Posts tagged “interference

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 45

Posted on 26/05/2015

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Deidre had one last moment of rebellion as she took in the too-brilliant smile Ezekiel gifted her daughter. He started to pull back Samina’s chair, intent on sitting beside her. Topher was rounding the table to sit by Jeremiah.

“Uh, Zeke,” she spoke up, ignoring the warning in Sheena’s glare. “Why don’t you sit by your father?”

Topher stopped short. Samina’s eyes flew to his.

Jeremiah snorted, pulling his chair out. “No need for that, Dee. The kids are fine where they are.”

“Indeed,” Sheena clipped out with a stiff smile on her lips.

Deidre clenched her jaw and squinted at her friend.

“Actually, Topher,” Gabriel spoke up, gesturing to the chair on his left. “Come sit here so we can get acquainted.” He met Deidre’s gaze and offered her a half-smile.

Deidre blinked at his wary smile and though they had much to settle between them, she answered with one of hers.

Jeremiah raised a brow. “What’s with the musical chairs? He’s fine where he is.”

“Ooh, musical chairs!” Beulah cooed as Ezekiel helped her onto her chair, boosted up by a cushion or two.

The adults shared a chuckle, Topher catching the gentle smile Samina cast on Ezekiel’s little girl before he looked away. Deidre didn’t miss this and lifted her stubborn chin. “I insist. Ezekiel?”

The man noticed her raised brow and his knotted in consternation. “Uh, well…”

Karen sighed and nudged Ezekiel aside. “I’ll switch with him, no problem.”

Obadiah frowned at the now-empty seat by him. He glanced over at Topher. “Let’s sit together. You play basketball?”

Sheena pouted. Deidre preened as Ezekiel trudged to the seat across from Samina. Gabriel and Jeremiah glanced at each other and smirked.

Topher smiled as he moved to take the empty seat. “A little.”

“You look like a basketball player,” Karen said. “You’re tall enough.”

“He’s not that tall…” Adelaide muttered and all eyes turned to her. She shrugged her bony shoulders nonchalantly, although her critical gaze swept over Topher. At the mature age of nine, she could read people very well. She knew when her father was unsure or nervous. Like now, fidgeting in his seat, with his jaw clenching and unclenching. All because the tall stranger made Auntie Sammie stare like he was the only person in the room. Immediately she didn’t like this guy.

Then he turned to look at her. “You’re right, Adelaide. I’m not that tall.” Topher gave her a smile that almost blinded her.

She blinked.

He winked and she felt her cheeks warm.

Adelaide looked down. “Laide…” she mumbled shyly.

Both Ezekiel and Samina gaped as Adelaide furtively glanced at him through lowered lashes. Samina raised both brows. So Topher’s exuberant charm extended to reserved adolescents also?

“Maybe you’ll join me and a couple of guys later for a game or two?” Obadiah asked, taking a sip of his water. “We’d love to have you on our team.”

Gabriel cleared his throat before Topher could answer. “Let’s say a prayer first. Some of us are starved.”

Ezekiel sought Samina’s eyes after the quick prayer but she dutifully kept her head bowed for an extra minute. He smiled. Her devotion for God was incredible. His heart warmed with pride that she could be his one day.

Leaning into Karen, Beulah giggled as Karen wiped a smudge of mashed potatoes from her cheek. Ezekiel smiled but Karen purposely avoided looking his way.

“So, yeah you will?” Obadiah nudged Topher just as he began to eat.

Jeremiah chuckled. “Obad, let the man eat first.” He winked at Topher before cutting into his ribeye steak.

“I thought you were heading back to Canada…” Samina spoke softly, finally lifting her gaze to his.

Ezekiel frowned. Sheena and Deidre both raised brow at her forlorn tone. Gabriel leaned into his seat.

Topher paused at cutting his own steak and looked up. “We will… Any day now.”

Feeling the full attention on them, Samina lowered her eyes. “I see,” she answered stiffly and remained quiet.

Jeremiah frowned. “Nadine, how is she?” His gaze skittered over Gabriel’s face, noting the tension between his eyes.

Topher kicked a shoulder. “She’s on the mend.”

“I should visit her before you two leave.” He gave Topher a smile and returned to eat his food.

“Why Canada?” Gabriel spoke softly.

Topher took his time chewing, mulling over the question. “Nadine said my fath—Maurice worked there.” He shrugged. “I guess he prepared a place for her there.”

Gabriel nodded, his features solemn, thoughtful.

Jeremiah sighed but didn’t say anything else. No doubt the two friends thought of their dead friend and all they’d missed over the years.

Again, Topher’s gaze collided with Samina’s. She offered him a smile, albeit wobbly and unsure. This time, he just stared back instead of looking away, sorrow plain in those striking grays of his.

She swallowed hard as her heart skipped a beat. Oh how lonely he looked, even surrounded by people. How she wished to reach across the table and grab his hand and—

“So Zeke,” Deidre spoke up. “How’s house hunting?”

Samina’s face lit aflame and she broke eye contact instantly, mortified that she’d forgotten where they were.

