Eli frowned as yet another motorbike squeezed through a small opening between their car and the escort vehicle before them.
Loud and incessant beeping filled the air, distracting him from the playful discourse between Zoey and Aunty Sophie.
He glanced over at the lane to his right and his frown deepened. It was like they had no regard for the white lines separating the lanes. Vehicles jammed on either side with cars weaving recklessly in tight spaces, the traffic unlike rush-hour in any big city.
He could imagine Bart’s vocabulary becoming more colorful if he’d been in the driver’s seat.
Cyrus sat back with one hand draped over the wheel. The man seemed content with the inconvenience around him, a bemused expression on his face while he listened in on the conversation.
Eli peered at the front and swallowed a groan; the traffic seemed to stretch for miles with no relief in sight. He shook his head and sat back in his seat.
How could a city get anything done when residents were stuck in traffic this long? Was there no reliable public transportation? Just how many people lived in Lagos? Didn’t rich people have access to helicopters?
“So Eli,” Aunty Sophie’s voice pushed through his thoughts.
He blinked out of his reverie and raised both brows. “Hmm?”
Zoey nudged his knee with hers.
He glanced her way. “What?”
Aunty Sophie chuckled, turning in her seat to look at him. “Leave him, Zo. Eli, have you traveled out of the U.S. before?”
Eli nodded, sitting up in his chair. “Ethiopia, summer trip.” His lips twitched, recalling his time visiting his immediate older brother.
“Oh really? That’s one place I need to visit. Addis Ababa?”
“Not really. My brother works in a remote village, so we rarely visited the main city. But I had a great time.”
Aunty Sophia smirked. “Living in a village was a very different experience for you, wasn’t it?”
“Loved every minute of it, can’t wait to go back.”
She nodded. “What do you think of Lagos so far?”
Eli could feel all eyes on him, including Cyrus’ from the rearview mirror. He paused briefly before responding. “It’s hot.”
Aunty Sophie laughed. “But I hear Houston is hotter. Isn’t it?”
“The humidity makes it so.” Eli shrugged. “And there are a lot of people here.”
“21 billion, according to Google,” Aunty Sophia answered with pride in her voice. “Lagos would be such a beautiful and efficient place if we weren’t so overpopulated.”
“Is that our only problem? Traffic is as unbearable as I remembered,” Zoey drawled, sitting back in her seat. Her shoulder brushed Eli’s, and she glanced up at him with a smile. “Crazy drivers, right?”
“You would think that with the amount of sheer talent and raw resources, we’d be able to build better infrastructure.”
“Wasn’t it like that in the sixties though?” Zoey asked, leaning into Eli. “I remember looking through Daddy’s pictures of Lagos back then. Looked way better–”
“With the billions struggling for a taste of the urban life,” Cyrus interjected. “And the countless political turbulences we have travailed through, can anything we once had survive?”
Silence stretched inside the car in the wake of Cyrus’ words. Eli stared at the man’s profile, noting the tightness of his jawline.
Aunty Sophie patted Cyrus’ shoulder. “It’s alright…”
He glanced her way and the furrow in his brow eased up. “Did I get carried away again?”
“It’s okay, Baby,” she said gently, her fingers stroking his arm.
Zoey glanced once at Eli who looked her way and made a face. “They’re gross, aren’t they?”
He smirked, wanting to remind her of his siblings with their mates. Especially Abe and Phoebe, who after three children; the eldest just turned 20, still acted like newlyweds. His smirk faded as he recalled the last conversation he had with Abe before the flight. It was reminiscent of the night before he left for Ethiopia.
His smirk faded as he recalled the last conversation he had with Abe before the flight. It was reminiscent of the night before he left for Ethiopia.
Abe had paced the study that night while Eli sat in the chair, both waiting it out in silence for what seemed like forever.
Eli tried being patient with his eldest brother, minding Phoebe’s caution that Abe was only worried about his safety and struggled not to stifle his growth. Yet, Abe wanted him to stay the six-year-old sickly kid and not the healthy and capable twenty-four-year old man he needed to be.
A nudge at his side drew him from his thoughts and he caught Zoey’s eye. “Hmm?”
“Where’d you go?”
Eli shook his head. “Nowhere.”
Aunty Sophie’s boisterous laugh filled the car, drawing both their attention to her gap-toothed smile. “You’re just like my Cyrus, a dreamer. So what do you do for a living, Eli?”
