Posts tagged “arranged setup

Refuge: Chapter 9

Posted on 01/11/2018

A young man edged around the crowd surrounding Zoey and eventually maneuvered his way into the middle, swooping in to grab Zoey in a hug sweeping her off the ground.

Eli stiffened as Zoey squealed and the crowd erupted in laughter. As the man spun her around as if she weighed little to nothing, Eli caught a glimpse of Zoey’s delight. Still his shoulders didn’t loosen up. Not even when Nwando’s hand rested there. He certainly didn’t remove his gaze from Zoey’s bright and unrestrained smile; it was the most genuine one she’d had since they arrived in Lagos. Who was that man to invoke a smile usually reserved for him on special occasions?

“Don’t be weird, lover boy,” Nwando advised near his shoulder. “That’s Law, Zo’s only brother.”

Her words quelled the suspicion. Eli watched the siblings grin at each other as Law lowered his older sister back on her feet.

“It’s been ages since they saw each other. Those two act like twins,” Nwando continued, a smile evident in her voice. From the bright smiles all around, Eli knew that Zoey was indeed the gem of her family.

Nwando tapped his shoulder, commanding his attention. One brow was raised even as she appraised him from head to toe. “I still can’t believe you made it here…” Her gaze pinned his. “Did she explain everything?”

He didn’t understand what she meant by ‘everything’ but had a feeling Zoey had barely scratched the surface about her family. The smirk that formed on Nwando’s lips confirmed his suspicion. “I guess not,” he answered glibly.

Both brows raised. “I can tell you’re not too happy to hear that–” she paused as the crowd erupted in a chorus of laughs. Her eyes redirected back to him, scanning him from head to toe. Then she wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “No good. One look at you and they’ll know exactly who you are.” She glanced over his shoulder and gestured for someone behind Eli.

Eli started to ask why he had to hide who he was or be relegated to standing in the shadows with someone he’d only just met when a hand clapped over his shoulder. He whipped around.

“Whoa, men!” laughed a bearded man with sunshades. He had both hands up. “Easy, men”

“Shh!” Nwando nudged Eli’s fist. “This isn’t fight club. Dom, do me a favor.”

The man edged close to Nwando. “Sure, baby. ’Sup.”

Eli frowned as the man leaned in close to Nwando who looked anything but welcoming.

Nwando turned to the man named Dom. “How many times did I tell you not to call me that?”

“Men, stop trippin’ baby. Y’know you want me, men.”

“You stop tripping with that fake American accent.”

Eli arched a brow. That sounded absolutely nothing like–

Dom laughed and edged even closer, practically brushing his nose against Nwando’s braided up-do. “Y’know you like it, men.”

Eli grimaced out of second-hand embarrassment for the guy failing his attempt at flirting. He turned his attention back to Zoey fully occupied with her welcoming committee. It seemed she’d forgotten all about him.

A finger poked his shoulder. Eli turned back to see Nwando scowling at him while Dom held a hand over his right eye. His widened and stood alert. “Yes?”

Nwando squinted at him. “I know you came here with Zoey but you’re going to have to focus. Go it?” She lifted two fingers.

Eli flinched beside himself.

She rolled her eyes and turned it to hers. “Keep your eyes on me for tonight. You’re my guest.”

Nwando looked anything but accommodating and Eli nodded, careful not to argue or look at Dom now sporting an eye injury.

“Good,” she said. “Once Dom gets over himself, he’ll help you get fitted and then I’ll introduce you to the other guests.” She turned toward Dom. “Get him something to wear. And stop exaggerating. I barely touched you.” With that, she spun about and pushed forward to join the group greeting Zoey.

Eli finally turned to Dom who was rubbing his eye. “You okay?”

Dom snorted. “Deadly Naija babes.” He lowered his eye and re-adjusted the shades. “Come, let’s be going.” The awkward inflection in his voice was replaced with a more natural accent. Sizing Eli once from head to toe, Dom turned and walked into the shadows.

Eli refrained from looking for Zoey and followed after Dom.

The laughter and music trailed their path down the dimly-lit hallway. Pictures, paintings and tribal artifacts lined the walls on either side but Eli didn’t stop to investigate. He’d find a chance later on to tour the mansion. Dom was taller and bulkier than Eli. His long-legged pace kept him at a distance for Eli who had to pick up his feet just to catch up. At the end of the hallway, he finally did.

