Posts tagged “anxiety

Refuge: Chapter 6

Posted on 11/10/2018

“Enjoy your stay in Lagos,” the flight attendant said cheerily.

Zoey tamped a sigh, knowing Eli was watching her every move, and stepped off the plane.

The feelings upon landing in the international airport was often the same every time she stepped off the plane; a mixed bag of anxiety, annoyance, trepidation, and nostalgia.

Eli stayed so close behind her as they walked up the narrow hallway, the bags he held lightly hitting the back of her legs.

As usual, there was noise everywhere and the hallway was warmer than the plane. Lights overhead flickered as they walked down the ramp.

Passengers brushed past them, scurrying toward the growing line in front. Zoey pulled out her phone and re-adjusted her bag over her shoulder.

“Should we be walking faster? Everyone’s rushing to the front.”

Zoey glanced over her shoulder, spotting the wrinkle in his brow. “There’s no need for that, actually.”

“You sure?” He frowned and looked over her head. “That line’s kinda long.”

“You’ll be alright. Got your passport right?”

“Yeah…” His tone betrayed hesitation and she looked at him, noting the furrow deepening. “I just saw a guy from U.S. get on that line. Isn’t it for foreigners–”

“You’re with me,” Zoey countered, cringing at her haughty tone.

Eli must’ve noticed because one brow arched. “Okay…?”

Zoey sighed. “Don’t make this weird–” her phone rang and she promptly answered. “Hello?”

“Baby Z!”

A smile formed at the familiar voice. “Aunty! Are you here?”

“Of course. Where are you?” Voices and the sound of bustling traffic filled the air.

“Walking up now. We’ll see you in a bit.” Zoey grabbed Eli’s wrist and tugged forward. Thankfully, Eli didn’t resist and followed her forward.

“So, your oyinbo boyfriend came too?”

“Excuse me.” Zoey manuevered around a group of travelers. “Aunty, you’re sounding like Nwando. Yeah, he’s with me.”

“Okay, I’ll let Cyrus meet you there. C, they’re waiting.”

Zoey circled around a family with their stacked boxes. “Aunty, who’s Cyrus?”

“Leave me, jor,” her aunty laughed.

Two uniformed men stepped forward just as Zoey approached the express lane.

“Madam,” one of them said with a stern expression, holding up one hand.

Zoey fought the urge to roll her eyes. “I’m a citizen.” She turned the back of her phone to flash her passport.

The two men looked her up and down, then lifted their curios gazes to Eli behind her.

“He’s with me.” Zoey started forward, still holding to Eli’s wrist.

“Hold small,” one said, putting a hand between them. “Na him citizen?”

The skepticism in his voice almost made Zoey laugh.

“Z,” her aunty’s voice sounded in her ears. “Wait for Cyrus. He’s coming.” A horn honked loudly and she shouted her annoyance in the distance.

“All foreigners go to that line,” one of the officers said, pointing at the growing line behind them with his chin. “You can wait here for him.”

Zoey gritted her teeth. “We’ll just wait here. My uncle is coming to get us.”

The two officers glanced at each other, silently communicating their next plan of action. Zoey looked past them, searching for this uncle Cyrus.

Eli tugged on her hand. “Maybe I should just–”

“Don’t move a muscle,” Zoey answered sternly, spying the crowd for a familiar face. “My aunty said we should wait.”

A tall, bespectacled man dressed in fitted native clothes emerged from behind the immigrations barrier and strode towards them. Zoey didn’t have time to inspect the man and pointed at him. “There’s my Uncle Cyrus.”

The two officers turned toward the man and immediately straightened their relaxed stance. “Sir,” they said in unison, walking up to meet him as he stepped forward.

Zoey watched in curiosity as the man murmured something to them and reached into his pocket for his wallet. The officers shifted their bodies to cover the transaction and Zoey sighed heavily, turned to Eli who watched the scene with widened eyes.

“Did he just …?”

“Don’t ask questions.” Over Eli’s shoulder, Zoey could see some travelers gawking at the transaction with open scorn. She pulled her gaze back to Eli.

“Zoey?”

She turned around to see only the tall man standing where the officers stood. Zoey took in his salt-and-peppered beard. “Uncle Cyrus?”

The man smiled, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. “Is that what Soph called me?”

He resembled a Cheshire cat with his grin. Zoey frowned. “Not really but…”

Cyrus chuckled. “It’s okay. Ready?” He didn’t wait for her to respond and turned toward the immigration barrier that seemed to part as he walked forward.

Zoey followed, still holding onto Eli’s hand.

