Posts by Dee

Refuge: Chapter 12

Posted on 15/02/2019

If not for the gravity of the moment, Eleazar would’ve laughed. Certainly not out of humor. Darah had warned him about Nigerian parents and it seemed she wasn’t far off. Mr. Smith’s approach may have been more civil from his wife’s, but the animosity for him was veiled in logic as twisted as his wife’s. And Eleazar wouldn’t sit down and let it be; Zoey’s dad or not.

Mentally affixing Abe’s disapproving mug to this man’s face, Eleazar continued talking. “I respect that you are Zoey’s father and you want what’s best for her. I’ve got nieces, one whose already eighteen and probably making questionable choices of her own. I would give my right arm and leg to make sure none of them are hurt by some idiot with no sense. But I’m not an idiot, Mr. Smith.”

The other brow arched inquisitively.

“I really don’t know what Zoey has said or hasn’t said about me. I may have made the choice not to go to college, but it wasn’t because I was stupid.”

“Education is important, young man.”

“Education shouldn’t be limited to a classroom, sir.” His gaze didn’t waver. “I have high school classmates who went that route with some successful and some still without a job, neck-deep in debt. And for what reason? So someone can qualify a piece of paper and say you’re intelligent?”

Mr. Smith’s brows furrowed.

“Not saying going to college is a waste. My two eldest brothers went and made a name for themselves, but Junior’s a missionary and doing just fine without a college degree… I know Zoey’s a very intelligent young woman. She can do fine in college and I have no doubt that she’ll succeed in whatever she does…”

“But?”

Eleazar paused. “Why do you get the right to judge my ability as Zoey’s man just because I’m not a college degree holder?”

Mr. Smith chuckled. “That is not why I don’t want you as Zoey’s man.”

He knew it already but hearing it again felt like a punch in his gut. “Oh?” he managed.

The older man folded his arms. “Can you see yourself making a life here in Lagos? Do you think you can survive the hustle of this place?”

Eleazar frowned. “I don’t follow.”

“Zoey is going to take over the family business, which means she’s returning home after graduation. Any ties to the United States ends the minute she boards that plane.”

He couldn’t help it; his jaw dropped open. “Does… Zoey know this?”

“She knew this before leaving home.” The older man shrugged. “It’s a possibility that she may have forgotten since meeting you…”

Eleazar closed his mouth and swallowed hard. He looked away, to the street where the car was parked. He wondered what Zoey was thinking—did she have any idea what her dad was doing? Was this part of the plan all along? Did she want to break up?

“Nonetheless, young man, this is a question I already know the answer to and I’m sure you know it as well. You’re different, and you don’t belong here. Tonight proves it for you and me both. And Zoey.”

Eleazar smirked. “Sounds like a line from one of those trash soaps Darah watches.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“My bad, thinking aloud.” Eleazar dropped the toothpick on the table and scooted his chair back. “I’ve heard you, sir. And I’m ready to head back when you are.”

Mr. Smith sat in silence, staring at the young man. Then he spoke. “Has anyone mentioned how ill-mannered you can be?”

Eleazar only smiled. “Sure. They’re entitled to their opinions and so am I.”

“And what is your opinion?”

He smirked. “Yeah, don’t think you’d want to hear that.”

“Go ahead.”

Eleazar could hear Abe and Phoebe, begging him to shut up and leave it alone. “Well…” He sat up and stared the man straight in his face. “A father is bound to dislike his only daughter’s boyfriend from the jump and I was prepared for that. But from the moment you saw me, you’d judged me. Pretty much labeled me some illiterate, rude and spoiled brat from America. Well, you’re dead wrong. I was practically raised by my adopted siblings—our parents died when I was only six years old, and we fought hard to make life work for us all. And we did a great job too. Before I was even a teenager, some woman suddenly shows up saying she’s my grandma and wants to be part of my life, with no say from anyone—certainly not me. Went through unnecessary hell because of someone’s useless guilt for not being there for a grandson she didn’t really want but felt bad yet didn’t want the full responsibility of raising him. Inserting her opinion about how I was raised before she came into my life, criticizing my siblings for every little thing, putting a rift between us every chance she could get. Don’t get me wrong, she tried, I guess. But it took my siblings and me—I, years to close that gap between us.

