Z is for Zutakuari
“Mina?” A soft, clinking accompanied the voice. “Mina, it’s Kazi. Ohhhh, what have they done to you?” the voice moaned.
Mina didn’t want to believe she had any friends left. Some of those elders who had beat her, she considered friends. She chose not to move.
“Mina, there isn’t much time. Tomorrow night is your Nodoshiku, but there are rumors you will die during the ceremony. I found sisters to help. Not all are happy with Tado’s ways.”
A touch across her leg meant as a caress made Mina wince in pain. “Be ready to go in the afternoon.”
Sunlight pierced the swollen slits of Mina’s eyes. She cautiously stretched her body, trying to assess if anything was broken. Her foot brushed a metal cup and liquid splashed her toes. With movements abbreviated by pain, she maneuvered to the cup and licked water up across her hot, swollen tongue.
Rest alluded her on the hard, wooden floor. Mina had every intention of begging Tado for death before, during, and after the Nodoshiku. She was convinced Kazi visiting in the night was a dream until scuffling noises drew near. Scraping followed with hushed hisses issuing instructions. “Turn it this way.” “No, this way!”
A metal squeal gave way to sighs of relief. Coarse fabric scraped her body and she moaned aloud when she was half-lifted, half-drug along the floor.
“Quiet, Mina. We’re almost out,” Kazi’s voice reassured her.
A voice she didn’t recognize whispered, “Kazi, you’ll be missed, go back, now.” Muffled voices argued back and forth.
She felt a squeeze on her ankle. “I’ll see you soon, sister.”
Heat and light filtered in through the fabric as she rattled along on a cart with other parcels half smothering her. Mina bit her lip to keep from crying aloud as every bump sent tendrils a pain coursing through her body. Quiet streets gave way to market noises and then to quiet once more. Parcels shifted as she was lifted out and dumped on the ground. She covered her mouth to cut off a scream. “Sorry,” someone muttered before the cart rattled off. Eventually she came to rest and a door closed. The fabric was removed and a hooded figure crouched beside her.
“Stay here, don’t make a sound. There’s enough food and water to last a week. After that, get out of Rasima.”
“Who are you?”
“Batu and we’ve risked much to do this. The Ashiha and Tado will make us pay for freeing you. Get to the farthest outpost you can. I hear there is one in the far west called Dong Tochi. Do not let The Tiny Wizards catch you. I don’t know what they’re doing but find out the truth about the Nodoshiku ritual. Come back and save us if you can.”
Mina’s face was slack with bewilderment. “But I can’t. I’ll go through with the ritual if it’ll bring peace back.”
“No.” Batu gripped the back of Mina’s neck. “You must do this. Do it for your younger sisters. Do it for Kazi.”
Mina shook her head. She couldn’t begin to imagine a life outside Rasima, outside of the sisters at her Sayid and Ashiha’s house.
“We were not always like this.” Batu said. “We were a great nation once.” Batu touched her forehead to Mina’s and blessed her, “Zutakuari.” The word held the history of all the blessings passed down for generations through the Mikachiari. It was used in time of great need.
“Zutakuari,” Mina whispered.
The next day Mina opened her eyes enough to recognize the room was the one she shared briefly with the Kertenkele. She drank water and wondered what had become of him.