Posts tagged “parents

Refuge: Chapter 12

Posted on 15/02/2019

If not for the gravity of the moment, Eleazar would’ve laughed. Certainly not out of humor. Darah had warned him about Nigerian parents and it seemed she wasn’t far off. Mr. Smith’s approach may have been more civil from his wife’s, but the animosity for him was veiled in logic as twisted as his wife’s. And Eleazar wouldn’t sit down and let it be; Zoey’s dad or not.

Mentally affixing Abe’s disapproving mug to this man’s face, Eleazar continued talking. “I respect that you are Zoey’s father and you want what’s best for her. I’ve got nieces, one whose already eighteen and probably making questionable choices of her own. I would give my right arm and leg to make sure none of them are hurt by some idiot with no sense. But I’m not an idiot, Mr. Smith.”

The other brow arched inquisitively.

“I really don’t know what Zoey has said or hasn’t said about me. I may have made the choice not to go to college, but it wasn’t because I was stupid.”

“Education is important, young man.”

“Education shouldn’t be limited to a classroom, sir.” His gaze didn’t waver. “I have high school classmates who went that route with some successful and some still without a job, neck-deep in debt. And for what reason? So someone can qualify a piece of paper and say you’re intelligent?”

Mr. Smith’s brows furrowed.

“Not saying going to college is a waste. My two eldest brothers went and made a name for themselves, but Junior’s a missionary and doing just fine without a college degree… I know Zoey’s a very intelligent young woman. She can do fine in college and I have no doubt that she’ll succeed in whatever she does…”

“But?”

Eleazar paused. “Why do you get the right to judge my ability as Zoey’s man just because I’m not a college degree holder?”

Mr. Smith chuckled. “That is not why I don’t want you as Zoey’s man.”

He knew it already but hearing it again felt like a punch in his gut. “Oh?” he managed.

The older man folded his arms. “Can you see yourself making a life here in Lagos? Do you think you can survive the hustle of this place?”

Eleazar frowned. “I don’t follow.”

“Zoey is going to take over the family business, which means she’s returning home after graduation. Any ties to the United States ends the minute she boards that plane.”

He couldn’t help it; his jaw dropped open. “Does… Zoey know this?”

“She knew this before leaving home.” The older man shrugged. “It’s a possibility that she may have forgotten since meeting you…”

Eleazar closed his mouth and swallowed hard. He looked away, to the street where the car was parked. He wondered what Zoey was thinking—did she have any idea what her dad was doing? Was this part of the plan all along? Did she want to break up?

“Nonetheless, young man, this is a question I already know the answer to and I’m sure you know it as well. You’re different, and you don’t belong here. Tonight proves it for you and me both. And Zoey.”

Eleazar smirked. “Sounds like a line from one of those trash soaps Darah watches.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“My bad, thinking aloud.” Eleazar dropped the toothpick on the table and scooted his chair back. “I’ve heard you, sir. And I’m ready to head back when you are.”

Mr. Smith sat in silence, staring at the young man. Then he spoke. “Has anyone mentioned how ill-mannered you can be?”

Eleazar only smiled. “Sure. They’re entitled to their opinions and so am I.”

“And what is your opinion?”

He smirked. “Yeah, don’t think you’d want to hear that.”

“Go ahead.”

Eleazar could hear Abe and Phoebe, begging him to shut up and leave it alone. “Well…” He sat up and stared the man straight in his face. “A father is bound to dislike his only daughter’s boyfriend from the jump and I was prepared for that. But from the moment you saw me, you’d judged me. Pretty much labeled me some illiterate, rude and spoiled brat from America. Well, you’re dead wrong. I was practically raised by my adopted siblings—our parents died when I was only six years old, and we fought hard to make life work for us all. And we did a great job too. Before I was even a teenager, some woman suddenly shows up saying she’s my grandma and wants to be part of my life, with no say from anyone—certainly not me. Went through unnecessary hell because of someone’s useless guilt for not being there for a grandson she didn’t really want but felt bad yet didn’t want the full responsibility of raising him. Inserting her opinion about how I was raised before she came into my life, criticizing my siblings for every little thing, putting a rift between us every chance she could get. Don’t get me wrong, she tried, I guess. But it took my siblings and me—I, years to close that gap between us.

