Posts tagged “father and daughter

Refuge: Chapter 11

Posted on 22/01/2019

No one openly challenged Honorable Festus Smith except his wife and sister, sparingly. Everyone else knew better than to exchange superfluous words with the man who didn’t have time for irrelevance. His comrades both in work and church kept their conversations brief since Festus didn’t like ‘drama or frivolities.’ Never mind his wife of thirty-five years was a major drama queen, Festus made up for it with his stoic personality.

Festus Smith didn’t make friends, he just knew people. A paragon of justice and integrity, he was the wet blanket often removing himself from gatherings or town meetings occurring in secret or shaded areas. Festus readily cut ties with any so-called comrade compromising or upending their moral compass. In their community, there was a rumor that he’d once told a former councilman to stop imbibing with devils for support. Many with ties to higher levels in the government had little to no involvement with Festus Smith and his family.

From primary to secondary school, her classmates evaded visiting Zoey at home during the weekends. Expressing her disappointment once some friends declined visiting after JAM exams, they finally gave their answers.

“I’m sorry Zoey but your dad is too scary,”

“He’s no joke,” another said. “My dad says he can even put the president in jail if he could!”

“I mean, is your dad the only one with morals? Why is he acting like Jesus or something?”

But for every criticism of her father, Zoey refused to respond in kind. Instead she accepted that despite her amicable personality, her friends would be few and that was more than okay with her. Nwando, her oldest friend from before elementary school, knew the man behind the stern expression. “Uncle Festus”, as she called him, was a man who fiercely loved his family and had a soft spot for his only daughter.

As long as her moral standing or safety wasn’t jeopardized, Festus let Zoey and her few friends get away with many things. ‘Respectable’ parties and trips around the country were fully sponsored by Daddy Dearest, and he didn’t mind sending a well-crafted reprimand to her school if a professor was ‘out of line’ or ‘overzealous’ in discipline. Those closest to the Smith Family could attest that Festus Smith strongly believed in his children’s futures and readily dealt with anyone who would jeopardize their success.

“Relax,” Nwando’s voice drifted to Zoey’s right ear. She came around to lean against the railing of the balcony in Zoey’s bedroom. “He’ll be fine.”

Zoey shook her head. “I don’t know.” Her eyes looked past the swaying trees to the highway dotted with only a few lights of cars. “They’ve been gone a while.”

Nwando glanced over her shoulder. “I wonder how long it will take to kill him and bury the body…”

Zoey’s glare shortened her friend’s uncanny cackling. “Don’t even joke like that.”

“Zo, relax. Your teddy bear of a dad won’t hurt your boyfriend. He probably just wants to talk with him in private, without your mom screaming like a banshee.”

Zoey grimaced, reliving the horrified look on Mother’s face when Papa laughed in response to Eleazar’s threat to leave for America. “I just can’t understand it.”

“Your mom or your dad?”

She didn’t respond, staring past the highway to the shadowed hills in the distance. The answer was both surprised her tonight and not in a good way. She’d always prided in having fair and reasonable parents but their behavior proved otherwise. Perhaps there was some truth to what her classmates said.

Nwando’s hand covered her shoulder, pulling her back. “Don’t overthink anything just yet. Yes, Eli is rightfully upset but he agreed to go with your father. They might come back the best of friends.”

Zoey stared at her friend of twenty years. “I really hope you’re right.” Eleazar leaving for America now didn’t bode well for their relationship or that of her and her parents.

The two childhood friends sat staring at a sky blanketed with stars, wondering to themselves how years had flown by but things still remained largely the same. Nwando and Zoey glanced at each other and burst into laughter at the same time.

“Did you think what I was thinking?”

“How little has changed?” Zoey drawled, tucking a braid behind her ear. “Yeah.”

Nwando smirked. “I mean your dad’s chilled out though. Remember when he threatened to lock up that one secret admirer from Oniru for following us home?”

“He was a stalker. I still can’t believe you gave him your number after that.”

“He was cute.”

“And you’re a psycho.” Zoey rolled her eyes and propped her elbow against the railing. “I admit Papa’s more laid back but Mom… she’s…” She shook her head, unable to find an adequate word.

“There’s probably a reason for it.” Nwando paused when Zoey straightened. “What?”

“What do you mean by that?” She frowned when Nwando looked away and her heart skipped a beat. “Hey, Nwando. What is it?”

“I didn’t say there’s a problem—”

“Nwando.”

The girls jumped at the voice from behind. Zoey’s mother stood there, arms folded across her chest. She pinned a stern look on Nwando. “Give us a minute.”

“Yes Ma.” Nwando sounded like a ten year old caught lying.

Zoey watched in silence as her best friend practically bolted from the balcony and past her mother out the door. She shifted her gaze from the door to her mother. “Mama?”

Her mother looked past her to the sky and the first smile since Eleazar’s reveal appeared, softening her features. “I love being out here,” she remarked, stepping out into the balcony and standing by her daughter’s side. She drew in a breath and released it with a sigh. “Before I hated your father for dragging me here like an exile… well maybe not hated, but we certainly had fights over it.”

Silent, Zoey stared at her mother’s profile.

“Do you know why I didn’t want you going to America in the first place?”

Zoey frowned.

“Do you?” her mother turned to look at her. “I know you think I’m always trying to control your life but do you know why I was against you studying in America?”

With a sigh, Zoey shook her head. “I really have no idea, Mom.”

“I went to America when I was young, years ago.”

Zoey arched a brow. For some reason, that didn’t sound too far-fetched. Most wealthy Nigerians, even back then, had sent their children to study abroad. Her mother’s family wouldn’t be any different. “Okay…?”

“And it was the worst time of my life.” Her mother’s eyes glistened from the light. “I hated living there and couldn’t wait to come back. Then I met someone.”

Something about the way her mother’s gaze shifted and her tone changed made Zoey’s stomach clench. It was like something from one of her mother’s cheesy soap dramas—the ones where everything went wrong before it got better at the very end.

Zoey swallowed the bile forming in her throat. “Mama, what are you trying to say?”

Her mother sighed deeply. “I was a very stupid girl in America and in the end, I came home disgraced all because of the mistakes I made.”

Air rushed through her ears like she stood inside a wind tunnel. “I don’t… understand.”

“I had a child in America, Zoey, and I left him there to come home.”

“What?!”

Eleazar had never been in a bar quite like this. The hole-in-the-wall bars back home actually had walls and not some column holding the roof up. He shifted uncomfortably in the wobbly stool that threatened to give way under his weight, grabbing the edge of the circular metal table held up by cinderblocks.

Folk music played from a rusty speaker held up by rope to the makeshift ceiling. Aromatic meat roasted a few feet away where Mr. Smith stood in line.

Despite the enticing smell wafting under his nostrils, Eleazar’s stomach was tight with knots.

Mr. Smith turned, carrying a black translucent bag in one hand and the necks of two green bottles in the other. Eleazar sat up as Zoey’s father approached their table and curiously eyed the contents.

“You drink?” Mr. Smith asked, taking a seat opposite him.

Eleazar hesitated at the foreign label and shook his head. “Not really…”

Mr. Smith nudged one of the bottles closer. “Have you had suya before?” he opened the bag, releasing the sweet aroma of roasted meat. “I’ve heard they sell it in America.”

“If it’s what I think it is, I have had some before but it didn’t smell as good as this.”

Chuckling, Mr. Smith unwrapped the oil-stained newspaper to reveal strips of roasted meat and onions. “And won’t taste as good. Eat.” He stabbed one with a toothpick and tossed it in his mouth.

Eleazar followed suit, stuffing his mouth with the juicy meat.

“Wow,” Mr. Smith laughed openly. “You can handle spice?”

Though his tongue tingled, he stabbed yet another piece and dropped it in his mouth. “My sisters cook with spices all the time.”

