Posts tagged “acceptance

Refuge: Chapter 5

Posted on 26/09/2018

Over an unhealthy lunch of chocolate-filled donuts and overpriced coffee, Zoey and Eli sat near the window overlooking the planes docked at Heathrow Airport, awaiting their next flight in an hour. Zoey watched Eli lick the chocolate from his index fingers and rehearsed her next line.

The corner of his lips twitched a smile and he lifted his gaze. Zoey averted hers, occupying herself with stirring the coffee. “Chocolate tastes so different overseas.”

Zoey smirked. “Probably.”

“What’s Nigeria like? I mean, the food and stuff?”

She laughed, lifting her gaze. “You’re such a foodie.”

He shrugged. “I like food.”

“Well, since you love spicy, you’ll like Nigerian food.” Zoey shook her head. “We should’ve tried some while in Houston. Can’t believe I never took you to one.”

“You said they weren’t that good,” Eli reminded her, grabbing another donut. “Something about fake meat.”

Zoey choked. “Man, that was harsh…”

“That’s what you said.”

“Yeah well, you’ll have plenty opportunities to try it at home.”

“What’s your favorite food?” his eyes skimmed her face while he bit into the donut. “I’m curious about the jello rice.”

“Jello…” Zoey heaved a sigh, mildly frustrated. Just when she was ready to spill, he was distracted by food. “It’s jollof rice, babe.”

“Ah Jollof. It’s like Mexican rice, right?”

“Not even close.” She frowned. “Eli, I need to talk to you about something.”

A plane whooshed over their heads and Eli peered out, watching the plane ascend into the clouds.

“Eli.”

“Hmm?”

“Eli.”

Her sharp tone had him glance her way. He frowned. “What?”

Zoey tamped another sigh and stared him straight in the eye. “I haven’t been completely honest with you–”

A child behind them squealed with delight and Eli’s gaze shifted over her head. Zoey grabbed his hand, smearing hers with chocolate. She grimaced. “E, I’m not a poor international student.”

Eli smirked at her. “I know that already.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m being serious.”

“Okay.” He released the donut and reached for a napkin. Taking her soiled hand in his, he wiped it clean.

Zoey drew in a breath and released it. “E.”

“I know you’re not poor, Zo. I know international tuition is high, and yet you have your own place, your own car, and you’re paying off your degree.” He looked up at her. “But what does that have to do with anything?”

“It has everything to do with everything.”

Eli chuckled, cleaning chocolate from her fingers.

Zoey frowned.

He paused to look up. “Okay, talk to me.”

There was no other way to say it so she began with “My parents have money.”

Eli arched a brow. “Okay…?”

Zoey rolled her eyes. “Let me rephrase that. My family comes from crazy money.”

“Still isn’t that much clearer, Zo.”

“You know that show Rich Housewives Chicago* and the lady with the real-estate investments?”

“Yeah?”

“One of my dad’s side investments is twice that.”

“In Naira?”

“Dollars, Eli.”

Eli’s hand loosened and slid from hers.

Zoey swallowed hard. “I know I should’ve told you but–”

“Why tell me now?”

The quietness in his voice stilled her. She stared at him.

His features were taut but his eyes resembled a confused little boy. “Why tell me when we’re halfway there that you come from money? Why now and not before?” His gaze skimmed her face.

Zoey searched his and didn’t like what she saw there. “I didn’t mean to keep it from you, not purposefully. I just didn’t know how to say it. Didn’t think it mattered.”

“Then why mention it now? What for?”

“Because you’re coming home with me and I…” Zoey swallowed hard.

“You want me to be prepared.”

Zoey nodded, surprised yet grateful that he’d taken the words from her mouth. “Yeah.”

“You think I’m gonna embarrass you?”

Her eyes widened. “What–? No, heck no.” She frowned. “Eli, I don’t care about that. I just wanted you to know that my folks are a lot…”

“Attention travelers,” the voice on the intercom interrupted. “This is an announcement for Flight Z345A to Lagos via British Airways. Boarding will begin in twenty minutes. Please report to Gate 40B.”

