street2

Aman Balewa rubbed his temple before lowering his elbows to the table. “I’m sure you’ve heard from Anaya…” he said to the young man sitting across the table from him. His eyes scanned the man’s attentive stare, his brow furrowed in concern.

Tunde dipped his head affirmatively, lifting his penitent gaze. “I am very sorry, Mr. Balewa, for all this.”

Aman managed a smile, waving off the apology. “It was inevitable to happen to anyone.” He sighed heavily. “I just wasn’t expecting it to happen to any of us.”

The two men fell into contemplative silence, both thinking about the familial conflict that erupted into full-blown chaos once their communities had caught on to Tunde and Anaya’s courtship. They both wondered if things would’ve been different if there was no political strife between the two communities.

Picturing the elders snarling at him, Tunde pushed back the regret. It didn’t matter now. He wanted Anaya Balewa as his wife, regardless of the rift between their people. Lifting his gaze to her father now, Tunde cleared his throat to grab the man’s attention. “Sir… I want to marry Anaya.”

Aman lifted his head and studied the young man’s steady gaze, hesitating as if mulling over the obstacles before them. “What does your family say?”

The corner of Tunde’s lips curled in a wry smile. “They love her and support us both.”

Aman managed a smile, regretful that Anaya’s side would be less supportive. Hadiza had yet to speak to any of them since Abdul’s ill-omened visit. “I am grateful for that…” he said softly.

“Sir…”

Aman blinked expectantly at Tunde.

“I won’t let anyone or anything hurt Anaya. I want to protect and love her for as long as God wants it.”

Aman’s heart twisted painfully, staring at this brave young man before him. He could see a younger version of himself sitting before Hadiza’s ailing father, offering the same promises to keep her for as long as Allah willed it, vowing not to take another wife as their customs would allow. He’d devoted his entire heart to Hadiza and would not share it with another.

“If God wills it,” Tunde continued, pulling Aman from his nostalgic reverie. “I will make her happy and secure for as long as we both live.”

He nodded. “I know you will…”

The bell over the door of the café sounded and Aman watched as Tunde’s eyes lifted from him. He noticed the warmth that now filled Tunde’s gaze and knew immediately who had stepped into the café. Tucking a smile, Aman shifted his head to watch his eldest daughter walk to their booth.

“Hello Papa,” Anaya said softly, her gaze lowered under Tunde’s open staring.

When Aman smiled and gestured for her to sit by Tunde, he watched as she shuffled shyly to Tunde’s side. His heart twisted tightly as Tunde shifted in and watched the young couple before him. Tunde’s broad shoulders and tall physique dwarfed his slender daughter; the man’s unwavering eyes contrasting Anaya’s bashful gaze. The young man’s steady words echoed in his ears as he continued to stare at them, heartbeat picking up speed when Tunde gave Anaya a gentle smile and she ducking her head, tucking back hers. He recalled her words that she wanted this man.

“Anaya…”

She looked up and blinked at her father. Her face warmed as she noted the gentle but conflicted look in his eyes and suddenly felt guilty for wishing she could hold Tunde’s hand under the table. “Papa…?”

“Are you sure about this?”

His soft, hesitant words caught her off guard. She glanced quickly at Tunde who now focused his attention on her father. Returning hers to her father, Anaya nodded slowly. “I’m sure, Papa. I love him.” Her heart skipped several beats when her father’s brows lifted.

“It won’t be easy,” Aman said gently, eyes moving from hers to Tunde and back to her again. “They will not leave you two alone. There will be many times you might cry and wish things could be different.”

Anaya swallowed hard, recalling Uncle Abdul’s forceful way to keep her in line. “I won’t regret it.”

Aman then smiled although it didn’t reach his eyes as it normally did. “I know you won’t, my dove.”

That was when she felt Tunde’s fingers seek hers. Her body warmed, comforted by the way his strong hand held hers, encouraging her that she was making the right decision. She smiled back at her father. “Thank you Papa.”

He nodded and looked over at Tunde. Then he lowered his hands, palms up on the table.

Both Tunde and Anaya glanced once at his hands and then at each other. Then they loosened their hold on each other’s hand from under the table and pulled them up to place on top Aman’s.

Tears gathered at the corners of Anaya’s eyes as her father’s rough hand cupped hers. She sought the warmth from his gaze through her cloudy one and held her breath, waiting.

Wordlessly, Aman guided Anaya’s hand to rest on Tunde’s open hand. Tears slid down his cheeks and he sniffed them back, caressing Anaya’s palm once more before shifting his eyes to Tunde. “I will hold you to your promise… my son.” The tightness eased off his heart. He would not be losing a daughter but gaining a son. It was always what he’d wanted and if things were different, he would’ve slaughtered three cows and four goats to celebrate at the feast for his new son.

Anaya choked on her tears, blinking to see her father’s face. His acceptance of them, of her decision was the greatest gift he could ever give her. She wanted to embrace him, wanted to hold him forever and comfort him for taking this step with them. “Papa…” she whispered in a trembling voice.

“Thank you,” Tunde said, equally choked with emotion. He blinked back his tears and reached over with his free hand to grasp Aman’s hand. “Thank you, Father.”

The room was filled with solemn silence as the Halliday family sat on the other side of the dining table from the Balewa family. Tunde and Anaya exchanged worried glances as both set of parents remained silent, watching each other. Leeza absentmindedly scratched at a chip on the table and Anaya nudged her knee.  She frowned at her older sister and caught Silas’ amused smirk before smiling openly at him.

Josephine eyed the quiet woman with her veiled head bowed. Stirred with compassion over the woman’s sullen eyes, she managed a kind smile. “Don’t worry, Hadiza… my son will take care of Anaya. We’ll beat him into shape if he does otherwise,” she added in attempt to draw a smile from the woman.

Hadiza didn’t even raise her head or acknowledge Josephine.

Aman chuckled to cover for his wife’s impoliteness.  “I surely hope so. He has given me his word and I intend to hold him to it.”

Silas and Tunde grinned openly at the man’s good-natured response. “Don’t worry, Uncle Aman,” Silas reassured the older man. “He won’t step out of line.” He nudged his older brother with his elbow.

Smiling shyly at Aman’s teasing eyes, Tunde shifted his gaze to Anaya whose eyes danced at him with contained mirth. He winked at her and grinned fully when she quickly looked away.

Ebenezer Halliday watched curiously as his eldest son and his fiancée played cat and mouse with their eyes. It was clear that this bashful girl loved his son as much as he loved her, affirming Josephine’s gushing words once they were alone in their bedroom. He’d been curious about the girl since then. And although the girl’s mother was notably rude by her stiff silence, the rest of her family made up for it in overwhelming warmth and hospitality. His aging heart settled in peace and he nodded.

“Dear Aman,” Ebenezer began, leaning his elbows on the polished table. “We should discuss the day of the wedding.”

Everyone’s smiles waned at the patriarch’s words and Aman nodded solemnly. “What do you suggest?”

Anaya snuck one look at Tunde as the two fathers shared their thoughts for the wedding day. She caught him looking back at her and this time she didn’t turn her eyes away. Instead, she gave him a grateful smile and watched as his lips curled in a slow smile. Her heart fluttered, thinking about how that smile would forever be for her and felt the peace settle in.

<<Part 14 || Part 16>>

Advertisements