Dom glanced his way before facing the path around the corner to climb a flight of stairs. “So you from Brooklyn.”

Eli choked on a breathless laugh. “What? No. Houston.”

“Ah ok, Houston.” His heavy footsteps thudded loudly, echoing in the empty stairwell. “Beyonce’s hometown.”

“Yeah… you like Beyonce?”

There was a pause before Dom replied. “Tiwa’s better.”

Eli shrugged and followed Dom yet another flight of stairs. More pictures lined the walls up to the next floor and Dom took a turn instead of going up another flight of stairs. Eli blew out a breath and kept pace.

“Eh ya, Ezinne. How do you feel now that your baby has returned from America?”

The woman sitting on one of the oversized leather sofas merely crossed her arms. She eyed Zoey from head to toe and kissed her teeth. “It’s not her first time leaving me. I’m used to it.”

Aunty Nneoma snorted, sitting on the opposite end of the couch. “Stop forming, Zine. We all know how you get when Zobo’s away.”

Ezinne Smith glared at her sister. “Did anyone ask you?”

The ladies tittered in response, all accustomed to the daily feuding between the sisters. They watched in amusement as the two glared at each other over their wine glasses.

Another woman, this one sitting closer to Zoey, nudged her arm. “Do something about your mama. She’s been sulking all day!”

“Sorry Auntie,” Zoey answered, winking at her mother who only rolled her eyes. “Only my dad can appease her. Where is my dad anyway?”

“Settling bride price,” Aunty Nneoma answered, examining her nails.

“Still?!” a young woman dressed more formally than everyone else stepped into the circle. “When will they finish?”

The women erupted in laughter. Aunty Nneoma gestured for the scowling girl. “Paula, my dear, come and sit first. You know as the eldest of Late Chief Nnamdi’s grandchildren, this is our customary tradition. Your aunty Ezinne had the same and you must as well, even if our father is long gone. It is your way of honoring him and us, so relax.”

The sulking bride sat in a slump between her mother and aunt. Then she flung a glare at Zoey. “Lucky you.”

Zoey held up both hands in surrender. “Ah, what did I do?”

Paula rolled their eyes. Aunty Nneoma cooed at her daughter, pulling her into her arms. “Pele, my baby.”

The women tittered again, some working to coax a smile out of the bride.

Forcing to hold a smile that made her cheeks hurt, Zoey turned to look for her friends. Nwando walked past the back of the couch and she grabbed her arm. “Where’s Eli?” she whispered, glancing around for her boyfriend.

“Who?” Nwando blinked at Zoey. “Shh. Eli’s not your friend.”

“Excuse me?”

“What’s going on, Zoey?” her mother’s voice sounded behind her.

“Nothing.” Zoey frowned at Nwando, silently demanding an explanation for her strange behavior.

Nwando sighed heavily and turned her hand to grab Zoey. “Come here.” She smiled over at Ezinne. “We’ll be right back.” tugged on Zoey’s arm, pulling her away from the group and to one corner near the doorway. “Here’s the deal.”

“Yeah, what’s the deal?” A frowning Zoey folded her arms across her chest.

“Your parents and everyone in this room has their eyes on you. Maybe that’s why Paula’s ready to fight you, but imagine when their eyes land on Eli. They’ll be ready to tear him to pieces.”

Zoey grimaced. There were a few women in the room whose bite was as painful as their barks. Aunty Nneoma was one, and her mother was another. She shuddered.

“So here’s the plan.” Nwando glanced around once and then leaned in close. “Eli is Dom’s Internet buddy touring Lagos for the week. He’s a creative.”

“Huh–mmmff!” Zoey scowled, yanking Nwando’s hand off her mouth. “I can’t believe you–”

“Stop making a scene. Your mom is looking this way,” Nwando entreated softly, lowering her hand to her side.

Zoey dared not glance over her shoulder–her mother could read faces too well.

“Their guards will be down because he’s Dom’s friend.”

“Who happens to be Law’s friend. So how do you explain Law not knowing Eli?”

Nwando frowned and Zoey mirrored her expression. “You hadn’t considered it?”

“Wait… is Paula pregnant?”

“What–” Zoey glanced over her shoulder to catch her cousin fidgeting in her seat. “Why would you say that?”

“Think about it. She’s increasingly cranky, her courtship was so short, and even the wedding festivities are rushed. Not to talk of her boobs looking gigantic.”

“Crazy girl.” Zoey kissed her teeth in annoyance. “They’ve been dating for ages, Nwando.”

“Hence the pregnancy. I’m surprised at your Aunty though, throwing a big party when her daughter is–”

“My God, Nwando, focus!”

Nwando flinched. “Cool down, girl.”

“Focus,” Zoey gritted through clenched teeth. “Where. is. Eli?”

“I told you, he’s upstairs with Dom. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry?” Zoey echoed, gaping at her friend. “This is the same dude you swear is a biggest creep in all of Lagos. And you entrusted my guy with him? Are you okay in your head?”

“Relax. He’s only a creep with girls. Eli’s fine.”

“How comforting.” Zoey folded her arms across her chest. “Doesn’t explain how we get Law onboard.”

“Get Law onboard about what?” her only brother’s voice sounded from the shadows, and he stepped out, holding a bottle of Coke in one hand and a beef kebab in the other. His gaze moved over Nwando and landed on Zoey’s face. He chuckled. “Oh right. You need my help covering for your American boyfriend?”

He snorted in full laughter and pointed at them with the kebab stick. “You should see your faces.”

“Shh!” Nwando roughly grabbed his hand, attempting to put him in a choke-hold.

He easily stepped out of it and bit into the meat. “I never thought I’d see the day you’d bring a white boy home. Didn’t think you had it in you really.”

The warm welcome he’d just given her faded away and Zoey wanted nothing more than to wipe that smug look on his face. She squinted at him. “I didn’t think you’d be this close-minded. And he’s not white.”

“Who cares? He’s not African and you know what happened with Aunty Nneoma.”

Nwando scowled. “Stop Lawrence.”

“Keep calling me that and I’ll squeal.” He smacked his lips loud. “I can just imagine Mom’s face. Man, Dad will freak.”

Zoey swallowed hard. “Law, please.”

His face suddenly changed at her soft plea. “Please what?”

The two siblings stared at each other, both knowing what they’d have to do. Zoey hating every second that stretched between them. Law wouldn’t budge first and she hated giving in to him so easily.

“We’re back,” Dom announced behind them.

Zoey lifted her eyes, taking in the sight of Eli dressed in native attire that fit him perfectly. She gasped inwardly. The perfectly-fitted outfit was one of Law’s favorites!

Law started to turn.

“Fine!” she answered. “I’ll do anything you want.”

She could feel Nwando’s stare at her but didn’t shift her gaze. Law turned to her, his widened slightly.

“Anything?”

Zoey could only imagine what his thoughts conjured up and bravely nodded. Her gaze flickered once to Eli eying her curiously. She tamped a sigh and faced Law squarely. “Keep your promise.”

“It doesn’t matter, we’ll discuss my request later,” he answered, a devilish glint in his eye. “Sure, I’ll pretend your boyfriend is my friend visiting Lagos for a week.”

“Actually, he’s Dom’s–”

“Shut up Nwando,” Zoey snapped, annoyed she had to bargain in the first place. “And if Mom and Dad ask you anything?” She couldn’t afford to look at Eli right now or Law would find another weak point to prod and manipulate.

Law shrugged. “You know they won’t. They don’t care about my friends like they do yours. Point in case, Dom.”

“Enh? What does that mean?”

“Shut up, Dom.”

Zoey sighed, the tension in her shoulders loosening. “Okay. Deal.” She extended a hand to her brother.

“American tin,” he laughed before holding her hand in a firm grip.

“Keep your word,” Zoey prodded, tightening hers.

“You got it,” he squeezed her hand.

“When I see my children shaking hands, something tells me there’s trouble brewing,” a deep and hoarse voice sounded behind Zoey.

Zoey whipped around and flung herself into her father’s arms. He laughed and enveloped her in a hug.

Law grinned cavalierly. “Ah c’mon Dad, we’re just conversing.”