“My boys are getting your bags,” Cyrus instructed, leading the way past the crowd milling about in the airport’s lobby. “We’ll meet your aunty up front.”

The tension in Zoey’s shoulders eased up a bit. “Thank you,” she replied, relieved to avoid the chaos of baggage claim. Falling a step back, she presented a smile to Eli. “Saved by Aunt Soph.”

The reluctance remained in his expression. “Is this the only international airport?” He shifted to avoid bumping into a traveler barreling past them.

“There’s one in Abuja also. Why?”

Eli shook his head. “Nothing.” He gestured for her to look forward and she did, noting that Cyrus greeted another officer with a handshake before walking through the double doors.

Zoey followed and drew in a sharp breath. She halted in her steps and gaped at the sight before her. “My goodness!”

Distracted by two officers standing in the entranceway harassing a visibly-troubled woman carrying a clear bag jam-packed with loaves of bread, Eli walked at a short distance from Zoey.

His footsteps stalled a bit, watching the woman gesticulate with one hand while the other kept the bag propped on her head. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he was sure the officers barred her from entry and demanded that she turn back. From where he stood, he could see desperation on her face that shone with sweat from standing out in the sun too long.

Eli frowned, quietly counting how much bread was in her bag.

“Eli!”

He glanced over to where Zoey stood on the other side of the door, gesturing wildly for him.

He looked once more to where the officers crowded the bread peddler and hurriedly made his way over to Zoey. “Hey, how much is…” the rest of his words fell off as he took in the scene before him.

Three cars lined the sidewalk; all expensive even in America. He recognized the latest model of a Mercedes SUV sandwiched between two Jeeps and whistled.

Zoey tucked a hand under his, pulling his attention back to her. “Eli, this is my aunt Soph.”

He blinked, only just noticing the couple beside Zoey. Their escort Cyrus stood beside a curvaceous woman with a bemused smile on her face. Her black eyes focused on him. “Hello Eli.”

Eli’s face burned. There was no doubt she’d watched him gawk at that peddler. “Hello Mrs. Sophie.”

Zoey nudged him with her elbow. “Aunty Soph, Eli. She’s my dad’s youngest sister.”

The woman laughed, revealing a slight gap between her front teeth–a feature Eli loved on Zoey. “You can call me whatever you want, dear. You’ve met my beau, Cyrus?”

“Beau indeed.” Zoey looked slightly annoyed. “Aunty, why are three cars necessary?”

Aunty Sophie’s shapely brows arched. “Because one belongs to Cyrus, the other belongs to me and the other is for you.”

“Aren’t we going to the same place?”

“And so? Will we stay there with you?”

Eli glanced over the cars, watching the peddler hobble across the street. “Excuse me, how much is bread here?”

Zoey frowned. Cyrus squinted at him. Aunty Sophie smirked. “Are you hungry, Eli?”

“Not really.” He pointed to the peddler standing on the other side of the traffic. “But how much is that?”

“Oh dear, if you want bread we can get it on the way.”

Zoey sighed. “He’s not asking to eat it.” Her eyes moved over Eli’s face, her expression clearly amused. “My guy’s a local hero. How much is the whole thing, Aunty?”

Cyrus arched a brow. Aunty Sophie clucked her tongue and shook her head. “That bread looks too old. She’ll probably take less than 100 Naira just to get rid of it.”

Eli looked to Zoey and she smiled gently. “Give her whatever you want, babe.”

He nodded and reached in his pocket when Cyrus put a hand over his to stop him. Then he looked over Eli’s head, gesturing for one of the officers responsible for chasing off the peddler.

The young officer jogged to meet Cyrus. “Yes sir,” he answered, glancing once at his companions.

Cyrus pulled out a few bills and handed it over to the officer, gesturing to the peddler across the street.

The young officer blinked, obviously confused.

“Go and give her,” Cyrus said firmly and pointed to the street with his chin.

Nodding, the young officer reluctantly turned away.

“Thanks C,” Aunty Sophie said, patting her beau’s arm.

“Yes, thank you Uncle Cyrus,” Zoey answered with a smile in her voice and she squeezed Eli’s arm.

Cyrus merely grunted, pocketing his wallet.

Eli didn’t respond yet, watching the officer flag down the peddler who hobbled to him, thanking the disgruntled officer who shoved the money in her hand. He frowned and turned back to his companions only to find them staring expectantly at him. “Uh, thanks… thank you, Mr. Cyrus.”

The man eyed him curiously. “This is your first time in Nigeria?”

“Yea.” Zoey’s hand tightened on his arm. “Yes sir,” Eli corrected himself.

