Posts tagged “Truth

Refuge: Chapter 5

Posted on 26/09/2018

Over an unhealthy lunch of chocolate-filled donuts and overpriced coffee, Zoey and Eli sat near the window overlooking the planes docked at Heathrow Airport, awaiting their next flight in an hour. Zoey watched Eli lick the chocolate from his index fingers and rehearsed her next line.

The corner of his lips twitched a smile and he lifted his gaze. Zoey averted hers, occupying herself with stirring the coffee. “Chocolate tastes so different overseas.”

Zoey smirked. “Probably.”

“What’s Nigeria like? I mean, the food and stuff?”

She laughed, lifting her gaze. “You’re such a foodie.”

He shrugged. “I like food.”

“Well, since you love spicy, you’ll like Nigerian food.” Zoey shook her head. “We should’ve tried some while in Houston. Can’t believe I never took you to one.”

“You said they weren’t that good,” Eli reminded her, grabbing another donut. “Something about fake meat.”

Zoey choked. “Man, that was harsh…”

“That’s what you said.”

“Yeah well, you’ll have plenty opportunities to try it at home.”

“What’s your favorite food?” his eyes skimmed her face while he bit into the donut. “I’m curious about the jello rice.”

“Jello…” Zoey heaved a sigh, mildly frustrated. Just when she was ready to spill, he was distracted by food. “It’s jollof rice, babe.”

“Ah Jollof. It’s like Mexican rice, right?”

“Not even close.” She frowned. “Eli, I need to talk to you about something.”

A plane whooshed over their heads and Eli peered out, watching the plane ascend into the clouds.

“Eli.”

“Hmm?”

“Eli.”

Her sharp tone had him glance her way. He frowned. “What?”

Zoey tamped another sigh and stared him straight in the eye. “I haven’t been completely honest with you–”

A child behind them squealed with delight and Eli’s gaze shifted over her head. Zoey grabbed his hand, smearing hers with chocolate. She grimaced. “E, I’m not a poor international student.”

Eli smirked at her. “I know that already.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m being serious.”

“Okay.” He released the donut and reached for a napkin. Taking her soiled hand in his, he wiped it clean.

Zoey drew in a breath and released it. “E.”

“I know you’re not poor, Zo. I know international tuition is high, and yet you have your own place, your own car, and you’re paying off your degree.” He looked up at her. “But what does that have to do with anything?”

“It has everything to do with everything.”

Eli chuckled, cleaning chocolate from her fingers.

Zoey frowned.

He paused to look up. “Okay, talk to me.”

There was no other way to say it so she began with “My parents have money.”

Eli arched a brow. “Okay…?”

Zoey rolled her eyes. “Let me rephrase that. My family comes from crazy money.”

“Still isn’t that much clearer, Zo.”

“You know that show Rich Housewives Chicago* and the lady with the real-estate investments?”

“Yeah?”

“One of my dad’s side investments is twice that.”

“In Naira?”

“Dollars, Eli.”

Eli’s hand loosened and slid from hers.

Zoey swallowed hard. “I know I should’ve told you but–”

“Why tell me now?”

The quietness in his voice stilled her. She stared at him.

His features were taut but his eyes resembled a confused little boy. “Why tell me when we’re halfway there that you come from money? Why now and not before?” His gaze skimmed her face.

Zoey searched his and didn’t like what she saw there. “I didn’t mean to keep it from you, not purposefully. I just didn’t know how to say it. Didn’t think it mattered.”

“Then why mention it now? What for?”

“Because you’re coming home with me and I…” Zoey swallowed hard.

“You want me to be prepared.”

Zoey nodded, surprised yet grateful that he’d taken the words from her mouth. “Yeah.”

“You think I’m gonna embarrass you?”

Her eyes widened. “What–? No, heck no.” She frowned. “Eli, I don’t care about that. I just wanted you to know that my folks are a lot…”

“Attention travelers,” the voice on the intercom interrupted. “This is an announcement for Flight Z345A to Lagos via British Airways. Boarding will begin in twenty minutes. Please report to Gate 40B.”

“That’s us,” Eli mumbled, grabbing his bag.

“Whoa, wait a sec.” Zoey grabbed his wrist, stilling him for just a moment. She searched his expression and scowled. “Sit first.”

Eli didn’t. “You had a year and a half to tell me about your family and you didn’t. Give me at least an hour to process what you just told me. I have nowhere else to go but with you, so give me that. Fair enough?”

