Posts tagged “family drama

Refuge: Chapter 12

Posted on 15/02/2019

If not for the gravity of the moment, Eleazar would’ve laughed. Certainly not out of humor. Darah had warned him about Nigerian parents and it seemed she wasn’t far off. Mr. Smith’s approach may have been more civil from his wife’s, but the animosity for him was veiled in logic as twisted as his wife’s. And Eleazar wouldn’t sit down and let it be; Zoey’s dad or not.

Mentally affixing Abe’s disapproving mug to this man’s face, Eleazar continued talking. “I respect that you are Zoey’s father and you want what’s best for her. I’ve got nieces, one whose already eighteen and probably making questionable choices of her own. I would give my right arm and leg to make sure none of them are hurt by some idiot with no sense. But I’m not an idiot, Mr. Smith.”

The other brow arched inquisitively.

“I really don’t know what Zoey has said or hasn’t said about me. I may have made the choice not to go to college, but it wasn’t because I was stupid.”

“Education is important, young man.”

“Education shouldn’t be limited to a classroom, sir.” His gaze didn’t waver. “I have high school classmates who went that route with some successful and some still without a job, neck-deep in debt. And for what reason? So someone can qualify a piece of paper and say you’re intelligent?”

Mr. Smith’s brows furrowed.

“Not saying going to college is a waste. My two eldest brothers went and made a name for themselves, but Junior’s a missionary and doing just fine without a college degree… I know Zoey’s a very intelligent young woman. She can do fine in college and I have no doubt that she’ll succeed in whatever she does…”

“But?”

Eleazar paused. “Why do you get the right to judge my ability as Zoey’s man just because I’m not a college degree holder?”

Mr. Smith chuckled. “That is not why I don’t want you as Zoey’s man.”

He knew it already but hearing it again felt like a punch in his gut. “Oh?” he managed.

The older man folded his arms. “Can you see yourself making a life here in Lagos? Do you think you can survive the hustle of this place?”

Eleazar frowned. “I don’t follow.”

“Zoey is going to take over the family business, which means she’s returning home after graduation. Any ties to the United States ends the minute she boards that plane.”

He couldn’t help it; his jaw dropped open. “Does… Zoey know this?”

“She knew this before leaving home.” The older man shrugged. “It’s a possibility that she may have forgotten since meeting you…”

Eleazar closed his mouth and swallowed hard. He looked away, to the street where the car was parked. He wondered what Zoey was thinking—did she have any idea what her dad was doing? Was this part of the plan all along? Did she want to break up?

“Nonetheless, young man, this is a question I already know the answer to and I’m sure you know it as well. You’re different, and you don’t belong here. Tonight proves it for you and me both. And Zoey.”

Eleazar smirked. “Sounds like a line from one of those trash soaps Darah watches.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“My bad, thinking aloud.” Eleazar dropped the toothpick on the table and scooted his chair back. “I’ve heard you, sir. And I’m ready to head back when you are.”

Mr. Smith sat in silence, staring at the young man. Then he spoke. “Has anyone mentioned how ill-mannered you can be?”

Eleazar only smiled. “Sure. They’re entitled to their opinions and so am I.”

“And what is your opinion?”

He smirked. “Yeah, don’t think you’d want to hear that.”

“Go ahead.”

Eleazar could hear Abe and Phoebe, begging him to shut up and leave it alone. “Well…” He sat up and stared the man straight in his face. “A father is bound to dislike his only daughter’s boyfriend from the jump and I was prepared for that. But from the moment you saw me, you’d judged me. Pretty much labeled me some illiterate, rude and spoiled brat from America. Well, you’re dead wrong. I was practically raised by my adopted siblings—our parents died when I was only six years old, and we fought hard to make life work for us all. And we did a great job too. Before I was even a teenager, some woman suddenly shows up saying she’s my grandma and wants to be part of my life, with no say from anyone—certainly not me. Went through unnecessary hell because of someone’s useless guilt for not being there for a grandson she didn’t really want but felt bad yet didn’t want the full responsibility of raising him. Inserting her opinion about how I was raised before she came into my life, criticizing my siblings for every little thing, putting a rift between us every chance she could get. Don’t get me wrong, she tried, I guess. But it took my siblings and me—I, years to close that gap between us.

