Chapter 61: Settling In
I waited in the living room of Sajida’s treehouse. Sasi One had directed me to a chair once I had come up the ladder; Sajida wasn’t present.
“Mere will be down shortly,” she said to me, her skin even more sickly looking than before and her teeth seemingly moments away from falling out due to rot and decay. “Would you like a beverage? Perhaps a cup of tea? Water?”
I nodded, “Water would be nice.”
Sasi One smiled even wider. “Be right back!” she said, pivoting and sashaying down a hallway to the kitchen. I sat alone with my backpack on my lap, looking around at my surroundings. The treehouse wasn’t as frightening to me as it was before, and neither was the bayou. The journey here felt like a normality. Maybe it was because the sun was out, leaving nothing to lurk too deep in the shadows. The Gatekeeper had again helped me onto the canoe and helped me onto the dock, and upon knocking on the door, I was welcomed to the triplets—Sasi One, Sasi Two, and Sasi Three—ecstatic at my presence. All of this didn’t seem out of the ordinary. At this time, I felt like the bayou could become part of me if I let it.
Sasi one had come back with a glass filled with water. I thanked her, taking the glass from her but not drinking any; I had water in my canteen. I only asked for water to be polite and make Sasi One happy.
Sasi One sat in a chair across from me, combing her straggly hair with her fingers. I heard the two other sisters somewhere upstairs speaking to someone. It sounded like the third voice was Sajida’s.
“When did you break your glasses?” Sasi suddenly asked me, pointing at the hinge of the temple that was held together with tape.
I adjusted them self-consciously. “Oh. A couple of weeks ago. I just haven’t had the time to get them fixed or buy new ones.”
Sasi squirmed with excitement. “You know, my beautiful mere can make you see without glasses. She is all powerful; you would never need glasses again!”
I smiled, “You’re right, she is very powerful.”
“All you need to do is ask.” Sasi One’s eyes sparkled like she had seen this wonder more than once; like she had a secret she wouldn’t tell me.
A creak in the stairs brought our attention to Sajida, who was descending the stairs into the living room. She was wearing the same tattered dress she wore when I first met her, but this time, it enchanted me.
When her bare feet stepped off the last step, she smiled at me like she knew I would be coming. I swallowed hard and stood up, returning her smile.
“So, you came.” Her arms crossed over her chest. “I can sense it on you. Something happened.”
She was right. Something did happen; I was surprised she wasn’t aware of it already. Or maybe she was, but she wanted me to tell her the story. Either way, she nodded upstairs, and I followed her up the path that she had come down. The triplets followed us with their eyes as we entered Sajida’s study, and when she closed the door, the last thing I saw was three sets of white eyes staring at me before the door closed shut.
Sajida seemed to sway to her desk. The charms and hanging trinkets danced like she did—softly, elegantly; sentient.
I walked over to sit on the couch across from her desk, finding it in myself to get a little more comfortable in the cushions. Sajida sat on the edge of the desk, crossing her legs and bouncing her feet as she looked at me. Her face was dripping with “I told you so.” Saturated, practically oozing, with it. But I couldn’t hate the fact that she was right.
Her bright green eyes seemed to bore deep into my soul. “It wasn’t no trouble getting down here on your own?”
I shook my head. “I know the way pretty well.”
“Right.” Next to her was a bottle of liquor—bourbon, most likely. She poured some into a glass and began to drink sparingly. “Your Mama must be real worried about you, niecey.”
“Mama and I aren’t on good terms right now.”
“’Cause of what happened this morning?”
I nodded. “It just became...too much. You were right. The Coterie is beyond saving at this point. Aza kept blaming me for what happened as if I knew what Abraham did to Mama; I had no idea. She never even planned on telling me. Aza made me feel like...she made me feel like—”
“Like you were less than?” Sajida finished, laughing softly. “Which is funny, considering how much they need you. Look, Lisa. Don’t let their pointing fingers get to you. The Coterie is just scared and desperate because they know they doom is coming soon. And the way they treating you, they only salvation? I been known they were a bunch of stone cold fools.”