Cyrus nodded. Aunty Sophie smiled. “That was very nice of you, Eli. Are you usually this kind-hearted or is this a show for us?”

“Aunty,” Zoey interjected before Eli could ask what she meant. “Eli’s a bleeding heart. In fact, his whole family is. Remember they allowed a stranger like me stay with them during the hurricane, no questions asked.”

“I remember,” Aunty Sophie responded and smiled at Eli. “We are truly indebted to you, Eli. You won’t believe the wahala watching the news about Houston. Thank you for taking care of our girl.” She draped an arm around Zoey and pulled her into a hug. “My precious girl.”

Zoey smiled up at Eli. “Basically they were frantic watching the news about Harvey.”

Eli nodded. “It was nothing.”

“It was everything to us.” Aunty Sophie smiled. “Her parents are looking forward to meeting you, no doubt about that. Speaking of, let’s be going. Eli and Zoey, you’ll ride with us. The drivers will get our cars to the house.”

Cyrus rounded the front of the Mercedes SUV to take the driver’s seat. Two men appeared from behind Eli and Zoey, towing their luggage to the trunk of the SUV.

Aunty Sophie opened the front passenger door and paused to enter. “My friend Eli, do you have any idea what you’re getting into by coming here?”

“Aunty, please don’t scare him. We barely made it here,” Zoey interjected and grabbed Eli’s hand. “Don’t mind her, E. Everything’s gonna be fine.”

Except that Aunty Sophia’s ominous words echoed louder and longer than Zoey’s reassurance and as Eli settled in the backseat, he couldn’t shake off the strange feeling that he wasn’t the least bit prepared for what awaited him at the end of this long drive across town

<<Chapter 5 || Chapter 7>>

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Lighthouse, Chapter 23

Posted on 24/08/2016

J.R. gritted his teeth as Darah’s monotonous voice message played for the fifth time, this time he didn’t wait and disconnected the call. Then he blew out a breath.

“What, she’s not answering?”

Glancing once at Hana beside him, J.R. shook his head and started re-dialing.

Bhaiyaa, I really don’t think harassing—”

“I’ll be back,” he answered curtly and stood. Putting the phone to his ear, J.R. exited the room without hearing her response.

Though acutely aware of his brusque attitude with Hana, his growing frustration with Darah’s evasiveness left no room for patience. Three days had passed since he’d last seen Darah; terrified and trembling in front of his father’s hospital room. And since not even Clement was gracious enough to tell him what happened, he had to play phone tag until someone picked up—

“Teka House, may I know who’s speaking?”

J.R.’s face lit up at the sound of Abe and Phoebe’s eldest child. “Isaac, hey. It’s Uncle J.R.”

When there was a pause on the other line, J.R.’s brow furrowed. “Hello?”

“Uh, yeah… Uncle J.R., hello.”

Pausing, J.R. imagined what or who could cause awkwardness in his reply. “She’s there, isn’t she?”

Isaac peeked once at Darah gesturing wildly for him to keep her presence unknown. His eleven-year-old mind didn’t understand why telling a lie was right, no matter how many times his aunty reassured him. More troubling was why she didn’t want to talk to Uncle J.R. “Um….”

J.R. would’ve laughed if he wasn’t ridden with anxiety. This woman would be the death of him; that much was for sure. Dragging a hand over his face, he exhaled a breath. “Okay, don’t say anything but yes or no. Is your aunt sitting next to you right now?”

Again, Isaac peered over at his aunt who shook her head as though reading his mind. He worried his bottom lip, very much like his mother did when unsure. “Yes.”

“Is she okay?”

The pre-teen arched a brow when his aunty kept gesticulating wildly, as if he contemplated whether or not she was in her right mind. He sighed again and nodded. “Yes.”

J.R. breathed out a sigh of relief. “Okay, good… That’s good.”

“What’s he saying?” she mouthed to her nephew who merely shrugged, his brow knotted in confusion.

Deciding it was much easier hiding out in the room than making the kids lie on her behalf, she headed for the stairs. Upon descent, her legs were like jelly and tingled with every step. She had to hold the banister to guide her. Topping the last step, she heard Phoebe clucking her tongue in disapproval by Eli’s bedroom door.

“When will you stop playing phone tag with this poor man?” Phoebe came to stand before her, arms folded. “And it’s not cool to have the kids do your dirty work, Darah.”

“If he’d stop calling, I won’t need to do that.” She moved around her to enter the room. “I don’t have anything to say to him.”

“Yeah right. Weren’t you the one just begging Clement to take you to him? I don’t buy it.” Phoebe perched beside her. “What happened at the hospital?”