“I see.” Mr. Smith nodded. “I remember Zoey mentioning your sisters, although she was rather discreet about you…” He shrugged. “I admit being too distracted to ask.”

“Same here. I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to come here,” Eleazar confessed, swallowing the bit about her family’s affluence.

Mr. Smith took a sip of his drink. “My little girl is probably the only Nigerian who despises being rich. Didn’t really like what it did to people. I haven’t either.” He hid his grimace by tossing back the rest of his drink.

Eleazar looked down at the meat, contemplating another piece.

“Please excuse the drama with my wife.”

He looked up and quickly back down, jarred by Mr. Smith’s black eyes fixed on him. “It’s… okay.”

“It’s not.” Mr. Smith set the empty bottle down. “My wife lets her experiences color how she views people. I’m glad Zoey isn’t like that.” He sighed deeply. “Really glad.”

Eleazar didn’t respond, not wanting to talk about Zoey right now.

“I want to thank you for helping my girl during the hurricane. What you and your family did is something I won’t ever take lightly. I’m glad I can express my thanks in person.”

Eleazar didn’t reply, simply waiting for the inevitable ‘but.’

“I know you must be a solid young man or my daughter wouldn’t look twice at you…” He sighed. “But, it’s best that you two end this here.”

Although everything about the night foretold this outcome for him and Zoey, hearing it from Mr. Smith felt like a punch to the side of his face. Eleazar looked up finally and stared at Mr. Smith while he continued.

“Now I know you’ve spent money to come for my niece’s wedding and I don’t plan to end your trip just because of this new development. If you’re fine with it, you are more than welcome to stay with us until the wedding is over. There’s plenty of space, and Lawrence seems to be your size so we can get you suited.”

“Sir, if I may…” Eleazar cut in, his tone as calm as humanly possible. Phoebe would be proud. “With all due respect, I’m not fine with it.”

<<Chapter 10 || Chapter 12>>

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Samina’s Chance: Chapter 48

Posted on 03/06/2015

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They hadn’t held hands in ages. At thirty-years old, it didn’t seem all that necessary as it was when she was ten years old. But when Gabriel grabbed hold of her hand and led her down the winding path, Samina felt a peace she hadn’t felt in years. In introspective silence, they listened to the crickets providing an evening melody, the croaking bullfrogs complementing the tone. Gabriel whistled a tune.

 “Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine.”

Her nose wrinkled before he whistled the next stanza. “Dad, that’s a terrible song …” She raised a brow at him. “It’s about a man losing his daughter to drowning.”

Gabriel choked a laugh. “Oh wow.”

She shrugged, leaning into him as they walked the woven path. “I looked up the lyrics when I was fifteen. It changed my life forever.”

He nudged her shoulder. “Drama queen.”

Samina sighed and propped her head against his shoulder. “You heard everything?”

“Not if you didn’t want me to.”

She twisted her mouth. “Do you… think she’s right?”

Gabriel didn’t answer at first, mulling over his daughter’s words. The silence stretched for a few moments before he released a sigh. “I always used to think you were like your mother; headstrong and frustratingly independent.” He chuckled lowly. “In a way, you are… but I see a lot of myself in you too.”

Samina managed a smile. For so long, she always felt closer to him because they were so much alike. “I’m your mini-me.”

He peered down at her. “You’re my mirror.” He squeezed her hand. “Even when you were just a baby, your eyes always watched me, doing as you saw me do. Funny thing was you took your cues from me.”

She remained quiet, knowing he was right. A memory of a trip to the beach, walking in her father’s large footsteps, came to mind.

“I’m grateful that you are our firstborn, Samina,” he continued. “You set the temperature for the house based on how your mother and I were feeling. Your uncanny ability to moderate and set the mood of the family, it amazes me.”

Samina bit her bottom lip as he stopped walking. He turned to face her, his face shrouded and unreadable under the half-cast moonlight.

