Posts tagged “abandonment

Refuge: Chapter 10

Posted on 07/11/2018

He hadn’t dated Zoey for long; barely over a year since the hurricane that nearly tore his city apart. But Eli prided himself in knowing the woman he was dating. He wouldn’t have traveled clear across the world if he didn’t know her well.

But he couldn’t recognize the woman sitting across the room, legs crossed and back straight, with a stiff smile tacked on her face. Several times during the course of the evening, Eli tried to catch her gaze–he needed to talk with her, check her pulse. But her gaze never wandered to his corner of the room. It was as if they were in two different parties.

Zoey epitomized native opulence after changing to native clothing similar to her cousin, the one getting married. Makeup and jewelry adorned her, erasing the carefree and bare-faced beauty that he was so fond of. Even her laugh sounded fake, barely reaching the eyes that would always light up upon hearing a joke. She wasn’t comfortable; that much was clear… and he sought to rescue her, if only she would look his way.

“Hey, Lover boy,” Nwando’s stern voice pervaded his thoughts, followed by an elbow shoved against his side.

He barely caught the plate from sliding off his lap and glared at Nwando who sat beside him. “What?”

Both her brows raised inquisitively. “Chill. You’re staring.”

Eli scowled. “I can’t stare at my own girlfriend?”

Nwando frowned and leaned in to whisper. “She’s not your girlfriend here, remember?”

His scowl only deepened, recalling the plan they’d settled on without his input. “This is ridiculous.” He didn’t travel all the way here to be hidden.

“Well tough, EJ.” She gnawed at the large cowbone. “You’re here and you can either make the best of it or go home.”

Eli squinted at her, knowing he had little choice on the matter. “That’s not my name.”

“It is for now,” Nwando replied and sucked noisily on the bone.

He grimaced at the sound and shifted in his seat, gaze skimming Zoey as he turned toward the television where a soccer match was playing.

The younger guests, except Zoey and her cousin, had congregated to one side of the room to watch the game. Law and Dom sat in the middle of the group, adding colorful commentary on the live action.

Although Eli had no interest in the game and would’ve preferred going to Zoey for an explanation, he couldn’t do anything about the situation except mope. He hated moping.

“Stop moping.”

Eli tossed a glare over his shoulder at Nwando. “I’m not.”

Nwando snorted. “Yeah right, dude. Do you need me to explain–”

“I’m Law’s friend visiting the city from Brooklyn and have never met any of his family members before tonight. Got it.” He returned his gaze to the television.

“Well, you’re a smart cookie. Don’t worry, a week will come and go faster than you think.” Her greasy hand patted his shoulder and it took everything in him not to push her hand off. The dinner plate was like dead weight on his lap; his appetite for copulent goat meat and seasoned rice lost.

His smartwatch vibrated and he took it as a sign to escape from the disorganized noise. Holding the plate, he stood and set it back down on his chair.

“Where you going?”

“International call.” He strode past her, this time succeeding in not glancing Zoey’s way as he sought out the nearest exit.

Cars packed like sardines filled the veranda outside and with a drawn-out sigh, Eli manuevered around the vehicles to seek a quiet, empty corner. Finding one near the gate, he leaned against the brick post and unpocketed his phone.

Darah’s number flashed on the screen. He hesitated only a moment before answering. “Hello?”

“Oh great! It works!” her voice came out clear.

“Of course it works. It’s wi-fi.”

“Brat. How are you?”

Eli shrugged even though his sister couldn’t see. “I’m okay.”

“Sounds like you’re not. I was expecting loud tribal music and laughter but it sounds so quiet over there.”

“I’m in the middle of nowhere.”

“What?!”

Eli huffed a sigh. “Zoey’s parents, they…” He paused, not sure what words he could use to describe Zoey’s wealth.

“What, Eli? Are they treating you bad? Eleazer, are you okay?”

He shook out of his reverie. “Yeah.”

“They’re treating you bad?!”

Eli shook his head. “No! It’s not that.”

“Ugh, I knew you should’ve stayed home. I’ve heard about Nigerian parents looking down on us and act like we’re nothing… I should’ve said something before you got that visa.”

Eli frowned. “Wait what? What do you mean they look down on us? Who’s us?”

Darah paused a little too long and then sighed. “J.R.’s giving me a look. I should stop.”

“No, you can’t do that.” He pushed off the post and placed one hand on his hip. “Tell me now.”

“There’s no point telling you now. Ugh, I need to learn when to shut up. Darn it, Darah.”

“Hey!” he interjected, not in the mood for her introspective sililoquies. “Tell me.”

