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Tunde adjusted the slim gray tie under his collar and lifted his eyes to the solemn reflection in the mirror. Just then, the door swung open and his gaze shifted to his brother’s equally grave expression. He sighed, hands smoothing the gray tie. Silas approached him, hands shoved in black slacks.

“Silly, silly, silly…” Silas muttered as he leaned against the window’s ledge by the mirror. His eyes lifted to Tunde’s face, eying the man from head to toe. “Sure you can do this?”

Tunde shrugged his shoulders. “What else can I do? His mother requested I give the eulogy…”

Silas snorted under his breath and turned his head to peer out onto the street, watching as people filed into the two-story church building. “Senseless fighting, amounting to what?”

Tunde’s eyes watched Silas’ mouth, his brother’s words echoing the pain in his heart. Femi Oyeniran. A young and promising high school senior who was on his way to Texas A&M University at the end of the year. He remembered the lanky young man with his mischievous eyes and easy laugh. A good boy, caught in the crossfire of a senseless feud. Picturing the boy’s lifeless body in the casket on the first floor, Tunde dragged his eyes from Silas’ profile and focused his gaze back on his tie.

Silas shook his head and turned back to Tunde who was frowning at his lopsided tie. Pushing off the ledge, he walked over and gently pushed Tunde’s hands to straighten the tie himself. “Nervous?”

Tunde heaved a sigh. “Annoyed. Confused.” Why was Femi downtown so late at night? Why couldn’t their fellow Nigerians bury the hatchet and stop fighting each other? His heart twisted, recalling the shy gaze of the lovely Anaya and his brow furrowed deeper. Disappointed.

“Your dream girl,” Silas said, pausing when Tunde stiffened visibly. His eyes lifted to Tunde’s. “She’s a Fulani right?”

Tunde didn’t reply, merely staring at his younger brother with a grave expression.

Silas grunted and lowered his eyes back to Tunde’s stubborn silk tie. “It’s unfortunate that her people can’t get along with ours… but you still want her, don’t you?”

He felt his heart skip a beat as the truth pushed through the despair. “Yeah, I do.” Seeing her that night, with her gentle eyes searching his as he shared with her about his ear condition, he had a feeling that she was beginning to give him a chance. But what if she felt differently now?

“Do you think she’ll let something like her people’s discord with ours to not give you guys a chance?”

Tunde swallowed hard, looking over Silas’ head at the darkening sky in the window. The storm was coming, the gray blanket of clouds settling over the town. “I hope not… I pray not.”

Anaya bit her bottom lip as she sat at the second stair with Leeza who pressed her ear against the wall, listening to their mother’s agonizing cries as their father relayed the news. This time the fight was personal. Hadiza’s second older cousin’s first son had been killed in the crossfire. Ibrahim Sanusi was a young and impressionable, fiery tempered man. Anaya remembered the few times he’d come with his father to visit them, recalled that cold dark stare whenever Leeza and Anaya dared to stare back at him. She’d never liked him and now felt terrible that she’d ever harbored ill feelings toward the young man being laid to rest tomorrow evening.

From what she’d caught wind of from her father’s muffled voice, the other side had lost a young man of their own. Her heart twisted in pain and she clenched the hem of her tunic. When would the fighting stop? It’d been much quieter, more peaceful when they came to this country almost eight years ago. Sure there were cold and pointed stares between the different groups but no one dared to strike the other. When did it all start?

Leeza tapped her knee and Anaya dragged her gaze to her sister’s questioning one. The younger girl cocked her head to gesture that they go back upstairs and Anaya realized that her mother’s sobbing had ceased. Their father had succeeded to calm her down… for now. It wouldn’t be long after he left that Mother would take to praying aloud. To Allah for the sake of her people.

Tamping down a sigh, Anaya slowly rose and followed Leeza back to her room. She closed the door quietly and walked over to the bed where Leeza had taken her place, legs crossed, eyes focused on Anaya.

“You are worried?” Leeza asked quietly and Anaya dared not look into her sister’s sage gaze.

“Sad. Confused.” Disappointed. An image of the dark-skinned, kind-eyed Tunde crossed her mind and she reluctantly squelched it down, guilt filling her heart.

Leeza tilted her head curiously. “Why? Because Tunde’s a Yoruba man?”

Anaya jerked her wide-eyed gaze to her sister. “Could you be quiet?” She hissed through clenched teeth, peering over her shoulder at the door.

