Where can I find the beginning of it all? Was it when my father had died under the stones of the mound he was building for Chetiwimoch or was it when my mother left my brother and I to find a new husband in his death? Was it when I was sentenced to a fate only mildly better than death or was it when I had met him - who’s memories still blaze in an old man’s lonely night. Perhaps it could have begun in any of those moments - but the weavers have told of those enough now. It would, for me, always begin with the last time I would ever see my brother alive.
We had been living in a longhouse shared by six other families after our mother had left us. Each week, I would march up to the proprietors quarters - an over-fed noble-born who dreamed of owning his own mound one day - and hand over five chits as payment for his accommodation. And after each payment, one of Tepiwah’s men would then approach me for three chits for their service in protecting us against themselves.
Most of the family we stayed with would have two or more working to pay for rent and food from the trough. But that was a luxury that we had lost then. Though there were two of us, Hetu had barely enrolled in the Worker’s School - leaving me as the eldest to find any menial work that they would offer me.
I had been working late as a porter in the construction of one of the water-pyramids that day. Hetu had been bedridden from a fever the past week and I had asked for our rent to be postponed to afford his medicine. I went home, chits hanging from a pouch I carried by the waist and went to the landlords quarters as I did every week before I came home. Then, I walked to the trough, buying whatever food we could afford for the next week while I waited for Tepiwah’s men to approach me. But I waited. I never had to wait for them before, they would always be ready with a smile before I could even reach the food. Maybe they were late? Maybe they were less forgiving to someone else that had asked for their chits-payments to be delayed? I waited, waited for the signs to disappear, to be proven wrong, for one of Tepiwah’s men to approach - grim, sullen, a punch square in the jaw for my delayed-payment, anything but nothing.
The families we had been sharing the longhouse with looked at me behind curtains and hearth-fire when I arrived home, murmuring under their breaths behind the trail of my footsteps as I approached the curtain that marked our room from theirs. More to ignore. More to disprove. I touched the fabric, felt it cold like stone, its grooves and edges as tall as the mounds I worked with. There was no longer any noise behind me, no murmur or crackle from the fire - only me, the curtain, and my brother behind it. I pulled it back.
The room was dark, moonlight spilt from the tiny window to draw a soft edge on the bed where - nothing was there. It was as we had left it in the morning. No sign, no threat, no Hetu.
Ran past the families, past a hand trying to stop me and out into the streets. Not Hetu. They had been eyeing him since they arrived, played with him while I talked. No, not him.
Ran past the Artisan mound, where our father used to take us every year. Along the canals, where I dare not look to find him there. Past a pleasure house, where men and women ply their trade in the nude under the winter night. Twae, he was only ten.
I ran for Hetu, for Tepiwah’s den where he would be kept. I had lost so much by then, my family, my caste - I couldn’t lose him. I couldn’t do it without him.
I ran a corner, twisting past gardens, fountains, and mezzanines, eyes forward. Tunnel vision. Point A to point B.