The Sabaji use a paste called månukha that they make from a mix of opakha, ash, and the nopå nut’s milk. Only unmarried women and jomela wear it to the processions, including women who have never had a spouse and those who are still in their fertile years, but who have left a spouse behind. Unmarried Sabaji women wear it with headdresses, and jomela double-bind their hair.
It says, Look at me, I am eligible, and I have a family that is ready for you to join it. I am eligible. I come from a high-status family, so I will always have hjathoma against other women, with the exception of the royal family. I do not know how much this episode of insanity with Sehutañi will poison my heart to love. I have hjathoma, and that is all I can say.
It is the only time jomela can double-bind their hair in headdresses (in any social class) without censure because it is seen as lucky — even the people on the street sides. When their names are hauhi, they remove those endings and use the feminine ones in processions like these. I think it is done to attract young men. It’s every matriarch’s dream that a jomela will remain within ler maternal family.
We have something similar, but under the table, for the yadzakma. Ozkyev would never wear their hair double-bound and in a headdress. Women do, women of all kinds. The Sabaji Tveshi do not recognize the difference — they don’t recognize a lot of things. It’s wrong to go into a disaster of politics at this time. Until the Sabaji Tveshi change, we will continue to lose Ịgzarhjenya citizens to the separatist movements.
Being in this procession brought up all of this baggage. It was hard to breathe. It was so Sabaji! It was intense. I kept thinking about my yadzakma cousins who cannot leave Ịgzarhjenya territory for fear of violence. The Sabaji Tveshi have no right to legislate things as if we belonged to their culture, but I shouldn’t have been so distracted by any of thoughts. I mean, there was an assassination plot.
I have hijacked this journal to talk about politics, but that is probably the pain medication. I should go back to the task at hand. My descendants need to understand how the Sabaji in the Hariji denomination do their religious processions so we can talk about what happened.
Young Hariji priestesses chanted from sacred texts while the priests made månukha. I lowered my eyes and kept my breathing light while two of the temple assistants massaged it into my arms and face. The månukha cracked as it dried, but opakha contains natural whitening agents. It made my skin as pale as Adviser Tenes’ for days. That caused complications in the hospital because they thought that I had lost more blood than I actually did.
I don’t want to write too much too soon. I’m a politician! I’m not a writer or a dramatist — I don’t know the best way to backdate these entries. I know that everything I write will be read. That is all.
Priests dusted my hair with ash to make it white, and I lifted my underdress so they could powder my pubic hair. One of my locks was clipped and added to the offering bowl with clippings from every hjathomahi in the procession: Priestesses, processional devotees like me, members of the royal family, and unmarried children from among the political elite that live in or near Galasu.
Adviser Tenes approached me, and le handed me a taser. I slipped it into the deep pocket beneath my long hepteri vest. The thick, white vest splayed into slits in the kami style worn for Shiji religious rituals, and the number of pockets was the best thing about it, to be honest. Le said, “Be careful. It has enough charge to hit someone four times if you set it to kill. It’s also an illegal possession.”
The weight of that statement dropped deep into my gut. The cold handle of the weapon was real in a way that a knife could not be.
“Where will you be?” I asked.
Adviser Tenes smirked. “I will be watching from the steps of the Temple of Enahari in the Temple District. Tesekhaira do not march in these. We ride via daraiga in advance, and we give the libation offering at the temple steps while you watch. Akaiañi is very lucky to have a tesekhaira on staff so le doesn’t need to kowtow to the Karatha or my father. Then, I will perform the rest of our plan — on my way there.”
“What about Karatau? Could le do it? The libation?”
“Le is a Meiyenesi, and that would be politically disastrous for the monarchy. Surely you know who the Meiyenesi were.”
I won’t hold that condescending remark against lim. Le doesn’t know how much I have thought about this very thing privately.
The Temple District is a straight line from the Palace along the Great Road, but it takes several hours to walk. The Taritit destroyed nothing along the street, and so while the remainder of the city is covered with cranes and construction equipment, it’s the most beautiful road in the city. It is longer than the Memorial Walk from the beginning of Old South Street at the bottom of the Riverside District to the Monument of the Heroes.