“But I’m seeing now, that you took on more than a child should have to. Because I got too comfortable with you and your mom being assertive and strong women, you took on a role you shouldn’t have.”

She blinked, wary of his grave tone. “Dad…”

“It is not your job to be your mother’s husband or your siblings’ father. That’s my job. You’re not supposed to be my mirror, or the family’s thermostat.” His thumbs brushed the back of her hands. “You don’t have to be strong or invincible. Even I can’t. Only God can.”

Tears welled up in her eyes. “Dad…”

“Embrace your weaknesses as well as your strengths, Samina. They are what make you special, what make you beautiful.” He lifted a hand and cupped her cheek. “It’s okay to say that you don’t have all the answers, or that you’re confused with your life’s journey, or that you’re not perfect. No one is perfect.”

Samina drew in her bottom lip, gnawing at it.

“You’re not me, your mom, Karen or Obadiah. God made you special, unique, beautiful in your own way. There’s no need for you to be someone He hasn’t created you to be.”

She nodded, looking down. “I know that…”

“If you know that, why are you confused?”

Samina looked up, her brow furrowed. “I’m not… confused.

“Ok… what is it then?”

She stiffened. He wouldn’t understand; no one ever did. Her eyes tingled. Don’t you dare cry again.

Gabriel’s hands let go of hers and moved to cup her shoulders. “Samina… Everything you’ll ever need in life, God has provided it for you.”

She refrained from rolling her eyes. “Dad…”

“Delay isn’t denial, you know that, don’t you?”

Samina held her tongue. It sure felt like everything in her life was a loud and firm denial, but arguing with him and God didn’t seem appropriate.

He squeezed her shoulders. “In due time, everything you need, will be met. Stop stressing about what will happen and live for today.”

She smiled wryly. “You sound like a fortune cookie, Dad.”

Gabriel chuckled softly. “Don’t think for a moment that I don’t know about you collecting notes from fortune cookies…”

Her cheeks warmed, recalling the box of rolled-up fortune cookies slips under her childhood bed, representing dashed hopes and dreams. ‘Your future is looking bright’; ‘Love is waiting at the next corner’; ‘Keep on believing.’ She’d been a fool to believe in it all.

He sighed, draping an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “My mini-me…”

Samina leaned into him, warmed by the endearment. “Yes, Daddy?”

“Enjoy your life. Don’t dwell on the past, on things you can’t change. Live for today because you can.”

There was a soft wistful lilt to his tone that had Samina peeking up at his shadowed face.

He sighed. “For more than thirty-something years, I lived with regret and wished I could turn back time. I wished I could’ve told Odetta that I feared failing her, or not being the man she thought I was. That’s why I worked hard, knowing that if I didn’t, I might lose her to Jeremiah.”

She frowned. “Uncle?”

Gabriel grunted. “I knew he loved her too, maybe even more than I ever could… and it ate at me every time she talked about what a great and smart guy he was. In a way, I’d made him my yard stick on how to be a man. And even long after Odetta, I still found myself doing that. Seeing how he treated Sheena like she was his precious gift and finding myself wanting.”

Samina bit the inside of her cheek.

“And because I had my eyes on what he was doing, I hurt your mother with neglect.”

Samina had a sneaky suspicion that this was beyond fatherly advice and more so overdue contemplation over his past failings. She slipped an arm around his waist. “Daddy…?”

“Hmm?”

She hesitated. “You… love Mom, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” His voice shook a little. “It’s a matured love that endures in spite of frustrations and insecurities because she’s my precious gift. No matter what, we’ll face every circumstance and struggle together.”

Samina swallowed hard.

“I wish I could say it was love at first sight or that I was head over heels in love with your mother… But I wasn’t. I was still hurt from Odetta’s betrayal and didn’t trust women. But your mother was enduring, patient and stubborn.” He chuckled dryly. “It’s funny; the very thing that attracts you to someone is often the very thing that drives you nuts.”

Samina paused, wondering what about Ezekiel attracted her and drove her nuts at the same time. Gabriel’s hand on her cheek caught her at mid-frown.

