Posts tagged “adventure

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>>

Advertisements

Refuge: Chapter 8

Posted on 30/10/2018

Staying annoyed was not a luxury Eli could afford. In this foreign land where Zoey was the only familiar face, separating himself even mentally would be foolish. He needed Zoey. Also, the fact that she kept digging her bony elbow into his side made futile his attempt to ignore her.

But he tried, for as long as possible, to keep his attention elsewhere. The ride was long and despite the AC blasting, Eli palmed the sweat from his face and rubbed against his thigh. He blamed it on the stifling heat permeating through the car metal and shifted in his chair.

The conversation in the car went on without him, Aunt Sophie filling Zoey in on her cousin’s wedding preparations. He picked up a few words of cathedral and coral beads but watched the scenes with Aunt Sophie’s warnings playing as a soundtrack.

Foilage collided into disjointed buildings that ran for a mile before tapering off to open land. He’d seen it for miles now since they left the airport. The dichotomy of the filthy rich and devastingtly poor existing together on the same dusty road wasn’t reserved to Lagos. He’d seen it many times driving with his brother Clement. For the life of him, he couldn’t understand how slums and mansions sandwiched between them could co-exist.

Miles later, the sun retreated as darkness fell over the bustling city. Only shadows and well-lit buildings remained and the traffic had eased away to only the Zoey’s welcoming entourage trucking along a smooth narrow road.

Eli suddenly sat up, spotting at the outline of a building resembling a temple in the near distance. “Is that…?”

Zoey leaned forward suddenly. “It’s a mansion.”

From the disdain in her tone, Eli glanced down at her. “Yours looks different?”

She frowned. “I don’t have a mansion.”

“But your parents do.” Eli arched a brow. “Am I prying?”

“There’s no sense in hiding who you are, Zoey dear,” Aunt Sophie interjected. “Not when we’re barely a kilometer from your father’s place. To answer your question, Eli, not many can live in this area. Real-estate here is in the billions.”

“Aunty, please.”

Eli barely registered the strain in Zoey’s voice and gaped at the well-lit homes built along the road. His sister-in-law Geri would salivate at the chance to decorate any of the grand architectural houses.

Cyrus turned the corner and the bright headlights of the Mercedez illuminated the street, revealing cars parked on either side of the road.

Aunty Sophie burst into laughter. “You can’t take the bush out of our people, no matter how far removed from the village we say we are. Do they think this is Olomo road?”

“Wow,” was Zoey’s only reply.

Eli pulled down the glass to peer out the window. The end of the narrow paved street came to a point where an elaborate metal gate barred further passage. Above the gate took his breath away. It was like a scene in a blockbuster movie; the kind where the camera pans out to display the tall and thick white columns that stood two stories tall, big grand windows beaming with light from activity inside and shadowed palm trees swaying in the breeze. If the camera panned further back, it would scan the acres of land that stretched for miles–vast landspace boasting of the owner’s wealth. Zoey’s wealth.

“Eli, we are hosting a door-knocking,” Aunty Sophie’s voice interjected Eli’s rampant thoughts. “That’s why there are so many people here.”

He could only nod, taking stock of the massive building before him. No doubt the mansion housed many rooms.

Zoey nudged his arm. “Ready?”

Though he couldn’t see her face, he imagined the hesitant smile there. She seemed to look more apologetic since they boarded their flight in London. It didn’t make him feel any better knowing that she somehow felt uncomfortable around him. He’d never been one to feel inferior about his status in life; his siblings were proud and grateful for their upbringing, and even his maternal grandmother wasn’t poor.

Being a middle-class American or a college dropout had never been a source of shame for him… he had his own life to live, and even though he wasn’t an engineer like Abe or even a missionary like Clement, Eli was proud of what he’d accomplished.

So why did he suddenly feel like the walls of the car were closing in on him?

The car stopped in front of the gate and a slender man stepped out, squinting at the bright headlights as he approached the car.

Aunt Sophie laughed and stepped out of the car. Cyrus did also, giving the young couple a brief time to themselves while they greeted the man.