The country’s guards were on alert. I knew, but did not see, the snipers positioned along the route. In front of and behind the Fadehin, the sacred guards carried weapons. It was an affront to the gods, but wasn’t I, just behind them and among the other hjathomahi, equally to blame for carrying a taser? (Equally to blame for everything else, too?)
We all knew what could happen. The Fadehin had signed vague arrest warrants for the people involved. They were khavać now, an ancient law that had existed long before the Old Monarchy. The security feeds would pick up their faces. It was straightforward as long as somebody didn’t realize from whom all of this had come.
“Perhaps nothing will happen now that they know that they will be apprehended,” I said.
Adviser Tenes raised an eyebrow. “Do you really think that?”
“No. I don’t know what to think. Have you had contact with Karatau?”
“Of course. Where is Kelta?”
“Le said that le would follow the procession as it advanced.”
Fadehin Akaiañi entered the room. Le was young, and while no decent person would have mentioned this on paper — even with the gray, corded wig — le must not have been older than twenty-five. My age group, I remember thinking, the tail-other part of it. I had never seen lim face-to-face before. Le had the entrancing, upper class beauty of someone who has always had access to the best of the High-Wilds black market, and that perfect medium-brown skin that the Sabaji prize in their women, the same hue used in the images of Sehet Añi.
“Who is the one whom Adviser Tenes Sari brought?”
I came forward and knelt down in front of lim. A temple attendant slinked forward behind me, still carrying the månukha. Fadehin Akaiañi had a voice that sounded like temple bells. My cheeks felt hot, but le couldn’t see me blush given the clay.
“What is your name?”
“Salus Kobsarka-Nitañi Niksubvya.” I cleared my throat. “I promise that I am familiar with my duties.”
Fadehin Akaiañi made the traditional hand gesture, and I rose to my feet to reciprocate. Le reached for my hands and squeezed them. “I am certain that you will do your duty.”
Le let go of me and turned ler attention to the others assembled in the room. Ler voice projected from all directions through the sound system, and le said, “We will need to be vigilant during the procession. Attention has come to me through unnatural channels that there may be a plot against the ceremonies as a protest against government policies. I assure you that people around us are armed, and we will have an uneventful festival for the gods.”
The room came alive with whispers. I remained motionless because the Fadehin was directly in front of me. I did not want a world leader to know how afraid I was.
I knew Sehutañi because I had slept with lim.
I had listened to ler fears about ler sister.
In the evenings after we had sex, there were a few times when le fell asleep — le was always tossing and turning. Always.
When we ate at lunch, I learned that le never backed down from arguments.
When it comes to honoring the dead, I knew one thing: Even if ler allies backed down, Sehutañi would not.
Something would happen on this day.
Fadehin Akaiañi smiled nervously at me. I nodded back at lim. The entire procession assembled.
This is what it was like, descendants:
- White-veiled temple maidens with skin painted gray, bells in their hands;
- Saffron-gowned priestesses with headdresses made of the sharpest of the kau grain;
- Celadon-robed priests carrying censers of incense;
- Pink-clad jomela children holding singing bowls patterned with the names of gods;
- Young boys bearing unlit incense and high-proof sacred liquors;
- Hjathomahi following Fadehin Akaiañi, bodies painted, faces blank: Jomela and women, so alike that one could not tell another person from the other, all uniform;
- Seven theatrical performers at the peaks of their careers who received the honors of representing the seven highest gods in the Hariji pantheon: Enahari, Enakhiavoshei, Enashisha, Oñiji, Enameisa, Nurogui, and Likhera.
Fadehin Akaiañi started the procession by spilling water on the ground. The temple maidens finished adorning their hair with wispy, white feathers. The priests led. Along the Great Road, a great crowd cheered as the palace’s front gates opened.
We started the Daybreak Hymn as the sun peeked through the stained glass windows, just as the front of the procession reached the steps down onto the road. Naked, I imagine, is what Namgyatzi must have felt when le first saw Sehịnta, or when Kakedi first met Hiahetå. Naked is how all of us feel in the eyes of the gods because, no matter what happens here, that divine reality remains.
As we stopped the hymn, the crowds outside started shouting. I felt for the taser in my dress. My hand closed around its metallic and comfortable grip. It provided me no sense of control.