“That’s us,” Eli mumbled, grabbing his bag.

“Whoa, wait a sec.” Zoey grabbed his wrist, stilling him for just a moment. She searched his expression and scowled. “Sit first.”

Eli didn’t. “You had a year and a half to tell me about your family and you didn’t. Give me at least an hour to process what you just told me. I have nowhere else to go but with you, so give me that. Fair enough?”

Zoey hesitated. Eli’s brooding took way longer than an hour, and she couldn’t afford his silence for another six hours. “I meant no harm, Eli.”

“I know, Zoey, but it still stings.” Eli tugged his wrist free and gestured for her to stand. “Let’s go.”

At least he waited for her to stand before walking in front. Zoey heaved a sigh as she watched his lonely frame and wondered yet again if she’d made the right decision bringing him along.

Another plane whooshed above as Zoey grabbed her bag and rushed after him.

He wanted to stay mad; she deserved more than just his silence. But they were 11,000 feet off the ground with only a boring selection of movies for entertainment and ignoring the person beside him didn’t make much sense. Especially since Zoey kept sighing and fidgeting in her seat.

Eli dropped the headphones to hang on the back of his neck and leaned in his seat, arching a brow at her.

She squinted at the screen and sighed before glancing once at him. “What?”

“What happened to giving me an hour?”

Zoey frowned. “I did–I am.”

Eli squinted at her attempt to look innocent. “Nah, you’re not giving me space and time to think.”

“Space?”  She scoffed. “Eli, we’re in a cramped plane. How much space can I give you? You want me to switch places with a stranger? Should I tape my mouth and my body so I don’t bother you?”

Eli shook his head. Zoey could be so dramatic, just like his sisters. He sighed as a thought crossed his mind. “D’you know that all my siblings’ and their spouses have something in common?”

“What is it?”

“Lies.”

Her mouth tightened in a hard line. “I already said it was unintentional. It’s more of an omission, honestly.”

“Lie of omission is still a lie, Zoey.” Eli held up a hand before she could protest. “Hear me out. Phoebe lied to Abe about who she was and almost jeopardized Junior, Darah and I remaining with our family. Geri lied to Bart about her ex-husband.”

Zoey’s eyes widened. “Geri was married before?”

“She was. He was a mean jerk to her, and died for his crimes–”

“Good Lord!” Zoey slapped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide.

“But she was able to escape and come back home. Anyway, she didn’t tell him everything and they even tried to lie to her ex in-laws about having a relationship…” he paused and shook his head. “It was a mess and J.R. had to step in to fix it.”

Zoey lowered her hand and stared intently with no interruption.

“Then there’s Darah, trying to hide her pregnancy from everyone.” He frowned. “Hers isn’t much of lying as it is omission of fact but then she was being stupid throughout.”

“That’s harsh, Eli.”

“It is but it’s true. Actually, both were actually lying to each other about their feelings, and they spent so much time dancing around before coming together.” Eli shrugged. “And then there’s Junior.”

“What about him?”

Eli scoffed lightly. “Pretty sure he and Karen are keeping some crazy secret there in Ethiopia. When I stayed with them for a summer, it was weird.” He scratched the side of his head. “Can’t put my finger on it but they were sneaky.”

Zoey sighed. “What’s your point, Eli?”

“Lies only complicate a matter that didn’t need to be complicated.” Eli stared intently at her. “You didn’t need to hide the fact that your family is loaded. I don’t care if your mom’s the queen of Nigeria or your dad owns every building in the country. You’re you and that’s the reason why we’re together, not because of the money your family has.”

Zoey nodded, regret plain on her face. “I’m sorry, Eli.”

“It’s okay.” Eli frowned. “I do want to know now. Can’t go there looking like a fool.”

“So you want me to tell you now?”

“We’ve got five more hours,” Eli answered with a shrug.