Zoey’s fingers curved around his arm and clutched him a bit too tight. He frowned. Was she nervous? “You okay?”

“I haven’t been home in a while,” Zoey replied, her voice barely a whisper. “Don’t know what to expect.”

Eli was quiet. If she was this nervous about seeing her family, how did she expect him to feel about meeting them for the first time? The thought of her family staring at him with critical, scornful expressions was what nightmares were made of.

“Eleazar.”

He shook out of the thought instantly. Zoey only ever called him by his full name when she got serious or cross with him. He glanced down. “Hmm?”

“Promise me you won’t think differently of me or regret coming here after we go inside.”

The silence that followed stretched longer than she liked and Zoey’s eyes scanned his shrouded features, wishing she could read his expression. “Eleazar, answer me please.”

“That sounds ominous.”

Outside the car, Aunty Sophie’s laughter grew louder.

She pressed fingers into his skin. “Just answer, please.”

“I can’t promise that, Zo. You barely gave me any time to adjust.”

Zoey could imagine Nwando’s smug expression and shoved it clear from her mind. She scooted closer to Eli. “I was worried that you wouldn’t understand.”

“Understand what?”

“My family.” Zoey heaved a sigh. “I never asked for this.”

“No one ever does. Not everyone gets to choose their family.”

There was something in his voice–she could only decipher it as pain from the contentious battle between his adopted family and his maternal grandmother about his wellbeing.

Zoey sighed again. “I can’t even begin to understand what you’ve gone through, Eli. But know that I didn’t mean to hurt you by keeping this a secret. It’s just not part of me. I’m not some spoiled-rich girl.” She wrinkled her nose even as she said that.

For years, she’d tried and failed at separating her parents’ reputation and status from her. For once in her life, she’d almost succeeded in America to be just a normal girl with normal aspirations and a normal relationship without questioning whether people approached her for what she carried, not what her parents owned. Eli was more than she’d asked for, and she didn’t want to lose that just because of her family’s increasingly-flamboyant lifestyle.

“I didn’t even know they renovated,” she snapped in annoyance. “I just don’t understand the need for all this space. My parents are empty-nesters, for goodness’ sake!”

Eli draped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into his side. “You don’t need to make excuses, Zo. I get it. Your parents are rich. So what?”

Zoey wished she could believe in his sudden bravado. But he’d only met Aunt Sophie, the tamest of her family members.

A rap at her window made her glance over.

“No fraternizing,” Aunt Sophie said in a mock-serious tone. “Let’s go. Khalid and the others will bring in our stuff. Khalid, remember Zoey?” She opened Zoey’s door and gestured for the young couple to exit.

“Ah, of course now,” the young man from inside replied. “No be small thing, our little madam don reach home. Little Madam, you’re welcome o.”

Zoey smiled gently, accepting the warm greeting of her father’s long-time chauffeur. The headlights illuminated his face, revealing the deep markings on his cheeks and his dark lips. At least some things stayed the same. “Thanks Khalid.” She scooted out of the car and stepped to the side so Eli could exit also.

“She’s not so little anymore,” Aunty Sophie corrected fondly, tucking an arm under Zoey’s and tugging her toward the gate. “Khalid, this is Zoey’s friend from America.”

Zoey glanced over her shoulder as Khalid greeted Eli warmly. She smiled, grateful for at least one welcoming response. Hopefully, Nwando was waiting for them inside. She dug on her heels, waiting for Eli who trailed behind Khalid toward the trunk of the SUV.

Aunty Sophie clucked her tongue. “Eli, leave the bags. They’ll get it.” She then pulled Zoey forward. “You two better leave that independent we-can-do-everything-for-ourselves stuff out here. Don’t give your mom’s sisters reasons to talk. Especially Aunty Nneoma.”

Aunty Nneoma was Paula’s mother and a constant source of annoyance for her mother. The two, since childhood, had always found reasons to fight about any and everything. Even in their mid-fifties, they still argued like enemies and competed about everything possible. No doubt Aunty Nneoma would tease about Zoey taking over the housemaids’ duties.