She groaned. “Leave me alone, Jay, he said he wants to know. I can’t stop him from–” she sighed again. “So apparently, Nigerian people–well, to be fair, the older generation–don’t really care for us. And I mean, African Americans as a whole. They even have a word for us. Dunno remember what it’s called but I’m pretty sure it’s not a nice word.”

Eli frowned. “But don’t they get called African-booty scratchers?”

“Well, that’s true. Yeah… I guess we both have issues with each other.”

“Not me,” Eli countered, frowning at the mansion before him. He recalled the strange but curious looks he’d received upon arrival. “I’ve never met these people before in my life, why should I have an issue with them?”

Darah sighed. “You’re so naive, Eli, and I love you for it, but that doesn’t change things, sweet one. J.R.’s extended family used to look at me funny whenever I came around. I remember asking him about it and he said they’re just not used to black girls. It’s almost impossible to see an Indian man marry outside his race, much less a black woman. Maybe it’s the same over there.”

“But I’m black, Darah, just like them.” Zoey’s words from earlier echoed against his and Eli’s frown deepened. “How are we different?”

“Well, you could honestly pass for a white man, especially in winter!” Darah chuckled and Eli’s mood soured. “Anyway, I’m worried about you, Eli. What if Zoey’s parents are that kind?”

“What kind…?”

“The kind that have preconceived notions about people they don’t understand. The kind that’ll make your relationship with Zoey difficult. In my case, both J.R. and his dad were supportive and firm when we received any pushback. If Zoey’s not firm enough, it’ll be hard for you. Now tell me, are they treating you good?”

“EJ!” Nwando’s voice interrupted before Eli could answer. He squinted as the young woman squeezed through the jam-packed cars to reach him. “Goodness, what’s going on with you, man?”

“Who’s that? Zoey?”

“No.” He eyed Nwando who bent over to catch her breath. “Darah, let me call you back.” He disconnected over his sister’s protests. “What is it?”

Nwando released a breath and straightened. “Well you’ve done it. I knew your staring would blow your cover. Someone wants to see you.”

Eli frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“Zoey’s father wants to see you. Now.”

Under the weight of her father’s glare, Zoey was tempted to seek an escape but she remained firm, annoyed that she even had to hide. Beside her father, her mother scowled at her. She couldn’t even pay attention to Aunty Sophia’s hand on hers as silent support. Her attention was focused on the door, awaiting the arrival of Nwando and Eli.

“So you guys are really pausing my door-knocking because Zoey brings an American guy home?” Paula shrugged off her fiance’s hand off her shoulder. “Are you serious?”

“Cool down, Paula,” Aunty Sophia said gently.

“This is crazy! It’s my wedding!” Paula burst into tears and rushed off towards the kitchen. Her frazzled fiance hurried after her.

“I can’t believe you, Ezinne,” Aunty Nneoma practically screamed, her face tight. “How dare you usurp my child’s happiness?!”

“Abeg, sharrap,” Zoey’s mother shouted back, piercing her sister’s face with her dark glare. “This is my house and I can do whatever I want.”

“You’re selfish, Ezinne. Always have, always will be. I don’t even know why I bother with you.”

“I don’t know why I bother with you either. Ungrateful–”

“Enough!”

The women flinched at the loud bark of Honorable Festus Smith. In all the years Zoey lived under her father’s discipline, he hardly raised his voice.

“Zoey.”

She lowered her head. “Y-yes Dad.”

“In all my years at the bank and in the court, have you ever heard of me cheating anyone?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you seen me tell falsehoods or deceive anyone?”

Zoey swallowed hard. “No sir.”

“So when did you start telling lies?”

“It’s because of that akata.”

Zoey cringed and squeezed her hands together. That word had never hurt like it did now.

“Ezinne, that will never be a word we use here. Not now, not ever. Understand me?”

Her mother kissed her teeth in muted rebellion. She may be a chief’s daughter but her husband’s authority would always supersede hers.

Her father sighed. “Where is he?”

“I think Nwando went to find him,” Law answered.

“And you,” her father growled. “Adding to the deceit. So what did she offer you? Don’t you look at me like that, I know you.”

Law didn’t answer, undoubtedly evading his father’s stern glare pinned on him.

“I had always prided myself as a man of integrity. To think that my own children are sneaky and deceitful is beyond disappointing.” His feet shifted to turn and Zoey looked up.

Her stomach somersaulted. Nwando stepped inside with Eli in tow. Zoey’s father gestured for Eli to come forward.

