Posts tagged “argument

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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Lighthouse, Chapter 8

Posted on 03/05/2016

In her self-imposed prison, Darah busied herself on her social media accounts while hiding out in Eleazar’s room. It’d been only a day since she’d told her brothers the news but it felt like weeks. Both Abe and Bart hadn’t spoken to her since, and both Phoebe and Geraldine left her to stew for as long as she needed, dropping off foodwith a light tap on the door.

The kids returned in the morning to get ready for school, and Darah found Phoebe’s shushing them more of a nuisance than the children’s chatter. It was as if they wanted to avoid her as much as she wanted to avoid them.

Annoyed at her family’s behavior, she ignored the lunch tap on the door and focused on the social media to distract herself from falling into utter despondency. Although social media showed how lame her life was by flaunting her peers’ impressive life updates.

Apart from Tess and a few socially-awkward peers, everyone was getting married. And she meant everyone; including cross-eyed Deborah from eight grade. So to avoid the depression of feeling left behind, she quickly skimmed through lengthy blog posts, overly-saturated photographs of someone’s engagement pictures and passive-aggressive memes before opening her inbox.

The unread messages were impersonal; updates from her high-school reunion committee, a summer pool party on campus and peers advertising subleases. Nothing for Jeremy.

She frowned and logged off the account. Of course Jeremy wouldn’t contact her and she wouldn’t want him to since there was nothing to say. The browser automatically switched to her profile, to a picture of her wearing a fitted black dress that accentuated her slim waist and narrow hips. It was only recently, after gaining some weight from late night pizza runs and cheap candy did she start to accept her slim frame, but that didn’t stop her from wishing she possessed the head-turning curves Geraldine had. Sticks for arms and legs made her self-conscious, especially when even Jeremy teased her about them.

She blinked from the thought and heaved a sigh. “Forget about him, idiot.”

But it seemed her mind always returned to the man that betrayed her, the man whose seed she carried. Her stomach churned and she put her hand there, consciously comparing her present self to what she would like in a few months.

A tremor coursed through her. Pregnant and single. She could imagine the rumor mill in social media, with even cross-eyed Deborah weighing in.

Darah closed her eyes and willed the anxious thought away. Having a child had always been her dream, for as long as she could remember. With a house full of nieces and nephews, she couldn’t imagine not being a mother.

“You’re a natural,” Phoebe had gushed once when she rocked a restless Isaac to sleep at the age of sixteen. “You’ll be a great mother one day, Dar…”

But never in her wildest dreams could she imagine being a single mother. Darah shook her head. What’s done is done. She closed the browser with her youthful smile and opened another, searching topics on first-time motherhood.

Clement’s caller-id flashed on her screen and Darah’s heart skipped a beat. No doubt Abe or Bart had tattled to their brother overseas, hoping he could talk some sense into her.

Drawing a breath, she tapped the answer button and put the phone to her ear. “Yeah?”

Static filled the air, typical for Clement’s international calls. Then a chuckle that Darah didn’t expect. “Still hiding out?”

She frowned. “Still? It’s not even been a day yet.”

“Everyone’s worried.”

Darah turned on her side and folded her legs to her chest. “Had to be if they’re calling you.”

“Wanna tell me what happened.”

“Not really.”

Clement was silent, the static deafening the silence.

Darah hesitated at the dilemma; Clement was close to her in age but he seemed wiser, more serious now that he was a pastor. Yet, there was a calm assurance about him now than when he was a teenager. She knew she could talk freely and be minimally reprimanded. Or so she believed. She sighed. “I made a mistake. I thought he would marry me but it seems I was duped.”

“What did he promise you?”

It wasn’t the question but the way Clement asked it that made Darah sit up. “I said he promised me marriage.”

“No need for the tone, Darah.”

Her frown darkened. “Who told you?”

“Who told me what? That my baby sister’s in trouble?”

“I’m not a baby, Junior.” Her heart thudded loud in her chest, anxiety proving her wrong.

“I know.”

Static spoke as the two siblings sat in silence, separated by a thousand miles.

“J.R.”

Darah blinked to attention at the mention of the name. “Pardon?”

“J.R. called me.”

Her heart thudded for a different reason. She licked her lips and shifted in her seat. “Why?”

“Because everyone is worried about you, me included.” Clement sighed. “What is your plan?”

Darah frowned, although she shouldn’t have been. If she’d allowed Bart and Abe a chance to more than reprimand her, that would be the next question. She avoided asking herself that same question because it made her head spin.

She blew out a breath. “What else did he say?”

Clement sighed in response. “We’ll get back to your plan. He updated me on his cases, and the immigration center… and complained about his meddling father.”

She raised a brow, unable to imagine mild-mannered J.R. speaking ill of anyone. “His father?”

“Uh-hmm. Found himself in an arranged marriage scheme.”

Darah sat up in alarm. “Say what?!”

J.R. gaped at the elderly woman sitting across his walnut-oak desk. “But we had a deal, Mrs. Ganesh.”

The woman nodded, her gaze barely meeting his. She’d come into his office unannounced, not with good news but the worst news possible. The eighty-year-old widow was one of his biggest sponsors for the immigration and refugee center, and was now pulling out.

