Posts tagged “brothers and sisters

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>>

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Refuge: Chapter 5

Posted on 26/09/2018

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

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

Zoey smirked. “Probably.”

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

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

He shrugged. “I like food.”

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

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

Zoey choked. “Man, that was harsh…”

“That’s what you said.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eli.”

“Hmm?”

“Eli.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It has everything to do with everything.”

Eli chuckled, cleaning chocolate from her fingers.

Zoey frowned.

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

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

Eli arched a brow. “Okay…?”

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

“Still isn’t that much clearer, Zo.”

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

“Yeah?”

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

“In Naira?”

“Dollars, Eli.”

Eli’s hand loosened and slid from hers.

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

“Why tell me now?”

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

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

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

“Then why mention it now? What for?”

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

“You want me to be prepared.”

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

“You think I’m gonna embarrass you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened to giving me an hour?”

Zoey frowned. “I did–I am.”

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

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

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

“What is it?”

“Lies.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoey lowered her hand and stared intently with no interruption.

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

“That’s harsh, Eli.”

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

“What about him?”

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

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

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

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

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

“So you want me to tell you now?”

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

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

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

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

Half an hour later, Eli sat back, reeling.

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

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

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

“Say something.”

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

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

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

Zoey sat up, eyes wide in anticipation.

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What, no entourage?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

<<Chapter 4|| Chapter 6>>

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