Posts tagged “life

Sanctuary, Chapter 7

Posted on 22/06/2017

Fatigue cleared from Clement’s mind as he pulled into the open veranda of the church compound hours later. Seeing the weather-beaten path that led to the sturdy oak double door brought back warm memories of his first few years as missionary pastor of Bichena Community Church. It was too early in the morning for the children to be outside, playing soccer or what other trending game they’d discovered. The sun had not yet peeked over the mountains in the horizon, and only the dim headlights of Dula’s truck lit the compound.

Crickets and birds chirped their welcome as Clement put the car in park and shut off the engine. Snoring halted, Dula shifted in his seat before letting out a great yawn.

With only a snort as his response, Clement climbed out of the car and shut the door. Dula’s followed and both men walked up the path, their footsteps crunching loose pebbles on their way to the oak door.

It swung open the moment they stepped onto the porch. A woman stepped out with a lit lantern. “Welcome Brother,” she greeted Clement with a genuine smile which he returned.

“Thank you,” he answered and watched her move to Dula’s side. This was Wubit, Dula’s wife and the cook for the orphanage situated a short walk behind the church building. She and Dula, along with Clement, lived within the church quarters.

Draping an arm around his wife’s slender shoulders, Dula tapped the kerosene lantern. “No light?”

“Windstorm knocked a tree on the generator,” Wubit answered, concern clear in her voice.

“How are the children?” Clement asked, leading the way inside the darkened church. Their footsteps echoed as they walked to the altar lit with candles.

“Rachel and Priscilla are with them. All is well.”

Clement clenched his teeth, having just remembered Priscilla had returned.

“Are you hungry?”

Both men turned to Wubit and she raised the lantern to study their expressions before laughing, the soft sound barely making echoes in the chapel. “Come, I made injera and kitcha fit-fit…” She turned toward one of the doors without saying another word.

Both men followed willingly, their empty stomachs leading the way.

Clement’s mouth watered as the sweet smell of sautéed onions, toasted bread, garlic and other exotic spices assailed his nostrils. He craved meat also, and knowing Wubit was the doting wife of a self-professed carnivore, there was no doubt she’d prepared seasoned beef as well.

His wish became a reality as Wubit set a plate with bread, spices and meat in front of him. He didn’t wait for Dula’s plate and bowed his head for a quick prayer before digging in. The couple chuckled in amusement as Clement ate with gusto.

“It seems someone missed my cooking,” Wubit said with a pleased smile.

“Among other things,” Dula said between bites and snuck a look at his wife who responded with an imperceptible nod. Shaking his head, he returned his focus onto the delicious meal before him.

Fifteen minutes later, Wubit handed glasses of water to both men and collected their empty plates. “The generator and anything else you have planned can wait. Rest first.”

Clement rubbed his stomach and smiled gratefully. “I think I’ll do just that.” Scooting out of the chair, he shuffled out of the kitchen toward his bedroom situated near the back stairs.

The back door swung open just then and Clement paused, his gaze colliding with that of a sleepy-eyed woman with her hair tousled and unbound about her shoulders. He steeled himself for the onslaught of emotions at seeing her again within arms’ reach.

“You’re back,” she said, stepping inside. Her lantern lit the corridor and her oval-shaped face.

Seeing her now, Clement marveled that he felt little but annoyance at being delayed from his much-needed rest. “Yes… excuse me,” he said stiffly, turning toward his bedroom door.

“We need to talk, Clement.”

He wanted to remind her of their last conversation. “Later,” he replied instead and opened the door.

“Priscilla?” Wubit’s voice sounded just before Clement stepped inside and shut the door. Her voice was now muffled, and so was Priscilla’s reply as they made their way to the kitchen.

Clement leaned his head back against the door frame and closed his eyes. So much for a peaceful night. Tamping a sigh, he stepped away from the door and shuffled to his double bed leaning against the wall. He couldn’t avoid her for too long, she was annoyingly-persistent when her mind was set on something. At one point, he was drawn to her strong-willed nature. Now, it was a sure way to incessant headaches.