Zoey glanced around first, caution clear in her tense shoulders. She dragged her gaze back to him. “Can I write it down?” she asked in hushed tones.

Eli fought a laugh. “They must be really loaded.” She looked tortured and Eli tamped down the laugh from spilling out. “Alright, write it down.”

Zoey readily grabbed her bag and pulled out her notebook. Eli leaned in as she started to scribble, him reading as she wrote.

Half an hour later, Eli sat back, reeling.

Zoey closed the notebook and looked up at him, expression penitent. “I’m sorry.”

He couldn’t respond; not yet. The chart Zoey scribbled out proved that his mind couldn’t fully fathom the implications of Zoey’s background compared to his. Her father, a retired bank commissioner with real-estate and political connections and her mother, a princess of an affluent tribe that he couldn’t pronounce. He was an orphan with a questionable background and only $10,000 in both his bank accounts. She had legacy in her family while he knew nothing about his birth father.

So deep in thought Eli was that he didn’t hear Zoey and jumped when her hand dropped on his shoulder. He blinked at her. “Hmm?”

“Say something.”

Eli stared at the woman he called girlfriend so casually, someone who was practically royalty. He’d always thought she was out of his league but now… The truth was a sucker punch to his gut, rendering him speechless.

Her eyes watered. “E, please say something.” Her fingers tightened on his shoulder.

He swallowed the truth down and tucked away his wounded pride. Zoey’s tears were more painful than whatever feeling he couldn’t fully identify. “I…”

Zoey sat up, eyes wide in anticipation.

Eli shook his head and laughed it off. “We should’ve taken the first class seats then.”

She blinked in surprise, obviously not expecting that reply. Then she giggled softly and shoved his shoulder lightly. “You gold digger.”

His half-smile dropped. Zoey’s laughter dissipated instantly and regret dressed her features. “Too soon, huh?”

“Yeah.”

Zoey sighed deeply and scooted close, tucking her arm under his. “Forgive me,” she pleaded, resting her cheek on his shoulder.

“Sure.” He stared listlessly at the movie Oceans 8 playing on the screen while sifting through his mind for a plan of action.

Four more hours till they touched down in Lagos, and he had no idea what to do.

“Everything will be fine,” Zoey said softly, tightening her hold on his arm. “My parents are more laid back than it seems. My cousin, Paula, she’s marrying a regular guy she met in London from university and everyone was cool with it. My mom was actually an advocate for their relationship.”

The need for an advocate meant there was initial pushback but Eli didn’t have the heart to interrupt her, partly because he wanted to believe that her parents would be accepting of his lack of qualifications too.

“And one of my aunties on my mom’s side is like the coolest aunty ever. Aunty Sophie, she’s picking us up from the airport.”

“What, no entourage?”

Zoey peered up at him, one brow arched. “Do you want one?”

Eli almost laughed. That she thought to ask was ridiculous. “No,” he answered simply.

She looked away. “Aunt Sophie’s like the rebel. She never got married and traveled all around the world. She reminds me of your brother Junior. You’ll like her.”

Eli could only nod. Any ally was welcome. “Ok.”

“I thought long and hard before inviting you, and I wouldn’t have done that if I thought you’d be treated badly. My family will love you. I promise.”

He nodded again, not wanting to weaken her confidence in him or his in her. “I hear you,” was all he said and allowed her to embrace him with all her might. He needed all the strength he could get for the journey ahead.

<<Chapter 4|| Chapter 6>>

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Lighthouse, Chapter 20

Posted on 15/08/2016

At the sight of his son stepping into the room, Lalana-Joel’s smile only widened at the wake of Clement Teka’s anecdote of chasing wild pigs on the outskirts of Addis Adaba. His eyes swept over his only child’s handsome face, grateful he was alive to see it again.

He started to speak when J.R. stepped close and then he spotted the petite girl right behind his shoulder. Her eyes lit with joy when their gazes met and his smile waned. He quickly swung his gaze back to his son whose eyes danced with an identical expression, and L.J.’s brow furrowed slightly. What was it?