Leeza rolled her eyes, leaning back on her elbows. “So what if he’s Yoruba? Don’t tell me you believe that nonsense Mama said?” She frowned at Anaya’s silence. “You do?”

Anaya bit her bottom lip. “I know he’s not like them. That he’s kind and…” She shook her head. “I can’t. You know Mama will fall ill if I even mention a Yoruba man asking to date me.”

“Sister, don’t you think you’re giving Mama enough reins on your life?” Leeza leaned forward and grabbed her older sister’s hand, forcing the girl to look at her. “You can’t do that, Anaya. You shouldn’t.”

At Leeza’s sincere urging, Anaya could feel the tears gather at her eyes. She blinked them back and shook her head, insistent. “She’s already having a hard time with Ibrahim’s… I can’t add to her grief.”

Leeza dropped Anaya’s hand and drew back, glaring at her sister. “You will sacrifice your chance to be happy because of Mother’s stupid fear of them?”

The door swung open and Anaya stiffened as Leeza inhaled sharply. Anaya didn’t turn around but knew who stood on the other side of the door. “Papa…” Leeza said softly.

“Go start to prepare dinner,” their father’s stern but soft voice sounded from the door. It didn’t take a second for Leeza to fly off the bed and shuffle out the door, her head bent penitently. She knew this was not the end. It was clear that their father had heard everything.

Anaya bit the insides of her cheeks to keep from shivering visibly, her back still turned to the door. Her father’s footsteps sounded as he entered the room and closed the door behind him. She closed her eyes and lowered her head. “Papa…” she croaked out. “I’m sorry.”

The mattress dipped as her father perched on the edge. “Lift your head, Ana…” he said softly.

Anaya swallowed hard, gripping the hem of her tunic as she forced herself to lift her head, eyes still closed.

A soft gentle chuckle permeated through the gripping fear and she squinted one eye open. Her father’s kind eyes stared back at her and Anaya released a tight sigh as she opened both eyes. A slight smile lifted one end of his mouth as he regarded her openly. “A Yoruba man, huh?”

The incredulity in his voice stiffened her body again and Anaya lowered her face again. “Papa, I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what, Ana? That a wise man sees the treasure I have held dear since you were given to me?”

Her heart slammed hard against her chest. Anaya blinked rapidly as the tears gathered again. She shook her head. “I should’ve told you first.”

“Really… Between the shooting and your mother’s mourning, how would you have gotten my attention?” His hand moved to cover her own and Anaya stared down at the dark long-fingered hand of her father’s. She bit her bottom lip to keep from sobbing. Gratitude surged through her for her father’s faith in God. His gentleness and love for his daughters and wife was something she’d never seen in any of the men in their community.

“You must know this already, my Ana,” her father continued speaking when she couldn’t utter another word. His fingers curled around her palm. “The God you and I serve, he has a funny way of making life… How do you say it, he has a strange sense of humor.”

Anaya dared to look up and saw a full grin on her father’s face. She blinked at him, still unable to speak.

“This Yoruba man, do you like him?” Her father’s dark brown eyes searched hers.

Her heart skipped a beat as Tunde’s image appeared before her mind’s eye and she took a moment, basking in the warm way he looked at her, the gentle way he had tended to her ankle and the direct way he told her of his interest in her. Warmth surged through her body and the corners of her mouth lifted, encouraged by the gentleness in her father’s smile. “Yes, Papa… I do.”

Her father nodded and squeezed her hand gently. “Then don’t worry. Your mother, I will take care of her. Your sister is right, for a change.” He gave her a wry smile. “A child should not have to sacrifice for their parents… It’s the other way around, you should know this.”

Anaya dipped her head, overwhelmed by her father’s words. He was a man of few words but she’d always been closer with him than her mother because of the way he showed his love and reverence for God, a God she believed in wholeheartedly. Her mother, Hadiza, his wife, was still battling to release her ties with Allah and for that reason; Anaya couldn’t connect as well with her. “Papa…” she choked in between a sob.

He shifted on the mattress and placed a hand on her bowed head. “Don’t worry. The God you and I serve, He will take care of everything. Remove the fear from your heart and trust Him.”

Tears of relief fell unrestrained now as Anaya leaned her head on her father’s strong but narrow shoulders, feeling the tight hold on her heart release with the valued, soothing word from her reticent father.

<<Part 5 || Part 7>>

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