“Took a summer trip to visit my brother in Ethiopia, to serve alongside him, to realize who I am and what my purpose in life is. Didn’t need some college professors to help me figure that out when I had six teachers at home, showing me, correcting me, guiding me. Definitely won’t trade that for no stupid college degree that isn’t guaranteed to give me anything but endless loans. But you don’t know that and you don’t care.”

His body felt hot and not even the evening breeze could cool him down. “And with all due respect, Mr. Smith, I don’t really care if you approve of my existence. You and your wife weren’t there to stop my mom from dumping me in a garbage can or watch me endure multiple hospital stays so I could fight to overcome the consequences of stupid mistakes she made—mistakes a college graduate made, mind you. You weren’t there to help my brothers who left their great livelihoods to raise their younger siblings. You weren’t there when we almost lost our parents’ house or lost each other because of some–” He drew in a breath and released it. “Stop labeling people just because you don’t understand them. Stop inserting your opinions in a life you had no right to. You don’t know me and if you don’t think I’m worth having your daughter’s heart, that is your business. Zoey is grown enough to decide for herself if I’m worth it.”

He chuckled low. “And well if she agrees with you, that’s her decision to make. I don’t need any approval from you about the life I have lived, because I know I’m doing well for myself.” He arched both brows. “Is that clear enough, sir?”

The older man was quiet for a moment, scratched the side of his face and then sighed. “It sounds like you’ve had a tough life, son.”

“I didn’t tell you that for pity, sir.”

“Not at all. I understand you. More than you know. ” Then he sighed, scooting back his chair. “It’s getting late. Zoey will worry.” He stood and Eleazar did too. With one long look at the young man’s scowl that revealed his distaste for the entire evening, Mr. Smith grunted under his breath and turned toward the street.

Convinced he wouldn’t be allowed to spend the night at the Smith’s residence, Eleazar trudged after him.

Once inside the car, Mr. Smith took a moment before starting the ignition. He made no move to drive but just rested his hands on the steering wheel while the engine rumbled on. Eleazar held his breath, waiting to be told he was no longer welcome in their house. Although he’d said the truth, he’d said too much.

“You remind me of myself long ago.”

Eleazar frowned. “Huh?”

“Yes,” Mr. Smith laughed. “Hard to believe but yes. I remember when I came to see him and ask for his daugher’s hand in marriage. He finished me that day until even I almost scolded my audacity for thinking I could be worth his daughter.” He sighed. “Hearing you today, I could hear myself again… and my father-in-law. To be honest with you, I didn’t like him much, especially how he treated those that weren’t his family. How he treated my wife and her sister like they were pa…” He suddenly quieted.

Eleazar noted Mr. Smith’s hands tighten around the steering wheel.

“It would appear I owe you an apology, son. It seems you were right about me after all.”

Truth had never hurt so much. Zoey gaped at her mother. “I have an elder brother?”

Her mother averted her gaze. “It was a long time ago…”

“Mom, that doesn’t make it easier to hear. How could you do that?!”

“Don’t raise your voice at me.” It should’ve sounded like a scolding but all Zoey heard was a diminutive plea that didn’t match her mother’s fiery personality. Her head was bowed and shoulders drooped as though she was the one being scolded.

Zoey heaved a sigh. “I just don’t understand. Why…?”

“Your aunty had barely escaped our father’s wrath. He beat her so bad she almost lost the baby.” Her mother shuddered visibly and Zoey inched close, though not reaching out to hold her. “I couldn’t… not after seeing that.”

“So to escape Grandpa’s beating, you gave up your child?” Zoey grimaced, the taste of the words so bitter in her mouth. The countless times her mother pointed out Paula’s illegitimate birth was humiliating. “Mom, seriously?”

Her mother remained silent, posture limp.

“Okay, fine. We’ll talk about that later. But what does he have to do with Eli?” A scowl formed. “Wait, don’t tell me you think Eli’s your son—”

“Be quiet! I didn’t say that!”

Zoey folded her arms across her chest. “Then what is it?”

Her mother pinned her with a narrowed glare. “Don’t get sassy with me.”

“I’m sorry Mom, but you and Dad have been ragging me all night about my American boyfriend when your colossal secret is way worse—!” She reared back when her mom raised a hand.

“You’re not too big for me to spank you, Zoey. Watch your mouth.”

Zoey gritted through clenched teeth. “Sorry.”

Her mother sighed deeply and turned toward the balcony. “I just don’t want you to be influenced like how I was. Those boys are very wild.”

All boys without home training could be wild—even Law had his bad moments. Zoey refrained from rolling her eyes, choosing silence instead of sass.

“The way they approach girls, especially ones who are too young to know who they are, it’s scary. You won’t believe the sleepless nights I had while you were away. I even had to take something to help me sleep through the night…”

“Mom…” Zoey stared at her mother’s lonely back. “I was okay.”

“The only saving grace for me was that you were doing well in school. I thought you couldn’t possibly be doing anything with any boy while acing your classes. And you would tell me if you were… to know now that I was wrong is beyond painful.” Her mother turned around, squinting at her daughter. “Are you intimate with him?”

Zoey frowned. “No, Mom. Eli respects my boundaries as I do his.”

Her mother snorted. “Does that one have boundaries?”

“Yes he does, Mom. We haven’t done anything.” She couldn’t believe this type of questioning when her mother’s faults were grave in comparison.

“No smashing?”

Zoey choked in disbelief. “Excuse me?!”

Her mother rolled her eyes. “I’m not some illiterate village person. I know that’s what you people do in the dance clubs, pressing on each other while dancing?”

Zoey’s face burst into flames and she sputtered. “I…” An image flashed in her mind of Eli holding her against him while they slow-danced. She shook her head. “I-I already said we’re not intimate.”

“It all starts with a dance, Zoey. Always.” The knowing glint in her mother’s eyes told her everything she needed to know about her first brother’s beginning.

Zoey groaned. “Does Dad know about this…?”

“About you smashing?”

“Mom please stop… I’m talking about my brother. Does Daddy know?”

Her mother grimaced. “Can you not change the subject?”

“He’s not a passing subject like the weather. How old is he? What does he look like? Where did you leave him and who with?”

Pain flitted her mother’s features. “I don’t know anything about him.”

“Didn’t you care to know? To find him?” The silence was like a slap. “Mom, why—?”

A car horn sounded from downstairs. Both peered over the balcony to see the vehicle carrying both Zoey’s father and Eli enter past the open gates.

“We’ll talk about this later,” her mother spoke and brushed past her before she could respond. Zoey watched sorrowfully as her mother escaped the room and turned to watch her father park the car.

The taillights came on and off. The driver’s door opened and her father exited, pausing briefly before walking into the house. The passenger door remained shut.

Zoey frowned, wondering what Eli was thinking and contemplating whether to go to him. Then the door opened and he stepped out, shutting the door behind him. She lifted two fingers to her lips and blew.

Eleazar looked up, following the sound to the lit balcony where Zoey stood.

“We need to talk?” Zoey called out.

What a strange question to ask—of course they did. He nodded and she stepped away from the balcony, disappearing into the room. He released the breath he’d been holding and turned to the gate, staring out at the shadowed expanse of land behind it.

A tap on his shoulder shook him from his reverie. He turned. Zoey stood there, a shy smile on her face. “Hey…”

He didn’t return it and faced the expanse of land.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“No need.” Eleazar faced her again. “Do you want to break up?”