When Eli stepped around Nwando to approach her father, she tried to catch his gaze and somehow give him strength–perhaps garner some for herself.

Eli didn’t look anywhere but her father’s face.

“I want the truth and nothing but the truth. Understood?”

Eli nodded without blinking. “Understood.”

“Are you my son’s friend?”

“No, I’m not.”

A chorus of muttering filled the silence that followed, and Eli’s shoulders visibly stiffened. Zoey wished to go near him but Aunty Sophie’s hand rested firmly on hers.

“Then who are you and why are you here?”

Zoey silently pleaded for Eli to look her way; she needed him to pin his beautiful hazel gaze on her.

Eli shifted his weight, the only visible sign of his nervousness. “My name is Eleazar Teka, from Houston. I was invited to Zoey’s cousin’s wedding.”

“So who are you to Zoey?”

Eli’s hazel gaze finally shifted to her, expression unreadable. “Her boyfriend, I guess.”

“You guess?” her father prodded.

Her mother clucked her tongue in disapproval.

Eli’s gaze remained on Zoey for only a second before he swung it back on her father. “With all due respect, may I ask one question before I answer yours?”

The sound of a pin dropping to the floor could be heard in the silence that followed Eli’s question. Everyone, including Zoey, gaped at him.

“Go ahead,” Zoey’s father answered a moment later.

“If I was one of yours and not an ‘akata’, would I be treated this way?”

Zoey nearly staggered back, Eli’s use of the word piercing her deeper than her mother’s. Her widened gaze swung to Nwando who wouldn’t meet her eyes, confirming her one of her fears.

Eli had come to understand the definition of that very ugly word.

“In what way are you treated, Eleazar?” her father inquired, his tone steady as though speaking to a client.

“From the minute I stepped inside your house, some of y’all were staring like I was some strange creature.”

“We can’t help the way some ignorant people choose to behave, Eleazar. Did I look at you as though you were a strange creature?”

There were times Zoey appreciated her father’s moderate tone, but at this moment he sounded painfully placating. She was sure Eli would only be provoked.

“No, Mr. Smith, you didn’t.”

“So I would appreciate we speak like man to man. Have I or my children treated you in a way that made you ask that question?”

Eli’s jaw tightened visibly and Zoey squeezed her hands together. “No, I can’t say you had the chance to form an opinion about me. But I would say that the opinion was made for you.” His gaze skimmed over Zoey’s mother, Aunty Sophia, Nwando, and Law. “Like I don’t deserve to be anything but her brother’s friend from America.”

Zoey’s heart tripped over when his hazel eyes pinned hers.

“If that’s true then, I’m wasting my time here and I think it’s best that I go back home.”

Her stomach dropped, Eli’s pained gaze and words confirming her other fear. She’d made him feel as unwelcome here as those she worried would not accept him.

<<Chapter 9 || Chapter 11>>

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SSP 4: Finding Tevin

Posted on 10/08/2013

darkroom

The sound of erratic breathing, the rush of air pushing through parted lips and the stunted sprinting of feet down the pavement. Howling sirens echoed along the empty brick walls. He could hear his name being called, resounding in his heart and his ears in the midst of sirens blasting around him. His body trembled with the impending fear that he would be caught.

The evidence was clutched in his hands, a can of juice. Why did he have to touch it? It was obvious that he did not have enough change to purchase his favorite drink and meant to replace it back on the shelf when the cashier barked at him to stay still. The next minute, he heard the man speaking furiously on the phone for Officer Lee to come by the corner store and pick up a delinquent. Who was the delinquent? Him?

Before he could even think about being caught, the young boy whooshed out the door, shoving between two customers and with his long lanky legs, began sprinting down the streets of Cullen Ave like a mad man. He didn’t know why he ran instead of explaining himself but the vindictive glare of the cashier was enough to make even the most naive child flee, not that he wasn’t innocent.

So the young boy lifted his head to the sky and whispered a quick prayer that he would not have to be caught, his feet flying behind him and gasping for air. Tears streamed down his face with relief once he spotted the tall steeple of the faded yellow siding of the bungalow he once thought as a prison but now proved to be a temporary haven. Then he noticed a couple of flashing lights from a few cop cars parked in the driveway and blocking the streets, and staggered to a stop.

Shivering in trepidation at his awaited punishment from both the police officers and Mrs. Yancey, the boy stalled on the other side of the street, watching other cars drive past. He couldn’t return to the corner store, knowing that more police officers waited there.

“Hey boy!” a commanding voice barked from the other side of the street.