Eli begged to differ but shrugged, choosing to answer the question addressed to him. “I’m a web developer…” He could’ve sworn Aunty Sophie’s smile dimmed a smidge.
“He’s pretty good,” Zoey insisted a bit too firmly. “He’s currently developing a social networking app.”
“That’s nice.” Aunty Sophie’s smile barely reached her eyes. “Did you go to one of those technology universities to learn. MIT, is it?”
“Uh, no,” Eli answered, noting Cyrus’ stare directed at him from the rearview mirror. “I’m self-taught.”
“Self-taught,” Aunty Sophie echoed, a furrow appearing between her brow. “Wait… you did go to college, right?”
“Oh come on, Aunty,” Zoey intercepted before Eli could respond. “You know good and well not everyone needs to go to college. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t, and look what they created.”
“He’s a white man,” Cyrus answered with a laugh in his voice.
“So? How is that relevant?”
Eli glanced her way, surprised by the ice in her voice.
“Mind your tone, young lady,” Aunty Sophie turned stern as her expression. Her gaze shifted back to him. “Well Eli, are you the next Steve Jobs?”
Eli stared without blinking. “No Ma’am.”
“You don’t know that, E.” Zoey shifted to face him. “You’re incredibly talented.”
“There are many talented youths in our country, Zoey,” Cyrus countered. “That doesn’t change anything about how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves in this society. Only a few of them will break out and create something life-changing. The same can be said of your America. Especially for your guy. Genius or not, a high-school education is rarely enough.”
Aunty Sophie’s gaze narrowed, a silent warning to her niece to stand down. Zoey huffed and sat back in her chair, arms folded.
Without her saying anything else, Eli could tell any admiration she’d once held for Cyrus was no longer there.
Zoey disliked Cyrus and couldn’t help the scowl on her face. She didn’t care if Aunty was disappointed about her feelings towards her boyfriend. He was the worst type of guy; a haughty, pessimistic know-it-all, like most older Nigerian men.
Except her father. Daddy was principled and stern but he wasn’t close-minded like this man. She wondered what Daddy thought of Cyrus and couldn’t wait to bad-mouth him the minute she got home.
“You may not like what we’re saying, Zo,” Aunty Sophie’s gentle tone pervaded her thoughts. “If we progressives are concerned, imagine what your very traditional parents will say.”
“Dad isn’t traditional at all.”
Aunty Sophie scoffed. “I think I know my own brother.”
“Anyway, Mom’s too busy trying to marry me off to care what he does.” Eli glanced her way and she shrugged. “I’m her only daughter and she’s already giving me a hard time about Paula.”
“Even more reason why she’ll be extremely critical about Eli,” Aunty Sophie countered. “We’re simply preparing you for the round of interrogations you’re going to experience.”
Zoey barely fought an eye roll. “I’m really surprised, Aunty. I thought of all my family members that you’d be the most understanding.” She eyed Cyrus warily, knowing he was the reason for this undesired change in her favorite aunt.
“I do understand, dear. You know I’m the first one to advocate for the youths but the mindset of the elders…” She shook her head. “It’s not easily altered. They want doctors and lawyers and engineers as the world-changers. Techies, as they call them, are simply lazy and looking for an easy way out.”
Eli’s shoulder tensed against her arm and Zoey scowled. “So Steve Jobs was a lazy man looking for an out?”
“Zoey, Jobs was a white man,” Cyrus replied in his annoyingly-haughty tone. “You can never compare him to them. Their experience will always be different from the black man. Especially the African man.”
“Yeah well, Eli’s only half-black.” She cringed the minute it left her mouth and glanced Eli’s way.
Eli sat silently, face void of emotion. Zoey knew she’d messed up big time. He hated more than anything to be identified as a half-anything; half-black, half-Teka, half-independent…
Aunty Sophie sighed deeply, pulling Zoey’s attention to her. Pity and a touch of concern etched her features. “Zoey, you better find a better way to introduce your boyfriend to your folks or they’ll eat him alive.” She glanced once more at Eli before turning about in her seat.
Eli shifted his face to look out the window.
Zoey sat back in silence, all the while regretting asking Aunty Sophie to pick them up instead of chancing it with a hired car. She’d hoped for an ally but suddenly felt very alone and on edge.