Babu,” J.R.’s voice trembled as he leaned in.

L.J. accepted the kiss to his forehead, warmed by the tenderness of his son’s greeting. When J.R. leaned back, he lifted his eyes back to his son. “Where were you?” he dared not look at the girl who had kept his son from being in the room when he opened his eyes.

Chagrin dimmed the light in his son’s eyes and he looked down, his hand seeking L.J.’s. “The chapel.”

The gentle whisper of his son’s words pierced him, and instantly a memory rushed into his heart. He remembered years ago—too long ago—scouring the hospital for his ten-year-old child, only to find him weeping at the foot of a cross over a mother who died in the emergency hall. He watched in silence as J.R.’s fingers curled around his and he dared not look at his son’s face, ashamed that he’d once again invoked a fear in his son.

Bhaiyaa,” Hana addressed J.R. over the tense silence. “You just missed the doctor earlier.”

J.R. sniffed back tears. “Oh yeah? What did he say?”

Unable to help himself, L.J. raised his head. His son faced Hana as she divested what the doctor shared already, but all L.J. noticed was Darah standing at his side with her arm around J.R’s waist. He arched a brow when her eyes met his and narrowed his eyes when she winked.

What a minx!

He sniffed and looked away, only to meet Clement’s amused expression. He frowned, wondering if these two were in cahoots. Perhaps this bearded missionary man had purposefully entertained with stories of his adventures while his little sister sedu–

Babu,” J.R.’s low baritone pulled L.J.’s attention back to him. His brow was furrowed. “Are you sure?”

For a moment, L.J. had no idea what he meant. His eyes bounced between J.R. and the minx behind him and wanted to shake his head, ready to deny whatever their relationship was. Instead he sought Hana’s guidance with a lift of a brow.

Her lips twitched a smile. “We’re discussing your request to return home.”

“Ah yes.” L.J. nodded and swung his gaze back to J.R. Then he sighed as his son’s brow furrowed deeper. “Don’t look at me like that. I will not spend the rest of my life in this hospital bed.”

“Babu,” J.R. shook his head. “Our only hope is the radiation.”

“And what good help that’s been so far.” L.J. grimaced when his son visibly flinched. “Beta, I know you mean well but this isn’t what I want. The time I have left, I want it to be with you.” His eyes cut to Darah who had the decency to keep her gaze lowered and he faced J.R. once more. “Let me spend the rest of my life preparing you.”

J.R. frowned. “Preparing me for what?”

L.J. hesitated answering, sensing his son was going to argue with the many plans he’d set in place once he was gone. Yet his throat tightened at the thought of leaving his son, and he swallowed hard.

Clement cleared his throat. “Ladies, why don’t we leave the two to talk?”

Thankfully, the two women agreed without protest and followed Clement out of the room. Once the door closed behind them, J.R. sagged into the chair by the bed with his hand still clutching L.J.’s.

“I’m not going anywhere, Beta.”

“Not yet,” J.R. muttered, tightening his hold on L.J.’s hand. When his father grimaced, J.R. quickly loosened his hold. “Does it hurt?”

“Raju…” The pain in his son’s face made him ache and L.J. put his other hand over his. When he spied a glimmer of tears in J.R.’s eyes, L.J. groaned. “None of this, please.”

J.R. sniffed back the tears and lowered his face. “Sorry…”

Chagrined, L.J. lifted his hand and rested it on J.R.’s ruffled mane. The touch broke the dam, and L.J. watched and listened helplessly as his grown-up son wept as though he was ten years old again.

Outside, Clement accepted a call from the house—Phoebe wanted updates, leaving Hana and Darah seated on the wall across L.J.’s hospital room. The women sat in silence, Clement’s voice echoing down the hall. Darah clasped her hands together, replaying the look on Lalana-Joel’s face when she caught his eye. She grimaced and scolded herself for winking at him. It was certainly not in good taste.

Hana chuckled softly. “He wears his emotions easily, doesn’t he?”