“Your sister is right, Samina.” Gabriel brushed her cheek with his thumb. “I rather you wait until you’re sure before you jump into anything in life. Career and in love. Even if you have to wait a while, wait and decide what you really want. When times get tough, and you’ve taken that much-needed time, you won’t regret waiting.”

The peace that had settled in her at the beginning of their walk was long gone, an unsettling feeling resting on her as they made their quiet walk back to the camp. She watched as Gabriel crossed the camp fire to where Deidre sat with Sheena and Jeremiah. With a wistful smile, she watched Gabriel reach for Deidre’s hand and tug her to her feet.

Deidre cocked her head curiously as Gabriel took the seat and patted his lap. Jeremiah and Sheena chuckled, Deidre smacking Gabriel’s shoulder before perching on his lap.

Tamping down a sigh, Samina turned away once the elder couples continued their murmuring and turned to where Karen and Ezekiel’s girls sat together, Beulah leaning into Karen as she re-braided her plaits while Adelaide nibbled on a graham cracker.

Samina snuck away to the tent she shared with Karen, intent on sleeping the cramps and fatigue away. A twig snapped to her left and she hurried into the tent, snapping the flap close. It could be Ezekiel, seeking her response. Or Topher…

She couldn’t face either one right now; not when her thoughts were a discombobulated mess.

Wiggling into the sleeping bag, Samina turned her back and squeezed her eyes tight. The last thought on her mind before drifting off to sleep was what Odetta must’ve felt making her decision.

Topher stood at the bank of the river, his brow furrowed slightly as he took in the orange and pink hues in the sky. The night passed too slowly and with Samina on his brain, he couldn’t sleep. It didn’t help that Obadiah’s guttural snoring was way worse than Nadine’s wheezing. By three in the morning, he’d given up trying and took a long jog around the river, trying to organize his thoughts and his feelings.

He wished to forget what he’d seen earlier that evening; the picture of Ezekiel kneeling before Samina.

“I thought I was the only one who couldn’t sleep past five.”

Topher’s jaw hardened. Though he didn’t know the man long enough, he found himself recognizing the voice of Samina’s boyfriend Ezekiel.

The man stifled a yawn as he came to stand at Topher’s side.

In the wake of their silence, bullfrogs hiding in the reeds along the bank croaked out their melodious beat.

“There’s nothing quite like the great outdoors,” Ezekiel continued, his voice light and cheery.

Topher grunted. It was too early in the morning for merriment.

After a brief pause, Ezekiel spoke again. “I heard about your parents. I’m sorry for your loss.”

He kicked a shoulder, not wanting this man’s sympathy.

“The older I get,” Ezekiel mused aloud. “The more I realize what a small world we live in. It seems everyone is connected somehow.”

He rolled his eyes. What did Samina see in this talkative, annoying fellow?

“That we’re all related in some way, it’s bizarre.” Ezekiel chuckled. “To think that Samina’s friendship with you allowed you to meet our fathers who were your parents’ friends… It’s definitely God.”

Topher bristled inwardly, wishing the man to leave.

Ezekiel then turned to face him. “I’d like us to be friends.”

Topher arched a brow. Did this guy think they were in kindergarten?

“I can see Samina cares for you. A friend of hers is a friend of mine.”

He wanted to laugh. Even with Ezekiel’s warm expression, Topher knew better than to take this man’s words at face value. Just as he stood at Samina’s side, occupying every moment of her time since they arrived at the camp, he was now verbally staking a claim over Samina. Topher felt his lips curl upwards. He did always like a challenge. “And if I don’t agree?”

Ezekiel’s smile froze. “Agree to what, Samina’s feelings for you?”

Topher grinned wider. “The latter. Do we really need to be friends to co-exist in her heart?”

Ezekiel’s smile changed. “I’m not good at sharing.”

“Neither am I,” Topher answered easily, shoving both hands in his pockets. “But this isn’t about sharing a cookie or a toy. Samina’s heart isn’t a toy.”