“I just don’t understand.” At this point, the Damiyas—the small rag dolls—had come out of hiding to stand close to me again like the last time I had visited. Sajida didn’t brush them away. “What do they want from me? What do they want me to do? I can’t help them when they treat me this way for shit I had no idea about.”
“Here’s the thing, Lisa.” Sajida got up from the desk and started to pace around the study near her throne. “You don’t owe none of them shit. They need you, not the other way around. And they’ll realize just how badly they fucked up when they figure out why you done got up and left them.”
Sajida’s words were supposed to be encouraging, and for a moment, I did feel better about the situation, but I felt this intense guilt hit me again when I thought of what Mama went through with Abraham; what he did to her.
“I didn’t know,” I said softly. I then fought back the urge to cry, but Sajida saw that I was on the brink of losing it again. She walked over and sat on the armrest of the couch; her smile was too convincing at the time.
“You gone keep blaming yourself ’till the day you die for something that wasn’t your fault,” Sajida told me.
“Even though I’m the one who wrote that prophecy?”
“We don’t know that. You weren’t the only one who wrote all those papers speaking all that nonsense. My mama got what she wanted out of it. Don’t take on her burden.”
Sajida took another sip of her drink, staring off into space for a moment. “My mama was the one who caused so much pain for us. Even after she died it just seemed to linger around; sometimes I feel her spirit watching us, wading around in the air. I ain’t never had no altar set up for her. Never. I’m sure Alize didn’t have none, neither. Wonder if she ever felt any remorse for what she did to us?”
“She was there when...when Abraham—”
“She planned it,” Sajida said, and suddenly, the room and all its incantations seemed to silence. “It was her idea. I still remember the look on Alize’s face when she realized why Abraham was at our house that night. The horror. The fear. The impending feeling of demise, knowing what her fate would be and knowing she couldn’t run from it.” Her glass swirled in her hand, the alcohol swaying side to side. “I tried to volunteer and take her place, but Mama never quite agreed with my...sexual orientation; since I was an abomination in her eyes, Alize was the only Laveau descendant left to use; Aza wasn’t a Laveau descendant. She was a Mercier descendant. Would kind of defeat the purpose of creating this prophetic child if said child wasn’t related to Marie Laveau.”
There was nothing I could say in response. I only listened as Sajida continued to speak of this unsaid past.
“Funny thing is, Mama had been planning it for a couple of years. She knew that she would have to let a bloodsucker räpe one of her daughters, but she didn’t have the means within the Coterie to make an elixir that would ‘reanimate’ a vampire’s dead sperm. So, she went to a bayou witch who lived in a treehouse and spent many months making this cursed juice.”
“Abraham’s sperm was...reanimated?”
Sajida nodded. “Sure was. Only way you can impregnate someone as a vampire is if your sperm works, right?”
As if she had said nothing, Sajida finished off her drink and got up to pour more into her glass. I sat still, processing the information given to me while I felt sick to my stomach. I had so many questions, and knowing Sajida would answer all of them, I didn’t know where to start.
I began with the subtle foreshadowing she had given me.
“A bayou witch that lived in a treehouse...my grandma came here to make this elixir?” I asked.
Sajida laughed. “Damn, you’re good. Real good. She and the witch who ruled these waters before me, Jezebel, made sweet evil together in this treehouse.”
“How did you end up here?”
“My mama sold me to Jezebel.”
For a brief moment, I thought Sajida was joking. But there was no sign of mischief on her face. She did chuckle when she saw my reformed facial expression, but this was not a laughter stemmed from lying.
Sajida downed the rest of her drink and looked out of the window at the setting sun’s colors against the trees. Then, she looked back at me, scanning my body, and spoke as if the macabre sentence before never left her mouth; there was no room for me to ask more questions.