“Isn’t there something we can do to—”

“I’m sorry, beta,” she said gently and J.R.’s shoulders sagged. It hurt more when she called him son, the disappointment of her withdrawal to support him feeling more like betrayal. Her fingers tightened on her alligator-skinned purse on the desk. “Circumstances have changed.”

J.R. refrained from shaking his head; Mrs. Ganesh had once told him that his calm disposition was the reason she supported him. The thought of losing her funding made his head spin. “I…”

“It might be a good idea to hold off on the construction…”

He looked up, his brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

This time she looked him straight in the eye. “With the threat of policies limiting immigration nationwide, wouldn’t it be difficult if the government fails to recognize your organization?”

His frown deepened, her words sounding entirely too similar to his father’s rhetoric.

“Apart from the funds you’ve received for construction, do you have enough to actually run the center?” Genuine concern was in her voice but all J.R. could hear was his father talking. “Without government backing, will you—“

“Mrs. Ganesh.”

Her brows lifted in question at his interruption. “Yes, beta?”

“Did my father contact you?”

Her brows lowered, and something flickered in her eyes that made J.R. want to groan aloud. Her gaze narrowed, wrinkles deepening around her eyes and pursed lips. “And if he did?”

A wry smile crossed his lips and J.R. lowered his head. Then a laugh tickled his throat.

“What amuses you?”

He dragged a hand over his face and sighed. Then he met her disapproving gaze, knowing he’d lost favor with her. It didn’t matter any way. “Nothing about any of this is funny, Mrs. Ganesh. Nothing at all.”

Long after Mrs. Ganesh left his office in an affronted huff, J.R. stared at the accounting spreadsheet and the blinking cursor once he’d deleted the anticipated funds for the year.

Without the expected thousands from Mrs. Ganesh, there were only two other investors aside from Bart and Geri. Those two investors were also in the same league as his father.

Being a realist kept him grounded and he considered it one of his finer attributes, but along with realism came pessimism. If he was anything like his father, he knew to expect those calls to withdraw their sponsorship by the end of the week.

His phone rang and with a sigh, he answered on the second ring. “Obed Law Associates, J.R. speaking.”

“Raju.”

His blood boiled. “Babuji,” he clipped out.

“Preethi Ganesh just called me.”

J.R. smirked. No doubt she complained about his less-than-respectful attitude to her betrayal. “I see.”

“Keep a hold on your temper. Have you forgotten she’s one of our major sponsors?”

“She was mine too.” Anger swirled in his blood. “H-how could you do that?”

“Oh, so keeping contracts does mean something to you?”

The pointed response made J.R. scowl. “What?”

“You didn’t hesitate one minute before you broke my contract with Dabir—”

Babu, a-are you s-serious?” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Over a silly matchmaking scheme, his father canceled a major source of funding for his center. “Please t-tell me this isn’t about th-that nonsense wedding plan.”

The silence only confirmed his fears and growing disappointment with his father.

“You only stutter when you’re angry.” His father’s voice was soft, thoughtful. He could picture the deep furrow in his father’s shiny forehead. “I made you angry, son?”

J.R. clenched his jaw and focused on taking a deep breath. Getting angry wasn’t the solution. He had to think rationally. “I am… disappointed, Babuji.”

L.J. chuckled, grating J.R.’s nerves. “Good, now you understand where I stand with your behavior.”

“That center was my dream.”

“And it can still be fulfilled… with my help.”

J.R. frowned, hearing the unspoken “but” in his sentence.

“You must do me one thing however.”

Babu, I am not getting married to Hana. I thought I made myself clear that night.”

L.J. snorted. “You made yourself and myself clear, son. We all know that ship has sailed.”

Unease slithered up his gut when his father didn’t say anything further. “So… what is it?”

“You must get married by the end of this year.”

J.R. scowled. “Babuji.”

“Get married by the end of this year and I’ll support your dream wholeheartedly.”

The finality in his father’s tone wasn’t as striking as the promise if J.R. did get married.

“The sooner the better, actually,” L.J. muttered begrudgingly. “I’m among the last of my peers who isn’t a grandfather.”

“Not so. What about Mr. Dabir?” J.R. smirked, unable to resist.

“Don’t make me change my mind,” L.J. groused. “Come home early tonight.”

J.R. arched a brow, wary of his father’s constant scheming. “Having more visitors?”

L.J. snorted. “Can’t I have dinner with my only son for a change?”

It had been a while since he and his father sat together for a meal. J.R smiled genuinely. “What time?”

“Six. Eating late’s bad for my gut.”

“That’s fine. I’ll cook, you’ll wash?”

“Of course.” And without another word, L.J disconnected the call.

J.R. slowly lowered the phone to his desk and stared at the empty chair Mrs. Ganesh had once occupied. Getting rid of a huge sponsor and then offering full support didn’t make sense as far as his father was concerned. Not to mention his pressing desire to become a grandfather…

Esquire Lalana-Joel Obed was up to something and J.R. planned on finding out what it was sooner than later.

<<Chapter 7 || Chapter 9>>

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