“Deals are made in the banks not at your cousin’s door-knocking ceremony.” He sounded cross in his reply but his hold about Zoey was gentle. Drawing back, he smiled gently. “My princess.”

“Hi Daddy,” Zoey smiled back, scanning her father’s weathered features and snow-white beard. “You shaved your head?”

A smile resembling Law’s but warmer formed on her father’s lips. “Why hold on to hair that isn’t holding onto me?”

Zoey and Nwando laughed nervously. Law snorted. “The bald look is trendy, Dad.”

“Of course it is. Welcome home.” He kissed her forehead and his eyes zeroed in on the quiet one beside Dom. “And who’s this? Haven’t seen him before.”

Zoey stiffened, breath baited. She peeked once at Eli who was watching her and quickly looked away, cheeks aflame. No doubt he’d rip her one later. But right now, she needed her brother to make good on his word. Her eyes pierced his face.

Law cleared his throat. “This is EJ from Brooklyn. He’s my friend, Dad.”

Their father was quiet for a moment and then nodded. “You are welcome, EJ.”

Dom nudged Eli in the side and to Zoey’s relief, Eli nodded. “Thank you.”

Then the elder returned his focus to Zoey. “Have you eaten?”

Zoey managed a smile, suddenly feeling light-headed. “Uh, not yet.”

He slung an arm around her shoulders and drew her into his side. “Then let’s get something. We’ve decided on your cousin’s bride price.”

“Ooh, is it high?” Law asked, walking on the other side of their father.

Feeling the burn of Eli’s gaze on her, Zoey swallowed the dread in her throat and let herself be dragged back to the party.

<<Chapter 8 || Chapter 10>>

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Lighthouse, Chapter 5

Posted on 20/04/2016

In silence, Bart and J.R. watched the construction workers standing in front of the overpass, Geraldine gesticulating as she instructed them on the new changes.

When a couple of the construction workers saluted Geraldine before turning back to their duties, Bart smirked. “Glad I didn’t make the mistake of demanding that she become a housewife. This is what she does best, bossing folks around.”

“You two have a good partnership,” J.R. agreed, watching Geraldine pause to speak with another construction worker.

“Not to mention she looks good in jeans.” Bart nudged J.R.’s shoulder. “It’s all thanks to you.”

J.R. glanced at his friend, wishing Bart would stop referring to the past. Any lawyer could’ve helped Geraldine escape her wicked ex in-laws; his involvement wasn’t all that special. He shrugged. “It’s nothing. Just did my job.”

“I meant this. She’s kept me awake every night, going over the blueprints.” Bart grunted. “There are three occasions a man’s woman looks the most beautiful. The wedding day, the day she gives birth and when she’s doing what she loves. I thank you, my friend.”

J.R. smirked. “I wouldn’t know about all that…”

“You would if you stopped chickening out. You’re the only brother-in-law we’d accept.”

J.R. refrained from rolling his eyes. “Don’t start with this. Besides, doesn’t she have five years left?”

“If you’d make your decision soon enough, we’ll decrease her sentence.”

J.R. snorted but didn’t get to respond when Geraldine joined them on the top floor. He smiled in greeting since she’d been too busy earlier on. “Everything going well?”

“Yep.” Geraldine flashed him a grin. “We should be done with the lobby and kitchen by next week.”

Bart clapped a hand over J.R.’s shoulder. “That’s not an issue. Everything cool on your end?”

J.R.’s smile waned. “Yep, fine.”

“You say one thing yet your face says another, my friend.”

Geraldine’s brow furrowed in concern. “You haven’t told your dad, have you?”

J.R. sighed. “No.”

Bart shook his head and removed his hand. “He’s bound to find out that his only son’s building an immigration and refugee center. Better to tell him sooner than later.”

“Indeed.” Geraldine parked her hands at her hips. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

J.R. didn’t answer, predicting how badly his father would react if he caught wind of what his son was using his hard-earned money on.

Immigration was a sticky subject for his father who steered clear from the issue after several incidents involving their firm in the past, some explicitly noted and some not. After a few federal government investigations were done on his establishment, L.J. rejected any immigration cases from that day forth and began planning out J.R.’s career as an attorney and finally director of the law firm, hoping his son would be too busy with civil cases to feed his compassion for refugees or ‘illegal immigrants’.