“You losing a lot of weight,” she said to me. “Come on. I got dinner cooking.”
Not only was Sajida a master witch, but she was also a master cook.
I had always figured Mama, Aza and Mambo Nene to be the best cooks I’d known, but upon eating Sajida’s food, my judgment was quickly swayed. Pork chops smothered in gravy with mashed potatoes and collard greens was what Sajida had prepared for dinner. I practically licked my first plate clean and had made a great dent in my second plate; I ate until I felt like I was going to explode.
Sajida watched as I ate, barely touching her own food. The triplets were forced to eat in another room, so it was just Sajida and I in this small makeshift dining room.
“How long you plan on staying?” she asked when I set my fork down for good. The question was so forthright that I wasn’t sure how to answer at first.
“Just a couple of days, really—”
“A couple of days ain’t nearly as long as you need to learn what I can teach you,” she answered, rendering me silent. “You know that, right?”
I nodded, for the statement wasn’t false. I didn’t know what I was here to learn, exactly. I just wanted some clarity that I knew Sajida could give me. But now that I thought about it, I did wonder about all of the knowledge Sajida could bestow upon me; the power that I could learn from her and from deep within myself.
Sajida knew I was thinking about how long I was actually willing to stay with her, so she grabbed my plate and hers and brought them to the sink.
“You can stay as long as you like,” she said, putting my plate in the sink and tossing her food in the trash before doing the same. “’Course, there ain’t gone be cooking like this every night, though.”
I laughed. “I’m fine with that.”
She walked towards the dining room table where I still sat and looked down upon me. Her gaze wasn’t so frightening anymore. In fact, I found it endearing in a way that no one back in the city would understand.
“Not much left for you back home,” Sajida said to me. “They’ll tear you to shreds if you go back there and you know they will. You’ll be right back where you started. You gone be a new woman when I’m through with you, Lisa. I swear on it.”
Suddenly, one of the knives on the table started to levitate. I jumped back until I realized it was Sajida controlling the cutlery. Her fingers played in the air as the knife began to twirl around above the table. I stared in awe.
“Something as simple as this,” Sajida said, her eyes focused on the silver glistening in the dim lamp light. “Manipulating the space around you. Making it bend. Even break. And to think, I’m not even trying.”
The knife stopped moving in the air, and with a flick of Sajida’s hand, it flew past us until it punctured the wall on the other side of the kitchen at remarkable speed. My body tensed up, my eyes flickering between the knife and Sajida smirking beside me. I began to smile instinctively, for the action was exhilarating. And Sajida believed I could be capable of something as “simple” as this; I had done remarkable things, but not by my own will. Sajida would teach me how to control and harness these possibilities so I could use them whenever I pleased. This excited me, and Sajida felt this anxiousness in me to begin this journey with her.
Sajida called for Kira to come into the kitchen. Not even a few seconds passed before she ran into the kitchen, standing taut with considerable distance between us.
“Yes, mistress?” she said.
“Go and show Lisa to her room. Help her get settled in.”
Kira nodded, giving me an unreadable face before turning to the hall and waiting for me to follow. I stood by Sajida.
“You need your beauty sleep,” Sajida said. “Tomorrow, be up bright and early.”
There were no other details attached to “be up bright and early.” I figured that the next day would be a surprise on what we would be doing, so I left it at that, thanked Sajida, and followed Kira down the hall. The room I was guided to was a lot bigger than the room Mikael and I stayed in before. The fan in the corner was larger than the previous one in the other room and was on rotation, though it didn’t make much of a difference with the heat.
I set my things on the bed as Kira stood by the doorway.
“If you need anything, me and the other sisters will be in the living room.”
Kira turned to leave then, but I stopped her. She didn’t turn around to look at me; she knew what I was going to ask her or what the general topic would be.
“How long have you been here?” I asked. “I mean, how long have you worked for Sajida?”
“For a long time,” she answered, her bright white eyes unwavering when she finally turned to look at me.
“Do you work for Russell Van Doren, too?”
Kira pretended like she didn’t know what I was talking about. “What do you mean?”
“You called him ‘Master Van Doren’ the last time we spoke.”
Kira knew what I was trying to get to—the Red Room with the women in lingerie back at the Council’s mansion. We both could put two and two together on what those women were by how they were dressed, but the real question lied in their eyes; their eyes were exactly like Kira’s and the other women I had met the last time I came with Mikael. I wanted to know the connection, if there was one.
“I didn’t call him that,” Kira said to me; her face was far too convincing.
“Yes, you did. You said that you didn’t want Master Van Doren to find me up there.”
“I don’t remember,” Kira said. Her eyes stared deeply into mine, and the stare didn’t move. But she knew that I was curious. I had two puzzle pieces, but I didn’t know how to put them together like she did.
I knew that Kira couldn’t be convinced otherwise, so I decided to entertain her and leave the subject alone; this moment marked the first red flag for me. A red flag I should have seen much sooner. But I shrugged it off. I let her go. I told her that I believed her, and apologized for holding up so much of her time. Kira nodded, then wished me a goodnight and reminded me that I could call on her if I needed anything.
I let her close the door. I shouldn’t have.
Sajida and I were up early the next morning on the front porch of her treehouse close to the dock. The sunrays cracked through the thick cypress trees and gave the bayou an eerie glow, but I was growing more accustomed to it. That, and I was too excited about my first day has Sajida’s novitiate. I was unsure of what she wanted to teach me when we walked outside. She brought nothing with her but a large, brown leather book with water-damaged pages.
“We gone focus on meditation today,” she said to me. “Meditation is the key foundation to properly channeling not only the universe to harvest magic, but to connect your mind and spirit to the loa; voodoo and witchcraft both rely heavily on meditation and prayer, but I just want to go through meditation with you today so you can learn to do it on your own.”
We both sat on the soil, legs crossed and hands on our knees. She guided me on breathing techniques and how to open myself up, but it was hard; I was tense. I was bothered. I couldn’t let go of the anxiety that closed my mind and my emotions off. Sajida could sense this about ten minutes in, so she had me stop and take a break.
“I’m sorry,” I said to her, but she stopped me before I could continue apologizing.
“You holding onto something that ain’t gone be there for you when you actually need it,” she advised me. “Extra baggage that be weighing you down. For what? For what?”
It wasn’t a rhetorical question; she waited for an answer, but me not being able to give her one only strengthened her point.
“If you don’t need it, let it go. If it not gone be there to lift you up, let it go.”
I closed my eyes again, trying to listen to her words. But it was easier said than done. I opened them again and let out a defeated sigh, but Sajida wasn’t annoyed with me. She sat still and remained patient. This made it easier to let myself be defeated.
“It’s alright,” she assured me. “It’s a process, opening yourself up after keeping your soul closed off for so long.”
Sajida decided a longer break would suffice—a break filled with looking through spell books; she knew I was looking forward to that. As I followed her to the ladder, I took one last look towards the bayou and saw its residents staring back at me. Standing by their makeshift huts and shacks by the shore afar, they all stared at us, their eyes white and vacant.
“Who are those people?” I blurted out to her. She turned and looked in the same direction I was looking in.
“Outcasts. Runaways. Abused and neglected.”
“You let them stay here?”
She nodded. “Where else they gone go?”
Sajida was nonchalant with her answer. She traveled up the ladder as if the residents weren’t invading with their looks. They were so far away, their features weren’t distinguishable. And a part of me wanted to get closer to them. To know who they were. I wanted to know more about Sajida; it was selfless of her to let those people stay in her bayou. Far from what I would assume, based on what was told to me about her. Were they paying another price for residence? Did she know them personally?
As I let these questions float in my mind, Sajida caught my attention from up high in the treehouse.
“You standing there all day?” she asked jokingly. I smiled teasingly and climbed the ladder.