Author: Guede Mazaka
Ten tens of men. And only one of them still lives.
The first still haunts the dark, irregular edges of her dreams like the damp-palmed amorphous horror he was. Her first sight of him had been the broad rolls of fat of his back that heaved and shuddered over her prone mother, terrifying a very very small Miho into thinking her mother was being consumed alive by a monster. Later, long after she had been hesitatingly introduced to the man who dressed her mother in silk and carefully-hidden bruises, she realized she had been right. He had loved to stroke the tender underside of her arm, as if he thought that would show he was merely a lamb.
She carved him open and left him in the gutter for the other wolves.
The second one she occasionally remembers with a stick of pungent incense in the rundown Buddhist shrine of the Asian road. He had given her two swords, after all, and the first one she still wore on her back thanks to his teaching. The second one had stuck up from his groin even after the blood had ceased pumping from the rent in his throat, and for that she prefers to fight alone, free of prices.
Miho has long since put aside the faces and the names of the men running from three to ninety-nine. They were nothing but jobs, chores, assignments. Necessary eliminations in order for her life to go on. She has not forgotten them, for she knows the length of grudges in this town and it would be foolish to forget about the ones she might have sown, but they do not touch her now. They did in their time, when she was still learning her trade and had not perfected the art of death at a distance, or death at her touch alone, but they’ve long since been banished to the fringes.
When she reaches the last, then she pauses.
He should have been the tong member in the alley. The one with the slash between the ribs and the moist pink of lung peeking from between his shattered bones, the one who had seen Miho worn out with numbers and stagger, the one who’d watched her drop to clutch a bleeding thigh and had seized her ankle. Because he had touched her and it had been against her will, and because she had killed him for that. But in truth, Miho doesn’t count him. Nor does she count the many who’ve come after him.
After the hundredth, she stopped counting entirely because there no longer seemed to be a point. She spilled blood not in revenge or retaliation, but in pre-emption. Pleasure. Protection.
And after him, she had learned that some touches cannot be eradicated by a wash of blood. Even if she were willing to spill his, and she is not. She will if she has to, but somehow Miho thinks that death would make her sick afterward. It’s a strange feeling.
The strangest thing, she thinks, is that he had not touched her body at all.
But she wishes he had. Wishes he would—wishes for his fingers to run along the edge of her robe and slip it from her shoulders, wishes his eyes would stay on her instead of the horizon, or the vixen-bitch that is Old Town’s current guardian. Miho sits on his windowsill during the light hours before true dawn and she thinks she would have him bridge the space in which she’s wrapped herself.
Dwight has laid his hands on her many times, and yet he has not done it in truth. And without lifting a finger he has touched her too deeply to erase, and she hasn’t killed him.
She stopped counting after the hundredth. She didn’t see the point.