<<Chapter 11 || Chapter 13>>

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Refuge: Chapter 10

Posted on 07/11/2018

He hadn’t dated Zoey for long; barely over a year since the hurricane that nearly tore his city apart. But Eli prided himself in knowing the woman he was dating. He wouldn’t have traveled clear across the world if he didn’t know her well.

But he couldn’t recognize the woman sitting across the room, legs crossed and back straight, with a stiff smile tacked on her face. Several times during the course of the evening, Eli tried to catch her gaze–he needed to talk with her, check her pulse. But her gaze never wandered to his corner of the room. It was as if they were in two different parties.

Zoey epitomized native opulence after changing to native clothing similar to her cousin, the one getting married. Makeup and jewelry adorned her, erasing the carefree and bare-faced beauty that he was so fond of. Even her laugh sounded fake, barely reaching the eyes that would always light up upon hearing a joke. She wasn’t comfortable; that much was clear… and he sought to rescue her, if only she would look his way.

“Hey, Lover boy,” Nwando’s stern voice pervaded his thoughts, followed by an elbow shoved against his side.

He barely caught the plate from sliding off his lap and glared at Nwando who sat beside him. “What?”

Both her brows raised inquisitively. “Chill. You’re staring.”

Eli scowled. “I can’t stare at my own girlfriend?”

Nwando frowned and leaned in to whisper. “She’s not your girlfriend here, remember?”

His scowl only deepened, recalling the plan they’d settled on without his input. “This is ridiculous.” He didn’t travel all the way here to be hidden.

“Well tough, EJ.” She gnawed at the large cowbone. “You’re here and you can either make the best of it or go home.”

Eli squinted at her, knowing he had little choice on the matter. “That’s not my name.”

“It is for now,” Nwando replied and sucked noisily on the bone.

He grimaced at the sound and shifted in his seat, gaze skimming Zoey as he turned toward the television where a soccer match was playing.

The younger guests, except Zoey and her cousin, had congregated to one side of the room to watch the game. Law and Dom sat in the middle of the group, adding colorful commentary on the live action.

Although Eli had no interest in the game and would’ve preferred going to Zoey for an explanation, he couldn’t do anything about the situation except mope. He hated moping.

“Stop moping.”

Eli tossed a glare over his shoulder at Nwando. “I’m not.”

Nwando snorted. “Yeah right, dude. Do you need me to explain–”

“I’m Law’s friend visiting the city from Brooklyn and have never met any of his family members before tonight. Got it.” He returned his gaze to the television.

“Well, you’re a smart cookie. Don’t worry, a week will come and go faster than you think.” Her greasy hand patted his shoulder and it took everything in him not to push her hand off. The dinner plate was like dead weight on his lap; his appetite for copulent goat meat and seasoned rice lost.

His smartwatch vibrated and he took it as a sign to escape from the disorganized noise. Holding the plate, he stood and set it back down on his chair.

“Where you going?”

“International call.” He strode past her, this time succeeding in not glancing Zoey’s way as he sought out the nearest exit.

Cars packed like sardines filled the veranda outside and with a drawn-out sigh, Eli manuevered around the vehicles to seek a quiet, empty corner. Finding one near the gate, he leaned against the brick post and unpocketed his phone.

Darah’s number flashed on the screen. He hesitated only a moment before answering. “Hello?”

“Oh great! It works!” her voice came out clear.

“Of course it works. It’s wi-fi.”

“Brat. How are you?”

Eli shrugged even though his sister couldn’t see. “I’m okay.”

“Sounds like you’re not. I was expecting loud tribal music and laughter but it sounds so quiet over there.”

“I’m in the middle of nowhere.”

“What?!”

Eli huffed a sigh. “Zoey’s parents, they…” He paused, not sure what words he could use to describe Zoey’s wealth.

“What, Eli? Are they treating you bad? Eleazer, are you okay?”

He shook out of his reverie. “Yeah.”

“They’re treating you bad?!”

Eli shook his head. “No! It’s not that.”