Zoey tamped a sigh and a groan. Maybe coming home wasn’t one of her great ideas.

“Zoey, you and Eli go inside first. Just remembered something.” She nudged Eli forward and hurried back to Cyrus’ side. “Hey, Khalid, one sec!”

Reaching for and clutching Eli’s hand, Zoey led the way to the front door of a house she didn’t recognize–a house most likely rebuilt to fulfill her mother’s obsession of one-upping her younger sister.

Laughter and music could be heard on the other side of the door. Zoey drew in a breath and released it slowly.

Eli squeezed her hand and in that brief moment, Zoey knew she had her answer. Eli was with her, no matter what stood on the other side of the door. Even with his warranted reluctance, he was here and would be here even till the end of the trip.

She looked up at him with a smile, grateful he was here.

The door flung open. “Finally!” A beaming Nwando, dressed in colorful native, stood on the other side. “Get in here!”

Zoey and Eli were ushered inside, and Nwando shut the door. “Aunty, Uncle!” she bellowed over the party noise. She then grabbed Zoey’s hand from Eli’s, breaking the hold. “Zoey’s home!”

Zoey felt herself being dragged away from Eli and towards the living room where her family awaited her arrival. She glanced over her shoulder to where Eli stood by the door. “Nwa–”

“I got him,” Nwando interjected, nudging her forward. “Your folks are here to see you first and foremost. Right now’s not the time to introduce your American boyfriend. Stealing Aunty Nneoma’s spotlight is not advisable.”

Zoey sighed. She didn’t want to delay the meeting between Eli and her parents, but knew that this wasn’t quite the time for family introductions. Her gaze swept over Nwando’s face. “What would I do without you?”

“Very little,” Nwando winked. “Don’t worry, he’ll mingle with the other hundred guests in the room. Paula’s uni friends are here too. There’s one oyinbo girl your brother’s been eying since morning. Go hug your mom, she’s not been happy about any of this. I’ll go get Lover boy.” She laughed and turned away to retrieve Eli.

Zoey watched Nwando go, wishing she could go with her.

“Is that my Zobo baby?”

Zoey plastered a smile on her face and turned to greet the woman dressed extravagantly. “Aunty Nneoma. Congratulations–!” She grunted as her mother’s younger sister enveloped her into a bear hug.

“Nawa o,” her aunty sing-songed, drawing back to inspect her niece from head to toe. Her painted brows furrowed. “What’s going on, are you losing weight?”

Zoey refrained from rolling her eyes. Her clothes from before she left Nigeria still fit perfectly. “No Aunty. I still look the same.”

“Look at you, all skin and bones.” Aunty Nneoma clucked her tongue in disapproval, hands squeezing Zoey’s arms. “Enh-heh, I would’ve thought America would fatten you up small. Welcome home, my darling!” Draping an arm around Zoey’s shoulders, she led her around the partition wall to the living room.

“Thank you, Aunty—!” Zoey drew in a breath as she took in the scene before her. There were people everywhere, everyone dressed in their best native attire. The living room stretched almost six feet south, with extravagant furnishings and even two sparkling golden chandeliers on the ceiling. She wanted to ask Aunty Nneoma if this wasn’t her home instead, but didn’t have a chance to.

“Zoey’s home!” Aunty Nneoma announced above the lounge music playing, and all eyes faced the front. They all cheered at once, some she knew well—cousins and even old classmates she hadn’t seen since primary school—rushing forward to greet her. It seemed her parents had invited everyone they’d ever known to her cousin’s wedding festivities. And all she could think about, in the midst of all the cheering and overly-enthusiastic greetings, was Eli being overwhelmed by it all.

Around the corner, Eli and Nwando stood witnessing the extravagance of Zoey’s welcome and the grand display of wealth in one scene.

Nwando then placed a hand on Eli’s shoulder, drawing his attention to her. She smiled a gentle smile that held some sympathy. “Welcome to Nigeria, our boyfriend.”

Eli would’ve laughed if not the butterflies waging war in his stomach.

<<Chapter 7 || Chapter 9>>

%d bloggers like this: