You called me just before work while I was helping Kati find ler Skyrail pass. When my wall rang, I told lim to go ahead with mine, and I ran to my room. My heart beat fast when I saw that black panel with your nonexistent identifier. Kati shut the door to our apartment.
I don’t think that you slept, Liga. Your hair fell stiffly around your face in a halo, no longer held by tight bands into buns. You paced back and forth. I sank down onto the bed and waited for you to speak because I had so much to ask you — those questions that I have posed at regular intervals as long as we have worked together — even as I knew that you would not answer them. You will not extend me that courtesy.
You said, “That should not have happened.”
I said, “You gave me the plans to the buildings. What was I supposed to think, that you wanted me to be neutral? No one would do that.”
“I did that,” you said, and you turned to face the video. In the soft light of the room, hardly any of you was visible but your eyes, their color stark in your dark face. “It was informational.”
I cleared my throat and said, “I need to hang up. I don’t want to talk to you.”
“You asked me to call you,” you said. You reached near one of the monitors and turned on the light, and it illuminated that room again. Someone lay asleep on the bed behind you. “Salus, don’t do this to me. I told everyone that you would cooperate, and you need to follow my instructions exactly. This is not an accident like Kelis’ death. This is a methodical assassination—”
“Do not invoke Kelis!” I screamed. I lost control of the timbre of my voice, jumped to my feet, and balled my fists. “Don’t you dare say a word about lim!”
“How am I damaging your credibility? I am a living, breathing person, and you cannot just have me thrown this way and that according to the notes that you make in the margins of my smart paper!” My fists loosened, and I sat down again. My heart thudded in my ears like those drums in the dances for Sebhu. I said softly, “My cousin Gyetsuk has a friend named Deisurås. Le and Okiyot, according to a jomela whom I just met, are both Kohjenyakri. Why do you keep their company? Do you also know Karatau Meiyenesi?”
Your lips parted, and you glanced towards the shape on the bed. When you looked back at the camera, you lowered your gaze. “I read what you wrote about them and about the nuamua. You have said things that people in the Kohjenya and the nuamua hear on a daily basis from the Coalitionists, from the Khessi, and from even Progressive Movement officials in Narahja and Nasja. You are a cosmopolitan woman with political aspirations, and I do not believe that you would say those things aloud. Suka and I have discussed journaling and the Maðzi. Journaling can allow the worst thoughts to snake out. No one interrupts, as in face-to-face conversations. Intimate oath-bound friends love each other too much to allow poisonous thoughts like those to continue. Do you really hate the nuamua so much that you would want a return to Sehịnta’s policies? Do you even know how those policies happened, Salus? I mean, Nitañi.”
My fingers paused over the command to end the conversation. I said, “I don’t want a return to Sehịnta’s policies. I just mean that le must have had a reason. What do you discuss with Suka?”
“What does it even matter to you?”
“I think it is enlightening and invigorating to write things that have no other outlet. I mean, this is all — this is all for the mission. I wouldn’t be sharing my private thoughts with you if you weren’t one of Suka’s relatives. I need something to ground myself, to anchor myself in reality. If I were moving through this on my own? I am falling in love with Aneti, and I would go insane if I didn’t journal and recenter myself in this mission.” I licked my lips. My fingers twitched. “I want to cut the vid.”
“I’m not done talking to you. Suka says the same thing about journaling, as do the Maðzi I know.” You smiled. “The Maðzi I know all work within my organization, and everyone knows what they will write down. It’s almost unnecessary, but we still notice things in their writings that were not readily apparent before.”
“How does everyone know? Who is everyone?”
“They don’t have privacy,” you said. You scratched your forehead and glanced towards the bed.
“Do you have privacy?”
You hesitated before you confirmed my doubts about you: No, Liga, you do not have privacy. Who else can see what I have written? Do your eyes have privacy, Liga?
I followed up with the obvious question. You know, the one that’s actually true, but I still need to hear it from you. You stared at me as if I had slapped you. In light of what you said, it was justifiable, and you only needed to give me one simple answer. At least you didn’t fucking lie outright. You skirted around the problem. I said, “Are you too independent of your cousin Suka to understand that I need to know the answer? I need to hear it from you. Suka and I have a sacred ritual between us. You and I do not. I care deeply about my career, and if I cannot verify your intentions or know which — if you are so coy as to say you work with them without verifying that you have no choice, why are you doing this to me? Suka will take responsibility if anything happens to my career. You know lim. Le takes responsibility for not having me back home in time to save Kelis. Le takes responsibility for almost everything.”
You said nothing.
“Liga?” I paused. “I know Karatau Meiyenesi. I could call lim. Would you like me to do that?”
“Akah Salus Niksubvya, please don’t treat me like this,” you whispered. “You have a temper that you try to keep hidden, and that is the true risk to your political career. Now. What’s happening with Suka is between the two of us and within our family. It’s not something for the Niksubvya to care about. I have programming expertise. I need you for social hacking. How could I tell you everything when your temper makes your heart poisonous? What do you think of your grandmother for being around Karatau Meiyenesi and ler Kohjenya? I mean, truly? Truly, Salus Niksubvya?”
I don’t know how to translate what I said next because the Sabaji don’t have a way to say it. In Narahji, it reads, Xai ku tsekto xikanosaịrru tsurhjas tsansakssa. For the future, if this goes into an archive, sakit is a very specific word for apologizing, and tsekto is a form of alienation, both for people who have been left out. Sakit is not the same verb someone uses when jostling someone at a door. I know that I wronged you, Liga, by associating you with what I said about the others. I have no right to call you out for any of this.
My communication band chirped, but I didn’t answer it. Instead, I kept my eyes on the video screen — on you — and you said, “I need a break from communicating with you. Please continue to winnow your way into ler heart. We need to solve this problem, and we need to do it together.”
The video feed cut out, and now, I am alone. I told Akah Kara that I have a slight headache. I need to go in later, but for now, all I can do is pace back and forth while replaying the video without audio to catch every one of those expressions when you told me that journaling was eating my compassion.
I never did have compassion for the nuamua, not because my parents’ generation poisoned me against them and the Kohjenya, but because I read history, and I read legal precedent, and I read all of those things that prepare me to be one of the leaders of this nation. You could hardly know this, but I fenced verbally four or five times with Bækxus, a man about five years older than me at the regional office for the Progressive Movement, during our commutes in from Kobsarka. Le did not agree with ritual purity laws for some temples, nor does le want the nuamua so maligned by the State when we do not feel the same animosity to the Karatha. Bækxus told me that I do not have opinions of the Karatha that fall in line with Narahji tradition, so I could stand to modernize on the nuamua.
Kelis, too, liked nuamua more than I did. My opinion has always been that there must be something that slips in — some pollution, perhaps — that opens someone up to that. I’m not naïve enough to think that it runs in families even though everyone has heard a story of a family plagued by it.
“The muakanua does exactly what one doesn’t expect, as if everything is up to chance.” — Akah Gysabala, through the character Kakeitsa, Commander of the Night-Birds
You know what happens in that play.