Falling on his bed, Clement didn’t bother taking off his shoes and closed his eyes. Sleep came easily and the troubling thoughts of Eleazar and Priscilla faded.

Rough jostling jarred him from the shortest nap he’d ever had, and Clement groaned loudly in protest. “What—” he sputtered at the cotton towel shoved into his mouth. His eyes snapped open and he blinked at a toddler’s face hovering his own.

All annoyance eased away and a sleepy smile stirred his lips. Lifting a hand, he cupped the little boy’s head. “How’d you get in here–?”

The boy’s pudgy fingers smacked his mouth and gave Clement a toothy grin. Clement sat up and hoisted the boy up in his arms, causing him to giggle and squeal.

“What a perfect picture,” Dula remarked from the open door. “Meko and his godfather…”

Clement peered over the boy’s head, watching as Dula approached the bed.

“Dada!” the toddler greeted Dula and held out his arms to be picked up.

With a short laugh, Dula obliged his son and lifted him from the bed into his arms. Placing a kiss on the boy’s head, he looked down at Clement who’d propped himself by his elbows. “Told him not to wake you.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he understood none of that…” Groaning, he lowered his head back onto the pillow. “What time is it?” He could’ve sworn he’d just fallen asleep before being awakened by Dula’s six-month-old Mekonnen.

“Half-past seven,” Dula answered, nuzzling his son’s cheek. “The kids are up and asking for you. Only Meko had permission to come in here. But I don’t think we can hold back the others for too long.”

“It’s alright, I’m up.” Clement groaned again as he rolled to one side and watched as Meko played with his father’s beard. Absentmindedly, he rubbed his clean-shaven face. “You think they’ll recognize me?”

Dula glanced down at him and then laughed outright. “Thought you said it won’t be a problem.” He lowered Meko back onto the mattress and watched with a smirk as his son crawled over to Clement.

Clement gave his godson a smile as Meko patted his cheek. “Well, Meko recognizes me, right little guy?”

Responding with a toothy grin, Meko continued smacking his face.

“Ow,” Clement half-protested with a laugh and smoothed down Meko’s downy curls.

Dula folded his arms and chuckled. “You’d make a great father, y’know?”

Clement paused and glanced up at his friend. “…okay?”

“Just saying.” Dula lifted his shoulders. “I know of a certain female doctor willing—”

“Alright, chill…” Clement shook his head and made a face at Meko who frowned slightly at him. The toddler’s frown eased away, replaced with another toothy smile.

“But in all seriousness, why you think she’s back?”

“Your guess is good as mine,” Clement said, allowing Meko to play with his face. “But I suppose it’ll be good to have her around… y’know to care for the children’s health.”

“Even if it’ll be awkward between you two?” Dula arched a bushy brow. “You know she’s not gonna leave you alone.”

Clement stifled a groan. “I—we’ve—got no time for distractions.” His stern gaze fixed on Dula’s face. “Did you tell Wubit yet?”

Dula’s pained expression already answered the question before he released a sigh. “She refuses to hear me out. Thinks we’re crazy.”

“Well if crazy keeps our children safe, then so be it.” Clement softened the harshness in his tone with a smile when Meko’s big brown eyes flitted to his. “Any word yet?” he asked, adjusting the toddler’s sleepshirt.

“Not yet,” Dula muttered, a frown marring his forehead. “And that worries me.”

“Silence is never good.” Clement tamped a sigh. “Give it one more day and I’ll drive over.”

“But you just got here.”

“And I’ve got work to do.”

“What if the parish hears—?”

“Who will tell them? You?” Clement lifted a stare to challenge the worried church custodian and orphanage director.

The two men stared at each other in silence; friends and comrades in this secret mission that only a few like them knew about. Even Dula’s wife knew very little, and that was because she believed her knowledge would mean support for this dangerous fight against the kidnapping of orphan children. Even Priscilla fought against Clement’s heavy involvement, and was the main reason she broke off their long-term relationship.

“You’re fighting with fire, Clem,” Priscilla said adamantly. “I won’t sit back and let you get burned.”

“I’m going, Priscilla, and nothing or no one is going to stop me.”

