No audience observed the ceremony. Two women clad in black robes and veils knelt before a white-robed priest as he spoke the ritual that transferred the office of doumla of Kislan from the elder woman to the younger. This done, he said kind words to both and departed the temple.
"And so it ends," said Sabri, the older of the pair. Sabri, who had served as doumla of the neighborhood of Kislan for twenty-three years, slid black gloves from her arms. She removed the robe, revealing the clothes beneath that she thought appropriate. And then, with a chuckle, she unclasped the veil and showed her face in a public setting for the first time in decades.
"A fascinating sensation," Sabri said. She looked outside the temple and squinted against the afternoon light. She turned to her colleague. "Will you join me for tea?"
"If you like," said Ayla, the younger woman who was now the doumla of Kislan.
The women had enjoyed tea together in Sabri's home many times, less often in Ayla's home, but never before had they traveled in this fashion. To the people of Kislan, it was common to see the two black-clad women walking together to or from the hospital; the taller, older woman had been doumla of Kislan for longer than most could remember, and the slighter, younger woman had been her associate for about a year.
On this afternoon, however, only one wore a doumla's raiments, and the two women attracted more notice than usual. Whether from Sabri's posture, her gait, or the black shoes she still wore, the citizens recognized her as the woman who gave poison to those who requested a merciful death. In twenty-three years of service, how many? Hundreds, surely, and the residents of Kislan stared at her clearly revealed face.
"Perhaps we should have taken a path less traveled," said Ayla quietly.
"Not at all. These are my people," Sabri said, but her voice lacked conviction, and at the next opportunity, the women chose a quieter street.
Soon they reached Sabri's building. They ascended to her apartment at the top, a private place suitable to a doumla's modest salary. Sabri prepared a fire for the kettle before opening the curtains.
From her eastern window, Sabri looked over Kislan and the city of Akuryan. To her right, looming atop the hill that dominated the city, stood the Haduka, the chief edifice of the Obayelian faith. Sabri had visited there several times for the occasional conclaves of their sisterhood. But neither the Lagral nor his foremost priests ever deigned to meet them.
The apartment was almost bare. Ayla looked at the trunk that was filled with Sabri's possessions. "Have you decided?"
"Yes," Sabri replied. "A friend who was a doumla in Izmir retired to a village near there, and I will visit for a while. Beyond that..." Clear to both was that Sabri could never again live in this neighborhood, perhaps even in this city.
The kettle was ready, and Sabri poured their tea. Only a small table and two chairs, set aside for this conversation, remained.