Posts tagged “travel

Refuge: Chapter 3

Posted on 18/09/2018

Eli squinted at his youngest niece clutching a worn-out teddy bear to her chest. “You don’t have a reason for pouting, Karla. If anything, it should be me throwing a fit, but I’m not.” He turned about to study the line of codes on his laptop. “It’s a good thing I hit save before stepping out. Although I don’t even know why I kept this thing here, knowing good and well what could happen.”

“Aw c’mon Uncle Eli, I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“Uh-huh.” He quickly typed a string of text. “This is gonna take all night.”

“I said I was sorry…” she whimpered with a sniffle.

Eli didn’t bat a lash. “Nope. Not falling for—” The stuffed animal hit the back of his neck. “Kindly pick up Mr. Teddy and put him back where you saw it.”

“Mr. Teddy needs a bath,” She scoffed, snatched it up and tossed it unceremoniously on the bed.

“Yeah, like treating Mr. Teddy badly’ll get me to forgive you.” He heaved a sigh as an error message flashed on the screen.

Karla scrambled to his side. “Did we mess it up, Uncle?”

Her timid tone had him glance over his shoulder at her. The furrow between her brow eased his frustration a bit. “It’s alright, Kay. It’s nothing I can’t solve.”

The furrow eased away and she gave him a smile. “Can I get you cookies?”

“Sure.” He returned to face the screen. “Oatmeal raisin.”

The door opened.

“Good, you brought the cookies,” Karla announced, leaving Eli’s side to address the visitor.

“Hey!” August protested as his cousin snatched the box from his arms.

“Oow!”

Eli rolled his eyes, typing lines of texts. “No fighting.”

“He’s pinching my arm.”

“You poked my eye!”

“That’s a lie!”

“Nu-unh! You’re always stealing from me!”

Eli turned, spotting August holding one hand over his eye and the other on the box. Karla held one hand to her arm and the other tightly on the cookies. He heaved a deep sigh and scooted away from the table. “Sit down.”

At his stern tone, the two reluctantly shuffled to the bed, not letting go of either.

“You two fight a lot,” Eli folded his arms across his chest, and eyed the cookies. “Give ’em to me.”

The two blinked, both reluctant to relinquish their war prize.

“For the madness you’d wreaked on my comput–” he held back a smile to accept the proffered prize and squinted at them. “Now apologize to each other.”

“Sorry,” they mumbled in unison.

Eli shook his head. “I swear you two act like you’re still in kindergarten. Now go and leave me in peace.” He turned about, dismissing them both.

The two stood. “What about dinner?” Karla asked. “Want us to bring you some?”

“He said to leave him in peace,” August said, nudging Karla toward the door. “Aunt Zo can bring it later.”

Eli paused and swiveled about. “Zoey’s here?”

“Uh-hm,” August answered. “She brought the cookies.”

It took less than a moment for Eli to hit save and stand. He pointed at both. “Don’t touch.”

“We won’t,” they answered emphatically, hands up in surrender.

Eli rushed past them to the stairs, following the laughter and the aroma of roasted garlic to the kitchen. From the side door, he spotted Zoey standing across the island counter from a smiling Abe and Phoebe.

“I can just imagine the beautiful chaos,” Phoebe said amid giggles. “Nigeria sounds like such a fun place.”

“It has its days,” Zoey answered. “Though some days are treacherous depending on your experience.”

Phoebe’s gaze lifted. “I wonder what your reaction will be, Eli. Stop standing there like a guilty man.”

“Dunno,” Eli answered, winking at Zoey who looked up at him. He strolled up to her and draped an arm over her shoulders. “Haven’t gone yet.”

“And when were you gonna tell us?” Abe’s stare pierced through Eli. “Planning on sneaking off like you did to Ethiopia?”

Phoebe nudged Abe’s side. “Relax.”

Eli frowned. “I didn’t sneak off. Junior invited me.”

“You invited yourself, Eleazar.”

“This is most likely why he didn’t tell you,” Darah spoke from behind Eli. She was empty-handed now, having put her sleeping daughter in the master bedroom. “The way y’all freak out about the littlest things.”