“We saw a purple house!” Beulah piped up, flashing her toothy smile. “Daddy said we’ll buy it.”

Ezekiel smiled indulgently. “I said we might, Bumblebee…” His warm gaze skittered over Samina before returning to Deidre. “We’re working on it.”

Samina dipped her chin, training her eyes on the steak and potatoes on her plate. Her heart was hammering in her breast and she would’ve held a hand to her chest if not for the hawk-eyes trained on her.

The lunch ended with no incidents and the men stood from the table, grunting their appreciation. Topher quietly stacked his dish over Obadiah’s. Deidre brushed his hands aside. “You’re a guest. We’ll take care of it. Go watch the game with the men.”

“Nadine’ll have my hide if I let you clean up after cooking. I’ll do it.” Topher granted her a smile that warmed all the women’s hearts all over. Even Sheena couldn’t help but grin.

Obadiah wrinkled his nose but followed suit, stacking a few plates and trudging after Topher to the kitchen.

“What a nice young man,” Deidre cooed, openly admiring the broad-shouldered man standing by the kitchen sink. “He’s not afraid to do housework. He’ll make a wonderful husband.”

Sheena snorted at her pointed words and folded her arms.

The rest of the men grunted. “And what are we, chopped liver?” Jeremiah countered good-naturedly, nudging Gabriel on the shoulder.

“Maybe I’ll marry him,” Karen teased as she wiped Beulah’s cheek.

Samina frowned as a pang tingled her insides. She avoided her mother’s eyes.

“You’re too old!” Adelaide protested, the adults chuckling softly.

Sheena laughed a bit too loudly and gathered her oldest granddaughter in a hug. “I think you have competition, Karen dear.”

Karen grinned audaciously at Adelaide’s blazing eyes challenging her. “Is that so?”

“You’re too young.” Ezekiel smoothed a hand over Adelaide’s puffy hair. He glanced once at Topher and Obadiah, his brow drawing a frown that persisted long into the evening.

Hours later, Samina trudged out onto the driveway beside him, smiling as Beulah and Adelaide raced to their car. She drew in a breath as Ezekiel’s fingers sought hers. Glancing once at his shadowed features, she noticed the absent smile on his face and stopped short. “Hmm?”

Ezekiel grabbed her other hand, lacing their fingers together as he came to stand before her. “You alright, Sam?” The pad of his thumbs brushed her palms.

She avoided his perceptive gaze even under the dim light of the half moon. “Uh-hmm…” was all she could muster for even if she wasn’t okay, there was no way she could disclose the reasons for her jumbled thoughts. It wouldn’t be fair to him.

He inclined his head closer, attempting to peer at her face. She held her breath, only releasing it when he leaned away. “I would kiss you if not for the faces pressed against the front window of your house.” He chuckled as Samina jerked her face up. “Oh, who cares?” Ezekiel leaned forward and planted a peck on her lips.

Samina jerked back, more surprised than she should’ve been.

He raised a brow, smile unrepentant. “What?”

She drew in her lips as his eyes focused on them. No doubt her parents, his parents, her siblings and Topher watched them from the window. Her stomach did a somersault, stealing away her breath. Topher. What if he saw? What would he think?

Ezekiel tugged one hand free and brushed back stubborn tendrils of hair that tickled her cheek. “I hope I’m not moving too fast for you… am I?”

Samina just stared as he tucked the hair behind her ears, his fingers brushing the skin of her nape. She stiffened her shoulders. “And if you are?”

He raised a brow, fingers paused. “I am?”

She looked over her shoulder at Beulah bouncing in the backseat, a frowning Adelaide wagging her finger in protest. One corner of her lips lifted in a wry smile. “I don’t know.” Her mother questioning if she was ready to be anyone’s mother plagued her thoughts more today than before. Although she loved Ezekiel’s daughters, Samina wondered now if she really could step into the role of stepmother. Her chest tightened.

“Sam…” Ezekiel’s gentle voice drew her attention. His smile was missing. “You know I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want, right? You know I respect and love you, don’t you?”

Samina searched his face, knowing the lines of his face that she’d memorized over the years. This was the face of the man she’d loved for all her adolescent life. She’d dreamt of being his wife, the mother of his children. Could she give up this chance just because of a passing fancy?

Ezekiel squeezed her hand, a ghost of a smile twitching his lips. “You do, don’t you?”

“What?”

He smirked. “Love me too, right?”

Samina bit the inside of her cheeks. She did, didn’t she? Breaking eye contact, she leaned into him and pressed her forehead against his shoulder. “Yeah…” Topher was just a passing fancy. He’d leave town and she’d never see him again, and her conflicted heart would finally settle on what it really wanted. Ezekiel. Right?

An hour after Topher left the house with Jeremiah and Sheena tailing, Samina sat up in her seat and gaped at her parents. “What did you just say?” There was no way she heard him correctly, yet her heart pounded violently.

“We’re going camping,” Gabriel repeated, not breaking eye-contact.