“Took a summer trip to visit my brother in Ethiopia, to serve alongside him, to realize who I am and what my purpose in life is. Didn’t need some college professors to help me figure that out when I had six teachers at home, showing me, correcting me, guiding me. Definitely won’t trade that for no stupid college degree that isn’t guaranteed to give me anything but endless loans. But you don’t know that and you don’t care.”

His body felt hot and not even the evening breeze could cool him down. “And with all due respect, Mr. Smith, I don’t really care if you approve of my existence. You and your wife weren’t there to stop my mom from dumping me in a garbage can or watch me endure multiple hospital stays so I could fight to overcome the consequences of stupid mistakes she made—mistakes a college graduate made, mind you. You weren’t there to help my brothers who left their great livelihoods to raise their younger siblings. You weren’t there when we almost lost our parents’ house or lost each other because of some–” He drew in a breath and released it. “Stop labeling people just because you don’t understand them. Stop inserting your opinions in a life you had no right to. You don’t know me and if you don’t think I’m worth having your daughter’s heart, that is your business. Zoey is grown enough to decide for herself if I’m worth it.”

He chuckled low. “And well if she agrees with you, that’s her decision to make. I don’t need any approval from you about the life I have lived, because I know I’m doing well for myself.” He arched both brows. “Is that clear enough, sir?”

The older man was quiet for a moment, scratched the side of his face and then sighed. “It sounds like you’ve had a tough life, son.”

“I didn’t tell you that for pity, sir.”

“Not at all. I understand you. More than you know. ” Then he sighed, scooting back his chair. “It’s getting late. Zoey will worry.” He stood and Eleazar did too. With one long look at the young man’s scowl that revealed his distaste for the entire evening, Mr. Smith grunted under his breath and turned toward the street.

Convinced he wouldn’t be allowed to spend the night at the Smith’s residence, Eleazar trudged after him.

Once inside the car, Mr. Smith took a moment before starting the ignition. He made no move to drive but just rested his hands on the steering wheel while the engine rumbled on. Eleazar held his breath, waiting to be told he was no longer welcome in their house. Although he’d said the truth, he’d said too much.

“You remind me of myself long ago.”

Eleazar frowned. “Huh?”

“Yes,” Mr. Smith laughed. “Hard to believe but yes. I remember when I came to see him and ask for his daugher’s hand in marriage. He finished me that day until even I almost scolded my audacity for thinking I could be worth his daughter.” He sighed. “Hearing you today, I could hear myself again… and my father-in-law. To be honest with you, I didn’t like him much, especially how he treated those that weren’t his family. How he treated my wife and her sister like they were pa…” He suddenly quieted.

Eleazar noted Mr. Smith’s hands tighten around the steering wheel.

“It would appear I owe you an apology, son. It seems you were right about me after all.”

Truth had never hurt so much. Zoey gaped at her mother. “I have an elder brother?”

Her mother averted her gaze. “It was a long time ago…”

“Mom, that doesn’t make it easier to hear. How could you do that?!”

“Don’t raise your voice at me.” It should’ve sounded like a scolding but all Zoey heard was a diminutive plea that didn’t match her mother’s fiery personality. Her head was bowed and shoulders drooped as though she was the one being scolded.

Zoey heaved a sigh. “I just don’t understand. Why…?”

“Your aunty had barely escaped our father’s wrath. He beat her so bad she almost lost the baby.” Her mother shuddered visibly and Zoey inched close, though not reaching out to hold her. “I couldn’t… not after seeing that.”

“So to escape Grandpa’s beating, you gave up your child?” Zoey grimaced, the taste of the words so bitter in her mouth. The countless times her mother pointed out Paula’s illegitimate birth was humiliating. “Mom, seriously?”

Her mother remained silent, posture limp.

“Okay, fine. We’ll talk about that later. But what does he have to do with Eli?” A scowl formed. “Wait, don’t tell me you think Eli’s your son—”

“Be quiet! I didn’t say that!”

Zoey folded her arms across her chest. “Then what is it?”

Her mother pinned her with a narrowed glare. “Don’t get sassy with me.”

“I’m sorry Mom, but you and Dad have been ragging me all night about my American boyfriend when your colossal secret is way worse—!” She reared back when her mom raised a hand.

“You’re not too big for me to spank you, Zoey. Watch your mouth.”

Zoey gritted through clenched teeth. “Sorry.”

Her mother sighed deeply and turned toward the balcony. “I just don’t want you to be influenced like how I was. Those boys are very wild.”

All boys without home training could be wild—even Law had his bad moments. Zoey refrained from rolling her eyes, choosing silence instead of sass.

“The way they approach girls, especially ones who are too young to know who they are, it’s scary. You won’t believe the sleepless nights I had while you were away. I even had to take something to help me sleep through the night…”

“Mom…” Zoey stared at her mother’s lonely back. “I was okay.”

“The only saving grace for me was that you were doing well in school. I thought you couldn’t possibly be doing anything with any boy while acing your classes. And you would tell me if you were… to know now that I was wrong is beyond painful.” Her mother turned around, squinting at her daughter. “Are you intimate with him?”

Zoey frowned. “No, Mom. Eli respects my boundaries as I do his.”

Her mother snorted. “Does that one have boundaries?”

“Yes he does, Mom. We haven’t done anything.” She couldn’t believe this type of questioning when her mother’s faults were grave in comparison.

“No smashing?”

Zoey choked in disbelief. “Excuse me?!”

Her mother rolled her eyes. “I’m not some illiterate village person. I know that’s what you people do in the dance clubs, pressing on each other while dancing?”

Zoey’s face burst into flames and she sputtered. “I…” An image flashed in her mind of Eli holding her against him while they slow-danced. She shook her head. “I-I already said we’re not intimate.”

“It all starts with a dance, Zoey. Always.” The knowing glint in her mother’s eyes told her everything she needed to know about her first brother’s beginning.

Zoey groaned. “Does Dad know about this…?”

“About you smashing?”

“Mom please stop… I’m talking about my brother. Does Daddy know?”

Her mother grimaced. “Can you not change the subject?”

“He’s not a passing subject like the weather. How old is he? What does he look like? Where did you leave him and who with?”

Pain flitted her mother’s features. “I don’t know anything about him.”

“Didn’t you care to know? To find him?” The silence was like a slap. “Mom, why—?”

A car horn sounded from downstairs. Both peered over the balcony to see the vehicle carrying both Zoey’s father and Eli enter past the open gates.

“We’ll talk about this later,” her mother spoke and brushed past her before she could respond. Zoey watched sorrowfully as her mother escaped the room and turned to watch her father park the car.

The taillights came on and off. The driver’s door opened and her father exited, pausing briefly before walking into the house. The passenger door remained shut.

Zoey frowned, wondering what Eli was thinking and contemplating whether to go to him. Then the door opened and he stepped out, shutting the door behind him. She lifted two fingers to her lips and blew.

Eleazar looked up, following the sound to the lit balcony where Zoey stood.

“We need to talk?” Zoey called out.

What a strange question to ask—of course they did. He nodded and she stepped away from the balcony, disappearing into the room. He released the breath he’d been holding and turned to the gate, staring out at the shadowed expanse of land behind it.

A tap on his shoulder shook him from his reverie. He turned. Zoey stood there, a shy smile on her face. “Hey…”

He didn’t return it and faced the expanse of land.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“No need.” Eleazar faced her again. “Do you want to break up?”

<<Chapter 11 || Chapter 13>>

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Refuge: Chapter 11

Posted on 22/01/2019

No one openly challenged Honorable Festus Smith except his wife and sister, sparingly. Everyone else knew better than to exchange superfluous words with the man who didn’t have time for irrelevance. His comrades both in work and church kept their conversations brief since Festus didn’t like ‘drama or frivolities.’ Never mind his wife of thirty-five years was a major drama queen, Festus made up for it with his stoic personality.

Festus Smith didn’t make friends, he just knew people. A paragon of justice and integrity, he was the wet blanket often removing himself from gatherings or town meetings occurring in secret or shaded areas. Festus readily cut ties with any so-called comrade compromising or upending their moral compass. In their community, there was a rumor that he’d once told a former councilman to stop imbibing with devils for support. Many with ties to higher levels in the government had little to no involvement with Festus Smith and his family.

From primary to secondary school, her classmates evaded visiting Zoey at home during the weekends. Expressing her disappointment once some friends declined visiting after JAM exams, they finally gave their answers.

“I’m sorry Zoey but your dad is too scary,”

“He’s no joke,” another said. “My dad says he can even put the president in jail if he could!”

“I mean, is your dad the only one with morals? Why is he acting like Jesus or something?”

But for every criticism of her father, Zoey refused to respond in kind. Instead she accepted that despite her amicable personality, her friends would be few and that was more than okay with her. Nwando, her oldest friend from before elementary school, knew the man behind the stern expression. “Uncle Festus”, as she called him, was a man who fiercely loved his family and had a soft spot for his only daughter.

As long as her moral standing or safety wasn’t jeopardized, Festus let Zoey and her few friends get away with many things. ‘Respectable’ parties and trips around the country were fully sponsored by Daddy Dearest, and he didn’t mind sending a well-crafted reprimand to her school if a professor was ‘out of line’ or ‘overzealous’ in discipline. Those closest to the Smith Family could attest that Festus Smith strongly believed in his children’s futures and readily dealt with anyone who would jeopardize their success.

“Relax,” Nwando’s voice drifted to Zoey’s right ear. She came around to lean against the railing of the balcony in Zoey’s bedroom. “He’ll be fine.”

Zoey shook her head. “I don’t know.” Her eyes looked past the swaying trees to the highway dotted with only a few lights of cars. “They’ve been gone a while.”

Nwando glanced over her shoulder. “I wonder how long it will take to kill him and bury the body…”

Zoey’s glare shortened her friend’s uncanny cackling. “Don’t even joke like that.”

“Zo, relax. Your teddy bear of a dad won’t hurt your boyfriend. He probably just wants to talk with him in private, without your mom screaming like a banshee.”

Zoey grimaced, reliving the horrified look on Mother’s face when Papa laughed in response to Eleazar’s threat to leave for America. “I just can’t understand it.”

“Your mom or your dad?”

She didn’t respond, staring past the highway to the shadowed hills in the distance. The answer was both surprised her tonight and not in a good way. She’d always prided in having fair and reasonable parents but their behavior proved otherwise. Perhaps there was some truth to what her classmates said.

Nwando’s hand covered her shoulder, pulling her back. “Don’t overthink anything just yet. Yes, Eli is rightfully upset but he agreed to go with your father. They might come back the best of friends.”

Zoey stared at her friend of twenty years. “I really hope you’re right.” Eleazar leaving for America now didn’t bode well for their relationship or that of her and her parents.

The two childhood friends sat staring at a sky blanketed with stars, wondering to themselves how years had flown by but things still remained largely the same. Nwando and Zoey glanced at each other and burst into laughter at the same time.

“Did you think what I was thinking?”

“How little has changed?” Zoey drawled, tucking a braid behind her ear. “Yeah.”

Nwando smirked. “I mean your dad’s chilled out though. Remember when he threatened to lock up that one secret admirer from Oniru for following us home?”

“He was a stalker. I still can’t believe you gave him your number after that.”

“He was cute.”

“And you’re a psycho.” Zoey rolled her eyes and propped her elbow against the railing. “I admit Papa’s more laid back but Mom… she’s…” She shook her head, unable to find an adequate word.

“There’s probably a reason for it.” Nwando paused when Zoey straightened. “What?”

“What do you mean by that?” She frowned when Nwando looked away and her heart skipped a beat. “Hey, Nwando. What is it?”

“I didn’t say there’s a problem—”

“Nwando.”

The girls jumped at the voice from behind. Zoey’s mother stood there, arms folded across her chest. She pinned a stern look on Nwando. “Give us a minute.”

“Yes Ma.” Nwando sounded like a ten year old caught lying.

Zoey watched in silence as her best friend practically bolted from the balcony and past her mother out the door. She shifted her gaze from the door to her mother. “Mama?”

Her mother looked past her to the sky and the first smile since Eleazar’s reveal appeared, softening her features. “I love being out here,” she remarked, stepping out into the balcony and standing by her daughter’s side. She drew in a breath and released it with a sigh. “Before I hated your father for dragging me here like an exile… well maybe not hated, but we certainly had fights over it.”

Silent, Zoey stared at her mother’s profile.

“Do you know why I didn’t want you going to America in the first place?”

Zoey frowned.

“Do you?” her mother turned to look at her. “I know you think I’m always trying to control your life but do you know why I was against you studying in America?”

With a sigh, Zoey shook her head. “I really have no idea, Mom.”

“I went to America when I was young, years ago.”