“Are you that selfish not to see what you’re asking me to do? What you’re asking of Wubit, the other wives and the children? What do we say if their husbands or fathers don’t come back?”

“These men made the same decision I made to save the children kidnapped every day, get sold to slavery or become child soldiers. There’s nothing to think about. We fight for them any day.”

“See to reason. We can talk to the government, get them to under—“

“Every letter we’ve written for years goes unanswered. We do this ourselves and have saved hundreds of kids. I don’t see why I’ve gotta go back to writing stupid letters that will be ignored. No. We fight.”

“But it’s illegal, Clement. If you’re lucky, you’ll be deported or imprisoned for a long time. If not, dead! What good are you to anyone if you’re not here?”

“Priscilla, I’ve made up my mind.”

“And I’ve made mine. It’s either me or this foolish mission.”

“Are you kidding me? An ultimatum? That’s childish.”

“I guarantee you this isn’t a joke. I won’t watch you jeopardize all we’ve worked for. Make your choice.”

“I already made it, and I’ll make that choice every day. I won’t sit back and watch another child die. Keep your ultimatum.”

“Then we’re done. You and I are done.”

“Bro,” Dula’s voice pervaded Clement’s thoughts and his expression was wary. “Where did you go?”

Clement shook his head and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Somewhere I shouldn’t.” Memory lane was best left untraveled. He looked back to Dula. “What were you saying?”

“I was saying—“

“Mama wait!” The door slammed open with such force, it gave Meko such a fright. The boy jerked in surprise and then began crying. Both men turned to see a crying woman chased by Wubit and Priscilla into Clement’s chamber.

Dula hoisted a wailing Meko in his arms and Clement quickly stood from his bed, meeting the woman whose eyes were red from crying. Her head-tie and clothes was in disarray, and one bare shoulder was bleeding openly.

Alarm shot through Clement and he jerked his eyes to Priscilla. “What’s going on?”

Wubit reached for her crying son and took him out of the room, worry in her eyes as she glanced over her shoulder at the three she left behind.

The woman was inconsolable, her knees so weak she sagged against Priscilla holding her by her arms. She was led to sit on the edge of Clement’s bed and he crouched in front of her.

“Mama, what happened?” he asked, not sure if she could hear him above her wailing.

“Her son,” Priscilla spoke up as she too perched on Clement’s bed. When Clement lifted his eyes to her face, there was regret in hers. “He was taken from their home along with five others from the compound.”

Both Clement and Dula stiffened. The woman wept bitterly, clutching her head as if she would go mad from the grief.

The woman began talking, her words barely comprehensible as she stumbled over the account.

Her son and five of his classmate friends were playing soccer in the compound while she and the other mothers prepared dinner together. One of their own was graduating from primary school and they wanted to celebrate. Except there would be no celebration that night as a series of cries pierced through the air. She and another woman scrambled to the compound just in time to see two brawny men dragging two children at a time toward an open truck. The other mothers arrived to their children’s rescue, throwing themselves at the men and the truck. Some were badly injured, kicked or thrown off the truck. All were unsuccessful in saving their young children and watched in growing despair and horror as the truck carrying their children faded in the distance.

“What village?” Clement gritted through clenched teeth, his body trembling with mounting fury.

“It’s close to Motta Air Market,” Priscilla answered with a pained expression.

Dula swore under his breath. Clement abruptly rose to his feet, meeting Dula’s stare with a glare. His jaw tightened and he bunched a fist. “They’re moving inward.”

“It’s only a matter of time before they get to our turf,” Dula said, concern etched in his face.

Anger surged through Clement in waves. “Not on my watch. We move now.”

Dula nodded, of the same mind. Then he crouched in front of the bereft mother, asking her to provide any information about the children. She weepily described each of the six children with their names.

As much as their names matter, Clement wanted details on the kidnappers. After fighting against one particular group for years now, he needed to know if they were behind this latest attack and get the permission he needed to begin this next phase.

Nudging Dula aside, Clement crouched in his place and met the woman’s teary eyes. “Did the truck have any markings? Did the men have uniforms?”