“I don’t have anything to say about that either.” She quickly turned away so her sister-in-law couldn’t read her face. The tingling sensation still remained, traveling up her legs to her hips. Instinctively, she wrapped a hand over her stomach and closed her eyes.

“In any case,” Phoebe spoke after a moment of silence. “The next time he calls my phone I’ll answer. If you won’t give me a reason for why we have to avoid him, I’ll have to do what is necessary.”

“Please don’t meddle.” Darah winced as the tingle morphed into a piercing pain across her stomach. She pressed fingers against her lower abdomen.

Phoebe scoffed. “When you’ve got the kids involved, how could I not?”

Darah didn’t respond at first, her body taut until the wave of pain eased off. She drew in a breath and released it, grateful for the reprieve. The painful pangs only came once in a while, and could easily be solved by eating. Realizing both breakfast and lunch had been forgotten today, she pushed herself up on her elbow. “Hey, is there any food?”

“So now you’re ready to eat without me begging?”

She ignored the derisive tone, well aware of the fact that Phoebe almost force-fed her for three straight days. She rolled her eyes. “My appetite is back. Look if there’s nothing, I’ll go get it myself.”

Phoebe smirked. “Okay then. What are you craving?”

As another twinge of pain squeezed her stomach, she stifled a grimace. The urgency to eat something couldn’t wait for Phoebe’s meticulous cooking. “Actually, never mind. I need some fresh air, so I’ll get something from the store.”

“Hope not fast food,” Phoebe said, following her out the door. “You’ve got to be careful about greasy stuff now, okay?”

“Got it,” Darah answered without exasperation, slightly distracted by the tingling in her stomach. Reaching the bottom of the step, she passed Isaac still on the phone. “Hang up the phone, Isaac!” she called over her shoulder, grabbing the car keys from the console table on her way to the door.

“Where’s she going?” Isaac asked his mother who placed a hand over his shoulder. He gladly relinquished the phone to her when she held out a hand and hurried back upstairs to play video games before it was time for homework.

“Hey J.R.,” Phoebe spoke into the phone, watching from the window as Darah climbed down the porch steps to the driveway. “How are you?”

Grimacing fully now, she rubbed her belly and walked up to the minivan. “What’s wrong, baby? I’m about to feed you so—”

“Darah?”

At the familiar voice, her face darkened and she turned to see Tess standing in the driveway.

With a sheepish expression, Tess waved. “Hey.”

Darah’s scowl darkened and she folded her arms across her chest. “What do you want? I’m busy.”

Her smile slipped off her face and Tess lowered her hand, tucking it behind her. “Can we talk?”

With the tingling in her legs resuming, Darah readied herself to reject the request. She didn’t have time for unpleasant chats with traitor ex-best friends.

“Maybe a café somewhere near. It’s on me.” Her expression turned plaintive. “Please?”

On cue, Darah’s stomach growled and Tess’s eyes dropped to it. Darah pursed her lips in thought. As much as she didn’t want to talk with Tess, it would be foolish of her to pass up free food. She cleared her throat and tilted her chin as haughtily as she could. “Where to?”

A ghost of a smile twitched Tess’s lips but faded quickly. “Uh, how about the Thai café you like, the one across the library?”

Apparently the baby wanted Thai food as much as she did, her stomach twisting and turning violently and loudly too. She cleared her throat to mask the gurgling sounds and shrugged. “I guess.”

“Uh, okay…” Tess paused, noting Darah’s legs trembled visibly. “Are you okay?”

“Yup.” Darah placed hands on her hips, adopting a casual air in spite of her wobbly legs. “Go ahead, I’ll meet you there.”

“You sure? We could drive together if—”

“That won’t be happening.” She threw Tess a withering look that brooked no argument. “Go on ahead.”

Tess nodded, her eyes volleying between Darah’s flat stomach and face. “Guess I’ll see you there then.”

“Right,” Darah answered curtly, keeping her face void of emotion until Tess finally turned away. Leaning back against the car door, she glared at the car blocking her passage. “Annoying wench.”

Her suspicion was confirmed moments later when Darah glanced at the rearview mirror and spotted Tess’ car trailing hers. In a moment of pettiness that would disapprove Phoebe, Darah suddenly braked hard and despite the niggling ache in her stomach, she grinned when brakes screeched loud behind her.

Then a car bleated impatiently behind Tess’s car and Darah’s smile disappeared. She immediately stepped off the brakes, deciding to hear Tess once she’d filled her restless belly.