“Then why did you tell them?” Eli frowned as she stepped up beside him. Zoey’s shoulder tensed under his hand and he scowled at Darah.

“Traveling across the world to an unknown place where you don’t know anyone is little?” Abe frowned. “Are you two okay?”

“Relax Abe,” Phoebe cautioned, her eyes moving between Zoey and Eli. “We have a guest.”

“Zoey is not a guest,” Darah rolled her eyes. “And she’s the reason Eli’s going across the world.”

Eli squinted at her. “You trying to make this better or worse?”

“Neither. Just stating facts.”

“Take your facts somewhere else—”

“Eli!” Abe glowered and Phoebe frowned with disapproval.

Zoey flinched at the raised tones. Eli grimaced. “My bad.”

Darah scoffed.

“You too,” Abe pinned his stern glare on Darah. “Enough.”

“Alright, fine.” Darah raised both hands and took a step back.

“It’s my fault!”

All eyes faced Zoey and Phoebe frowned. “Not your fault, Zoey. Eli just has a terrible habit of keeping secrets from his family.”

“Speaking of secrets—”

“Don’t you ever shut up, Darah?”

“Eli, enough!” Abe roared, slamming his hand on the counter.

Zoey stiffened against him and Eli scowled. “This is why I don’t tell you guys anything. C’mon Zoey, let’s go…” He frowned when she remained rooted and unyielding to his nudge.

“I’ll stay here,” she mumbled, gaze averted.

“Right.” He dropped his hand from around her. “Do whatever you want.” Without glancing at either of his siblings, he walked out of the kitchen.

Zoey grimaced the minute Eli stormed out, regretting her decision to remain behind.

Abe grumbled under his breath and followed suit.

“Men.” Darah clucked her tongue. She arched both brows when Phoebe squinted at her. “What?”

“You’re such a troublemaker.” Phoebe shook her head. “Yet you complain that your kids are a handful. I feel bad for J.R. every single day.”

“Whatever, like your boys are complete angels.”

“Never said they were, kid. Now come slice the bread.” She glanced over at Zoey. “Hey, don’t blame yourself for Eli’s behavior.”

Zoey bit her bottom lip, counting on one hand the times they’d fought. Eli could be grumpy, but what man wasn’t when things didn’t go his way? An image of Eli exchanging heated words with her father flashed before her eyes. A tickle down her spine had her wrap arms around herself.

“You cold?” Darah asked casually, placing thick bread slices on the platter dish.

“We spooked her with all that yelling,” Phoebe sighed.

“No I’m alright,” Zoey insisted. “Just…” Her gaze shifted between the two women. “Worried?”

“About?”

Zoey’s eyes fell on Phoebe. “I guess I didn’t really consider how Eli would fare in Lagos.”

Phoebe smirked. “He can handle himself even in the craziness that is your home city.”

“I don’t mean that.” Zoey paused and sighed. “Nevermind.”

“You’re already regretting it?”

Zoey turned to Darah. “Kinda.”

Darah grinned. “I’m sure he is too–stop nudging me, Phoebe. It’s true. Most men are inherently childish. They feel like you’re against them if you don’t agree with their point of view. Take Abe for instance. He’s probably sulking that Phoebe nagged him just now, even after eighteen or so years of being married. Phoebe’s gonna have to go placate her man and make peace with him in a minute.”

“Nope!” Phoebe huffed, crossing her arms. “He’s not a baby.”

“And whether you’d like to hear it or not, Zo, Eli was spoiled growing up. By us and definitely by his grandma, may her soul rest in peace,” Darah continued, rolling her eyes.

“Darah,” Phoebe warned, squinting.

“It’s true. Anyway, yeah. Because we spoiled him rotten, he could never take confrontation or being reprimanded too well. And you not standing by him just now might seem like a betrayal of sorts. Or maybe not, who knows,” Darah shrugged. “But to be safe, you should go check on your guy in any case.”

Zoey nodded readily. She didn’t like fighting with Eli, even if he was mostly wrong. “I’ll go do that.”

“You too, Phoebe.”

“Hush.”

To the sound of Darah’s laughter, Zoey turned and hurried out of the kitchen in pursuit of Eli.

