This is my solution: I will write in Tveshi and not in Narahji. If anyone asks about this project, I will call it language practice. I have impeccable understanding of Tveshi in writing even if travel-addled me cannot articulate what le wants to strangers in the Skyrail terminals.
My first commute began at 2h.35 this morning. I overestimated the time it takes to go from the River Market District Station to Senatorial Square. People in formal aniku and hepteri styles jostled me back and forth as I struggled off of the Skyrail platform. Children in school uniforms wove through the crowds. We packed down the escalators like canned meat.
In Senatorial Square, street vendors shoved steaming cups of noodles and newspapers in my way. My allowance from the family does not give me the opportunity to be extravagant because my matriarch assumes that I will eat for half of the week at the family satellite home a block away from the apartment, and I won’t receive the local benefit roster until tomorrow when my paperwork finishes processing. I had to pass by.
The buskers offered music on Kisera Street right at the corner in front of a deity shrine, and I gave them a bit of pocket change.
The chaotic noise of the city ceased immediately when I entered the national headquarters. I rested against the door to collect my thoughts and looked around. While I have seen pictures, visiting the headquarters in person is a completely different experience. The Progressive Movement’s original seven-pointed star banner hangs in the place of glory against one wall.
I paid my respects at the small shrine for Nukena against one wall before I turned to the reception desk. It gave me enough time to compose myself because I had wanted to think about the conversation with my grandmother before I arrived, the private words that le had communicated to me, and the reason our ancestor shrine’s shelves contain only four generations. As the matriarch, le can shoot me wherever le desires: I am the arrow, and le holds the bow. I am the arrow, and we have decided to have me come here.
Akah Helė hardly said anything while I waited at the desk. Le checked my identification and handed me the forms, followed by my access badge.
A woman came out of the elevators and approached the front desk from behind. Le had henna designs that crawled up ler arms, which I think marks lim as a member of the Eneiji denomination. The pattern went across ler shoulders and down underneath ler shirt — presumably — across ler rising and falling breasts. Le said mesahelepui and greeted me. I smiled like a complete idiot.
As we started walking, le asked if anyone had given me my assignment. I said no, which was true, but I hardly paid any attention.
I caught glimpses of people in conference rooms and saw faces that I had only heard about in the news, all of them clustered around the tables and dynamic presentation screens. They worked on advertising, fundraising, family engagement, and political strategy for engaging with Deimo Akaiañi’s administration.
“You will assist Akah Karatau,” le told me, “but you must never call lim Karatau. Le’s a Kara.”
At first, I was in denial. I tried to think of anyone I had heard of who uses that nickname. There must have been at least a dozen men named Karatau in the office because it is the most popular men’s name in Iturja and Shija. Most of them must have been staffers. The only one who took assistants and who used the name Kara had helped found the Progressive Movement.
I denied it because few would assign someone so new to the national arm of the Progressive Movement to someone so high-profile, even considering all of my work organizing in Narahja, because I am Narahji, and the party needs to distance itself from the unrest in my region. Even considering that an aunt and a cousin are senators, and my grandmother has a statue in the Monument of the Heroes. Even considering that I have done such good work and collected the best reviews out of all of my peers. My grandmother would certainly have told me. Then again, Salus, would your grandmother have sent you here for anything less than an elite assistant position?
The woman and I made small talk about business procedures as we approached the elevator. On the way up, le turned towards me, said something noncommittal, and pushed aside my gyena to adjust my hepteri vest’s lacing.
I flinched and backed against the elevator’s far wall. Le paid no attention. My face flushed, and I balled my right fist against the wall. Suka thinks that I should have punched lim. I restrained myself. That is what I told Suka — but I could not move, and my mind raced. My other hand reached up to clutch the scarf. Ler chest heaved up and down in front of me, the curve of ler breasts readily apparent. I tried to make myself small.
There are so many Narahji in the Progressive Movement that le must have known what touching my hair meant.
The doors opened, and I stumbled out. I righted the gyena over my hair and adjusted the trails. Le looked at me and furrowed ler brow. “You are Akah Mohata Niksubvya’s granddaughter, if memory is my ally today,” le whispered. “If you want to survive in Shija, demi-traitor, you need to be used to non-family touching you. Your grandmother’s power is limited here.”
I wanted to ask lim if le would let me spill patternless henna on ler arms in violation of ler gods’ wishes, but I must avoid making political enemies. O Salus, what will you do tomorrow if you see lim again? The term demi-traitor is wrong. My family has never conspired against the monarchy. No one in Shija will ever call me an Ịgzarhjenya because it is politically unwise to use our terms given the source of our grievances with the monarchy.