Minutes later with an unsettled stomach, Darah wished she’d ignored Tess altogether. Even with an appealing plate of pad Thai before her, the smell of curry and peanut made her mouth water for a different reason. She pushed the nausea down and nudged the plate away.

“Don’t you have anything to ask me?” Tess took a sip of her water before reaching for her spoon. “I mean, I’m sure you have plenty questions about Jeremy and I.”

Darah dragged her eyes to the middle of Tess’s forehead. “I actually don’t.”

Tess didn’t look convinced. “You seriously don’t want to know how it happened?”

“Not really. Look, I’m not in the mood for small talk if that’s why you lured me here.”

Tess frowned at Darah’s untouched plate. “Isn’t Pad Thai your favorite, or do you want something else?” She turned her head and signaled for the waiter.

“Don’t bother with the fake courtesy either,” Darah replied, rubbing the tension in her stomach. “And don’t look at me like that. We have no reason to sit together and eat like we’re friends or something.”

One brow arched, Tess snorted. Then she lowered her gaze to her green curry dish and giggled.

Darah scowled. “And what’s so funny?”

“Everything…” Tess placed her fork down and folded her arms across her chest. She looked up at Darah, eyes dancing with mocking laughter. “It still boggles my mind how we ended up here, like this.”

If they weren’t in a public place, Darah would’ve tossed her cold water in her face. Instead, she bunched her free hand into a fist under the table.

“All these years I thought we’d be friends forever,” Tess continued, leaning back in her chair. “That we’d each get married to the loves of our lives, have children who’d be friends and we’d grow old together, sharing memories…”

“What nonsense. How could you even dream that up when you’d so easily betray my trust in you?” Just the mention of the betrayal made her stomach turn.

The wistful smile on Tess’s face disappeared. “I was only relevant when you needed to vent to someone, or needed advice that you didn’t want your family knowing about. Admit it Darah, you used me.”

Darah rolled her eyes. “How typical of you, acting like the victim.”

Tess gaped at her. “I’m the victim when you’re the one always mentioning your hard-knock life with meddlesome brothers and no parents—?”

“Shut your mouth!” she snapped angrily. “Shut your dirty mouth, you backstabber.”

“Oh, calm down…” Tess paused when the waiter suddenly appeared at their table, refilling their water glasses. She sighed in exasperation. “Could you come back later?”

“No actually, please pack this up for me,” Darah said, nudging the plate aside.

“Sure thing,” the waiter answered, reaching for the plate. “Will this be on the same order or—”

“Separate checks please!” Tess answered.

Darah laughed incredulously, unfazed. “Someone’s petty.”

“… I’ll be right back,” the waiter said awkwardly and hurried away.

“How funny, I thought you agreed to foot the bill.”

“I changed my mind.” The gleam in Tess’s eyes made Darah bristle. “Since I only pay for my friends.”

“Of course you—” Darah gasped inwardly as a sharper pain sluiced through her stomach, down to the spot between her legs. The hand on her belly clenched her shirt, and she pressed the heels of her feet against the chair legs. It took longer than a second to catch her breath.

“Well, I’ll just tell you that it was an honest mistake,” Tess sniffed, picking at invisible dust on her shoulder. “I certainly wasn’t expecting to fall for anyone while in grad school, but it happened. We saw each other and hit it off. I only found out he was with you after I saw a picture of you together. It would’ve been good if you’d told me about him beforehand.”

Darah ignored her, the sudden urge to use the toilet compelling her to leave the table. Plus, she wasn’t in the mood to hear any lame excuses for Tess’s betrayal. Except that her feet tingled, and she imagined herself falling on her face in front of Tess.

Then the waiter returned with the takeout box, and Tess turned to ask him about ordering another dish for her fiancé.

Using this chance to escape, Darah pressed her palms against the arms of the chair and pushed to stand. Suddenly, warm liquid gushed down her leg. Freezing to a stop, Darah’s eyes widened in astonishment. Then dread. Her heart started to race in panic as she looked down at her light-colored joggers.

Tess looked at Darah suspended between standing and sitting, noting her wide-eyed expression. “What’s the matter with you?”

Petrified, Darah dropped to her seat, her tingling legs and the spinning room knocking her off balance.

“Oh my God, is she bleeding?” someone behind her whispered, confirming what she’d seen.

“Is she okay?” another called out to their table.

“Darah!” Tess’ voice rang loud in echoes. She quickly pushed away from the table to reach for Darah whose body drooped forward.

The sounds of panicked voices drowned the violent thumping of her pulse. Once the waiter caught her head from landing in the plate of warm pad Thai, everything faded to black.

<<Chapter 22 || Chapter 24>>

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