Approaching the bedroom door she’d shared with the Karla and her female cousins, Zoey rehearsed her apology. She imagined Eli brooding on his childhood bed and her footsteps slowed to a stop. Darah’s words echoed in her ears, painting the picture of Eli as an adolescent.

Her lips curved in a wry grin as she imagined his adorable pout and ruffled sandy curls. It must’ve been difficult staying mad at him as a child. Her smile eased away as she imagined him as a mouthy youth and grimaced. Her brother Law was a pain during puberty, and she could only wonder what a spoiled brat Eli must’ve been.

Zoey shook her head, grateful that she’d met him as a matured young man.

A muffled squeal snatched her from her reverie. Zoey approached the door, hand hovering over the knob.

“I’m gonna get you!”

“Not before I do!”

“What in the world…?” She frowned. Those voices belonged to Karla and August. Zoey opened the door.

The two adolescents sat on the bed with game controllers in hand, glaring at the screen. Sound effects of explosions and crashes filled the room. Her eyes moved over to the desk facing the window where Eli hunched over, headphones over his ears.

She shook her head and stepped inside. “Can you give us a minute?”

“One sec…”

Zoey propped her hands at her hips. “Your mom’s counting to ten—” she hid a smirk as the two tossed aside the controllers and scrambled past her out the door. Their rumbling footsteps down the stairs were followed by Phoebe’s muffled reprimand.

Closing the door slowly, she crept up to Eli and wrapped her arms around him. He was watching a tutorial video on computers and she smiled, placing a noisy kiss on his cheek.

He turned his head, giving her a low-lidded look she imagined he’d given to his siblings countless times.

Zoey snorted a laugh.

His brow furrowed.

She laughed harder.

Eli rolled his eyes and looked away.

“I’m sorry,” she said amid giggles. Releasing him, she perched on the bed beside the desk. “You’re just so cute.” She reached up and tugged the headphones off, ruffling his curls.

He only looked miffed. She mimicked his expression and he scoffed, returning his attention to the screen.

“You mad at me?” she faked a pout he didn’t bother inspecting. Zoey whined. “Are you?”

“Quit,” Eli muttered, typing on.

“My baby is so cute and smart and awesome.” She nudged his hand holding the mouse.

“Your baby isn’t in the mood.” He nudged hers aside.

She pouted. “Aww.”

“You have something to say, Zoey, ‘cos I’m kinda busy.”

Zoey rolled her eyes. “Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do. Everyone was yelling and…”

“We’ve yelled at each other countless times. Harvey should’ve shown you that.”

Zoey shrugged. “Those were intense times, even a monk would freak out in that condition.”

“Well, we’re not monks. Everyone’s got a problem with patience, understanding and tact.”

She regarded him carefully. “My family’s the same way, E.”

He looked her way. “What are you trying to say?”

“You yelled at your forty-something-year-old brother, Eli. Yeah, he’s your brother but he’s not your mate. Where I come from, you could get pimp-slapped for that.”

Eli frowned. “We’re not in Nigeria, Zo.”

“But you will be in a few weeks, remember?” Zoey eyed him. “I can’t have you yelling at my dad or his friends, man. He’ll bust your jaw. Heck, everyone will stand in line to slap you.” She chuckled at the dubious look on his face. “I’m being serious, Eli.”

“Then don’t laugh about it.”

She sobered instantly. “No but seriously, you gotta learn to let it slide. Be the bigger man.”

“You want me to be a doormat around your folks, even if–”

“Even if, Eli. Even if they insult you, you stay chill.” Zoey sighed, watching the conflict on his face. “I know it won’t be easy and I’m actually worried how you’ll respond to them provoking you, because they will.” She paused again, hesitant to mention her deepest concern.

“You want me to be the bigger guy,” Eli mumbled, resembling a pained man.

She wondered how many times he’d exercised self-control when provoked and anxiety nipped at her conscience. She needed to prepare him now. “E, I…”

“Okay,” Eli answered.

Zoey blinked. “Hmm?”

“Okay.” Eli looked her straight in the eye. “No matter how they provoke me, I’ll chill.” He smiled in response to her furrowed brow. “Trust me.”

