Posts tagged “Friends

Refuge: Chapter 4

Posted on 19/09/2018

“Y’know you’re acting weird, right?” Eli muttered, peering over the seat in front of him at the line of people still waiting to board the flight.

Beside him, Zoey hunched over and adjusted the oversized sunshades over her face. “No, I’m not,” she whispered.

Eli arched a brow. She’d insisted on her old baggy hoodie and jeans for comfort and he could give her that since he opted for cargo shorts and his favorite Bowser t-shirt, but the sunglasses made little sense. “What’s going on, Zo—”

“Shh!”

He frowned. “You a spy or something?”

“Or something. Shh.” She ducked her head and pulled the hoodie around her head as a passenger stopped beside them.

Eli turned to the heavy-set man glaring at them and raised a questioning brow.

“That’s my seat.”

Eli blinked at the man’s reproachful tone and offending hand near his face. “Which one?”

The man’s upper lip curled in a snarl. “You can’t read? That’s my seat.”

“I said which—” Zoey elbowed his side, reminding him of the vow to remain composed throughout their trip. Eli drew in a calming breath. “Please check again, Sir.”

“Are you deaf? I said that’s my seat!”

Behind him, the other passengers grew impatient. Some scowled at the irate man while some glared at Eli. Another passenger drew a long hiss and shoved past, causing the obstinate man to stumble over his oversized bag and into Eli’s legs. Instead of apologizing, the portly man cursed loud and shoved at Eli’s legs. The passengers grumbled over the inconvenience.

Eli started to rise when Zoey clamped a death grip on his arm. He turned his scowl on her.

Zoey shook her head, refusing to let go.

“What’s going on?” someone bellowed above the chaos. A flight attendant made her way down the other aisle, concern etched in her face. “What seems to be the problem?”

“The problem is this oyinbo in my seat,” the irate man snapped, a harsh contrast to her placating tone.

“He has the wrong seat,” Eli insisted, arms folded to keep from shoving the man’s hand from his face.

The passengers grumbled, not caring for any of it.

The flight attendant barely skimmed the young couple and focused her attention on the scowling man. “Let me see your ticket, sir.”

“Why do you need to see my ticket? Check theirs—”

“Your ticket, sir?” she held out a hand.

“Let her see it already!” someone called from the back.

The man hesitated before handing it over.

She studied it for only just a moment and shook her head before handing it back. Her icy-blue eyes turned to the couple. “I’m sorry for the convenience.” Then faced their accuser. “You’re in row R, sir. This is row K. Please move forward.” She turned to help a young traveler struggling with her bags.

A few scoffs and grumbles articulated Eli’s disgust as the man awkwardly pushed his luggage forward.

The other travelers barely gave Eli a glance as they continued down the aisle, mumbling on their way.

“Unbelievable.”

“Leave it,” Zoey muttered.

“Did you see that? He didn’t like his seat so he wanted to fool us into giving away ours? That’s crazy.”

“Leave it, E…” She ducked her head again as the same flight attendant returned to their side.

“Excuse me,” the woman said quietly, eyes on Eli. “Sorry again for the convenience. We have two seats in first class if you’d like to upgrade—”

“We’re fine,” Zoey answered quickly.

“But it won’t cost you anything.” The attendant’s expression matched Eli’s piteous one. ” And it looks like your boyfriend wouldn’t mind. There’s more room for your legs.”

“I said we’re fine, thank you.”

Eli raised a brow at Zoey. Why turn down free first-class seats?

The attendant shrugged. “Okay, if you insist.” Her gaze swept over Eli and she smiled sympathetically before walking away.

Eli settled in his chair and sighed, silently bidding farewell to a gift he almost had.

“Are you upset?”

“Not really.” He leaned his head back. “Just never flown first-class before. Guess I wouldn’t know whether I’m missing anything or not.”

Zoey scooted close and rested her cheek on his shoulder. “I’ll make it up to you.”

Eli peered down at her pouting face. He smirked, irritation giving way to curiosity. “How?”

“Dunno.” Zoey laughed. “But somehow I will.”

“Not good enough.”

She giggled and leaned in to kiss his cheek. “Better?”

Someone snorted from behind and kneed Zoey’s seat hard. Eli started to turn when she gripped his arm. “Leave it, I know,” sighed Eli and settled back in his seat.

When she cuddled closer, Eli stared at her shadowed reflection on the blank screen before him. “Will you keep the hoodie and glasses on?”

“Maybe…”

“Kinda hard to watch movies.”

“I’ll figure it out. Maybe I’ll sleep some. Barely did yesterday.”

He nodded; his night was spent alternating between packing and finishing up a project for a client. Two hours was the most sleep he had before heading to the airport with Zoey. “Nervous about going home?”

Zoey was silent for a moment before she nodded. “A little.”

“Don’t worry.” Eli moved a hand over her leg and squeezed gently. “I’m here.”

It was meant to encourage her, his words, but they only unsettled her frazzled nerves more. The disguise was ridiculously uncomfortable but not as uncomfortable as sitting beside Eli, knowing that in less than fourteen hours, he would come to the rude awakening of who she was and there would be no escaping it then.

Yet she waited until they were 11,000 feet off the ground and in route to London before drawing in a breath. “E…”

“Man, I wish we took those seats.” He stretched his legs and peered down at her. “Hmm?”

Zoey drew back her words. Eli reached down and tugged off her sunglasses. “Hmm?”

“Nothing.” Zoey closed her eyes and ignored the nagging in her head. Later, she promised herself, scavenging for what decency she had left.

“By the way, my visa came in quick.”

Zoey’s eyes shot open. Her pulse quickened.

He was smiling. “I thought it would take a few weeks—”

“It doesn’t always take that long,” Zoey answered in hushed tones. “You got lucky.”