“Took a summer trip to visit my brother in Ethiopia, to serve alongside him, to realize who I am and what my purpose in life is. Didn’t need some college professors to help me figure that out when I had six teachers at home, showing me, correcting me, guiding me. Definitely won’t trade that for no stupid college degree that isn’t guaranteed to give me anything but endless loans. But you don’t know that and you don’t care.”

His body felt hot and not even the evening breeze could cool him down. “And with all due respect, Mr. Smith, I don’t really care if you approve of my existence. You and your wife weren’t there to stop my mom from dumping me in a garbage can or watch me endure multiple hospital stays so I could fight to overcome the consequences of stupid mistakes she made—mistakes a college graduate made, mind you. You weren’t there to help my brothers who left their great livelihoods to raise their younger siblings. You weren’t there when we almost lost our parents’ house or lost each other because of some–” He drew in a breath and released it. “Stop labeling people just because you don’t understand them. Stop inserting your opinions in a life you had no right to. You don’t know me and if you don’t think I’m worth having your daughter’s heart, that is your business. Zoey is grown enough to decide for herself if I’m worth it.”

He chuckled low. “And well if she agrees with you, that’s her decision to make. I don’t need any approval from you about the life I have lived, because I know I’m doing well for myself.” He arched both brows. “Is that clear enough, sir?”

The older man was quiet for a moment, scratched the side of his face and then sighed. “It sounds like you’ve had a tough life, son.”

“I didn’t tell you that for pity, sir.”

“Not at all. I understand you. More than you know. ” Then he sighed, scooting back his chair. “It’s getting late. Zoey will worry.” He stood and Eleazar did too. With one long look at the young man’s scowl that revealed his distaste for the entire evening, Mr. Smith grunted under his breath and turned toward the street.

Convinced he wouldn’t be allowed to spend the night at the Smith’s residence, Eleazar trudged after him.

Once inside the car, Mr. Smith took a moment before starting the ignition. He made no move to drive but just rested his hands on the steering wheel while the engine rumbled on. Eleazar held his breath, waiting to be told he was no longer welcome in their house. Although he’d said the truth, he’d said too much.

“You remind me of myself long ago.”

Eleazar frowned. “Huh?”

“Yes,” Mr. Smith laughed. “Hard to believe but yes. I remember when I came to see him and ask for his daugher’s hand in marriage. He finished me that day until even I almost scolded my audacity for thinking I could be worth his daughter.” He sighed. “Hearing you today, I could hear myself again… and my father-in-law. To be honest with you, I didn’t like him much, especially how he treated those that weren’t his family. How he treated my wife and her sister like they were pa…” He suddenly quieted.

Eleazar noted Mr. Smith’s hands tighten around the steering wheel.

“It would appear I owe you an apology, son. It seems you were right about me after all.”

Truth had never hurt so much. Zoey gaped at her mother. “I have an elder brother?”

Her mother averted her gaze. “It was a long time ago…”

“Mom, that doesn’t make it easier to hear. How could you do that?!”

“Don’t raise your voice at me.” It should’ve sounded like a scolding but all Zoey heard was a diminutive plea that didn’t match her mother’s fiery personality. Her head was bowed and shoulders drooped as though she was the one being scolded.

Zoey heaved a sigh. “I just don’t understand. Why…?”

“Your aunty had barely escaped our father’s wrath. He beat her so bad she almost lost the baby.” Her mother shuddered visibly and Zoey inched close, though not reaching out to hold her. “I couldn’t… not after seeing that.”

“So to escape Grandpa’s beating, you gave up your child?” Zoey grimaced, the taste of the words so bitter in her mouth. The countless times her mother pointed out Paula’s illegitimate birth was humiliating. “Mom, seriously?”