Darah peered up at the young woman beside her, not sure she was speaking to her. When she met Hana’s eye, she raised a brow. “Who, my brother?”

Hana shook her head and pointed her chin at the closed door. “Uncle L.J.”

Darah grimaced, causing Hana’s smile to widen. “I don’t think he likes me.” It took a lot for her to admit that; she rarely cared what people thought about her—but for some reason, the opinion of J.R’s father mattered. Her cheeks warmed as she replayed the tender kiss J.R. had given her earlier. Of course his father’s opinion of her mattered. If they got married, he’d—

“He’s really stingy with his heart.”

Frowning, Darah looked back at her. “What do you mean?”

Hana’s smile held secrets Darah needed to know. Leaning back, Hana crossed her arms. “J.R. is his everything, has been ever since he was born. I’m not sure he wants to share him.”

Well he’ll have to, was at the tip of Darah’s tongue but she curbed the remark, deciding to listen first.

“It’s a wonder that he agreed to let Bhaiyaa get married.”

Darah’s heart skipped a beat. “T-to you?”

Hana arched a brow when Darah’s voice squeaked. “Well, not anymore.” Her pointed gaze pierced Darah.

This time Darah didn’t look away. “I ruined his plans. No wonder he doesn’t like me…”

Hana chuckled dryly. “It’s not that he doesn’t like you. He just doesn’t know you.”

Darah shrugged. “Then he should get to know me. I’m a nice person.” It sounded quite silly in her ears but she meant every word. “And I… I love J.R.”

The smile on Hana’s lips faded, and her pointed gaze swept over Darah’s face. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-five,” Darah frowned. “I thought you knew.”

“Oh right… we’re almost age-mates.” Her smile was strained, as though that wasn’t a good thing.

Darah didn’t smile back. “So why does his father like you?”

Hana’s smile eased away, her expression turning cold. She was silent for a moment before answering monotonously. “He owes my father.”

The words were colder than her expression and Darah wrapped her arms around herself. “How?”

Hana’s gaze lifted to the closed door. “He stole my father’s first love and ruined her.”

Breath caught in her throat, Darah’s eyes widened.

When J.R.’s sobs eased away and only the hiss of the humidifier filled the silence, he let out a sigh. The hand that stroked his hair stilled and raised from his head.

“You okay now?”

J.R. smiled grimly. His father was always the worst at comforting, from his earlier years. Nodding, he wiped the stray tears from his cheeks before lifting his eyes to L.J.’s.

L.J. sighed with relief though concern etched lines in his brow. Leaning back against the propped pillow, he closed his eyes and sighed again. “I hate this.”

His strong and capable father looked frail in the flimsy hospital gown, his tanned skin a sharp contrast to all that white. The image of his pale mother encased in the cushioned coffin-bed crossed his mind and he shook it away, along with the cold shiver trickling down his spine. “Me too,” he croaked out, the tears pooling.

“I wish to go home,” L.J. confessed after a few moments of silence. “I hate hospitals.”

J.R.’s lips twitched a wry smirk. “Me too.”

L.J. opened his eyes to meet his son’s wary stare. “So sign the papers and let’s spend the rest of my life at home, Beta. I beg you.”

The desperation in his father’s eyes broke him. His father had never begged him for anything before, and the reality of his father’s frailty sobered him. J.R. swallowed the lump in his throat. “I don’t want to lose you, Babu.”

His father reached for his hand and squeezed it. “And I don’t want to leave you.”

The tremble in his father’s voice pulled J.R. from his chair. He reached for his father, gathering him in a tight hug.

“I’m sorry,” L.J.’s voice was muffled in J.R.’s shoulder, his hand rubbing J.R.’s back as the tears fell silently. “I’m so sorry.”

J.R. squeezed his eyes tight. They’d wasted too many years hiding their shared hurts and their affection toward each other. He’d been a fool for not forgiving his father, for silently fighting his father’s will for him. He sniffed back tears and tightened his hold around L.J. “I’m sorry too.”

