Posts tagged “prejudice

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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Tunde & Anaya: Part 14

Posted on 16/04/2013

kent

Ten minutes since they opened the door and Anaya couldn’t wait for Uncle Abdul to leave. He wouldn’t stop staring at her. Rather he silently seethed through every pore of his body, boring holes in hers. It was worse than him just scolding her with that thunderous voice of his.

She sat on the sofa with her sister who peeked through lowered lashes at the brooding man before them. Hadiza sat in the chair beside them with her head bowed solemnly, hands folded in her lap.

The insistent clock ticked loudly in the quiet room and Anaya looked up to watch the pendulum underneath its face.

“Where is Aman?” his gravelly voice erupted through the stifling darkness. “Is he working again tonight?”

Anaya stiffened at the disdain in his voice and clenched her teeth tightly. It was clear that Uncle Abdul did not approve of her father’s security duties; he made mention of it every night he came to visit. She cut him a look and almost gasped sharply when she caught him glaring at her. Her spine stiffened and Anaya jerked her eyes to her fingers gripping her knee.

“When will that unwise husband of yours learn how to handle his girls?”

All warmth left her body.

“Brother…” Hadiza started to say, her head still lowered dutifully.

“That husband of yours has done everything to break our traditions and look what has happened…” the man’s voice shook with forceful anger. “You have brought up two daughters with no sense of fidelity.”

Anaya’s jaw tightened as her face warmed under each biting, accusing word from Uncle Abdul.

“The younger one can’t even sit still to do well in school and cannot even keep house while the other…” Anaya didn’t need to lift her head to see the disgust in his eyes. It was clear his disdainful stare was on her alone. “Does everything to dishonor the family and shame us all.”

“Brother…” Hadiza pleaded, her voice trembling against her pent-up tears.

Anaya noticed Leeza’s fingers curling tightly beside her, veins straining under her palm.

“I don’t blame you, Cousin,” Uncle Abdul continued, undeterred by Hadiza’s weak protests. It is that foolish, harebrained husband of yours. He turns from Allah and this is what it has caused—“

“That is enough…”

Hadiza’s eyes jerked up and so did Leeza’s, all gaping in Anaya’s direction.

She didn’t look at them. Instead, her narrowed glare was on Uncle Abdul’s stunned expression.  “You will not come to my father’s house and mar his name like this.” She could hear her racing heart in her ears and her eyes stung with tears at bay. “He has done no wrong and you will not insult him like that again.”

Uncle’s thick lips pursed in a firm line, his eyes narrowed into menacing slits. “Who are you talking to?”

Leeza nudged Anaya gently but she didn’t budge.

“If you have a problem with me, blame me, Uncle Abdul. My parents and my sister have nothing to do with my decisions. And neither do you.” She knew her mother was probably about to swoon in dismay but she couldn’t stop.

The man slowly stood to his feet and so did Anaya as if they were to face off. She wasn’t scared, the adrenaline from her anger pushing her forward. And then it happened. Uncle took one step toward her and before she could do anything to brace herself, his bear-like hand swooped down hard on her face.

The stinging came later as her head reared back from the unexpected blow. Blinking rapidly at the tears that now clouded her vision, Anaya forced her glare up at him.

“Lower your eyes now!” Uncle barked, seething all the more when she didn’t even flinch.

Hadiza had now moved in between her daughter and her second cousin, weeping openly. “Brother,” she pleaded in their native tongue with her hands shuffling before her. “Spare her. She is just a child.”

“A foolish child who has caused more pain than she should,” Uncle Abdul spat, frowning at Anaya over Hadiza’s shoulder. “This is what happens when you spare someone like her for too long.”

The door squeaked open and Anaya’s shoulders sagged as Leeza rushed over to greet their father. She couldn’t look up, her face still throbbing with pain.

Aman Balewa stepped into the house, taking in the scene before him with his brow furrowed in concern. His eyes shifted from his weeping wife standing beside her second cousin to Anaya before them, her head bowed. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked softly, walking into the parlor.

Uncle Abdul turned his eyes to Aman and pointed accusingly at him. “You! Do you know what you’ve done?”

Anaya closed her eyes, the tears sliding down her cheeks.

