him. “Then how do you explain what I was just trying to do before you stopped me—”
“You did ‘that’ because you’re...you’re lonely. And confused and upset. Which you should be, you have every right to be and I’m sorry you’re going through that right now, but I don’t want to be an outlet.”
“It’s just sex, Mikael!” I exclaimed, which in turn made him mad and say what he had planned on not saying to me.
“Maybe for you!” he shouted. “But for me it would be different! And I’d rather not go through that with you when it’s clear how you feel about it.”
I was too much of an idiot to realize what he meant when he told me that. Mikael liking me was an idea that never crossed my mind; we hadn’t spent much time together outside of our time in Sajida’s bayou, and it seemed like when we were together, he was scolding me for my reckless decisions. The notion went in one ear and out the other for me. All I saw was another person that didn’t want to be around me; someone that saw me for other than just “Lisa.” In my mind, I made up these ridiculous notions. But the most prominent one was that Mikael was afraid of me based on what he saw me do last night. And this bothered me, because I couldn’t remember exactly what he saw.
So, I denounced his feelings. I spat on them. I didn’t receive them in the way he wanted me to. I didn’t try and understand where he was coming from. All I saw was a man making up an excuse.
“Why don’t you just be honest?” I said to him. “You’re afraid of me, aren’t you?”
“What?” Mikael grimaced. “Lisa, I just told you the reason—”
“And it’s an excuse!” I screamed at him. “You’re making up excuses, that’s all it is. You should be thankful that I even kissed you but instead you’re standing here lying to me.”
Mikael didn’t deserve those words—those vile, hurtful words. But I was too prideful and stupid to apologize for them. Like Aza, I let my emotions cloud my judgment. And this time, it hurt someone. Mikael wanted to hide how what I said affected him, but it seeped through. The look in his eyes was painful, and I hate that I allowed myself to steep that low; I hate myself for it.
He didn’t respond to my direct attack. Instead, he decided to just leave. And I let him, even though every step he took towards the door infuriated me even more.
“If I were Hezekiah, this situation would be different,” he said to me.
“If I were Hezekiah,” he repeated. “This entire situation would be different if I were him. You would never be this vile to him. Even when you think you are, it’s nowhere close.”
“This isn’t about him!”
“Yes, it is. It will always be about him for you, Lisa. If he were here right now, none of this would have even happened between us. I can accept that, but it’s obvious that you can’t.”
That was the last name I wanted to hear. Hezekiah. The Master of Manipulation. Abraham’s prized possession. My heart seemed to beat faster at the sound of his name, which made me want to rip it out from my chest. I hated him. At least I wanted to. He treated me like I was nothing and easily chose Abraham over me. In that moment, when Abraham almost killed Hezekiah for his betrayal, it felt like my entire world was crumbling. I was willing to do anything to save him, regardless of the way I spoke to him in the hallway a couple of hours before. I couldn’t hate him no matter how much I tried, and this angered me because it was clear where Hezekiah’s loyalty truly lied.
“Get the hell out,” I growled at him. Mikael was already leaving, but I wanted the last word. Mikael rolled his eyes before walking out of my room and slamming the door. I’m sure everyone downstairs heard what happened. I’m sure Mama heard what happened, if she was still in her room. I imagined the things the Coterie would say about me once he explained the details to them. The consensus would be mixed. Half of them would perhaps insist that I could do no wrong because I was “the prophecy,” whereas the other half might use this story to prove how toxic and possibly evil I truly was. Either way, both results pertained to me being nothing more than a “thing.” I wasn’t a human being to them. I wasn’t individualized or unique. They all wanted me for their selfish endeavors. All of them.
Sajida’s face came to mind, as did her voice. She didn’t want to exploit me. She wanted to help me find myself in a world where everyone was pulling me in their own directions. Even though my birth was planned, she believed I could create my own destiny. I didn’t feel dehumanized with Sajida, and the irony was, both her and I were seen as pariahs. As the world outside carried on normally, I found myself still stuck in the box of my own world. I needed to get out; I was no longer welcome here.
I got dressed quickly. I didn’t think, I didn’t cry, I just moved myself around the room. I packed a bag with whatever little clothes were brought here from my bag at Aza’s house. I had snuck out of my bedroom window many times in high school, so this instance was not new to me. It wasn’t a low drop to the sidewalk at all from where my window was, though it did garner some attention from passerby. I ignored them, though. I walked quickly down the street with my backpack on, not sure of where I was going. My car was at Aza’s house, so I walked there with little else on my mind. When I arrived, I got inside my car, turned on the engine and drove. I drove the familiar route. I drove until wilderness surrounded me.
Don’t think, just do, I told myself. No one would miss me. They would look for me, but only because they had to, not because they cared and wanted to. But I knew that this time, I did not want to be found. And when I finally arrived at the familiar opening on the side of the road between the trees, I turned off the ignition. I sat for ten minutes, contemplating if this decision was right. But there was nothing left for me back there; everything and everyone would only hinder me and bring me down, and I was so emotionally distraught that I felt moving forward was the right thing to do.
I got out of my car and left it on the side of the road. I grabbed Kizzy’s crossbow from the trunk, as it was still there from Mikael and I’s previous trip together. I carried it close even though I didn’t think I would need it with the sun out and blistering. Still, I knew better than to not take precaution.
I started through the break in the trees, following the path to Sajida’s bayou—my first time visiting her domain alone.