Zoey hesitated. Eli’s brooding took way longer than an hour, and she couldn’t afford his silence for another six hours. “I meant no harm, Eli.”

“I know, Zoey, but it still stings.” Eli tugged his wrist free and gestured for her to stand. “Let’s go.”

At least he waited for her to stand before walking in front. Zoey heaved a sigh as she watched his lonely frame and wondered yet again if she’d made the right decision bringing him along.

Another plane whooshed above as Zoey grabbed her bag and rushed after him.

He wanted to stay mad; she deserved more than just his silence. But they were 11,000 feet off the ground with only a boring selection of movies for entertainment and ignoring the person beside him didn’t make much sense. Especially since Zoey kept sighing and fidgeting in her seat.

Eli dropped the headphones to hang on the back of his neck and leaned in his seat, arching a brow at her.

She squinted at the screen and sighed before glancing once at him. “What?”

“What happened to giving me an hour?”

Zoey frowned. “I did–I am.”

Eli squinted at her attempt to look innocent. “Nah, you’re not giving me space and time to think.”

“Space?”  She scoffed. “Eli, we’re in a cramped plane. How much space can I give you? You want me to switch places with a stranger? Should I tape my mouth and my body so I don’t bother you?”

Eli shook his head. Zoey could be so dramatic, just like his sisters. He sighed as a thought crossed his mind. “D’you know that all my siblings’ and their spouses have something in common?”

“What is it?”

“Lies.”

Her mouth tightened in a hard line. “I already said it was unintentional. It’s more of an omission, honestly.”

“Lie of omission is still a lie, Zoey.” Eli held up a hand before she could protest. “Hear me out. Phoebe lied to Abe about who she was and almost jeopardized Junior, Darah and I remaining with our family. Geri lied to Bart about her ex-husband.”

Zoey’s eyes widened. “Geri was married before?”

“She was. He was a mean jerk to her, and died for his crimes–”

“Good Lord!” Zoey slapped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide.

“But she was able to escape and come back home. Anyway, she didn’t tell him everything and they even tried to lie to her ex in-laws about having a relationship…” he paused and shook his head. “It was a mess and J.R. had to step in to fix it.”

Zoey lowered her hand and stared intently with no interruption.

“Then there’s Darah, trying to hide her pregnancy from everyone.” He frowned. “Hers isn’t much of lying as it is omission of fact but then she was being stupid throughout.”

“That’s harsh, Eli.”

“It is but it’s true. Actually, both were actually lying to each other about their feelings, and they spent so much time dancing around before coming together.” Eli shrugged. “And then there’s Junior.”

“What about him?”

Eli scoffed lightly. “Pretty sure he and Karen are keeping some crazy secret there in Ethiopia. When I stayed with them for a summer, it was weird.” He scratched the side of his head. “Can’t put my finger on it but they were sneaky.”

Zoey sighed. “What’s your point, Eli?”

“Lies only complicate a matter that didn’t need to be complicated.” Eli stared intently at her. “You didn’t need to hide the fact that your family is loaded. I don’t care if your mom’s the queen of Nigeria or your dad owns every building in the country. You’re you and that’s the reason why we’re together, not because of the money your family has.”

Zoey nodded, regret plain on her face. “I’m sorry, Eli.”

“It’s okay.” Eli frowned. “I do want to know now. Can’t go there looking like a fool.”

“So you want me to tell you now?”

“We’ve got five more hours,” Eli answered with a shrug.

Zoey glanced around first, caution clear in her tense shoulders. She dragged her gaze back to him. “Can I write it down?” she asked in hushed tones.

Eli fought a laugh. “They must be really loaded.” She looked tortured and Eli tamped down the laugh from spilling out. “Alright, write it down.”

Zoey readily grabbed her bag and pulled out her notebook. Eli leaned in as she started to scribble, him reading as she wrote.

Half an hour later, Eli sat back, reeling.

Zoey closed the notebook and looked up at him, expression penitent. “I’m sorry.”

He couldn’t respond; not yet. The chart Zoey scribbled out proved that his mind couldn’t fully fathom the implications of Zoey’s background compared to his. Her father, a retired bank commissioner with real-estate and political connections and her mother, a princess of an affluent tribe that he couldn’t pronounce. He was an orphan with a questionable background and only $10,000 in both his bank accounts. She had legacy in her family while he knew nothing about his birth father.

So deep in thought Eli was that he didn’t hear Zoey and jumped when her hand dropped on his shoulder. He blinked at her. “Hmm?”

“Say something.”

Eli stared at the woman he called girlfriend so casually, someone who was practically royalty. He’d always thought she was out of his league but now… The truth was a sucker punch to his gut, rendering him speechless.

Her eyes watered. “E, please say something.” Her fingers tightened on his shoulder.

He swallowed the truth down and tucked away his wounded pride. Zoey’s tears were more painful than whatever feeling he couldn’t fully identify. “I…”

Zoey sat up, eyes wide in anticipation.

Eli shook his head and laughed it off. “We should’ve taken the first class seats then.”

She blinked in surprise, obviously not expecting that reply. Then she giggled softly and shoved his shoulder lightly. “You gold digger.”

His half-smile dropped. Zoey’s laughter dissipated instantly and regret dressed her features. “Too soon, huh?”

“Yeah.”

Zoey sighed deeply and scooted close, tucking her arm under his. “Forgive me,” she pleaded, resting her cheek on his shoulder.

“Sure.” He stared listlessly at the movie Oceans 8 playing on the screen while sifting through his mind for a plan of action.

Four more hours till they touched down in Lagos, and he had no idea what to do.

“Everything will be fine,” Zoey said softly, tightening her hold on his arm. “My parents are more laid back than it seems. My cousin, Paula, she’s marrying a regular guy she met in London from university and everyone was cool with it. My mom was actually an advocate for their relationship.”

The need for an advocate meant there was initial pushback but Eli didn’t have the heart to interrupt her, partly because he wanted to believe that her parents would be accepting of his lack of qualifications too.

“And one of my aunties on my mom’s side is like the coolest aunty ever. Aunty Sophie, she’s picking us up from the airport.”

“What, no entourage?”

Zoey peered up at him, one brow arched. “Do you want one?”

Eli almost laughed. That she thought to ask was ridiculous. “No,” he answered simply.

She looked away. “Aunt Sophie’s like the rebel. She never got married and traveled all around the world. She reminds me of your brother Junior. You’ll like her.”

Eli could only nod. Any ally was welcome. “Ok.”

“I thought long and hard before inviting you, and I wouldn’t have done that if I thought you’d be treated badly. My family will love you. I promise.”

He nodded again, not wanting to weaken her confidence in him or his in her. “I hear you,” was all he said and allowed her to embrace him with all her might. He needed all the strength he could get for the journey ahead.

<<Chapter 4|| Chapter 6>>

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Lighthouse, Chapter 26

Posted on 01/09/2016

Hana remained mum as she led the way, refusing to give J.R. a clue on why his father summoned him. Anxious about his father’s condition, he had no choice but to follow. Then she came to stop in front of the room and gestured for him to go ahead. Unlike before, her face was now expressionless, her lips pursed and gaze blank as she waited for him to enter the room.

J.R. grabbed the handle and pushed open the door. The four, including his father looked his way as he entered. He quietly assessed his father’s visitors; Mrs. Ganesh, Mr. Peters and his father’s former secretary Mrs. Adebo. Then frowned. “What’s going on?”

“Close the door and come here,” L.J. answered, closing the portfolio and placing it back on the hospital tray propped on his bed.

Hesitating at his father’s firm tone, J.R. slowly closed the door and made his way over to the bed. He nodded a silent greeting at the three who watched him and then faced his father. “You asked for me?”

“That I did.” L.J. folded his arms across his chest and regarded his son in silence.

J.R. frowned at the weight of their stares on him. “What’s going on?”

“We were discussing your venture and my will.”

His stomach tightened and J.R. swallowed the hardened lump in his throat. “My venture?”

L.J.’s lips twitched wryly, noting that his son chose to ignore the part about his will. “Yes, your venture with the center. Earl and Preethi are in agreement that it’s needed in our community.”

J.R. snuck a glance at the two elders who had readily rescinded their support of him. He didn’t know why they’d change their minds now but didn’t articulate his skepticism. Instead he returned his attention to his father. “And what do you think?”

The smile on L.J.’s face widened. “I have to agree with them.”

The knot in his gut loosened, but his shoulders remained tense. Something was fishy about this gathering, and the portfolio on the table. “Okay…”

“It won’t be easy,” L.J. continued, his smile waning. “Our people are not the easiest to reach, and some will take advantage of you.”

“I’ve planned for it.” He pictured the contingency procedures he’d drafted in his laptop computer.

