“Zozo, my personal person,” greeted the fuzzy image of a young woman on the screen as Zoey settled on her bed. “How far?”
Zoey folded one leg under the other, positioning one foot in front to paint her nails. “What’s with that greeting? You sound very local.”
“Really? Well, I’m practicing for the upcoming festivities. How na?”
“I’m cool.” She snorted when the young woman cocked her head to one side. “I dey kam, Nwababy.”
The young woman cackled. “So you haven’t lost it after all.”
Zoey paused and looked at the screen. “Nwando, abi you forget I lived in Lagos for most of my life?”
“Well, you know what they say about those that move to America.”
“No, what do they say?” Zoey resumed painting her little toe.
“They forget all about their roots.”
“Anyway, how far na? Getting ready for your trip back? Spring break, abi?”
“This your local speech is killing my vibe.”
“Abeg, answer jare.”
Zoey grabbed a cotton swab. “Kinda. Which reminds me of what I wanted to ask you.”
“Ah, so you didn’t call for regular gist?”
“Well, I did…”
“Nonsense girl. What’s up?”
Zoey stared at her friend’s image. “I haven’t been very good about calling you, Nwando. I’m sorry.”
“Ah, don’t get serious on me,” Nwando laughed, waving her off. “We’re good, girl. I know you’ve got your thesis occupying you. Not to talk of that oyinbo boyfriend of yours.”
Zoey scowled. “He’s not oyinbo, Nwando.”
“Looks it to me.”
“He’s half…” Zoey shook her head. “Whatever. Back to my favor.”
Zoey drew in a breath. “Can your uncle help me get a visa?”
Nwando blinked. “You have a passport, Zo.”
“It’s not for me.”
Nwando frowned. “For your oyin–I mean, your dude? Wait, so you’re bringing him?!”
Zoey nodded. “Yeah, I am.”
“Oshe, brave girl.” Nwando shook her head, wonder in her tone. “And he knows he’s coming to your cousin’s grand wedding extravaganza?”
“Yeah. I asked him and he said he’ll come.”
“Wow. So he knows everything then?”
Zoey shifted in her seat. “Not really.”
Nwando laughed, clapping her hands. “This is rich. Your boyfriend of a year has no idea he’s dating the only daughter of Honorable Festus Smith and Your Highness–”
“Cut it out, Nwando. I’ll tell him.”
“Oh really, when? While boarding premium double-decker first class or greeted in Nigeria by an entourage of limos and bodyguards?”
Imagining the shock on Eli’s face, Zoey hesitated. “I haven’t really decided how yet.”
“You’re not serious.” Nwando sighed. “Fine. Let’s settle the visa matter first. If he gets denied, you won’t have to…” she trailed off when Zoey shot her a look. “Just kidding. Look why don’t you ask your dad to hook you up? It’ll go faster.”
“Are you mad?” Zoey scowled. “That’s not how I want to bring up the fact that I have a boyfriend.”
“Wow!” Nwando clapped, amusement displayed on her face. “You mean to tell me no one knows about this guy?”
Nwando choked on a laugh. “Lucky me. Your mom will make suya out of me if she found out I knew.”
“Quietly get me the visa and no one becomes roasted meat.”
“Crazy girl,” Nwando muttered, grabbing her phone.
“Yeah whatever. Tell your boyfriend who you are.” Nwando’s expression was stern. “There’s nothing worse than being lied to.”
Zoey averted her gaze. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault I got played.” Nwando’s smile barely reached her eyes. She lifted the phone to her ear and after a brief pause, she smiled wider. “Good afternoon, sir. It’s Nwando. Yes sir, I’m fine, sir. Amen… Uncle, do you have a few minutes?”
Taking this as her cue to disappear, Zoey waved at her friend and once Nwando winked in reply, she quickly disconnected. Drawing in a breath, she released it slowly and looked down at her toes. Cringing at the sight, she grabbed clean cotton swabs and began cleaning up her mess.
A jingle sounded from the laptop and Zoey tapped the button to accept the video call. “What’s up?”