“Because you have abandoned the laws of our people and the traditions of the family, you have not only brought dishonor to yourself and your family, but shame and betrayal to us all!”

His accusation rang loud and clear through the house, punctuated by Hadiza’s choked sobs.

Aman watched warily as Hadiza fell on her knees and folded her hands before her, peering up at her cousin. “Please, Brother, please forgive us. Forgive our foolishness. Please…”

“Are you blind to not see that your daughters have no sense and are running around like headless chickens?”

“What is this about? My faith or your nonsense prejudice…” Aman’s calm voice sounded amid the chaos.

Hadiza moaned, covering her face with her hands. Uncle Abdul gaped at Aman.

“What exactly are you accusing me of, Abdul? Is it not your son who died because of his foolishness?”

“How dare you?!” Uncle Abdul roared, his eyes bulging with fury.

“I’m tired of you blaming others for why Ibrahim lived the way he did. It’s not anyone’s fault that he lived as an angry man and died as one too.”

“Shut up!”

Aman nodded, releasing a heavy sigh. He could feel his daughters now gaping at him. How wrong he was for voicing his thoughts aloud. “I am sorry that I had to tell you that…” he said quietly, his jaw still taut. “It is late and I wish to speak to my family alone.”

Anaya couldn’t breathe. Her soft-spoken, polite father was kicking out the respected elder from her mother’s side, someone who had practically given her mother permission to marry. No doubt Uncle Abdul would not forget their insolence. Her cheeks still stung.

Uncle Abdul hissed through his clenched teeth and started for the door.

Hadiza reached up to clutch his pant leg, her sobs returning with full force. “Brother, please!”

He shook her off and stormed past Aman, shoving his shoulder on his way out of the house.

Aman clenched her jaw tighter as the door slammed hard behind Uncle Abdul.

“Papa…” Leeza whispered from where she stood, staring at her father’s tight face.

Anaya could only stare at her mother’s hands splayed on the carpet, fingers trembling to hold herself up.

“Help your mother up,” Aman said softly, his eyes lowering to where his wife knelt on the floor, her veil sagging over her head. His brow furrowed with deep concern and pain, and regret. He shouldn’t have insulted her family the way Abdul had insulted him; especially not in front of her.

When his daughters remained where they were, Aman sighed and walked toward his wife. Hesitating for just one moment when Hadiza refused to halt her tears, he knelt and reached for her shoulder.

Hadiza bit out a tortured scream and recoiled away from his hand. Anaya and Leeza blinked at their mother’s strange response.

Aman only sighed and removed his arm from her. “I’m going to sleep…” he muttered sullenly and trudged toward his room.

Heaving a deep sigh, Leeza cast one annoyed glare in their mother’s direction before turning for the stairs.

Anaya could only stand there, listening to Hadiza sob inconsolably as regret settled in her heavy heart.

“Penny for your thoughts…” Tunde’s gentle voice broke through her muddled mind.

Anaya peered up at his handsome face, managing a gentle smile as though to convince him she was alright although her heart was in pain.

His dark eyes searched hers and Anaya lowered hers. She sighed when he nudged her chin up. “I’m okay.”

“You’re not a very good liar, Ana…” The corner of his lips curved in a wry smile. He caressed her cheek. “What’s the matter?”

The gentleness in his voice almost undid her; his warm touch a stark difference from the heavy blow last night. The stinging had only stopped just before she headed out to school earlier that day.

“Something has happened… I can tell,” Tunde muttered, searching her watery eyes. His brow furrowed. “You’re crying.”

Anaya pulled her chin from his hold and lowered her eyes. “I’m not…” Anaya attempted to sniff discreetly.

“Right…” Tunde leaned back in his seat, watching her with deep concern. He could feel the weight on her shoulders as if it was on his too, but felt too helpless to release her from the burden she carried. He reached over and covered her hand with his. “You can tell me whatever it is that troubles you–”

“Tunde…”

He raised a brow. “Hmm?”

“Just hold me… Just for a while, please…” Anaya bit her trembling lip, feeling the tears slide down her cheeks. She closed her eyes as Tunde’s arms reached for her and pulled her into his embrace. All restraint fell away and she cried, pressing her face in the crook of his arms until there were no more tears left.

<<Part 13 || Part 15 >>

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