He was the first one to bathe in your blood. The only one.
It had stunned you, his reappearance, like a portrait unwrapping itself from a swirling mist. He’d promised to leave the premises if your back touched the floor of the suspended hut. He’d wrestled the alabe girls to the ground below the hut, and flown up to you. Your heart had expanded when you saw him. Your mother had gawped at him. Then she’d started ululating. Abomination! What is a man doing at this ceremony? You’d shouted at her to stop making a noise. She’d recoiled, tapping her ears, activating the music of the underworld so she wouldn’t hear. You hadn’t meant to shout at her. Sometimes, there was something about his presence that left you slightly unhinged. He had not come to make trouble, he’d assured you. He’d only come to be sure it was something you’d wanted to do, and not what you’d needed to do. You hadn’t been sure what he meant, because need and want often obfuscated themselves within you, but you’d nodded, holding his hand, fingers enmeshed. His eyes hadn’t lit up even after you smiled and said you would be fine. He had turned and made for the door, almost knocking down the alabe girls who had now come up after him, holding trays of bottled pink pills, muted in their swinging white coats.
You’d quickly lain on the metal retro-analgesic mat when you saw the Chief Alabe make her flight in. You hadn’t wanted her addressing you, saying more than was ceremonially necessary. You’d swallowed spit when she commanded you to roll up your wrapper. The moment she touched you, a tearing rawness had whipped through your body. Even now, something from the mat was clenching and unclenching your limbs, the way his butt muscles had spasmed when he caught himself about to spurt through your hitched-up thighs on one of those secret starless nights. Something from the mat you lay on was raking red lines through your being, the exact way you’d dragged your uncut nails down the ridges of his back, your toes curled, while the edges of his muscle nudged your thin hanging bud of flesh, on nights unknown. You’d wanted to spring up and dash out of the hut, but the mat had held your back like a vise. It had been fashioned to make the pain stark, to make the moment priceless, but you wanted it all to stop already. There was no pride in this agony, no need for it.
You’d thought the world had shut its eyes on you. You’d squinted in a final squelch, and there he was again, gaping at your assaulted thighs. How did he get through the girls again? Perhaps you’d heard the warning of the moment, perhaps you had not. The Omen Chambers alerting the citizens of the land could have pinged something in his ears: Shut your mouth. Shut your mouth. But it had not, and so the red stream—the curse of violated womanhood—had splattered up into the cave of his jaws. Now, he spluttered and jerked backwards, against the shiny chrome walls, hitting too many chrome buttons. A window slid open, surprising him. He was flung to the beyond, where the gigantic birds of prey feasted. The alabe girls raised a cry; some started as though to rescue him.
“Are you mad?” the Chief Alabe bellowed, her fingers still twisted around the blade drunk on the blood it just tapped open. “What happens to a man who insists on witnessing what his fathers and forefathers looked away from?”
Someone was wiping you with cotton wool, cool with a wetness that stung. You gushed like smashed water-pots. The fire in your back had gone, but you remained on the mat. Your keening stabbed the corrugated sheets that covered the hut. Inside its shifting walls, you sang of how the day just fell and scattered itself around your feet. Someone else tried to slip a pill into your mouth. You snapped your teeth at the hand and flung your eyes where your mother stood watching by an unrevealed window.
“Mother!” you cried.
She was a ghost begrudging her world by wallowing in it. She touched her ears, electrons blazing purple through her fingers, and you saw her blindness take over again. She loomed, a dead portrait, coated in platinum. You could never get to her. You had never been able to—even during the days you had told her you didn’t need to be cut to be a decent Birther.
“Mother!” you cried.
Your womanhood lay now on a white spread, in an aluminum bowl. A small horn of sin. A curl of evidence of your excesses gone. You were now a decent Birther, like all the young women that had gone before you.
“Mother!” You slapped another hand away. “I did this to please you! He did nothing wrong! How could you let this happen?”
What she did next sucked what glory was left in your newly dead skin. She rubbed her ears open, turned to you, and in her eyes swirled the darkest pools of hate and duty.
“Why was he here? The hut threw him out; I did not.” She swept her arm from girl to girl. “Look at them: they are now Birthers. They have all undergone the ritual; they can be in this hut without harm. I can, too. This is the fate of every female being in Power Land. They will have their excesses cut out of their bodies. Just as it happened to me, and just as it has now happened to you.”
You gnashed through the flames sizzling through you. “This shall not be done to my daughters.”
The Chief buzzed with laughter. Some of her girls joined in. The rest activated the breeze-sterilizers. They did it like they were mourning. Soon, the lances and knives were gleaming again. Before sunfall, another mother would bring in her daughter.

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