“He said he’ll get on it.”
Zoey looked up. “That’s quick.”
Nwando shrugged. “Anything for His Royal Highness.”
She sighed deeply. “Will you chill with that please?”
“Okay, sorry. Have you at least told Paula about your plus one? We received her RSVP card and my mom’s still pissed at the insult. Imagine!”
Before Zoey could respond, a blue heart icon flashed in front of Nwando’s pixelated face. “It’s Eli. Gotta go.”
“Alright Zo, but tell that your boyfriend o. Don’t let him come here like a fool and leave like one too. Bye.” The chat window went black, leaving the dancing blue heart on the screen.
Zoey released a breath before connecting to the incoming call. Yet instead of Eli’s usually-scruffy image, that of a young boy and girl filled the screen. She grinned. “Hey guys.”
“Hi!” the girl waved and the boy followed suit albeit with less enthusiasm.
“What’s wrong, August?” Zoey asked, noting his adorable pout. Even though he was twelve, he reminded her of a little boy. Eli warned her never to speak of it or risk the moody adolescent’s wrath.
“He’s sulking,” Karla answered matter-of-factly.
“Cos you took the last one.” He glared at her.
Karla licked a bright-yellow popsicle. “Get over it.”
Zoey fought a smile at the vehemence on August’s face and the nonchalance on Karla’s. “Aw, that’s not nice, Karla. What happened to sharing?”
“He didn’t share the cookies yesterday and I didn’t complain about it,” Karla protested.
“You don’t even like sugar cookies!”
“You could’ve asked me first,” Karla countered. Then she turned to the screen with a smile. “We miss you, Aunt Zo.”
Zoey returned the smile. “I miss y’all too.”
“Then come over. Mama’s making lasagna.”
Karla rolled her eyes and Zoey fought yet another laugh. August reminded her too much of her only brother, Law. She’d have to call him too. Her stomach rumbled.
“Yummy. I’ll bring some cookies when I come.” Zoey answered over her unsettling nerves. “I’m guessing your uncle doesn’t know you’re calling me?” She allowed the giggle that tickled her throat as the two glanced at each other. “Alright, get going before he catches you. I’ll see you in a few.”
“Kay, bye!” Karla leaned forward and the screen suddenly went black.
Zoey laughed openly. The fear of facing their uncle’s anger must’ve made the cousins shut down the laptop completely, which would only seal their fate as Eli was probably working on yet another code.
Shaking her head, she unfolded her legs and wiggled her toes to inspect her work. The amused smile eased away as Nwando’s parting words echoed in her thoughts and her shoulders dropped in resignation.
She’d have to tell Eli sooner than later… but maybe she could wait just a little while longer?
It took less than an hour to get to Eli’s childhood home and Zoey smiled as she parked near the sidewalk to their house. Her gaze swept over the place she’d spent a week and a half, harbored from the high waters and turbulent storms of Hurricane Harvey a year prior.
She’d barely met Eli at a Subway restaurant a day before the high waters threatened her apartment complex across town, and he’d invited her to bunker down at his family home. She’d hesitated then, not wanting to impose… but getting to spend time with his brothers and sister, their spouses and many children was a memory she cherished dearly.
Even after the flood was declared over and her apartment deemed safe to return to, Zoey was reluctant leaving the Teka family home. She’d gotten so used to being with them and didn’t hesitate to return when invited.
Grabbing the box of warm cookies and her purse from the front seat, Zoey exited her car and started up the sidewalk to the front door.
It opened before she reached it, and Zoey laughed as August’s expectant stare barely skimmed her face before dropping to the box in her hand. “Hey to you too. Here.”
“Where are your manners, August?” the stern voice of his aunty Phoebe who stepped around her nephew heading upstairs with the cookies. Her smile brightened on Zoey. “Hey girl. Karla said you’d be stopping by.”
“Hope that’s okay?”
Phoebe squinted at her. “Of course it’s okay. This is your home. Come in.”
The warmth of those words spread all over Zoey like a blanket as did Phoebe’s arms wrapping around her in an embrace. Zoey let herself be hugged; Phoebe gave the best hugs.
“Let the girl come in first,” another familiar voice sounded from behind.
Zoey raised her head and smiled. “Hi Geri.”
“Hey you. It’s been a minute.”
“Sorry,” Zoey mumbled, stepping around Phoebe to approach the woman standing by the stairs. Geri, Eli’s second sister-in-law, was not into hugs but she gave them almost as freely as Phoebe. Zoey accepted the embrace but didn’t stay too long.
Geri patted her shoulder. “Totally fine. We know you’re busy.” She winked and glanced over at Phoebe. “The bread’s ready.”
“Good, thanks.” Phoebe breezed past the two. “Get comfortable, Zo. We’ll be eating in a few.”
“If you’re looking for Eli, he’s upstairs trying to fix something.”
Zoey held back a smile. “Where’s Karla?”
“Hiding,” Geri answered with a glint in her eye. Then she chuckled. “I’ll be back. Gotta go get the twins from soccer practice.” She waved her keys and walked past Zoey toward the door. “Feel free to join Eli, although he’s currently Mr. Grouch right now.”
“Kay…” As Geri exited the house, Zoey’s eyes lifted to the stairs and her stomach turned. Maybe tonight wasn’t the right night to let him know; fixing codes were a nightmare. She shook her head and turned toward the kitchen. “Phoebe, do you need any help?”
“Sure!” The matriarch of the Teka home answered as she inspected the fresh loaf. “Wanna prep the garlic bread?”
“Definitely. It smells amazing.”
“Why thank you,” a voice from behind startled Zoey and she whirled around to see Eli’s sister, Darah, cradling her sleeping daughter against her bosom. The woman smiled. “Hey Zoey.”
For some reason, Zoey always tripped around Darah. She managed a smile, trying not to read into Darah’s pointed gaze. “H-Hi Darah…” She dropped hers to the sleeping child and smiled. “She’s so cute.”
“More when she’s sleeping,” Darah murmured, brushing a kiss against her daughter’s temple. Then her gaze returned to Zoey. “So, how are your exciting spring break plans coming along?”
Zoey’s stomach dropped. “Uh…”
“What spring break plans?” Phoebe asked, nudging the loaf pan and a bread knife to Zoey. “You going somewhere fancy?”
Darah’s brow furrowed. “Wait, Eli didn’t tell you guys yet?”
“Tell us what?” Phoebe frowned. Her gaze swung to Zoey. “Is something wrong?”
Darah clucked her tongue. “That boy is so secretive. Apparently, Zoey invited Eli to go to Lagos with her for spring break.” Her gaze pinned on Zoey. “Your sister’s getting married, right?”
“My cousin,” Zoey mumbled and swallowed hard.
“Wait, Lagos as in Nigeria?”
Both Darah and Zoey turned to look at Phoebe.
“What on earth? Why wouldn’t he tell us something like that?”
“Tell us something like what?” inquired a deep voice and Zoey jumped yet again. She turned around to see a tall bald man stride past them to stand beside Phoebe. He smiled in greeting. “Hey Zo, long time.”
“Hey Abe…” It took everything in her not to add the ‘sir’, especially to a man the age of her youngest maternal uncle. But she had no choice; Abe was Eli’s brother not father. “Yeah, sorry about that.”
“No need to be sorry. Life gets busy…” he trailed off, catching his wife’s expression. His brow furrowed. “What’s going on?”
Phoebe pressed the bridge of her nose. Darah sighed, “Eli’s going to Africa. Again.”
“Why?” Abe frowned. “Junior didn’t mention anything to me.”
“Not Ethiopia, Abe,” Phoebe answered a bit impatiently. “Lagos, Nigeria.”
“Huh?” His frown deepened. “Who’s in Lagos?”
“My family…” Zoey answered, her stomach in knots. As three pairs of eyes pinned on her, Zoey wished for the first time that she hadn’t invited Eli to come with her.
**Note: The friends, Zoey and Nwando, communicated in a form of pidgin English common among Nigerians.