“Probably,” he whispered back, grin boyish. “’Cos my visa to Ethiopia took forever to come. My brothers, especially Abe and Bart, kept acting like it wouldn’t. By far the longest month of my life. But the summer made up for it.”

Zoey looked down at her sunshades in his hand. “Do your siblings always give you a hard time?”

“More now than before.” Eli sighed. “It’s annoying but that’s the fate of a last born. I’m used to it.”

“Are you though?”

“Some days it’s just stupid.” He paused briefly. “But nah, don’t think anyone gets used to being harassed.”

Zoey cringed. A few family members were long-time harassers, and even she couldn’t bear their crass humor.

“You tired?”

“Hmm, I hate turbulence.”

“Me too.” Eli rested his head against hers. “Y’know, I can’t say yo’ve told me much about your folks.”

Her erratic pulse jumped against her throat.

“Except for their names, you rarely talk about them. Besides Nwando, I guess.” Eli’s cheek brushed against her hoodie. “I know you’re the oldest of two, with a brother… Lawrence?”

“Law,” Zoey corrected gently. “He hates being called Lawrence.”

“Ah right. Good thing you told me.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “How old is he?”

“Nineteen.”

“Okay, almost Isaac’s age. Are they similar?”

Zoey pictured the first son of Abe and Phoebe. “Yeah and no. He’s less of a model son and more of a spoiled brat.”

“Sure, no one can beat Isaac in manners,” Eli chuckled. “And your cousin getting married, what’s her name again?”

“Paula.”

“Okay, Paula.”

“We won’t get to hang out with her. Nigerian weddings can be crazy hectic.”

He snorted. “I can only imagine. My siblings all had unconventional and small weddings. All hands on deck, even with Junior’s in Ethiopia.”

Zoey paused, wondering what his wedding would be like. If he married her, there would be nothing small about it.

“So, go on…”

“What else do you wanna know?”

Eli laughed softly. “You’re being weird again.”

Zoey frowned. “What’s wrong with what I said?”

“Every time I ask about your folks, you get vague. Hiding something, my cryptic beauty?” He nuzzled her cheek.

Zoey’s stomach did a somersault and she leaned away from his touch. “I need to pee.”

Eli’s narrowed stare pierced through her and the minute he loosened his hold, she stood abruptly and climbed over his legs to rush up the aisle for the nearest bathroom.

Zoey took time drying her hands minutes later, reluctant to return to Eli’s side; a first in their one-year relationship. Keeping secrets this big was a first too and she knew he’d react badly to it. Drawing in a breath, she stared at herself in the mirror and released it along with the truth in her head. “I’m not who you think I am, Eli. I’m not a broke international student Zo–”

A sharp rap on the door startled the words from her mouth.

Zoey wiped the moisture from her brow and turned to open the door.

A young woman with bright red lipstick and painted eyes stood in Zoey’s path. She squinted at Zoey for what seemed like a lifetime and then re-directed her gaze. “‘Scuse me.”

Zoey released a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and started down the aisle back to her seat.

“Wait a minute!”

Cold slithered up her heels and she turned slowly.

The young woman was now grinning, pointing a manicured finger at her. “I think I know you.”

Zoey gripped the hoodie that did nothing to mask her features. “I don’t think so…”

“Yeah!!” The young woman laughed. “I should’ve known when you walked past me the first time.”

Eyes from every side turned to look and Zoey froze like a dried-up specimen under a microscope. “You got the wrong–”

“Paula Ibazi’s cousin right?”

Zoey flinched as the woman closed the distance between them. “You look just like her. Omigosh, yeah! Same face and everything.”

She could’ve argued that the only resemblance was their complexion and eye-shape but that wouldn’t help the matter. She’d been discovered, even with her baggy hoodie. Zoey could feel her heart beating fast as the woman studied her carefully.

“So you’re traveling home for the wedding? Me too! I didn’t know you lived in Houston. Why are you in economy class? That’s crazy.” Her eyes moved past Zoey. “Was that guy your bodyguard or something?”

Zoey scowled as the woman’s raised voice. “Listen, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Hey, you!” the woman called over Zoey’s head, ignoring the travelers gawking at them. “Are you her bodyguard?”

Everything stopped in that moment except Zoey’s racing heartbeat. Her feet stayed rooted, knowing that the minute she turned around, Eli would be standing there with a confused look on his face.

Time started again and Zoey felt a warm hand settle on her shoulder. She turned, and the flight attendant from earlier was beaming warmly at her. Almost fondly. Zoey blinked, glancing around for Eli and the woman who’d ousted her. Only she and the flight attendant stood. Even the passengers were occupied with movies, food and napping. “What?”

“Please take your seat, Miss. You’re blocking the aisle.”

Warmth flooded Zoey’s cheeks but embarrassment was better than what she dreaded. “Sorry,” she mumbled and edged past the flight attendant back to her seat.

Eli focused on the lit screen while munching on the meal before him. He glanced up upon her arrival and arched a brow. “You good?”

Zoey nodded, realizing it was just her crazy imagination. No one recognized her on this flight and her secret was safe. For now. “Yup,” she answered a bit too cheerily and climbed over his legs to settle beside him. “Just fine.” She stole a piece of fruit from his plate and snuggled close to watch the blockbuster movie.

Later… she told herself, wishing time would stand still a little longer.

<<Chapter 3 || Chapter 5>>

Advertisements

Refuge: Chapter 2

Posted on 11/09/2018

“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.”

“Whatever.”

“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.”

“Go on.”

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?”

“You do.”

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.

“Thanks, Nwababy.”

“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.”

“Urgh.”

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?”

“Uh…”

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.

<<Chapter 1 || Chapter 3>>

%d bloggers like this: