This morning, one of the administrative coordinators and I met on the street in front of the headquarters. I had questions about vacation, so le took me up to HR, and a young Shiji woman explained the Holiday Equivalencies Program. Everyone receives the Sabaji Tveshi majority’s religious holidays off, but they have a voucher system for those of us who need to take time for other religious holidays. This apparently also impacts some Shiji, specifically the Eneiji. The woman slapped a large, year-long chart on the table between us. Religious holidays in nine cultural traditions were marked out, with tallies at the bottom. I can take ten holidays in addition to the Sabaji ones, which doesn’t include everything on our calendar.
The Shiji have a religious holiday on the first of Poråkol. I think I knew this, but didn’t know this, because I expected everything here to happen at different times. To the Shiji, the first of Poråkol is an observance for Enahari, Enakhiavoshei, and Enashisha in honor of the Summer Solstice. I won’t need to use a HEP day!
I can attend the first of four days of the festival at the Narahji Community center — the exact day of the rain dances that I love so much and that remind me so much of Suka and my family. The Niksubvya satelliters down the street have organized a group to go, and it has been very incoherent. Most of them are taking all four days off, but if I just take the one, I will still retain my ten days. Five of them are essential for major Narahji religious holidays that don’t have a Sabaji equivalent, so I have five that I can use to participate in religious celebrations for Anumga, Sayimga, and Tsemanok. On the copy of the chart I took from HR, I also highlighted the Sabaji holidays for Likhera and Enahari. It makes sense to court those gods if I want to become a politician.
When I pinged my mother on the comm to tell lim about it, le wrote, “I am so happy for you. You and Kati are eating breakfast with the Niksubvya satelliters? Matsab says that you are not eating there nearly enough. Do you have enough money?”
I wrote, “Of course I have enough money, and I have spent more time there than Matsab says.”
(Truthfully, though, Kati and I often go late, frequently after Matsab has left.)
I worked quickly and spent much of lunch in the archives to put the finishing touches on a project. Aneti fetched me for an early afternoon walk on the waterfront and said that le had been thinking about me all day.
Le pushed me against the back of the elevator, and we kissed until the doors opened again. Four others entered the elevator, and one of them said something in Shiji that Aneti wouldn’t translate for me. Le laughed.
Aneti noticed my mood, and when I told lim, le laughed at me and said that of course they observe the Summer Solstice and that it was so Narahji to think that they might not. We have a common religious origin, after all. I retorted that Shija doesn’t honor Yilrega at this time of year, as le is responsible for the rains that do not quite reach into Shija. Aneti bit ler lower lip and said, “Salus, you don’t know anything about Shija, and this sometimes shows. Eneiji honor Enapuata, and le’s essentially the same god.”
The two of us walked to the waterfront in silence. Le said, “I come here to gather my thoughts. The buskers play good music.”
“Why do you need good music?”
“I get anxious sometimes.” Le sighed and leaned against a pole, pulling me close all the while.
If le’s a Daybreak mole, maybe anxiety means that le has a conscience and understands deep down what le’s doing. Liga, am I reaching?
Le kissed me again and closed ler eyes. The music had a beat, and a few couples danced around us in wide circles. “Do you dance?” I asked.
Aneti shook ler head. “Of course not. We don’t all dance, not like you Narahji.” Le bit ler lower lip, and the resentment in ler gaze made my heart pound. I need to be careful.
Le must have joined the Daybreak Movement out of pride. Can there be another explanation? Daybreak has such a sense of purpose, even if it says such inflammatory and indecent things. This is right, that is wrong — but how can anyone think that when what we so badly need is to bring all of the worlds together? O Salus, this is what you know: To be human, and human alone — to be unburdened by the Taritit and to have that illicit conquest at our backs — this is a good thing. Once the last person who lived under the Occupation dies, we can finally move forward.
“Your girlfriend is from the canyons,” I said, and I grabbed ler hand. “You will dance with lim.”
I dragged lim into the center of the dance before le could protest. I don’t know what the Galasuhi do in their dances, but I gave it Narahji footwork. Aneti stumbled back and forth in front of me, and le had no rhythm. I put my hand on ler waist to coax lim forward and back through signaling, which made ler movements even more contorted. Aneti stood too far away from me, and ler body remained tense the entire time.
After we finished, le grabbed my wrists in ler sweaty hands and said breathlessly, “I cannot — you made me do that — they must think that I’m —” and le stopped speaking.
I kissed the backs of Aneti’s hands. The gesture concealed my anger because my mind ballooned with everything I wrote above. Aneti didn’t know the gesture.
The rain began to fall around us, and thunder rumbled close by. People ran this way and that, bound for the Skyrail or offices or museums. We went beneath a restaurant awning and watched the rain waterfall over the sides. Our underdresses sucked against our skin.
We walked back to the office after the rain stopped. I changed into a new set of clothes and went back to work. I mulled over what le had meant by they must think that I’m—
Le wanted to say, They will think that I am Narahji. This could invite violence because people suspect all Narahji of working in one of the separatist groups. No one will think that le is Narahji. There is a certain style of dress and manner that transcends appearance. Otherwise, that man would never have pushed me. What matters in Tveshė is culture, not ethnic appearance. The gods know my family has learned that lesson.
Not all of us want to separate from Shija. The police put me through an extensive background check to work in the Progressive Movement’s national office despite my family’s reputation. This was Code 1861-348-8, which I doubt that you have ever encountered, Liga.
So many of my ancestors are foreigners, yet I fall under that scrutiny because I am Narahji. My father can be an Īpahi diplomat, and I am Narahji. My grandfather can be an Atarahi immigrant, and I am Narahji. Code 1861-348-8 assumes that all Narahji have an equal preference for self-governance and ignores the complexities that most of us operate in: The Menashi marry into the Narahji, the Narahji marry into the Menashi, the Narahji marry the High-Wilds immigrants, the Narahji marry those whom they meet in other countries.
I don’t mean that I have no cultural pride. I do. Culture matters. I am Narahji. Liga, I meant to say that they suspect us for being Ịgzarhjenya. They call our families insular when our families have never been insular.
This evening, in the lobby, I felt Aneti’s hand slip into mine before I noticed lim.
“Where should we go?” I still looked like I had been trapped in a rain shower, and the cloud-filled sky outside threatened more. “We could dance in your home.”
“No, let’s go to your apartment.”
We remained quiet on our way to the Skyrail and dashed with everyone else when the heavens opened up again. The line for the trains extended beyond the escalator and into the streets. We took the stairs.
This evening, le stayed for dinner. Kati smiled at me and called the two of us cute! If only le knew!
The three of us made gespedgya. I taught Aneti how to grind the bird meat and check for spine-cones. We mixed it with the Canyon spices and ground nuts that Kati found. They’re not exactly what we’d use if it were authentic, but they taste fine as a stand-in. Aneti put too much in the dough wraps, so some of the dumplings fell apart in the water, but le knew the noodle recipe that went with them. The three of us made offerings while the food cooked. Aneti stayed several steps back, but the Eneiji must make offerings after everyone else unless one is worshipping Enapuata.
Kati started talking about gigs, and I said a few things about work. We argued about Baruwh. Kati doesn’t think that Atara did anything wrong, but I can see the signs. I have seen enough political movements go violent.
Aneti stood abruptly, the food on ler plate half-eaten. Le said that le had to go.
Kati frowned at me. I let Aneti out of the apartment and rushed back up the stairs to look out from one of the windows. Kati crept beside me and whispered, “What was that about? Does le have anxiety? How old is le, a decade above you?”
I shushed lim.
Aneti walked down the street without looking back. I motioned for Kati to kill the lights, which le did. Kati returned to the window and stood beside me. In the darkness, Aneti met a man halfway down the street who grabbed ler hand. They ran towards the Skyrail.
Kati asked me so many questions that I couldn’t keep up. I left the window abruptly and returned to the dinner table.
I decided to write all of this for you, Liga, because I have the audio clips. Your system* is genius: I know about when everything happened, and I can move between times of day as easily as a swift boat moves through tidal marshes.
Aneti’s departure confused me. I like lim, but I cannot like lim.
Akah Gysabala wrote ler best plays after ler husband’s execution because ler grief made everything le penned beautiful and shining. Perhaps this will happen to me, too. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that I intend to betray a beloved.
* Thank you for your comments about the system, and I am happy that it is working so well. Regarding holding in your anger, agreed. Nothing good will come out of arguing with the Shiji about sovereignty, and we need you to be closer to lim. And now for a personal comment: I read the news story about Baruwh and Atara earlier this afternoon, and I agree. Rumor has it that Wellness Worlds will move into Okoro to stage relief centers within Aḥorahwa and Baptei. Atara gave modern weapons to one of the groups in the mountainous region of Baptei about fifteen years ago, primarily for hunting, but the group is now using them against people in the region. We should have focused on education before giving them technologies. It has never gone well the other way around at any point in human history.↩
Oh, you’re making personal comments now? What were the other things? Impersonal comments? Also, fuck. Baruwh sounds like a bad situation.