Darah splashed water on her face, still jarring from Hana’s earlier revelation. J.R.’s mother had been the betrothed of Hana’s father. But then she met J.R.’s father in university and the two decided to elope without their families’ consent, causing an uproar. With Hana’s father swearing to avenge his family’s fragmented honor and for fear that he and his now-pregnant wife were in danger of being killed, L.J. relocated his new family to the United States as listed refugees.

Years after Hana’s father married another woman from their village and J.R. was born, the families at home reconciled without their children. Because of their refugee status, J.R.’s mother couldn’t return to her family and became increasingly homesick to the point of depression. Letters home weren’t enough to ease her growing anxiety and even her husband’s devoted love and attention wasn’t enough to heal her sickness. Then she sent letters to Hana’s father, seeking for ways to be connected with her family. At first, Hana’s father wished to forget his painful past and left the letters unanswered, but he read every note–each from J.R.’s mother more desperate and hopeless than the previous one.

Cold frisson skittered down Darah’s spine. The last letter revealed that J.R.’s mother hated her husband for taking her away from the home she longed for day and night. She admitted resenting her son whose impending birth had caused her husband to seek asylum in the United States. Tears pooled in her eyes, imagining a very young J.R. wishing for a mother’s love and aching from her abandonment.

Eyes on her reflection, Darah’s hand moved over her stomach as she wondered if she’d be a better mother to this unborn child than J.R.’s mother had been to him.

The toilet flushed and Darah quickly brushed away the thought as Hana stepped out of the stall. They exchanged strained smiles and Hana came to the sink beside her, turning on the faucet.

Darah lowered her hand from her stomach and turned off the faucet she’d left running.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” Hana asked, lathering her hands with soap.

Peering at the young woman’s bent head, Darah nodded though hesitant. “Sure.”

Hana peeked up at her reflection. “Is J.R. the father of your baby?”

Darah swallowed a gasp and maintained a straight face though her pulse was hammering in her throat. “What are you talking about?”

Hana stared at her dead-on. “I noticed how protective J.R. is with you, and how you sleep with your hand curved over your stomach.”

“Y-you were watching me sleep?”

“You were just touching your belly earlier.” The slow smile spread on Hana’s lips but didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m a doctor. It’s natural for me to be observant. You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”

Darah gaped at this woman who was L.J.’s choice for J.R.’s future, and knew she was in deep trouble.

J.R. gaped at his father. “What did you just say?”

Their hands still joined, L.J. sighed. “I said you have my blessing.”

He swallowed hard. “A-about what exactly?”

L.J. threw an exasperated glance to the ceiling. “You’re gonna make me say it?”

“I think you should.”

“You can have your refugee center.” He lowered his gaze to his son’s. “I won’t fight you any longer.”

J.R.’s shoulders sagged with relief at his father’s confirmation, though grieved that his father was giving in. “Why are you—”

“Raju, come on,” L.J. grumbled. “What good will my fighting you on your dream do? It’ll only drive us further apart when we need to be closer than ever. There isn’t much time.”

At J.R.’s silence, L.J. squeezed his hands. “I will have Preethi and the others support you once more.”

J.R.’s stomach turned, knowing his father’s friends would readily support him due to their friend’s impending departure. He squeezed his eyes tight, not looking forward to their piteous stares. “Babu…”

“And I’ll have a meeting with the partners. We’ll need to reorganize the—“

Babu, please… later.” J.R. felt sick to his stomach, afraid of the void his father would leave behind.

“Fine, later.” L.J. pinned his son with his pointed gaze. “Is this thing with that girl serious?”

J.R. blinked at the change of subject. “Who, Darah?”

L.J. nodded, his brow furrowing deeper with concern.

J.R. drew in a breath and squeezed his father’s hand. “Yes it is.” His lips twitched when his father narrowed his eyes at him. “I love her, Babuji.”

<<Chapter 19 || Chapter 21>>

  

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