Her mother remained silent, posture limp.

“Okay, fine. We’ll talk about that later. But what does he have to do with Eli?” A scowl formed. “Wait, don’t tell me you think Eli’s your son—”

“Be quiet! I didn’t say that!”

Zoey folded her arms across her chest. “Then what is it?”

Her mother pinned her with a narrowed glare. “Don’t get sassy with me.”

“I’m sorry Mom, but you and Dad have been ragging me all night about my American boyfriend when your colossal secret is way worse—!” She reared back when her mom raised a hand.

“You’re not too big for me to spank you, Zoey. Watch your mouth.”

Zoey gritted through clenched teeth. “Sorry.”

Her mother sighed deeply and turned toward the balcony. “I just don’t want you to be influenced like how I was. Those boys are very wild.”

All boys without home training could be wild—even Law had his bad moments. Zoey refrained from rolling her eyes, choosing silence instead of sass.

“The way they approach girls, especially ones who are too young to know who they are, it’s scary. You won’t believe the sleepless nights I had while you were away. I even had to take something to help me sleep through the night…”

“Mom…” Zoey stared at her mother’s lonely back. “I was okay.”

“The only saving grace for me was that you were doing well in school. I thought you couldn’t possibly be doing anything with any boy while acing your classes. And you would tell me if you were… to know now that I was wrong is beyond painful.” Her mother turned around, squinting at her daughter. “Are you intimate with him?”

Zoey frowned. “No, Mom. Eli respects my boundaries as I do his.”

Her mother snorted. “Does that one have boundaries?”

“Yes he does, Mom. We haven’t done anything.” She couldn’t believe this type of questioning when her mother’s faults were grave in comparison.

“No smashing?”

Zoey choked in disbelief. “Excuse me?!”

Her mother rolled her eyes. “I’m not some illiterate village person. I know that’s what you people do in the dance clubs, pressing on each other while dancing?”

Zoey’s face burst into flames and she sputtered. “I…” An image flashed in her mind of Eli holding her against him while they slow-danced. She shook her head. “I-I already said we’re not intimate.”

“It all starts with a dance, Zoey. Always.” The knowing glint in her mother’s eyes told her everything she needed to know about her first brother’s beginning.

Zoey groaned. “Does Dad know about this…?”

“About you smashing?”

“Mom please stop… I’m talking about my brother. Does Daddy know?”

Her mother grimaced. “Can you not change the subject?”

“He’s not a passing subject like the weather. How old is he? What does he look like? Where did you leave him and who with?”

Pain flitted her mother’s features. “I don’t know anything about him.”

“Didn’t you care to know? To find him?” The silence was like a slap. “Mom, why—?”

A car horn sounded from downstairs. Both peered over the balcony to see the vehicle carrying both Zoey’s father and Eli enter past the open gates.

“We’ll talk about this later,” her mother spoke and brushed past her before she could respond. Zoey watched sorrowfully as her mother escaped the room and turned to watch her father park the car.

The taillights came on and off. The driver’s door opened and her father exited, pausing briefly before walking into the house. The passenger door remained shut.

Zoey frowned, wondering what Eli was thinking and contemplating whether to go to him. Then the door opened and he stepped out, shutting the door behind him. She lifted two fingers to her lips and blew.

Eleazar looked up, following the sound to the lit balcony where Zoey stood.

“We need to talk?” Zoey called out.

What a strange question to ask—of course they did. He nodded and she stepped away from the balcony, disappearing into the room. He released the breath he’d been holding and turned to the gate, staring out at the shadowed expanse of land behind it.

A tap on his shoulder shook him from his reverie. He turned. Zoey stood there, a shy smile on her face. “Hey…”

He didn’t return it and faced the expanse of land.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“No need.” Eleazar faced her again. “Do you want to break up?”

<<Chapter 11 || Chapter 13>>

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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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