“Ugh, I knew you should’ve stayed home. I’ve heard about Nigerian parents looking down on us and act like we’re nothing… I should’ve said something before you got that visa.”

Eli frowned. “Wait what? What do you mean they look down on us? Who’s us?”

Darah paused a little too long and then sighed. “J.R.’s giving me a look. I should stop.”

“No, you can’t do that.” He pushed off the post and placed one hand on his hip. “Tell me now.”

“There’s no point telling you now. Ugh, I need to learn when to shut up. Darn it, Darah.”

“Hey!” he interjected, not in the mood for her introspective sililoquies. “Tell me.”

She groaned. “Leave me alone, Jay, he said he wants to know. I can’t stop him from–” she sighed again. “So apparently, Nigerian people–well, to be fair, the older generation–don’t really care for us. And I mean, African Americans as a whole. They even have a word for us. Dunno remember what it’s called but I’m pretty sure it’s not a nice word.”

Eli frowned. “But don’t they get called African-booty scratchers?”

“Well, that’s true. Yeah… I guess we both have issues with each other.”

“Not me,” Eli countered, frowning at the mansion before him. He recalled the strange but curious looks he’d received upon arrival. “I’ve never met these people before in my life, why should I have an issue with them?”

Darah sighed. “You’re so naive, Eli, and I love you for it, but that doesn’t change things, sweet one. J.R.’s extended family used to look at me funny whenever I came around. I remember asking him about it and he said they’re just not used to black girls. It’s almost impossible to see an Indian man marry outside his race, much less a black woman. Maybe it’s the same over there.”

“But I’m black, Darah, just like them.” Zoey’s words from earlier echoed against his and Eli’s frown deepened. “How are we different?”

“Well, you could honestly pass for a white man, especially in winter!” Darah chuckled and Eli’s mood soured. “Anyway, I’m worried about you, Eli. What if Zoey’s parents are that kind?”

“What kind…?”

“The kind that have preconceived notions about people they don’t understand. The kind that’ll make your relationship with Zoey difficult. In my case, both J.R. and his dad were supportive and firm when we received any pushback. If Zoey’s not firm enough, it’ll be hard for you. Now tell me, are they treating you good?”

“EJ!” Nwando’s voice interrupted before Eli could answer. He squinted as the young woman squeezed through the jam-packed cars to reach him. “Goodness, what’s going on with you, man?”

“Who’s that? Zoey?”

“No.” He eyed Nwando who bent over to catch her breath. “Darah, let me call you back.” He disconnected over his sister’s protests. “What is it?”

Nwando released a breath and straightened. “Well you’ve done it. I knew your staring would blow your cover. Someone wants to see you.”

Eli frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“Zoey’s father wants to see you. Now.”

Under the weight of her father’s glare, Zoey was tempted to seek an escape but she remained firm, annoyed that she even had to hide. Beside her father, her mother scowled at her. She couldn’t even pay attention to Aunty Sophia’s hand on hers as silent support. Her attention was focused on the door, awaiting the arrival of Nwando and Eli.

“So you guys are really pausing my door-knocking because Zoey brings an American guy home?” Paula shrugged off her fiance’s hand off her shoulder. “Are you serious?”

“Cool down, Paula,” Aunty Sophia said gently.

“This is crazy! It’s my wedding!” Paula burst into tears and rushed off towards the kitchen. Her frazzled fiance hurried after her.

“I can’t believe you, Ezinne,” Aunty Nneoma practically screamed, her face tight. “How dare you usurp my child’s happiness?!”

“Abeg, sharrap,” Zoey’s mother shouted back, piercing her sister’s face with her dark glare. “This is my house and I can do whatever I want.”

“You’re selfish, Ezinne. Always have, always will be. I don’t even know why I bother with you.”

“I don’t know why I bother with you either. Ungrateful–”

“Enough!”

The women flinched at the loud bark of Honorable Festus Smith. In all the years Zoey lived under her father’s discipline, he hardly raised his voice.

“Zoey.”