“With everyone.” Deidre grinned from ear-to-ear, though not as keen on adventure as she was on potential time to set her plans in motion. “Jeremiah and Sheena are fine with it and Ezekiel will take time off since he’s the CEO of his company. The girls will love it too. Finally some summer time fun.”

Karen shrugged. “It might be fun, Sammie.”

Not really. Samina shook her head adamantly, missing the conspiring smile shared between her mother and sister. “Okay, camping with the Dames family is fine… But why is Topher invited?”

“Why not?” Gabriel frowned. “This trip was planned with him in mind.”

Her heart flipped over. If her father came up with the idea, there was no way she could protest now. Samina groaned inwardly.

“Before he and Nadine leave the country,” Gabriel continued. “It’ll be good for us to connect with him. Let him know he’ll always have family here.” His Adam’s apple bobbed, his eyes glistened with unshed tears. “I’d like to do this, Samina. And I want you all to be there too.”

Obadiah smiled approvingly. “I’m with you Dad. Topher’s cool.”

“Isn’t he?” Karen grinned in reply, folding her arms. “It’s a great idea, Dad.”

Deidre rubbed her husband’s back. “I’m sure Nadine will appreciate you making amends this way… His parents would’ve too.” She met his eyes and gave him a smile.

The odd man out, Samina quietly struggled with this charitable act. How could she spend a weekend in the company of two men who made her heart and mind constantly confused and bothered? Pushing out a breath, Samina slumped into the seat.

Ezekiel was just as conflicted, except he openly rejected the idea. “I can’t afford to go camping. We’re in the middle of a negotiation deal.” He scowled, tossing a pair of rolled socks into the duffel bag. “Like whoever came up with this inconvenience?”

James smirked knowingly from where he stood, watching his best friend grow more agitated. “Inconvenient because you’ll have to trust me completely to figure things out on my own, or inconvenient ‘cos you’ll have to date Samina under watchful eyes… or is it something else?” His lips twitched as his friend’s face darkened, fully aware of the new dilemma. Another man in contest for Samina’s heart.

“All of the above.” Ezekiel forcefully shoved a pair of cargo shorts in the bag.

James sputtered in laughter and once Ezekiel hurled him a warning stare, he snuffed it out quickly. Clearing his throat, he schooled his features. “And what makes you think this guy’s worth your concern?”

Ezekiel frowned. “I don’t know… I just… do.” He rolled up a jacket and shoved it into the bag. “It isn’t just the way he looks at her that makes me mad. It’s…”

“You’re worried that your jealously is warranted.”

It was times like this that Ezekiel wished his long-term friendship with James wasn’t so strong. The man could read him too well.

“Samina loves you, Zeke. She always has. Just because some guy passes her fancy doesn’t mean her feelings for you will change.” James smirked. “You gotta give it to her, man. For how many years, she’s only ever loved you.

Ezekiel swallowed hard. He should’ve been warmed all over at the thought of Samina loving him for so long. He should’ve been strengthened with confidence that this Topher fellow wouldn’t make her waver. But he was worried. He really was.

“That’s the problem…” He met James’ concerned gaze. “I don’t think this is just some passing fancy.”

James rolled his eyes. “Then you better step up your game.” He nodded when Ezekiel raised a querying brow. “You never really had to try winning Winsome over. She only had eyes for you, lucky son-of-a-gun.” He shook his head incredulously. “I don’t know why. I’m better looking.”

“Your modesty’s pretty impressive too,” Ezekiel answered dryly.

“Isn’t it?” James flashed him a grin. “In any case. If this guy’s making Samina’s heart waver, you’d better show her why it shouldn’t.”

Ezekiel frowned. “What are you suggesting?”

James snorted. “I can’t spoon-feed you forever. Woo her.” He raised both bushy brows. “The right way, this time.”

The right way… Ezekiel bit the inside of his cheeks, brow drawing a frown in deep thought. Was there a right way to win Samina’s heart completely?

Nadine eyed Topher warily. “So you’ll go then?”

He silently traced lines on her wrinkled palms.

With his head bent, she could only stare at his stubborn curls and imagine him as a boy, asking for permission to play with friends till sundown. Nadine pushed out a sigh. “Is this really what you want?”

Topher nodded.

Even without looking at him, seeing deep into his solemn gray eyes, Nadine knew he wanted this. He was curious about his father and who knew him best were his only friends, Jeremiah and Gabriel.

“And even if you see Samina…” Nadine paused when his fingers stilled. Her heart ached, recalling the solemn way he told her about Samina loving another. “Won’t it hurt being close to her?”

He didn’t lift his head once, didn’t answer with a grunt or a sigh. And Nadine knew then why he said yes.

More than knowing about his father and mother, Topher realized that this would be the only time he’d see Samina before leaving for Canada. He’d resigned in himself, most likely after the lunch at her place, to let her go. It was in his eyes when he came home that evening; that he’d decided to give her up.

Nadine lifted her free hand to his head, the soft curls of his head tickling her palm. She didn’t need to say a word and he didn’t ask for it. This was the only way she knew to comfort him. To comfort a man who had given his heart away.

<<Chapter 44 || Chapter 46>>

  

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