Posts tagged “romance

Refuge: Chapter 7

Posted on 15/10/2018

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.

<<Chapter 6 || Chapter 8>>

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Refuge: Chapter 4

Posted on 19/09/2018

“Y’know you’re acting weird, right?” Eli muttered, peering over the seat in front of him at the line of people still waiting to board the flight.

Beside him, Zoey hunched over and adjusted the oversized sunshades over her face. “No, I’m not,” she whispered.

Eli arched a brow. She’d insisted on her old baggy hoodie and jeans for comfort and he could give her that since he opted for cargo shorts and his favorite Bowser t-shirt, but the sunglasses made little sense. “What’s going on, Zo—”

“Shh!”

He frowned. “You a spy or something?”

“Or something. Shh.” She ducked her head and pulled the hoodie around her head as a passenger stopped beside them.

Eli turned to the heavy-set man glaring at them and raised a questioning brow.

“That’s my seat.”

Eli blinked at the man’s reproachful tone and offending hand near his face. “Which one?”

The man’s upper lip curled in a snarl. “You can’t read? That’s my seat.”

“I said which—” Zoey elbowed his side, reminding him of the vow to remain composed throughout their trip. Eli drew in a calming breath. “Please check again, Sir.”

“Are you deaf? I said that’s my seat!”

Behind him, the other passengers grew impatient. Some scowled at the irate man while some glared at Eli. Another passenger drew a long hiss and shoved past, causing the obstinate man to stumble over his oversized bag and into Eli’s legs. Instead of apologizing, the portly man cursed loud and shoved at Eli’s legs. The passengers grumbled over the inconvenience.

Eli started to rise when Zoey clamped a death grip on his arm. He turned his scowl on her.

Zoey shook her head, refusing to let go.

“What’s going on?” someone bellowed above the chaos. A flight attendant made her way down the other aisle, concern etched in her face. “What seems to be the problem?”

“The problem is this oyinbo in my seat,” the irate man snapped, a harsh contrast to her placating tone.

“He has the wrong seat,” Eli insisted, arms folded to keep from shoving the man’s hand from his face.

The passengers grumbled, not caring for any of it.

The flight attendant barely skimmed the young couple and focused her attention on the scowling man. “Let me see your ticket, sir.”

“Why do you need to see my ticket? Check theirs—”

“Your ticket, sir?” she held out a hand.

“Let her see it already!” someone called from the back.

The man hesitated before handing it over.

She studied it for only just a moment and shook her head before handing it back. Her icy-blue eyes turned to the couple. “I’m sorry for the convenience.” Then faced their accuser. “You’re in row R, sir. This is row K. Please move forward.” She turned to help a young traveler struggling with her bags.

A few scoffs and grumbles articulated Eli’s disgust as the man awkwardly pushed his luggage forward.

The other travelers barely gave Eli a glance as they continued down the aisle, mumbling on their way.

“Unbelievable.”

“Leave it,” Zoey muttered.

“Did you see that? He didn’t like his seat so he wanted to fool us into giving away ours? That’s crazy.”

“Leave it, E…” She ducked her head again as the same flight attendant returned to their side.

“Excuse me,” the woman said quietly, eyes on Eli. “Sorry again for the convenience. We have two seats in first class if you’d like to upgrade—”

“We’re fine,” Zoey answered quickly.

“But it won’t cost you anything.” The attendant’s expression matched Eli’s piteous one. ” And it looks like your boyfriend wouldn’t mind. There’s more room for your legs.”

“I said we’re fine, thank you.”

Eli raised a brow at Zoey. Why turn down free first-class seats?

The attendant shrugged. “Okay, if you insist.” Her gaze swept over Eli and she smiled sympathetically before walking away.

Eli settled in his chair and sighed, silently bidding farewell to a gift he almost had.

“Are you upset?”

“Not really.” He leaned his head back. “Just never flown first-class before. Guess I wouldn’t know whether I’m missing anything or not.”

Zoey scooted close and rested her cheek on his shoulder. “I’ll make it up to you.”

Eli peered down at her pouting face. He smirked, irritation giving way to curiosity. “How?”

“Dunno.” Zoey laughed. “But somehow I will.”

“Not good enough.”

She giggled and leaned in to kiss his cheek. “Better?”

Someone snorted from behind and kneed Zoey’s seat hard. Eli started to turn when she gripped his arm. “Leave it, I know,” sighed Eli and settled back in his seat.

When she cuddled closer, Eli stared at her shadowed reflection on the blank screen before him. “Will you keep the hoodie and glasses on?”

“Maybe…”

“Kinda hard to watch movies.”

“I’ll figure it out. Maybe I’ll sleep some. Barely did yesterday.”

He nodded; his night was spent alternating between packing and finishing up a project for a client. Two hours was the most sleep he had before heading to the airport with Zoey. “Nervous about going home?”

Zoey was silent for a moment before she nodded. “A little.”

“Don’t worry.” Eli moved a hand over her leg and squeezed gently. “I’m here.”

It was meant to encourage her, his words, but they only unsettled her frazzled nerves more. The disguise was ridiculously uncomfortable but not as uncomfortable as sitting beside Eli, knowing that in less than fourteen hours, he would come to the rude awakening of who she was and there would be no escaping it then.

Yet she waited until they were 11,000 feet off the ground and in route to London before drawing in a breath. “E…”

“Man, I wish we took those seats.” He stretched his legs and peered down at her. “Hmm?”

Zoey drew back her words. Eli reached down and tugged off her sunglasses. “Hmm?”

“Nothing.” Zoey closed her eyes and ignored the nagging in her head. Later, she promised herself, scavenging for what decency she had left.

“By the way, my visa came in quick.”

Zoey’s eyes shot open. Her pulse quickened.

He was smiling. “I thought it would take a few weeks—”

“It doesn’t always take that long,” Zoey answered in hushed tones. “You got lucky.”

“Probably,” he whispered back, grin boyish. “’Cos my visa to Ethiopia took forever to come. My brothers, especially Abe and Bart, kept acting like it wouldn’t. By far the longest month of my life. But the summer made up for it.”

Zoey looked down at her sunshades in his hand. “Do your siblings always give you a hard time?”

“More now than before.” Eli sighed. “It’s annoying but that’s the fate of a last born. I’m used to it.”

“Are you though?”

“Some days it’s just stupid.” He paused briefly. “But nah, don’t think anyone gets used to being harassed.”

Zoey cringed. A few family members were long-time harassers, and even she couldn’t bear their crass humor.

“You tired?”

“Hmm, I hate turbulence.”

“Me too.” Eli rested his head against hers. “Y’know, I can’t say yo’ve told me much about your folks.”

Her erratic pulse jumped against her throat.

“Except for their names, you rarely talk about them. Besides Nwando, I guess.” Eli’s cheek brushed against her hoodie. “I know you’re the oldest of two, with a brother… Lawrence?”

“Law,” Zoey corrected gently. “He hates being called Lawrence.”

“Ah right. Good thing you told me.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “How old is he?”

“Nineteen.”

“Okay, almost Isaac’s age. Are they similar?”

Zoey pictured the first son of Abe and Phoebe. “Yeah and no. He’s less of a model son and more of a spoiled brat.”

“Sure, no one can beat Isaac in manners,” Eli chuckled. “And your cousin getting married, what’s her name again?”

“Paula.”

“Okay, Paula.”

“We won’t get to hang out with her. Nigerian weddings can be crazy hectic.”

He snorted. “I can only imagine. My siblings all had unconventional and small weddings. All hands on deck, even with Junior’s in Ethiopia.”

Zoey paused, wondering what his wedding would be like. If he married her, there would be nothing small about it.

“So, go on…”

“What else do you wanna know?”

Eli laughed softly. “You’re being weird again.”

Zoey frowned. “What’s wrong with what I said?”

“Every time I ask about your folks, you get vague. Hiding something, my cryptic beauty?” He nuzzled her cheek.

Zoey’s stomach did a somersault and she leaned away from his touch. “I need to pee.”

Eli’s narrowed stare pierced through her and the minute he loosened his hold, she stood abruptly and climbed over his legs to rush up the aisle for the nearest bathroom.

Zoey took time drying her hands minutes later, reluctant to return to Eli’s side; a first in their one-year relationship. Keeping secrets this big was a first too and she knew he’d react badly to it. Drawing in a breath, she stared at herself in the mirror and released it along with the truth in her head. “I’m not who you think I am, Eli. I’m not a broke international student Zo–”

A sharp rap on the door startled the words from her mouth.

Zoey wiped the moisture from her brow and turned to open the door.

A young woman with bright red lipstick and painted eyes stood in Zoey’s path. She squinted at Zoey for what seemed like a lifetime and then re-directed her gaze. “‘Scuse me.”

Zoey released a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and started down the aisle back to her seat.

“Wait a minute!”

Cold slithered up her heels and she turned slowly.

The young woman was now grinning, pointing a manicured finger at her. “I think I know you.”

Zoey gripped the hoodie that did nothing to mask her features. “I don’t think so…”

“Yeah!!” The young woman laughed. “I should’ve known when you walked past me the first time.”

Eyes from every side turned to look and Zoey froze like a dried-up specimen under a microscope. “You got the wrong–”

“Paula Ibazi’s cousin right?”

Zoey flinched as the woman closed the distance between them. “You look just like her. Omigosh, yeah! Same face and everything.”

She could’ve argued that the only resemblance was their complexion and eye-shape but that wouldn’t help the matter. She’d been discovered, even with her baggy hoodie. Zoey could feel her heart beating fast as the woman studied her carefully.

“So you’re traveling home for the wedding? Me too! I didn’t know you lived in Houston. Why are you in economy class? That’s crazy.” Her eyes moved past Zoey. “Was that guy your bodyguard or something?”

Zoey scowled as the woman’s raised voice. “Listen, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Hey, you!” the woman called over Zoey’s head, ignoring the travelers gawking at them. “Are you her bodyguard?”

Everything stopped in that moment except Zoey’s racing heartbeat. Her feet stayed rooted, knowing that the minute she turned around, Eli would be standing there with a confused look on his face.

Time started again and Zoey felt a warm hand settle on her shoulder. She turned, and the flight attendant from earlier was beaming warmly at her. Almost fondly. Zoey blinked, glancing around for Eli and the woman who’d ousted her. Only she and the flight attendant stood. Even the passengers were occupied with movies, food and napping. “What?”

“Please take your seat, Miss. You’re blocking the aisle.”

Warmth flooded Zoey’s cheeks but embarrassment was better than what she dreaded. “Sorry,” she mumbled and edged past the flight attendant back to her seat.

Eli focused on the lit screen while munching on the meal before him. He glanced up upon her arrival and arched a brow. “You good?”

Zoey nodded, realizing it was just her crazy imagination. No one recognized her on this flight and her secret was safe. For now. “Yup,” she answered a bit too cheerily and climbed over his legs to settle beside him. “Just fine.” She stole a piece of fruit from his plate and snuggled close to watch the blockbuster movie.

Later… she told herself, wishing time would stand still a little longer.

<<Chapter 3 || Chapter 5>>

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