“By the way, Darah’s home,” Geraldine’s voice pulled J.R. from his thoughts.

“For the weekend?” Bart drawled, scrolling through his phone.

Geraldine snuck a glance at J.R.’s face before smirking. “Nope, the summer and maybe even longer.”

Bart looked up in alarm. “Something happen?”

Thankfully Geraldine looked away before reading his expression. J.R. grew weary of maintaining nonchalance whenever Darah was mentioned, especially when he too worried about her.

“We’ll probably find out at dinner.” Geraldine’s gaze swung back to J.R. and he gave her a blank stare. Her lips twitched in amusement. “As always, you’re invited to come.”

As much as he wanted to see Darah, he shook his head. “Can’t.”

“Running away again?” Bart muttered beside him.

J.R. sighed. “Have to play host at home. My father’s got visitors from back home.”

Geraldine’s brows raised. “Oh really?”

J.R. nodded. “Maybe next time. But tell her I said hello.”

Bart snorted and Geraldine rolled her eyes. “Or you could tell her yourself. Call her.”

“She changed her number,” J.R. mumbled, though admittedly he’d only texted her once after their misunderstanding years ago.

“I’ll give the new number to you.”

J.R. tamped a sigh, wishing Geraldine would leave well enough alone. “Doubt she wants to talk to me.”

“You won’t know until you try calling her.” Geraldine nudged her husband. “Give him the number. Let me go check on the guys in the backyard.” She walked away before Bart could respond.

“I was like you once,” Bart remarked, his eyes watching Geraldine sashay across the open field. “Battled a boatload of conflicted feelings about that woman, and because I didn’t face them, face her, I lost her for a while.” His gaze shifted to J.R. “Don’t make the same mistake I made.”

J.R. frowned. “Why do you insist on me? What if she wants someone else?”

“You’re the best man for her.” Then Bart smiled and clapped a hand over his shoulder. “And if Darah doesn’t pick you, she’ll have to wait five more years before she has permission to marry someone else.”

J.R. watched in silence as Bart ambled in the same direction as his wife Geraldine, and his shoulders slumped. He didn’t deserve Bart’s confidence, not when he was too much of a coward to be with someone as brave and bold as Darah.

Hours later and J.R. wished he’d accepted Geraldine’s invitation to join them for dinner. He would rather face an irritated Darah and her meddlesome sisters-in-law than his own father.

Seated on a cushioned chair that felt like he sat atop rocks, J.R. maintained a pleasant expression in front of his father and guests; Dabir and his wife Jaswinder, and their only daughter Hana.

“So Raju,” Mr. Dabir finally spoke, the leather of the chair squeaking as he shifted in his seat. His dark eyes studied J.R. as if he was on an examining table. “Lalana tells me you are a director at the law firm.”

“Yes,” J.R. simply answered, feeling the weight of the women’s stares. He preferred Phoebe and Geraldine—at least he knew what was on their minds.

“It is my hope he will be able to take up my role,” L.J. interjected.

“But of course,” Dabir chuckled. “Although I’m still shocked that you retired.”

Bhaiyaa, you are too young to retire,” cooed Jaswinder.

Lalana’s eyes danced with mischief. “I can’t keep up with this generation. It’s time to step down and let them get the chance to lead.”

J.R. wondered at the truth of his father’s words, when dictating every aspect of his son’s life was his full-time job after retiring the law firm.

“I hear Hana is graduating top of her class,” L.J. continued, turning to the quiet girl seated between her parents. He gave her a gentle smile only reserved for her. “Have you decided what you will study?”

Hana dipped her head, the thick plaited ponytail sliding along her shoulder. “Internal medicine, Babuji.”

J.R. frowned at the endearment of her calling his father hers, saw the warmth of his father’s smile grow and Hana’s parents sneak a glance at each other. He stifled a groan.

And as if Hana heard him, her light-brown eyes peeked at him through thick lashes.

He stood abruptly, alerting the adults. “Can I get you tea?”

“Thank you, Beta…” said Dabir, referring to J.R. as his son.