Confusion filled the woman’s eyes and she lifted her eyes to Priscilla. Clement belatedly realized in his urgency that he’d spoken in English, his native tongue.

Priscilla translated the urgent query and the woman nodded adamantly, returning her eyes to Clement. “Black and red,” she said in Amharic, fear and indignation in her eyes. “Marking here,” she sneered in disgust, tapping both cheekbones.

“Kutfi,” Dula whispered fiercely.

Clement bunched his fists. The Kutfi was an extremist group in the Northeast, infamous for raiding villages and terrorizing citizens and road travelers. They’d expanded their despicable acts to kidnapping children from these villages; either selling them to the highest bidder or training them as child soldiers. They were ruthless and dangerous, killing their enemies upon sight in the most treacherous way.

The average person hoped to never cross paths with the Kutfi. Clement prayed he’d meet them face to face. Especially now armed with the right weapons this time around.

The distraught mother succumbed to a fresh wave of sorrow and Priscilla drew her into her arms, although her gaze searched Clement’s.

Evading Priscilla’s stare, he rose once more and met Dula’s worried expression. “We must go.”

Dula flinched. Something had changed since Wubit gave birth to their only child six months ago. The man who fearlessly defended the orphan kids with him from road robbers was now hesitating to enter a dangerous fight. Clement didn’t blame him.

“I’ll go by myself.”

“Clement!” both Priscilla and Dula protested in unison.

Clement’s stare was steely as his resolve. “You stay here with the church, I’ll go and come back.”

Conflicting emotions played in Dula’s features, both men knowing a solo mission was beyond dangerous. But a new father like Dula couldn’t risk going or he’d never return.

“Maybe we should wait until Ejigu—“

Clement shook his head. “We can’t afford to wait. A day’s delay means any of these six children can’t come home…” he paused as the woman wept against Priscilla’s shoulder. He tamped a sigh and met Dula’s searching gaze. “I’ll need the keys to the jeep.”


“It’s alright,” he assured his friend and brother. “God is with me.”

Both Priscilla and Dula didn’t look convinced. “Do you have a plan?”

Clement nodded, one forming in his mind. He extended a hand. “Keys.”

“Clement, this is insane,” Priscilla protested as Dula reluctantly handed him the keys to his jeep.

Ignoring her, Clement crouched back down to the weepy woman. “I’ll bring your boys back. Trust in me.”

<<Chapter 6 || Chapter 8>>

A Father’s Joy

Posted on 19/06/2017

“Daddy I love you,” six-year-old Karla mewed against her father’s cheek.

Abraham Teka cupped the back of his daughter’s head, his long fingers stirring the newly-plaited hair complete with ribbons. “I love you too, Ladybug…” He placed a kiss on her temple.

Karla’s fingers loosened around his neck, cueing her father to be set back on her feet. He obliged her and watched with a fond expression as his only daughter rounded the table to where her brothers watched a movie in the living room.

“Happy Father’s day, Baby.”

He looked up to the woman before him and with a smile, opened his arms to receive her also. “I’m a father because of you,” Abe said against her warm cheek. The moment she sighed against him, emotion came over him. Tears welled in his eyes as he held his bride of thirteen years.

The first few years of their marriage were tough, especially after several miscarriages and a pregnancy scare with their first child Isaac. But his strong and courageous wife had never given up; her desire for children stronger than his own at some point. He’d hated the pain wrought in her eyes and the fatigue that dimmed her smile for years. He’d wanted them to give up, content to love only her for the rest of his life. Adoption, although it had been the reason he was a Teka man, wasn’t something he wanted for them. But Phoebe, his beautiful bride, wouldn’t give up on their dream to expand the Teka name.

Isaac’s arrival was a joy, one he didn’t think he would ever feel. Then Jacob… and then Karla.

His grip around Phoebe’s waist tightened. She’d gotten a bit rounder over the years, no longer the wispy and slender woman who’d captured his attention the moment she walked up to his porch fourteen years ago. But by God, she still took his breath away.

He drew back, his gaze feasting on her beautiful features. “I love you,” he croaked out.