Except Zoey couldn’t muster a sliver of hope in his confidence. Eli had no idea what he’d agreed to.

<<Chapter 2 || Chapter 4>>

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Refuge: Chapter 2

Posted on 11/09/2018

“Zozo, my personal person,” greeted the fuzzy image of a young woman on the screen as Zoey settled on her bed. “How far?”

Zoey folded one leg under the other, positioning one foot in front to paint her nails. “What’s with that greeting? You sound very local.”

“Really? Well, I’m practicing for the upcoming festivities. How na?”

“I’m cool.” She snorted when the young woman cocked her head to one side. “I dey kam, Nwababy.”

The young woman cackled. “So you haven’t lost it after all.”

Zoey paused and looked at the screen. “Nwando, abi you forget I lived in Lagos for most of my life?”

“Well, you know what they say about those that move to America.”

“No, what do they say?” Zoey resumed painting her little toe.

“They forget all about their roots.”

“Whatever.”

“Anyway, how far na? Getting ready for your trip back? Spring break, abi?”

“This your local speech is killing my vibe.”

Abeg, answer jare.

Zoey grabbed a cotton swab. “Kinda. Which reminds me of what I wanted to ask you.”

“Ah, so you didn’t call for regular gist?”

“Well, I did…”

“Nonsense girl. What’s up?”

Zoey stared at her friend’s image. “I haven’t been very good about calling you, Nwando. I’m sorry.”

“Ah, don’t get serious on me,” Nwando laughed, waving her off. “We’re good, girl. I know you’ve got your thesis occupying you. Not to talk of that oyinbo boyfriend of yours.”

Zoey scowled. “He’s not oyinbo, Nwando.”

“Looks it to me.”

“He’s half…” Zoey shook her head. “Whatever. Back to my favor.”

“Go on.”

Zoey drew in a breath. “Can your uncle help me get a visa?”

Nwando blinked. “You have a passport, Zo.”

“It’s not for me.”

Nwando frowned. “For your oyin–I mean, your dude? Wait, so you’re bringing him?!”

Zoey nodded. “Yeah, I am.”

Oshe, brave girl.” Nwando shook her head, wonder in her tone. “And he knows he’s coming to your cousin’s grand wedding extravaganza?”

“Yeah. I asked him and he said he’ll come.”

“Wow. So he knows everything then?”

Zoey shifted in her seat. “Not really.”

Nwando laughed, clapping her hands. “This is rich. Your boyfriend of a year has no idea he’s dating the only daughter of Honorable Festus Smith and Your Highness–”

“Cut it out, Nwando. I’ll tell him.”

“Oh really, when? While boarding premium double-decker first class or greeted in Nigeria by an entourage of limos and bodyguards?”

Imagining the shock on Eli’s face, Zoey hesitated. “I haven’t really decided how yet.”

“You’re not serious.” Nwando sighed. “Fine. Let’s settle the visa matter first. If he gets denied, you won’t have to…” she trailed off when Zoey shot her a look. “Just kidding. Look why don’t you ask your dad to hook you up? It’ll go faster.”

“Are you mad?” Zoey scowled. “That’s not how I want to bring up the fact that I have a boyfriend.”

“Wow!” Nwando clapped, amusement displayed on her face. “You mean to tell me no one knows about this guy?”

“You do.”

Nwando choked on a laugh. “Lucky me. Your mom will make suya out of me if she found out I knew.”

“Quietly get me the visa and no one becomes roasted meat.”

“Crazy girl,” Nwando muttered, grabbing her phone.

“Thanks, Nwababy.”

“Yeah whatever. Tell your boyfriend who you are.” Nwando’s expression was stern. “There’s nothing worse than being lied to.”

Zoey averted her gaze. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault I got played.” Nwando’s smile barely reached her eyes. She lifted the phone to her ear and after a brief pause, she smiled wider. “Good afternoon, sir. It’s Nwando. Yes sir, I’m fine, sir. Amen… Uncle, do you have a few minutes?”

Taking this as her cue to disappear, Zoey waved at her friend and once Nwando winked in reply, she quickly disconnected. Drawing in a breath, she released it slowly and looked down at her toes. Cringing at the sight, she grabbed clean cotton swabs and began cleaning up her mess.