He jerked his widened eyes to see two police officers, their legs poised for the chase and the tips of their hats glaring with imminent authority. He was in trouble. The young boy gulped, still contemplating whether he should run. His feet shifted, a grating sound on the pavement to match the incessant and irregular beat of his heart. What should he do?

“Tevin! Yeh Officer, das him ova there.” a woman’s shrilling voice echoed down the street from the bungalow, causing a cold shiver down his scrawny bones. He didn’t have to look to know the woman was glaring threats on him, probably throwing expletives in her mind to him. “Boi, git ova here afor I smack yo behind all the way back to Tuesday!”

Her threats were the ignition he needed to spin on his heels and start running again. Except it was no good as the small boy crashed into the barreled-chest of another police officer who had crept behind him once distracted by his colleagues and the boy’s furious foster mother. It was over before he knew it.

 —

The resounding slam of metal sliding along metal defined his fate. Poor kid stared bleakly between the metal rods at the empty corridor, fingers trembling. This wasn’t where he should be at 11:57 at night. He missed his bed, missed the arguing on the other side of the paper-thin walls, the shoving and poking from his siblings.

He didn’t want this empty cell, his feet shivering inside his faded and worn slip-on shoes. There was no way he would sit on the cold stone floor while waiting for the police officers to condemn him to juvenile. He was too young, for goodness’ sake!

Barely celebrating nine years of life without seeing his real parents and forced to share even a sole banana-nut muffin purchased by Mrs. Yancey that same day, the young boy wanted to cry that everything in life was unfair.

Casting his eyes to the top stone ceiling of the claustrophobic cell, the young boy wrapped his long and slender fingers around the two thick rods. God, if you’re really up there like Mrs. Yancey says every night…. Do you hate me? Why won’t you help me? It was not a pleading prayer but rather one to see if the man upstairs even knew he existed. If he did, what kind of life was this?

Once the sound of another jail gate slammed close, the boy lowered his head desolately at the silence suffocating the entire jail despite the racking cough from another cellmate next door. Forcing his scrawny shoulders to remain still, the boy shifted away from the door and walked to the back wall of the jail, sliding to the floor. He masked his discomfort once the cold seeped through his thin hand-me-down faded jeans and leaned his head forward to catch some sleep. It seemed, from the quiet outside the corridor, that no one would come for him tonight.

 —

She kept coming everyday, sitting by the wall with her pale wrists crossed over the brown leather bag she propped on her lap. Her eyes were downcast, her brow furrowed in deep thought but she managed to lift her head whenever the metal doors slid open. Her hazel eyes would light up momentarily but once she noticed it was just another police officer, dragging an older man in and out from the corridor, she would sigh heavily and look down again.

Some of the police officers had their theories of who she was. The woman, probably in her early-thirties, always showed up nine in the morning, trudging into the police station and leaning on her wooden-carved cane with a gnarled hook. She didn’t say anything to any of the police officers, merely glancing at the empty corridor with sad, resigned eyes before perching on a seat by the wall. Watching her move around was painful for some of the discrete onlookers. Most knew that under that long, printed skirt she wore was a twisted leg from the knee down. No one understood why she came and no one dared to ask. They simply just watched her warily and quietly, waiting.

Another temporary resident of the South East Patrol on Mykawa St was also waiting and losing sleep while doing so. A week and a half had already passed and no shadow of Mrs. Yancey or anyone from his house had graced the step of the jail cell. Every time he heard shuffling feet or the sound of rustling keys, he would look up with hopeful eyes and slowly lower them down when it was only another cellmate or a police officer bringing him something to snack on. The piteous looks they gave him only made him more sure that no one was coming for him, no matter how many times he lifted a whisper to the ceiling or wished upon a star he could only imagine was gracing the darkened sky outside.

So on another dark cold night, just after he’d finished another packet of Austin Peanut and Wheat crackers, the boy lifted his knees to his chest and propped his forehead on them to sleep. This time, when the rustling keys and shuffling feet sounded off, he didn’t lift his head to see who was moving in. Still, his heart stirred when the footsteps paused in front of his cell and he held his breath. The keys clinked against the rods of his jail cell and too curious, he shifted his head sideways and peeked from one narrowed eye. Both widened instantly when he saw the same officer, Officer Menjivar, who gave him the snack staring at him with a gentle smile. The boy blinked silently, not knowing what to think or how to react. Was it time to have his bathroom break?

“Time to go home, kid,” the middle-aged Hispanic officer with narrow shoulders and a pouch said kindly, turning the key into the gate port and pushed open the door.

