Kati is playing music in ler room. I can hear it through the walls. Le keeps stopping and going. It’s a complicated set of arpeggios.
We had noodles with nut sauce and bought fruit-filled pastries like they eat in Itaka to celebrate the new apartment and our family relationship, right in front of the shrine, and we offered the naksbetru incense that the Narahji Community Center has given to me for the month. It smelled so much like home that I nearly started crying. Kati offered puatuamė wine to our respective families’ gods in a Shiji dialect set to the chiming of bells.
I am trying not to think about what happened today. I cannot stop thinking about what happened today. Kati asked me what had happened to my face. I started crying while we prepared our celebratory food, but I told lim that I couldn’t talk about this yet. I feel numb inside. I lied to Kati. I have a story about what happened, which does not match the raw memory of everything in my head. Kati knows that I have lied.
Maybe if I write it out, the memories will go away — but should I write it out? This is a scribe sheet. What if someone knows?
Truth be told, I hope that someone is reading this because the police need to know. I don’t have the strength to tell them anything because I have no evidence, and Code 1830-229-17 is now used against Narahji and Nasji individuals reporting ethnic violence. Originally, the law meant that no one could bring something to the police without concrete evidence to support lim. Originally, the law protected people from turning on their neighbors after we threw out the Taritit and realized that our neighbors had collaborated with them.
Could the police, if this entry became part of their data feed, read Narahji? I don’t know. I’ve reverted back today because I am too shaken, and the Tveshi won’t come out properly. Tveshi can happen tomorrow when my brain stops shaking in my skull. O Salus, what does it mean that you, at nineteen, cannot control your anxieties?
Kati and I left at the same time this morning. I remembered to take the box addressed to Adviser Tenes. This morning, I had meetings, and I sorted through part of the video collage. Akah Kara and I spoke about the programming for an upcoming video conference with regional party constituents for a long time, and I took diligent notes. Before I left, I asked lim about the box.
My boss unhooked ler reading glasses from ler shirt and raised them to ler face. “Saradva Residential Zone is just five stops before the River Market District. Akah Tenes lives there. You can bring this to lim on your way home. I will write down the address for you.” Le said this so nonchalantly that I was embarrassed that it had taken me so long to bring up. Talking to an adviser is intimidating. It’s a political blessing that most of us will never even hope to achieve. Akah Kara then added, “Akah Tenes is the reason we have the Progressive Movement. Express your gratitude.”
I returned to Akah Kara’s house and worked there for most of the afternoon, only leaving when the sound systems cried out the afternoon prayers. There are a few sects in the city from Shija and Iturja that need these counts for ritual observances, but I’m not very familiar with them and feel a bit guilty that I don’t have the mental energy to look up these practices in the digital library. I passed by a few young girls making offerings of incense at a street shrine, giggling as they tried an old, worn electric lighter.
The Shiji have shrines for these observances in most of the Skyrail terminals, and I wove around a mass of praying people. On the sparsely-peopled platform, a man blocked me from boarding, but I was paying so much attention to avoiding devotees of Shiji gods that I didn’t see lim. I broke my fall with my palms, and the skinned flesh stung. I wondered if I had broken whatever had been meant for Adviser Tenes in my bag, and I scrambled up.
The man must have seen the designs on my forehead or identified me by the gyena that had spilled to my shoulders. Le grabbed me by the scarf and pulled me close to lim. Fear burned through my skin and hit my belly like fire. I started shaking, and I couldn’t breathe.
Le clawed at my forehead with ler long-nailed hands. “Hekhiakouri gekhasėo,” le said. “Go back to that fucking Canyon dark where you belong, you traitorous insurgent rioter. Dark glasses, burned souls — no wonder the monarchy abandoned you!”
I opened and closed my mouth and tried to apologize. The words would not come.
“Fucking Narahji nationalist. Probably can’t even understand Tveshi.”