A jingle sounded from the laptop and Zoey tapped the button to accept the video call. “What’s up?”

“He said he’ll get on it.”

Zoey looked up. “That’s quick.”

Nwando shrugged. “Anything for His Royal Highness.”

She sighed deeply. “Will you chill with that please?”

“Okay, sorry. Have you at least told Paula about your plus one? We received her RSVP card and my mom’s still pissed at the insult. Imagine!”

Before Zoey could respond, a blue heart icon flashed in front of Nwando’s pixelated face. “It’s Eli. Gotta go.”

“Alright Zo, but tell that your boyfriend o. Don’t let him come here like a fool and leave like one too. Bye.” The chat window went black, leaving the dancing blue heart on the screen.

Zoey released a breath before connecting to the incoming call. Yet instead of Eli’s usually-scruffy image, that of a young boy and girl filled the screen. She grinned. “Hey guys.”

“Hi!” the girl waved and the boy followed suit albeit with less enthusiasm.

“What’s wrong, August?” Zoey asked, noting his adorable pout. Even though he was twelve, he reminded her of a little boy. Eli warned her never to speak of it or risk the moody adolescent’s wrath.

“He’s sulking,” Karla answered matter-of-factly.

“Cos you took the last one.” He glared at her.

Karla licked a bright-yellow popsicle. “Get over it.”

Zoey fought a smile at the vehemence on August’s face and the nonchalance on Karla’s. “Aw, that’s not nice, Karla. What happened to sharing?”

“He didn’t share the cookies yesterday and I didn’t complain about it,” Karla protested.

“You don’t even like sugar cookies!”

“You could’ve asked me first,” Karla countered. Then she turned to the screen with a smile. “We miss you, Aunt Zo.”

Zoey returned the smile. “I miss y’all too.”

“Then come over. Mama’s making lasagna.”

“Urgh.”

Karla rolled her eyes and Zoey fought yet another laugh. August reminded her too much of her only brother, Law. She’d have to call him too. Her stomach rumbled.

“Yummy. I’ll bring some cookies when I come.” Zoey answered over her unsettling nerves. “I’m guessing your uncle doesn’t know you’re calling me?” She allowed the giggle that tickled her throat as the two glanced at each other. “Alright, get going before he catches you. I’ll see you in a few.”

“Kay, bye!” Karla leaned forward and the screen suddenly went black.

Zoey laughed openly. The fear of facing their uncle’s anger must’ve made the cousins shut down the laptop completely, which would only seal their fate as Eli was probably working on yet another code.

Shaking her head, she unfolded her legs and wiggled her toes to inspect her work. The amused smile eased away as Nwando’s parting words echoed in her thoughts and her shoulders dropped in resignation.

She’d have to tell Eli sooner than later… but maybe she could wait just a little while longer?

It took less than an hour to get to Eli’s childhood home and Zoey smiled as she parked near the sidewalk to their house. Her gaze swept over the place she’d spent a week and a half, harbored from the high waters and turbulent storms of Hurricane Harvey a year prior.

She’d barely met Eli at a Subway restaurant a day before the high waters threatened her apartment complex across town, and he’d invited her to bunker down at his family home. She’d hesitated then, not wanting to impose… but getting to spend time with his brothers and sister, their spouses and many children was a memory she cherished dearly.

Even after the flood was declared over and her apartment deemed safe to return to, Zoey was reluctant leaving the Teka family home. She’d gotten so used to being with them and didn’t hesitate to return when invited.

Grabbing the box of warm cookies and her purse from the front seat, Zoey exited her car and started up the sidewalk to the front door.

It opened before she reached it, and Zoey laughed as August’s expectant stare barely skimmed her face before dropping to the box in her hand. “Hey to you too. Here.”

“Where are your manners, August?” the stern voice of his aunty Phoebe who stepped around her nephew heading upstairs with the cookies. Her smile brightened on Zoey. “Hey girl. Karla said you’d be stopping by.”

“Hope that’s okay?”

Phoebe squinted at her. “Of course it’s okay. This is your home. Come in.”