Her gaze was tender and she lifted a hand to cup his cheek. “I love you more.” And without prompting, she leaned in to plant a kiss on his lips. And another. And another.

Abe lifted a hand to the nape of her neck, slanted his head and deepened the kiss. It was one of gratitude, love strengthened over the years, and a promise of more years to come. Phoebe was a gift he didn’t think he needed or deserved, and for that he was grateful to God for her.

A clearing of throat interrupted them. Phoebe pulled back, eyes moving once over her husband’s features before glancing over her shoulder to where an amused Geri and Bart stood in the doorway.

“Sorry to interrupt the love fest,” Bartimeus Teka said, one arm slung over Geri’s shoulder.

Phoebe grinned. “Happy Father’s day, Bart.”

Bart winked. “Thanks.” His eyes moved over to Abe at her shoulder. “Happy Father’s day, Bro.”

“Happy Father’s day, Abe,” Geri echoed with a bright smile filled with admiration.

“Thanks Geri,” Abe smiled in reply and then shifted his gaze to Bart. “Same to you, Bro.” His eyes lowered to the package in Geri’s hands. “What’s that?”

“Cake. Your favorite too, Louisiana Crunch.”

Phoebe groaned and Bart’s eyes twinkled. “We know cake’s usually off limits, but it’s a special day. Not everyone can be a father.”

“Yeah yeah…” Phoebe sighed and then looked over her husband. “Fine, you can have one special slice.”

“Just one?” Abe and Bart replied simultaneously. Even their hopeful, boyish expressions were similar.

Geri and Phoebe laughed in unison, then Phoebe gave her husband a stern expression. “Three tiny slices. And that’s it.”

“Might as well have one huge slice and be done with it, Bro.” Bart followed Geri to the counter, looking over her shoulder as she opened the top lid and began cutting the cake.

“Boy, if you don’t stop hovering…” Geri nudged Bart’s side with her elbow.

“I’m just making sure you’re cutting them properly,” Bart countered, winking at Phoebe who shook her head in mirth. “Make that one a bit bigger.”

“Impossible,” Geri muttered. “You’re lucky it’s your day or you’ll be getting nothing.”

“Thanks babe,” Bart said, placing a kiss against the nape of her neck.

Abe and Phoebe shared a warm smile. Then the three watched in companionable silence as Geri expertly sectioned the cake in generous slices. Phoebe leaned back against Abe’s chest and smiled when he circled her waist with one arm.

Placing two equally-sized cake slices on saucers, Geri handed one to her husband and the other to Abe. Then she sighed softly. “It feels weird this year. Three are missing…”

Phoebe snuck a peek at Abe’s pensive expression and managed a smile. “I’m sure Darah’ll call once she settles in. It’s her honeymoon, after all.”

“Junior’s probably busy. It’s also two in the morning right now.” Geri pinched a corner of Bart’s cake and tossed it into her mouth.

Bart’s exasperated expression made the two women laugh. He shook his head as he looked over at his elder brother. “Don’t know why they can’t just get their own cake…”

“Oppressors,” Abe muttered, earning a glare from both women.

Just then, the house phone rang. Phoebe shook her head and moved around her husband to catch the phone on its third ring. “Hello, Teka’s resid—Junior!” she grinned in welcome. Her gaze swung to Abe and she nodded. “Sure, he’s here. Hold on.”

Abe moved to the phone, accepting it from Phoebe and held it to his ear. “Hey Junior.”

“Happy Father’s day, Big Bro.” There was static, evident of the international call.

“Thank you.” Abe leaned against the counter, watching Phoebe steal the rest of his cake.

“I know I don’t say it often, but thank you for choosing to stay and raise us.”

Abe swallowed the lump in his throat. The words from Clement, his second brother, brought back memories of the first few days after their parents’ tragic accident fourteen years ago. He’d left his home in Chicago immediately following the worst day of his life, and made the decision to become guardian of his three youngest siblings, Clement, Darah and Eleazar.

“It couldn’t have been an easy decision for you to make. At thirty now, I can see how scary that would’ve been, becoming a father of three kids… Four, if you count Bart.”

