Posts tagged “childhood memories

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.


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>>


Samina’s Chance: Chapter 12

Posted on 19/03/2015


Topher pinched the bridge of his nose, reluctant to step inside the room and find Nadine laying in the hospital bed. Blinking back tears, he chose instead to pace the empty hallway.

They were running out of time, he already knew that. But hearing it from the doctor was a pill too hard to swallow. Nadine was far too sassy and headstrong to be sick.

But that dreaded four-letter word haunted him, drawing the thought of his aging Nadine back to the front of his mind and Topher clenched his jaw against the prognosis. C.O.P.D.

The word suffocated what little hope he had for a future planned with Nadine in mind. Someday, he’d hoped to finally get married and give Nadine the grandchildren she pestered him for all these years. Then she gotten sick without little warning.

He wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming sense of fear that paralyzed him and snuffed out his hope. Nadine was the only family he had and Topher was desperate to keep her with him for as long as he could.

He never would’ve believed that his invincible aunt could ever get sick. She never took days off from the factory, working endless hours to provide for her only kin. She was intolerable to self-pity, forbidding Topher from feeling shame or sadness for their station in life.

With Nadine as his ever present source of strength, Topher put his whole heart into studying hard just so he could make a better life for Nadine. To think that all that couldn’t prevent her falling sick angered him.

Now if he could only hope that Nadine’s condition wouldn’t evolve into emphysema or severe chronic bronchitis.

Topher gritted his teeth at the terrifying image of Nadine gasping for air, her caramel eyes wide with fear. Trepidation snaked around him, a cold sensation resting on his shoulders.

Just then, the door to Nadine’s room slid open and the grave-faced doctor stepped out. Topher hurried to meet him. “How is she?”

The doctor eyed him warily. “She’s stable and resting. We’ll take her to the cardiology department for some tests in the morning. For now, we’ll keep her comfortable.”

“Thank you,” Topher replied, his shoulders drooping in relief. And as the doctor walked away, Topher turned to the open door.

The droning sounds of the EKG machine interrupted by sharp gasps of a ventilator pulled his attention to the hospital bed. His gut clenched at the sight of tubes snaked around Nadine’s fragile body. Breathing out a withering sigh, Topher stepped into the room and slowly closed the door behind him.

Samina eyed Karen warily as she picked up yet another silk blouse and folded the sleeves. “I don’t see why you’re getting worked up over this… It’s my life, not yours.” She placed the blouse inside a laundry basket stacked with folded of clothes.

“And I don’t see why you’re not.” Karen snorted, tossing a pair of jeans into another laundry basket. She frowned at Samina’s placid expression. “Be honest, you’re not insulted by the offer?”

Samina frowned down at the basket. “How odd.”

“What is?”

“I could’ve sworn I bought Tide yesterday.”

Karen slapped her hands on her thighs in annoyance. “Are you even listening to me?”

“I’m trying not to.” Samina ducked with a smile as Karen hurled a shirt at her. “Actually, I’m strangely flattered that Aunty Sheena trusts me to take care of her granddaughters.”

Karen scoffed, arms folded over her chest. “Need I remind you that these are also his children?”

Samina’s smile waned.

“See? You can’t do this.”

Samina eyed Karen’s scowl. “Why are you so mad about this?”

“Because you don’t have the sense to be. Samina, the mere idea of it is insulting.”

“But why are you insulted? I’m the one doing it and I think it’s fine.”

Karen shook her head, incredulous. “So you somehow developed amnesia after all these years huh? Samina, you loved this guy since high school. You were devastated for months when he got married. You practically locked your heart away and were miserable for years.”

Samina’s brow furrowed. “Thanks for the reminder.”

“You’re welcome. And now you’re going babysit kids he had with his dead wife!” Karen scowled at Samina’s silence. “Don’t tell me you didn’t even consider this before.”

Samina lowered her gaze.


She sighed heavily, wringing the shirt in her hands.

“Sis…” Karen started, her tone beseeching. “You have to move on from this guy. Enough pretending that you’re okay with all this. It hurts me to see you in pain…” Her fingers curled into fists. “I despise him for even suggesting you’d do it.”