The warmth of those words spread all over Zoey like a blanket as did Phoebe’s arms wrapping around her in an embrace. Zoey let herself be hugged; Phoebe gave the best hugs.

“Let the girl come in first,” another familiar voice sounded from behind.

Zoey raised her head and smiled. “Hi Geri.”

“Hey you. It’s been a minute.”

“Sorry,” Zoey mumbled, stepping around Phoebe to approach the woman standing by the stairs. Geri, Eli’s second sister-in-law, was not into hugs but she gave them almost as freely as Phoebe. Zoey accepted the embrace but didn’t stay too long.

Geri patted her shoulder. “Totally fine. We know you’re busy.” She winked and glanced over at Phoebe. “The bread’s ready.”

“Good, thanks.” Phoebe breezed past the two. “Get comfortable, Zo. We’ll be eating in a few.”

“If you’re looking for Eli, he’s upstairs trying to fix something.”

Zoey held back a smile. “Where’s Karla?”

“Hiding,” Geri answered with a glint in her eye. Then she chuckled. “I’ll be back. Gotta go get the twins from soccer practice.” She waved her keys and walked past Zoey toward the door. “Feel free to join Eli, although he’s currently Mr. Grouch right now.”

“Kay…” As Geri exited the house, Zoey’s eyes lifted to the stairs and her stomach turned. Maybe tonight wasn’t the right night to let him know; fixing codes were a nightmare. She shook her head and turned toward the kitchen. “Phoebe, do you need any help?”

“Sure!” The matriarch of the Teka home answered as she inspected the fresh loaf. “Wanna prep the garlic bread?”

“Definitely. It smells amazing.”

“Why thank you,” a voice from behind startled Zoey and she whirled around to see Eli’s sister, Darah, cradling her sleeping daughter against her bosom. The woman smiled. “Hey Zoey.”

For some reason, Zoey always tripped around Darah. She managed a smile, trying not to read into Darah’s pointed gaze. “H-Hi Darah…” She dropped hers to the sleeping child and smiled. “She’s so cute.”

“More when she’s sleeping,” Darah murmured, brushing a kiss against her daughter’s temple. Then her gaze returned to Zoey. “So, how are your exciting spring break plans coming along?”

Zoey’s stomach dropped. “Uh…”

“What spring break plans?” Phoebe asked, nudging the loaf pan and a bread knife to Zoey. “You going somewhere fancy?”

Darah’s brow furrowed. “Wait, Eli didn’t tell you guys yet?”

“Tell us what?” Phoebe frowned. Her gaze swung to Zoey. “Is something wrong?”

“Uh…”

Darah clucked her tongue. “That boy is so secretive. Apparently, Zoey invited Eli to go to Lagos with her for spring break.” Her gaze pinned on Zoey. “Your sister’s getting married, right?”

“My cousin,” Zoey mumbled and swallowed hard.

“Wait, Lagos as in Nigeria?”

Both Darah and Zoey turned to look at Phoebe.

“What on earth? Why wouldn’t he tell us something like that?”

“Tell us something like what?” inquired a deep voice and Zoey jumped yet again. She turned around to see a tall bald man stride past them to stand beside Phoebe. He smiled in greeting. “Hey Zo, long time.”

“Hey Abe…” It took everything in her not to add the ‘sir’, especially to a man the age of her youngest maternal uncle. But she had no choice; Abe was Eli’s brother not father. “Yeah, sorry about that.”

“No need to be sorry. Life gets busy…” he trailed off, catching his wife’s expression. His brow furrowed. “What’s going on?”

Phoebe pressed the bridge of her nose. Darah sighed, “Eli’s going to Africa. Again.”

“Why?” Abe frowned. “Junior didn’t mention anything to me.”

“Not Ethiopia, Abe,” Phoebe answered a bit impatiently. “Lagos, Nigeria.”

“Huh?” His frown deepened. “Who’s in Lagos?”

“My family…” Zoey answered, her stomach in knots. As three pairs of eyes pinned on her, Zoey wished for the first time that she hadn’t invited Eli to come with her.
**Note: The friends, Zoey and Nwando, communicated in a form of pidgin English common among Nigerians.

<<Chapter 1 || Chapter 3>>

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