J.R. nodded stiffly and rounded the couch for the kitchen without hearing what kind of tea they wanted. Closing the microwave door and tapping the start button, J.R. leaned against the counter and breathed out a shaky sigh.

What happened to letting him pick who he wanted to marry? Why couldn’t he dream of having a partnership like Bart and Geri or Abe and Phoebe? Could he really let his father pick a bride for him like he did a career?

The sound of shuffling feet behind him had J.R. look over his shoulder. Hana stood there, her hands folded in front of her. J.R. stifled yet another groan and arched his brows. “Did you need something?”

Her caramel eyes skittered from his face to the microwave behind him. Then her lips twitched as if holding back a smile. “Do you need help?”

J.R. shook his head. “Nope. I can make tea.”

“Uncle Lalana said I should help you.” Hana rounded the counter toward him.

‘Of course he did.’ He held back the thought, instead replying. “It’s fine. I’ve got it covered.”

“Oh?” She cocked her head slightly. “Do you know what type of tea my parents like?”

J.R. blinked. “I assumed they’d like the same as my dad.”

A slow smile lifted her lips and she shook her head. “That’s why I came to help. Relax, Bhaiyaa.”

Bhaiyaa was a term to mean ‘older brother’, and her off-handed use of the word should’ve set J.R.’s mind at ease. But that smile on her heart-shaped face and the knowing gleam in her caramel eyes made his stomach roll with apprehension.

Darah groaned over the toilet bowl after expelling what was left of the night’s dinner. She winced when Phoebe pounded her back. “Hold on…”

Phoebe’s hand stayed on her back, stroking in a soothing motion. “This is your third time tonight. What did you eat?”

“I only ate what you gave me.”

“No one else is sick—”

Darah dry-heaved into the toilet before letting out a wrought moan.

“This won’t do. We need to go to the hospital.”

Spent and disoriented, Darah sagged against the toilet. “Maybe it’s a delayed reaction. I did have some suspect burrito on campus days ago.”

Phoebe grunted as she handed Darah a cup of water to swish her mouth. “It doesn’t matter. You can get dehydrated while hurling your guts all night long. Get dressed.”

“It’s three o’clock in the morning, Phoebe,” Darah protested before gargling the water. She spat into the toilet and then flushed the contents. “I’ll try to sleep it off.”

When Phoebe didn’t answer, Darah snuck a glance at her and the deep frown on Phoebe’s face made her sigh. “Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s just food poisoning.”

“Well if this continues through the night, we’re going to the hospital. Got it?”

Darah nodded begrudgingly.

Phoebe sighed and held out a hand to help Darah stand. “I don’t know why you are like your brothers about hospitals.”

Darah didn’t answer, following her sister-in-law out of the bathroom. It was best she didn’t know why any of them hated hospitals. “Goodnight, Phoebe.”

“First thing in the morning, we’re going to the hospital. No protesting, got it?”

“That’s if I still feel badly,” Darah insisted, waving over her shoulder at her. “Goodnight.”

“… Goodnight.”

Entering Eleazar’s room, Darah leaned against the door. Her stomach was a jumbled mess and her throat felt raw from vomiting. She rubbed her belly and trudged to the twin bed. Even though he’d taken most of his clothes to his grandmother’s place, Eleazar’s scent lingered and made her miss him.

“At least call home, jerk…” she mumbled, climbing into his narrow bed.

At dinner, Abe seemed more subdued and his eyes drifted occasionally to Eleazar’s empty chair. Apparently J.R.’s presence was to detract Eleazar’s absence but even J.R. flaked, making the dinner a most awkward affair.

Darah’s lips twitched derisively. “Of course he’d flake… Jerk.”

To distract Abe and Bart from getting upset about Eleazar’s absence, Phoebe and Geraldine interrogated Darah about her sudden change of heart to live at home.

Her stomach turned violently and Darah shot off the bed and out the bedroom. She met Phoebe standing in the hallway with her arms folded.

Phoebe arched a brow. “First thing tomorrow.”

Nausea pushed up her throat and Darah slapped a hand over her mouth, nodding at her sister-in-law. Phoebe then stepped aside, clicking her tongue in disapproval as Darah rushed into the bathroom.

<<Chapter 4 || Chapter 6>>

  

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