Samina lifted her head. “Enough, Karen. It wasn’t him who asked me.” Her eyes welled with tears and she looked away, blinking rapidly.

“I know, Sam, but–” the sound of the front door opening interrupted Karen’s words.

Both girls glanced up just as Ada sauntered in, lugging two large gift bags. “Oh there you are,” she said, walking over to the laundry corner.

Karen grabbed a shirt from the pile. “Whose bright idea was it to give her the spare key?”

Samina managed an apologetic grin and turned to Ada. “What’s up?”

“Great, I came on laundry day.” Ada wrinkled her nose at the pile of clothes and propped the gift bags against the wall. “Did you guys forget I was coming?”

“Not everything is about you, Ada,” Karen drawled, dropping the folded garment in the basket.

Ada rolled her eyes and turned to Samina. “I called you a billion times today. Where’s your phone?”

Samina shrugged. “Probably in the room. What’s going on?”

Karen heaved a sigh. “I’m attempting to discourage her from accepting Ezekiel’s proposal.”

Ada gasped, holding a hand over her mouth. “Ezekiel proposed?!”

The two sisters eyed her in silence and Karen shook her head in disgust. “I really wonder what’s in that head of yours…”

Ada pouted, folding her arms. “Well, you shouldn’t use the word propose around a woman getting married.” She turned to Samina, brows raised. “Are we still going on about this home-schooling gig?”

Karen’s jaw dropped. “Home school–that was your idea? Why am I not surprised? Of all the dumbest, foolish ideas–”

“That’s enough, Karen,” Samina cut her sister’s words off.

Karen was too disturbed to sit still and stay quiet. She scowled at Ada. “So you conveniently forgot all those years Samina suffered because of him. How could you encourage her to walk into a den of lions? Are you insane?”

Ada’s face fell, chagrined. “Gosh, I didn’t think of it that way.” She then turned to Samina with a rueful expression. “Maybe you shouldn’t do it.”

Samina scowled. “Not you too.”

Ada bit her bottom lip. “With all that happened between you two, it’d be awkward. I’m sorry I failed to realize that. Your feelings come first.”

“I’m not a child.” Samina squinted at the two of them. “I’m getting over those feelings so I don’t see what the problem is. We already agreed it would hold me off until I get a real job.”

“You’re getting over those feelings. You’re clearly not over them yet.” Karen shook her head. “I’m against this completely.”

Ada nodded in agreement. “If you are really trying to forget him, seeing those girls won’t make it any easier.”

Samina merely pursed her lips and averted her gaze.

“You only will get attached to them and just like with Ezekiel, it’ll be just as devastating letting go.”

Both Karen and Ada quietly watched for Samina’s response. For many years, Samina adamantly defended about her feelings for Ezekiel even though he didn’t deserve it. They held their breath as she then lifted her eyes drowning in tears.

“Sammie…” Karen whispered, moving to her sister’s side. Ada inched closer.

Samina sniffed at the tears falling down her cheeks. “I don’t know what to do.”

Sitting alone in his office shrouded with darkness, Ezekiel stared listlessly at the screen on his phone. It was almost 10:00 pm in Houston and he found himself wondering if his daughters missed him as much as he missed them.

An image of Samina’s shy smile drifted to his mind and he sat up. Ezekiel leaned back in his seat and draped a hand over his eyes. “Feelings for Samina…” he muttered, his jumbled thoughts leaving him confused.

He was still reeling from James’ candid and colorful account of Samina’s crush on him. Ezekiel shook his head in disbelief. How could he have never noticed any of that?

Ezekiel’s lips twitched, reminiscing their childhood together. Although he was eight years older and well into middle school, he spent his summer holidays with Samina and her siblings. Back then, he’d grudgingly accepted her teatime and playing house requests. His smile widened at the memories of playing house; he the stern father and Samina the doting mother to her siblings, Karen and Obadiah.

As his body warmed and tingled with nostalgia, Ezekiel suddenly sat up in his chair. The memories faded as the vision of Samina in white appeared before him. He could almost touch her, the image was so vivid.

“Zeke, you’re crazy.” He squeezed his eyes, chasing away the apparition of Samina.

<<Chapter 11 || Chapter 13>>


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