Abe’s lips twitched a wry smile, his eyes moving to Bart who now held up his plate from Geri’s reach.

“But you didn’t hesitate one bit even when it got tough dealing with my surly attitude, Darah’s bratty behind and… Eli.” Clement sighed heavily. “And thank God Phoebe came into your life at the right time.”

“Thank God,” Abe said, his loving gaze settling on Phoebe who watched with amusement as Geri and Bart bickered over Bart’s second slice of cake.

“With Mom and Dad leaving the way they did, life could’ve been really hell… but you stepped up in a big way. I know they’ll be very proud of you.”

Tears welled up once more and Abe swallowed at the lump lodged in his throat.

“And I’m proud of you, Abe. You’re a great man and a great father.”

Abe couldn’t find the words. At his silence, Phoebe glanced over at him and raised a brow at the tears forming in his eyes. The bickering couple paused and glanced over also.

“I love you, Brother. Happy Father’s Day.”

Tears slid down his face and Abe held a fist to his mouth.

Clement chuckled. “Wish I could see your face, no doubt you’re tearing up over there.”

Abe grunted a reply, swiping at a tear that slid down his face.

“Eli called you yet?”

His chest tightened at the question and Abe heaved a wavering sigh.

Clement heaved a sigh also. “That boy.”

“It’s okay,” Abe finally spoke up, his voice barely a croak. He then drew in a breath and released it. “Thank you, Junior. You all made it easier than I thought it’d be.”

“Doubt it,” Clement countered, a smile evident in his voice. “But that’s exactly what fathers say.”

Abe could only smile, meeting his wife’s curious expression.

“Where’s Bart?”

“Here… but how are you? Everything okay?”

“Sure, all is well,” Clement replied, as vague as always. “Let me talk to Bart for a bit.”

“Okay. Thanks for calling. I love you.” Ever since their parents died fourteen years ago, the Teka siblings did not hesitate saying those three revered words to each other. Life was far too short to reserve those words, and so they used it liberally.

“Love you too, Bro.”

Abe shifted his gaze to Bart who was already stepping around the women to collect the phone. Then he exhaled a shaky breath and moved to Phoebe’s side.

She immediately wrapped her arms around him and kissed his cheek. “Want another slice?”

“Of course,” Abe answered easily, winking at Geri who was already placing another on his dish.

As Bart laughed over something Clement said, Abe and the women moved to the living room where their children sat together with Geri’s mother. The older ones argued over a card game while the younger ones watched the cartoon movie on the screen. Joselyn, first daughter of Geri and Bart, seemed to be winning a debate over Abe and Phoebe’s two sons Isaac and Jacob. The youngest of the Teka kids; Karla and her cousin Augustus, danced in front of the television screen to one of the musical scores. The twins of Geri and Bart, Fallon and Tomas, complained openly and commanded them to move out of the way while their grandmother watched in quiet amusement.

The doorbell rang then, and Abe’s stomach flipped over as Phoebe left his side to answer the door. His brows lifted as a heavily-pregnant Darah and J.R. entered the house. Half of the kids turned and squealed in excitement. Karla, Augustus and the twins abandoned the movie to greet their aunt and uncle.

Geri and Abe met them at the landing. “You cut your honeymoon to Dubai short? What gives?” Geri asked, giving Darah a hug once the kids returned back to the living room.

Abe’s gaze darted to Darah’s stomach before lifting to her face. “Are you okay?”

Her smile melted his fears. “It’s Father’s day and I’ve got four men I have to thank.” She moved around her nephews and nieces to give Abe a tight embrace. “Happy Father’s day, Abe.”

Abe held his only sister as gently as he could. “Thank you.”

She kissed his cheek and leaned back, warmth and admiration in her eyes. “You’ll never know how thankful I am for you. Especially how you handled my stubborn self for all these years. I’m the woman I am today because of you.”

“Thank you for that, by the way,” her husband J.R. bantered, earning him a dig in his side. He smiled on. “Happy Father’s day, Abe.”

Abe nodded, overcome with emotion. His heart was beyond full already.