We went into Akah Kara’s dimly-lit office. It overlooks the Kiera and Orchard Boulevard intersection, and the screensaver on the blinds shows the rolling waves of the North Shore. Stacks of old-fashioned paper littered the office’s floors and tables. The majority of ler desk and one wall housed ler integrated holographic interface and several two-dimensional monitors. Le minimized several documents on the transparent vertical panels.
The image feed of news reporting never stopped scrolling. We had a big victory two years ago, and we need to prepare ourselves for backlash from the Coalitionists. My eyes tracked across the room to the empty desk on the other side, which had fewer monitors.
Akah Kara raised ler eyebrow when le saw us enter. Before le smiled, I saw something pass across ler eyes, and le looked me up and down. Le asked, “This is my new assistant, Akah Nitañi?”
My heart was a bird hammering to escape from my chest. I am from one of the most prominent families in Narahja, and I still owe so much to the Movement. My grandparents know this man, and le must have sent for me based on their suggestions.
Le continued, “I hope that Akah Sehutañi didn’t say anything too aggressive on the way up. Le has that effect on people. Akah Sehutañi knows how to harden new staff members, and the remainder of the staff depends on lim.”
(Yes, I looked up Sehutañi’s name in the directory just now. I cannot continue to call lim that woman as if le had never been granted a name in front of ler ancestors.)
Sehutañi shifted ler weight from one foot to the other and clasped ler hands behind ler back — exactly what I would have done if put in the spotlight after violating someone in an elevator, not that I would have ever done that in the first place! I wonder if le has a history of violations and if others know about them. The Movement has no place for moral indecency. We have enough to worry about with Tenes Sari’s reputation.
“Thank you. I am honored to be of service and to work at such high capacity,” Sehutañi said. It is just so antisocial to take all of the credit when the people under lim and the family that raised lim are just as responsible for ler success. This isn’t meant to be a literal recollection, but to have it down — because I have ranted at Suka, and it is still burning in my chest — LE THEN SAID, “Akah Nitañi has an aversion to speaking.”
THIS LEADS ME DOWN ANOTHER RAVINE INTO SHIJI SARCASM. I cannot stand what happened today, and I had to stand there in that room appearing completely fine with all of this.
Akah Kara chuckled at lim. “Bring me the completed PR report on yesterday’s forum. I heard about it from a news report, but cannot draw any of my own conclusions because it wasn’t provided in a timely fashion.”
Le nodded, said a few words of parting, and left the room. Akah Kara called out after lim, “You need to pour concrete around that heart of yours. It shows in your face, Akah.” And with that, the conversation between them finished.
As soon as Sehutañi left hearing range, Akah Kara said, “Le has wonderful analytical skills, but a tongue of acid. The papers are about the forum for reasonable travel restrictions — something that you would care about.”
I brushed my slick palms on my hepteri vest. “Why did no one say that I would work for you?”
“We want to minimize media attention. Akah Mohata wants you to have an opportunity to work without being pulled into state functions.” Le wiped sweat from ler brow and studied me. Ler gaze, glassier than before, turned towards the windows. I know that look because it is the one that I had after Kelis died, even when I was fighting for our right to the High Wilds. I wonder who le lost.
I mean Akah Kara no disrespect at all, but I wish that le were more forthcoming about all of this. Le obviously wants me to be the next in the generation of Niksubvya to speak out against the contingent afraid of the High Wilds. My mother was half-Atarahi, and I am a quarter Atarahi, a quarter Narahji, and half-Īpahi. It’s so unusual that I should not be as surprised as I am that they assigned me to Akah Kara. Everyone knows that le wants immigration reform, expanded dependent partners’ rights during marriage negotiations, smaller travel fees for visiting the other Gardens, and a fight against the resettlement tax. My family had to pay the resettlement fee retroactively for my grandfather. If the monarchy worries about us because we could have been the most powerful family in Narahja, there was no better way to ensure that such a thing couldn’t happen.
(But, admittedly, who could blame Ameisa for not listening given how many blood crime-polluted families who collaborated with the Taritit now live on Atara? What if one of them came back and vented grief against our governments or the international forum?)
I can be a face for the Movement because I am young, and I was hired for potential and proven effort. My fiancée died last year, which makes me sympathetic. Grandmother told me that this would happen when I relocated for this position. Le was so adamant that I go even if there was no room in the family’s satellite house in Galasu. Le convinced Kati’s mother that Kati could do music in Galasu so I wouldn’t disgrace my family by living with a complete stranger.
Grandmother did all of these things for me and for our family, and I almost listened to lim when le told me to continue wearing mourning red. That is the one point I wouldn’t concede when we discussed our plan.
The Movement is my family in many ways. I just don’t know that I can stomach what I need to do to succeed.