The two sisters stumbled over each other on their way back to the staircase. Anaya couldn’t breathe. She could hear her father’s calm voice being answered by Tunde’s even tone. As she made her way slowly to the first step, her heart was beating fast against her ribs. Her father was asking Tunde about his day. She shook her head against the momentary relief at her father’s next words, inviting the young man into the parlor.

Where was her mother? Her eyes shifted from the bottom of the steps toward the kitchen and her body stiffened at the sight of her mother staring hard in the direction of the parlor room.

At Leeza’s hand nudging her forward, Anaya almost tripped over her own feet and quickly grasped the banister. Her mother’s eyes moved to the stairs and Anaya almost fell on her backside at the look in her mother’s eyes. Disappointment. Confusion.

Although she’d prepared herself for that, she couldn’t bear it when her mother turned her back and retreated into the kitchen. Anaya wanted to cry. She could feel the hard lump lodged so far down her throat.

Again Leeza nudged at her shoulder, forcing Anaya to move forward. Feet heavy as lead, Anaya trudged down the remaining steps. She paused at the bottom, ears perked in the direction of the parlor, only now hearing muffled noises. What were they talking about?

Leeza slung an arm around Anaya’s shoulders and steered her in the direction of the kitchen.

In the other room, Tunde sat opposite Anaya’s dad with his hands in front of him, his eyes firmly on the kind-faced man. It’d helped that they’d met before… at Femi’s funeral. He could never forget the moment when the man stepped into the funeral on behalf of the other family to offer his condolences. To think that this brave man was Anaya’s father warmed his heart.

“It must have taken you sometime to decide on this,” her father spoke gently and Tunde focused his attention on the man. When he smiled, Tunde gave him a smile of his own. “Are you sure about it?”

Tunde nodded. He’d never been surer about anything in his life. Being away from Anaya for those few days had convinced him of this decision. “Never more sure, Mr. Balewa…” He smiled again, picturing Anaya’s shy gaze. “I have nothing but the best intentions for your daughter.”

“I’m sure of that,” Anaya’s father answered easily, leaning back in his chair as he studied the young man before him. The way his daughter spoke about this man, even though they’d only shared a few words, it was plain that Anaya liked the young man. With good reason too. From what he’d seen at the funeral, how the young man assumed responsibility on behalf of the deceased’s family and spoke of God’s love, there was a reassurance in the man’s voice then and now. “I don’t doubt that you do.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I do have one question though.”

Tunde blinked and nodded.

“Do your parents know about your intentions?”

He smiled gently. “I wanted to ask for your permission first before I introduced her to mine.”

Mr. Balewa grinned openly, clearly pleased with the man’s words. “Wise decision.” He then turned his head toward the opening of the parlor and called for his wife and daughters.

Tunde stood to his full height and had to hold back a smile as Anaya and her mother stepped into the parlor a few moments later, the youngest daughter trailing behind them. They carried trays of food while the youngest daughter carried a pitcher of milk. He couldn’t stop staring at Anaya, feasting his eyes on her beautiful face he’d missed for days. He wasn’t aware of the amused smile on her father’s face all the while.

“Sit down…” Mr. Balewa said collectively and the women found their places on the sofa across the room.

Tunde noticed that Anaya hadn’t looked up, her hands crossed demurely over her hands. He would’ve thought that she was merely being shy but there was something subdued and almost resigned about her posture. He held back a frown and returned to his seat.

“Wife, this is Tunde Halliday,” Mr. Balewa addressed his reticent wife sitting dutifully beside him. He reached down to lift the lid over one of the bowls and smiled up at Tunde. “Have you tried kosai?” He gestured to the bowl.

The fried round cakes looked just like akara, a native bean snack from Nigeria. “I can’t say that I have,” Tunde answered gently as he reached inside for one of the round fritters. He knew not to sniff the food so as not to offend the lady of the house and promptly bit into it. Slightly sweeter but the taste was definitely familiar. His eyes shifted to the woman staring openly at him and smiled. “It’s delicious. Thank you.” It was a bit hard to swallow, not because the fried treat wasn’t tasty but because he could clearly see the suspicion brewing in her gaze. She didn’t like him. He quickly returned his attention back to the warm gaze of Anaya’s father.

“It’s one of Anaya’s favorites… Right, daughter?”

Tunde shifted his gaze to Anaya, slightly disappointed that she hadn’t lifted her head but just nodded silently at her father’s words. He returned his eyes back to her father, still chewing the food.

Anaya wasn’t sure she could hold in the tears any longer. The battle was waging in her as she struggled against the feeling of rejoicing that her father liked Tunde and mourning that her mother considered this a betrayal. She could still feel the cold, unyielding response she’d gotten from her mother when she entered the kitchen to help prepare the food. It was clear that her mother was not only taken back by Tunde’s unannounced arrival but even more so that the man was a Yoruba man.

When Leeza nudged her hip gently, Anaya finally lifted her eyes to see all of them staring at her expectantly. Well, mostly just her father and Tunde while her mother looked pained and conflicted. Her father had asked a question and she’d missed it. “Pardon?” she croaked out, feeling the painful lump throbbing already.

Her father offered her a patient, encouraging smile. “Is this what you want, Anaya? Do you want this man to court you into marriage?”

The word marriage echoed loudly in her head and Anaya suddenly felt the room spinning around her. She blinked rapidly, dragging her gaze to Tunde’s warm eyes steady on her. The room stopped spinning. Her mother’s open scorn faded into the blurriness of her periphery and even her father’s warm smile was lost as she stared into the eyes of the man she loved. “Yes…” she said softly. “Yes I want this.”

That smile she’d missed terribly appeared with full force, threatening to undo her. She could feel the tears gathering at her eyelids but she smiled through it. Leeza leaned in, wrapping her arms around her. “Well done,” she whispered the very words Anaya had hoped to hear from her mother but might never hear. It didn’t matter. Tunde’s smile, his eyes, his joy was all that mattered now.

Tunde didn’t waste a moment and reached for her hand as they both stepped out of the house into the night.

Anaya sighed softly as he pulled her into his arms. She snuggled against his warmth and closed her eyes, nestling herself in the comfort of his strength. The dam that held her tears broke free and she bit back against the sobs that she’d restrained all throughout the evening.

His hands moved to her back, rubbing gently as he whispered soothing words against her temple. “I’m sorry…”

Anaya shook her head and peered up at him through her blurry vision. “Don’t you dare apologize,” she whispered fiercely, her arms tightening around his narrow waist. “Thank you…”

He gave her a crooked smile. “You’re thanking me for making you cry?”

She smiled and ducked her head, resting her forehead against his shoulder. “Yes.” The tears fell freely. The gentleness and comfort in his voice undid her completely.

“Silly girl…” he rubbed her back and placed a gentle kiss on her head. His eyes shifted when he noticed movement in the top window from the house next door. Pushing the thought of someone watching them, Tunde merely pulled her closer and waited for her sobbing to subside.

Now that he’d gotten permission from her father to court her, the next step was her meeting his mother. That would be another obstacle to overcome but he was encouraged, replaying the unwavering response from Anaya. It was enough that she wanted him as much as he wanted her. They would overcome whatever obstacle that came their way. Judging from her mother’s clear disapproval of their relationship, they needed all the strength they could muster for the long and arduous journey ahead.

<<Part 10 || Part 12>>