Ezekiel’s face hardened. “Samina loves me. Always have, always will.”

Topher smiled effortlessly. “Good for you.”

“I plan to marry her.”

He nodded. The image of Ezekiel kneeling was clear as day in his mind. “I know.”

“She will be my wife.”

Topher cocked a brow at Ezekiel’s face now taut with increasing irritation. The self-assuredness he’d assumed earlier was now absent in his expression. “Is that merely an assumption or a known fact?”

Ezekiel narrowed his eyes then, lips pursed tight. “Don’t confuse her.”

“What, you’re scared she’ll refuse?” Topher raised both brows. “That she has a better option than the one you’re proposing?”

Ezekiel scoffed. “You’re joking. Do you know her at all?”

“Do you?” Topher smirked as Ezekiel’s smile waned. “So what she had a crush on you? Does that give you full reins of her heart?”

Without warning, Ezekiel grabbed hold of Topher’s collar, face darkening with a scowl. “Who are you to say that? What do you know?”

Unaffected, Topher just stared down at him. “And who are you to decide what she wants?”

Ezekiel’s fists tightened on Topher’s t-shirt. “Shut your mouth.”

Topher breathed a laugh. “I’m not in the mood to repeat history here. Let go or I’ll make you.”

A round of claps alerted both men, the raging fires within sizzling as they turned to see Samina standing in the clearing. Ezekiel’s hands loosened around Topher’s shirt and he quickly stepped away. Topher didn’t blink as Samina walked forward, clapping her hands slowly.

“A round of applause,” Samina drawled out, stepping fully out of the shadows. “What an awesome performance, gentlemen.”

“Sam, I can explain…” Ezekiel stepped forward.

“Explain what exactly?” Samina glared at both men. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you two were kids fighting over a toy.”

Topher swallowed a curse. Ezekiel inhaled sharply. She’d heard everything.

She folded both arms across her chest, her brow furrowed. “So what were you going to do, fight knowing your daughters could walk in on you two?”

“No one was going to fight,” Ezekiel insisted, his tone growing agitated. “I was just…”

“Warning him off? Making veiled threats?” Samina turned to Topher before Ezekiel could explain but could only shake her head. “I don’t recognize either of you.”  She turned away, hand to her head.

Ezekiel stepped closer but Topher grabbed his shoulder to stop him. He scowled when Ezekiel shrugged him off and closed the distance. He glared at Ezekiel as the man draped an arm around Samina’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, baby,” Ezekiel murmured, loud enough for Topher to hear but soft enough to sound contrite.

Topher wanted nothing more than to grab Ezekiel by the collar and push him away from Samina. Instead he stood and waited in silence. It wasn’t his place to interfere, even if he desperately wanted to.

Samina elbowed Ezekiel to keep her distance. “Stop.” She glared up at him. “Even now, you’re still doing it. Stop it, for goodness’ sake.”

Dumbfounded, Ezekiel gaped at her. “Sam…”

“I’m not a toy, Ezekiel.” Samina snapped, indignant. “I decide what and who I want, not you.”

Ezekiel’s mouth opened and closed, eyes blinking.

“What do you want then?” Topher heard himself speak.

Samina turned to him, eyes sizzling. “I thought I knew but now… I don’t know.”

Ezekiel frowned. “But—”

“And until I’m sure, I don’t want to talk to either of you about it.” Samina hitched her chin. “And don’t you dare follow me or try to change my mind. Punch your stupid heads in for all I care. Good day!” She spun on her heels and stormed off.

Ezekiel puffed out an exasperated breath in her wake and dragged a hand over his face.

Topher slowly released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding all this time.

Grunting, Ezekiel turned to him with a ‘now what’ expression and Topher did everything he could to keep from laughing. He was not in the mood to fight anyone, especially not now.

With a sigh, Topher turned to face the lake just as the sun rose above the trees.

<<Chapter 47 || Chapter 49>>

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