Zoey arched a brow. For some reason, that didn’t sound too far-fetched. Most wealthy Nigerians, even back then, had sent their children to study abroad. Her mother’s family wouldn’t be any different. “Okay…?”

“And it was the worst time of my life.” Her mother’s eyes glistened from the light. “I hated living there and couldn’t wait to come back. Then I met someone.”

Something about the way her mother’s gaze shifted and her tone changed made Zoey’s stomach clench. It was like something from one of her mother’s cheesy soap dramas—the ones where everything went wrong before it got better at the very end.

Zoey swallowed the bile forming in her throat. “Mama, what are you trying to say?”

Her mother sighed deeply. “I was a very stupid girl in America and in the end, I came home disgraced all because of the mistakes I made.”

Air rushed through her ears like she stood inside a wind tunnel. “I don’t… understand.”

“I had a child in America, Zoey, and I left him there to come home.”

“What?!”

Eleazar had never been in a bar quite like this. The hole-in-the-wall bars back home actually had walls and not some column holding the roof up. He shifted uncomfortably in the wobbly stool that threatened to give way under his weight, grabbing the edge of the circular metal table held up by cinderblocks.

Folk music played from a rusty speaker held up by rope to the makeshift ceiling. Aromatic meat roasted a few feet away where Mr. Smith stood in line.

Despite the enticing smell wafting under his nostrils, Eleazar’s stomach was tight with knots.

Mr. Smith turned, carrying a black translucent bag in one hand and the necks of two green bottles in the other. Eleazar sat up as Zoey’s father approached their table and curiously eyed the contents.

“You drink?” Mr. Smith asked, taking a seat opposite him.

Eleazar hesitated at the foreign label and shook his head. “Not really…”

Mr. Smith nudged one of the bottles closer. “Have you had suya before?” he opened the bag, releasing the sweet aroma of roasted meat. “I’ve heard they sell it in America.”

“If it’s what I think it is, I have had some before but it didn’t smell as good as this.”

Chuckling, Mr. Smith unwrapped the oil-stained newspaper to reveal strips of roasted meat and onions. “And won’t taste as good. Eat.” He stabbed one with a toothpick and tossed it in his mouth.

Eleazar followed suit, stuffing his mouth with the juicy meat.

“Wow,” Mr. Smith laughed openly. “You can handle spice?”

Though his tongue tingled, he stabbed yet another piece and dropped it in his mouth. “My sisters cook with spices all the time.”

“I see.” Mr. Smith nodded. “I remember Zoey mentioning your sisters, although she was rather discreet about you…” He shrugged. “I admit being too distracted to ask.”

“Same here. I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to come here,” Eleazar confessed, swallowing the bit about her family’s affluence.

Mr. Smith took a sip of his drink. “My little girl is probably the only Nigerian who despises being rich. Didn’t really like what it did to people. I haven’t either.” He hid his grimace by tossing back the rest of his drink.

Eleazar looked down at the meat, contemplating another piece.

“Please excuse the drama with my wife.”

He looked up and quickly back down, jarred by Mr. Smith’s black eyes fixed on him. “It’s… okay.”

“It’s not.” Mr. Smith set the empty bottle down. “My wife lets her experiences color how she views people. I’m glad Zoey isn’t like that.” He sighed deeply. “Really glad.”

Eleazar didn’t respond, not wanting to talk about Zoey right now.

“I want to thank you for helping my girl during the hurricane. What you and your family did is something I won’t ever take lightly. I’m glad I can express my thanks in person.”

Eleazar didn’t reply, simply waiting for the inevitable ‘but.’

“I know you must be a solid young man or my daughter wouldn’t look twice at you…” He sighed. “But, it’s best that you two end this here.”

Although everything about the night foretold this outcome for him and Zoey, hearing it from Mr. Smith felt like a punch to the side of his face. Eleazar looked up finally and stared at Mr. Smith while he continued.

“Now I know you’ve spent money to come for my niece’s wedding and I don’t plan to end your trip just because of this new development. If you’re fine with it, you are more than welcome to stay with us until the wedding is over. There’s plenty of space, and Lawrence seems to be your size so we can get you suited.”

“Sir, if I may…” Eleazar cut in, his tone as calm as humanly possible. Phoebe would be proud. “With all due respect, I’m not fine with it.”

<<Chapter 10 || Chapter 12>>

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