She lowered her head. “Y-yes Dad.”

“In all my years at the bank and in the court, have you ever heard of me cheating anyone?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you seen me tell falsehoods or deceive anyone?”

Zoey swallowed hard. “No sir.”

“So when did you start telling lies?”

“It’s because of that akata.”

Zoey cringed and squeezed her hands together. That word had never hurt like it did now.

“Ezinne, that will never be a word we use here. Not now, not ever. Understand me?”

Her mother kissed her teeth in muted rebellion. She may be a chief’s daughter but her husband’s authority would always supersede hers.

Her father sighed. “Where is he?”

“I think Nwando went to find him,” Law answered.

“And you,” her father growled. “Adding to the deceit. So what did she offer you? Don’t you look at me like that, I know you.”

Law didn’t answer, undoubtedly evading his father’s stern glare pinned on him.

“I had always prided myself as a man of integrity. To think that my own children are sneaky and deceitful is beyond disappointing.” His feet shifted to turn and Zoey looked up.

Her stomach somersaulted. Nwando stepped inside with Eli in tow. Zoey’s father gestured for Eli to come forward.

When Eli stepped around Nwando to approach her father, she tried to catch his gaze and somehow give him strength–perhaps garner some for herself.

Eli didn’t look anywhere but her father’s face.

“I want the truth and nothing but the truth. Understood?”

Eli nodded without blinking. “Understood.”

“Are you my son’s friend?”

“No, I’m not.”

A chorus of muttering filled the silence that followed, and Eli’s shoulders visibly stiffened. Zoey wished to go near him but Aunty Sophie’s hand rested firmly on hers.

“Then who are you and why are you here?”

Zoey silently pleaded for Eli to look her way; she needed him to pin his beautiful hazel gaze on her.

Eli shifted his weight, the only visible sign of his nervousness. “My name is Eleazar Teka, from Houston. I was invited to Zoey’s cousin’s wedding.”

“So who are you to Zoey?”

Eli’s hazel gaze finally shifted to her, expression unreadable. “Her boyfriend, I guess.”

“You guess?” her father prodded.

Her mother clucked her tongue in disapproval.

Eli’s gaze remained on Zoey for only a second before he swung it back on her father. “With all due respect, may I ask one question before I answer yours?”

The sound of a pin dropping to the floor could be heard in the silence that followed Eli’s question. Everyone, including Zoey, gaped at him.

“Go ahead,” Zoey’s father answered a moment later.

“If I was one of yours and not an ‘akata’, would I be treated this way?”

Zoey nearly staggered back, Eli’s use of the word piercing her deeper than her mother’s. Her widened gaze swung to Nwando who wouldn’t meet her eyes, confirming her one of her fears.

Eli had come to understand the definition of that very ugly word.

“In what way are you treated, Eleazar?” her father inquired, his tone steady as though speaking to a client.

“From the minute I stepped inside your house, some of y’all were staring like I was some strange creature.”

“We can’t help the way some ignorant people choose to behave, Eleazar. Did I look at you as though you were a strange creature?”

There were times Zoey appreciated her father’s moderate tone, but at this moment he sounded painfully placating. She was sure Eli would only be provoked.

“No, Mr. Smith, you didn’t.”

“So I would appreciate we speak like man to man. Have I or my children treated you in a way that made you ask that question?”

Eli’s jaw tightened visibly and Zoey squeezed her hands together. “No, I can’t say you had the chance to form an opinion about me. But I would say that the opinion was made for you.” His gaze skimmed over Zoey’s mother, Aunty Sophia, Nwando, and Law. “Like I don’t deserve to be anything but her brother’s friend from America.”

Zoey’s heart tripped over when his hazel eyes pinned hers.

“If that’s true then, I’m wasting my time here and I think it’s best that I go back home.”

Her stomach dropped, Eli’s pained gaze and words confirming her other fear. She’d made him feel as unwelcome here as those she worried would not accept him.

<<Chapter 9 || Chapter 11>>

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