Flabbergasted, the boy remained seated and gaped up at the man, his body frozen.

Officer Menjivar chuckled and stepped into the jail cell. “Your legs not any good, mijo?” he extended a hand to him.

Meekly, the boy lifted his hand and placed it in the officer’s rough one. Holding his breath, he found himself being tugged up like a sack of sand and he staggered to his feet.

Chortling still, the police officer patted the boy on his back but jerked his hand back when he felt the boy’s icy and thin shoulders. His brow furrowed and he averted his eyes immediately. He cleared his throat and walked back to the exit. But when he didn’t hear footsteps behind him, the man glanced over his shoulder and cocked an inquisitive brow at the hesitating fellow still standing in the middle of the cell. “Well, what are you waiting for? C’mon.”

Unsure if this was the same reoccurring dream he’d had since he was first placed in the empty jail, the boy shifted back inside. “W-where am I going?” he’d heard the taunting from his neighbors that the local juvenile center was much scary and daunting than this lonely cell. If that was true, he’d rather stay here since the officers treated him pretty well, considering.

Officer Menjivar blinked at him, not sure why he shivered involuntarily at the anxiety coating the boy’s hazel eyes. He managed a smile because he had no other way to comfort the kid. “Hey listen, there’s someone here to take you home.”

The boy swallowed hard, his eyes still widened in trepidation. Was it Mrs. Yancey? He shook his head slowly without thinking and stepped back toward the cell again, already imagining the torturous punishment that awaited him at the house.

“Kid, relax… You’ll be fine.” Officer Menjivar stepped forward and extended a hand again. “I promise.” He masked a wince when the adolescent blinked again at him. It seemed these kind of kids who were shoved like sardines in foster homes heard that cursed word for many years and grown immune to the consequences of trusting someone who used it freely. “Just come out and see. If you don’t want, we’ll take care of it, entiendes?”

Eyes pleading with the officer to not fail him, the boy finally walked toward him without looking to his left or right. Again Menjivar held back a shiver with the urgent plea echoed in the boy’s eyes but kept his gaze on the boy for as long as he could before the boy himself looked down. It was enough for the seasoned officer and he cleared his throat, shifting around to open the door.

The boy blinked rapidly at the change of lighting and the sounds of chattering and phones ringing on the other side of the door. His cheeks warmed with gratitude and utter relief. He was leaving this prison. But he stiffened again, realizing that this next step would determine his future. What was awaiting on the other side of this door and would he be able to handle it?

“C’mon,” Officer Menjivar probed his thoughts and the boy glanced up at the gentle-eyed man. He stepped aside, the security of his narrow shoulders absent for a moment as the boy shuffled out of the corridor. Amid the chaotic noise of phones and voices outside, there was a moment of silence in the office once the other enforcement agents paused to greet their newcomer silently. One woman sitting on the corner of the office, now stood slowly and leaned on her gnarled cane, her eyes affixed on the young slender light-skinned boy standing by the stout officer. She blinked back the tears that ensued, the corner of her lips twitching to hold back a grateful smile. He was here.

The boy’s keen eyes scanned the room warily, already expecting a disappointment. He noticed the amused expressions of some of the officers who had wrestled him to the cold and rough pavement outside his foster home. Shifting his gaze to the other side of the room, he blinked in confusion at the strange look on the woman’s face. She was slender and small yet her frumpy clothes hid her bowed shoulders. Her reddish-brown hair curled and swept over her forehead, almost hiding the heavy stare that was directed on his face. The way she stared at him was what left him speechless and confused. Was that who was here for him? Why?

As if hearing his thoughts, Officer Menjivar turned slowly to the boy and smiled gently. “Mijo, I want you to meet someone…” He glanced over at the woman and nodded, then he placed a hand on the boy’s shoulders and gently pushed him toward the woman who tried to shuffle forward despite her discomfort. “Madam, this is Tevin Gosley.”

Without permission, his heart stirred again and the boy held his breath. This woman’s gaze seemed familiar, almost like Officer Menjivar’s except that her eyes were filling up with tears at the corners. Why was she crying? His fingers curled inward into fists, anticipating a scorn or twisting of her lips to blame him for something he wasn’t aware he did.

Then the woman sniffed, pausing his rampant thoughts and forcing him to peer up at her. She blinked and two lone tears slid slowly down her plump, heart-shaped face. Leaning one hand on her cane, she extended a small, frail and pale hand out to him. “Hello…” she said, her lips trembling to form a sound. Another sniff from her pert freckled nose. “My name is Mrs. Ida Warren.”

  

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