Le tore the gyena from my shoulders. Then, as the doors of the train behind us started to close, le shoved me inside. I stumbled against the gap and hit my head against the floor. The doors closed between us.
I lay stunned, and I stared up at the ceiling. I was so queasy that I could have thrown up. The train, at least, was empty — it was too early for rush hour, and with the prayers, the trains for the next fifteen to twenty minutes would be mostly empty. I couldn’t think. I curled up behind the corner door’s partition from the rest of the car and clutched my bag to my chest, tears stinging in the corners of my eyes. My forehead felt hot and wet.
No one has ever attacked me like that before. Even when I visited Karoumo after the riots five years ago, I was still a girl. My father and our matriarch told me what they would call me here. Father must contend with a constant barrage of criticism for being Īpahi, albeit raised in Menarka, and le knows.
Nothing makes the Shiji any better than the rest of us. Nothing about them says that they deserve the seat of the monarchy. If anything, they did steal power from my people, and they took it with impunity. They set the policy of hate. Khessa would still belong to Tveshė if the monarchy had not moved. We would never have had the civil war, and no one would call people in Narahja traitors for believing that the crown moved unjustly. Perhaps even the Occupation would never have happened! Perhaps the tesekhaira organizations would not have so much power over us. No organization, no matter what its intentions are, should have as much sway as the Karatha currently enjoy.
Maybe I should stop dwelling on my hatred and write my memories of what happened on the train before they fade.
The train stopped. A group of people came in and sat in the main area. They did not see me, and they spoke softly. I could hardly hear anything above the hum of the engines, and their conversation came to me in snippets and in bursts.
Two shots to the chest, nothing more. Guards will have caught lim before we finish otherwise.
The chatter in my assignment isn’t new. Someone is retiring. All of the big names are getting old.
You won’t get the security clearance required to do poison. They know about your sister.
Gather any intelligence on ler replacement that you can, enough that we can perhaps use blackmail to get what we want.
Recruit from the demi-traitors. They experience discrimination and might want to hurt people. They won’t care who we are.
Security is always more lax during religious festivals.
I know a girl who might do.
No, no, no — there will be three bullets. Two for lim, one for me. Never doubt my loyalty.
I gritted my teeth shut. They were right behind me, they were talking about murder, and I was afraid that if they noticed me, they would kill me. The next stop was mine. As the train slowed, I crawled on my hands and knees out of the door and onto the platform. I hid my face as the train pulled away.
No one shouted from inside, and no one ran to catch the eavesdropper. I could see the backs of their heads as the train pulled away.
That was stupid and clumsy of them. The police will certainly find out. They must.
Hekhiakouri gekhasėo. Demi-traitor. Both of these were terms for the unwanted and the unseen. The first was a slur, the second a legal marker. The woman in the group had been Shiji, and something about ler voice sounded familiar.
Saradva Residential Zone smelled like flower blossoms and my grandmother’s bath oils. Tourists who want photographs of typical residential districts in the Galasuhi style go there because it is so beautiful. Spring trees rain blossoms onto the sidewalks, but my mother once showed me a photograph of the district during the Festival of Eternal Light in the winter. They roped chains of flower-shaped lights around all of the trees. They look ethereal and spectacular under the ice, nothing like how we ornament the city for the festival in Narahja. I wish I had been in a mental state to enjoy it.
Today, the ivies were blooming, and the petals stuck to my skin and uncovered hair.
No one in the residential zone glanced at me. Without the gyena, I do not look Ịgzarhjenya.
I stopped in front of a storefront and straightened my hepteri vest in the mirror. My hair looked fine. I wondered if the man had touched it. It would be embarrassing to explain to the priests why I needed another purification ritual so soon after the first one.
Adviser Tenes Sari lives in a house from a storybook. A blood vine pergola hides the sunlight in front of the building, and today, it was pregnant with tiny, tart berries. Small animals moved through the pergola and sucked them up in their mouths, and two birds nestled in the vines. Their white bodies were splattered with red. An ice snake darted out in front of me in pursuit of something I could not see, and I stepped out of its way.