Darah smiled over his shoulder. “I hear Bart with that annoying laugh. Let me go surprise him.” She ducked around Abe’s arm and waddled toward the kitchen. “Hey big head!”

Phoebe slung an arm around J.R.’s shoulder. “Tell the truth. Why are you guys back so quickly?”

“Like seriously…” Geri muttered, parking her hands at her hips. “Who cuts short a trip to Dubai?”

J.R.’s smile didn’t dim. “It’s true. She wanted to spend Father’s day at home with family… Couldn’t deny her.” Then his lips twitched. “Besides, it was too hot.”

He and Abe chuckled when the women scoffed in unison.

“You should’ve gone to Hawaii like I said,” Geri said, shaking her head.

“There’ll be other chances to go,” J.R. promised, eyes moving to the open doorway where he could hear his wife chatting with her brothers, Bart and Clement on the phone.

“Yeah right,” Geri countered. “Once that firecracker comes, vacations will be few and far between.”

“Don’t scare him,” Phoebe said. “Fatherhood is a great adventure. Right babe?” she gave Abe a pointed look.

Abe nodded without hesitation, his smile widening. “Wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

J.R. smiled in return. “Well I certainly can’t wait.”

“You been by your father’s yet?”

“Spent the night there. Darah insisted.”

Abe nodded and Phoebe smiled in silent approval.

“Atta girl,” Geri said. “Already performing her daughter-in-law duties.”

“What about Eli?” J.R. asked, a furrow appearing in his brow.

Phoebe spied Abe’s shoulders dip a little and sighed in unison with Geri.

J.R.’s frown deepened. “Maybe we should—“

“It’s okay,” Abe said gently. “He’ll come when he’s ready.”

Phoebe and Geri exchanged worried glances and J.R. didn’t look as convinced. Eleazar’s pointed absence and silence was troubling. He avoided talking with Abraham after Darah’s wedding ceremony and slipped out of the house before his brothers could get a chance to talk with him. Before Clement left for Ethiopia, they’d attempted to corner him at his grandmother’s house but he didn’t show.

Though not articulated, they were all concerned for the youngest member of the Teka family. For Abe the patriarch, the burden was visibly taxing. His hypertension was barely under control, and no strict vigilance could ease the hurt in his heart for his youngest brother.

Phoebe gave him a smile that showed her love for him. Even if Eleazar was misbehaving, she prayed her love and that of those present would fill the void.

The doorbell rang suddenly and everyone stiffened visibly.

J.R. recovered first and moved to answer the door. Phoebe and Abe turned as he opened the door, and Geri gasped loudly. “Eli.”

A morose young man stood in the doorway, his dark eyes moving past J.R. to his oldest brother.

Abe didn’t hesitate, moving past his wife and sister-in-law. He didn’t wait for J.R. to step aside or for Eleazar to say a word. He grabbed the young man’s shoulders and caught him a tight embrace.

A second passed before Eleazar slowly lifted a hand to rest on Abe’s shoulders. The touch, though hesitant and light, invoked the tears at bay. Abe closed his eyes and tightened his grip around Eleazar’s slender frame. His brother was home. Warmth surged through him, filling that Eleazar-shaped hole in his heart.

Eleazar’s hold around Abe tightened also. A weepy Phoebe held a hand over her mouth and teary-eyed Geri draped an arm around her sister-in-law, content to watch the brothers embrace.

Darah and Bart stepped out of the kitchen then, and Darah paused in mid-laugh. Bart’s eyes widened in surprise at the young man in Abe’s arms. “Eli!”

The Teka children turned at the sound of their youngest uncle and all, including the older children, abandoned all to join their parents in the landing.

“Uncle Eli!” the children rushed forward.

Abe reluctantly released his brother to the kids that greeted him with warmth and unabashed welcome. He watched them with content, eyes focused on his youngest brother’s face. His features were a bit gaunt and Abe recalled how small Eleazar felt in his arms. But he tucked that disconcerting thought away for later. For now, his heart was full. Everyone, except Clement, was home.

And this was the best Father’s day by far.

“Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.” – Victor Hugo
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