I knocked with the base of my palm and waited. The man who opened the door was a bit older than me, and le looked vaguely like the photographs I had seen of Adviser Tenes in the archives — perhaps a relative. Adviser Tenes looked part Atarahi, or part Īpahi, or God knows what else, but this person in front of me did not only look Īpahi. There was something unsettling about lim in the eyes. It was like waking up in the middle of the night and trying to remember details from a dream already fading from memory. Perhaps Adviser Tenes had had a child with someone from Madhz.
Le didn’t bind ler hair, so it fell loosely to ler shoulders. Le ran ler hand through it and cleared ler throat. I realized that I had been standing there without moving, so I quickly greeted lim in the traditional way and apologized.
Le stared at me with the same nostalgic confusion as Akah Kara. “You have blood on your face, Akah. I hope that the thorns didn’t cut you. What do you want? Are you from one of the embassies? Ah, um, īk, ah, wu — rag, ah, rag ćalzotson qō — qōwabōkćoto. Ai? Īk rag ćalzotson qōwabōkćoto ai?”
I reached into my bag and pulled out the box. Looking down helped me compose myself after hearing lim speak Classical Atarahi. Whenever this happens, I try not to say anything because I don’t want people to think I am foreign. And I do know Classical Atarahi, at least a bit of it, because most of the politicians in my family work in interplanetary diplomacy — I think sometimes because we are part-Atarahi, just like how Akah Kara wants to groom me for immigration advocacy. The use of Atarahi flusters me every time, especially in polite settings. There’s a balance between feigning ignorance and being rude that I sometimes miss.
I answered in Tveshi and stumbled over my words. It was what happened on the Skyrail, what had just happened now. I made myself look like an idiot. “Sent Akah Kara. Assistant new — I’m ler new assistant, and I found something addressed to Adviser Tenes. Do you know where I should leave it?”
The man raised an eyebrow and took the box from me. I wanted to say something — what if the adviser had not wanted anyone to look into ler affairs? — but I was still trying to keep calm after my two experiences in the Skyrail. Three bullets, I kept thinking. Who was lim? Besides, I felt naked in front of this man, and the steady drift of ler gaze towards my chest unsettled me.
The man invited me in, and I stood just inside the door. Le asked, “Does Akah Kara’s assistant have a name?” while le carelessly ripped open the wrappings. “The last time Thani gave me a present, it exploded in my face.”
I told lim that my formal name is Nitañi, and le frowned. I told lim that my family has Tveshi-style names. Outside of the Menashi, almost no one does it.
I asked if le was related to Adviser Sari.
This man was Adviser Tenes Sari, and I should refer to lim as Tenes, not as Sari, if I want to drop half of the name. I had thought that le would be older, but then again, I have never seen recent photos of lim, and the news I consume about the monarchy is in text. It was still embarrassing.
The box contained a dagger. Adviser Tenes set it on the table beside the door, mumbled something about tesekhaira, and asked me to take a seat while le searched for a damp towel for my forehead. I stood and stared at Thani’s gift. A soft hum emanated from it, and the golden hilt design coursed like liquid. I felt even more strongly that I had walked into a fairy story. Adviser Tenes Sari, a young man who did not or could not age, lived in an idyllic neighborhood in a beautiful home, and le now had a weapon that should not exist.
Le asked me what happened, and I told lim about the hotåkha on the platform. I said nothing about the conspiracy I overheard. Adviser Tenes cleaned my forehead and applied a stinging liquid to it. Le gave me fabric to wear over my hair for the journey home. Le didn’t need to do any of these things. Le is an adviser and probably has a lot on ler mind.
To know that something terrible will happen to some lim and to keep silent about it makes my head feel like it will break apart. The police should know, but I have neither names nor faces.
I need to call Suka. Le might know what to do.