Mrs. Ganesh snorted derisively. “You can’t plan for rain, beta. It comes when it wills.”

J.R. fixed his stare on his father. “What is your decision? Do I have your support?”

L.J. stared right back. “If I don’t give it, will you still go ahead with your plans?”

“I will.”

Mr. Peters chortled. “Gutsy, this one.”

L.J.’s smile was faint but there was warmth in his eyes. Pride lit up his face. “That he is.” Then he nodded and looked down at the portfolio, opening it to the only printed page.

“What is this?” J.R. asked, peering down at the signatures already printed on it.

L.J. peered up at Mrs. Adebo and gestured for her to speak.

“On behalf of Obed and Associates,” she said in her most-official voice. “Esquire Lalana-Joel Obed graciously awards the Obed Immigration Center a grant amounting to 1.5 million dollars after taxes.”

J.R.’s mouth dropped open and he gaped at his father.

“Congratulations, beta,” Mrs. Ganesh said, hands clasped together.

“That should be enough money to cover the rest of construction and the permits you need,” L.J. answered, nudging the portfolio to his son.

“More than enough!” Mr. Peters exclaimed, clapping excitedly. “You’re one lucky man, son.”

J.R. stared at the print, at the signatures of his father and law associates agreeing to support his venture. His heart thudded violently in his chest as he skimmed over the words written there, at his father’s spidery signature marking his complete and generous support. It seemed like a dream.

“It just needs your signature,” Mrs. Adebo instructed, holding out a pen.

When J.R. looked up at his father, L.J. smiled warmly. “Go ahead, son.”

And when he still hesitated to take the pen, Mrs. Adebo frowned. “Is there a problem?”

J.R. sniffed back tears. “Just one.”

All brows furrowed. “What is it, son?” L.J. asked, confusion etched in his face.

“It’s not the Obed Immigration Center…” J.R.’s lips trembled, tears pooling and blurring his vision. “It’s the Lalana Hope Center.”

Mrs. Ganesh gasped. “Oh my…”

Mr. Peters dropped a hand over L.J.’s shoulder who looked as though he’d been hit by a freight train.

“We’ll step out for a bit,” Mrs. Adebo spoke in the stunned silence and the other two followed her out of the room, leaving the two Obed men alone.

“Since when?” L.J. eked out. His eyes now glistened with tears forming.

J.R. shrugged. “I hadn’t really given it a name yet, but I knew I’d want to make it in honor of what you and Mom sacrificed to come here. You gave up everything, all that you knew back home, so that you could take care of Mom and me. There are many other families with similar stories living in this foreign country, and I wanted them to know that they weren’t alone. To tell them your story; that my dad understood their plight. I want them to find hope in your journey, your success.”

L.J. lost it. A garbled moan escaped his throat and he bent his head as he came undone. J.R. hastened to his side and gathered his father in an embrace. Then they wept together for times lost, and for the future that was most uncertain.

Once the sobs subsided, the two men remained in each other’s arms, L.J.’s head propped against his son’s shoulder. J.R. marveled at how small his father seemed, how fragile. His heart ached at the thought of losing him to this disease, to be without him.

“I’m sorry,” L.J. croaked softly. “I’m so sorry, my dearest Raju.”

J.R. tightened his hold around him. “I’m sorry too… We wasted so much time.”

L.J. sniffed. “I should’ve let you be who you wanted to be, trusted in your dreams and ambition.”

“I didn’t believe in myself, I was too uncertain.”

L.J. sighed. “That was my fault too. I planned everything about your life, you had no choice but to feel unsure of yourself. I should’ve let you grow on your own.”

“It’s fine now,” J.R. reassured his father, not wanting to dwell in regrets. “We’re fine.”

“Son… I promise to support whatever you decide.”

“I know, Babuji, thank you.” He squeezed L.J.’s shoulder to assure him.

“I’m sorry about pushing Hana on you. My guilt about her father made me blind to what you wanted.”

“It’s okay,” J.R. muttered, loosening his hold when L.J. squirmed. “Babuji, there’s something I need to say about that.”

“I heard already.” L.J. peered up at him, sadness in his eyes. “Your girl is pregnant.”

He frowned, figuring Hana beat him to it. Deciding to deal with her later, he sighed. “It wasn’t planned and the situation isn’t ideal, but I love her. And I want to marry her.”

L.J. nodded. “Okay.”

J.R. paused, having not expected that response one bit. “Okay? What, no protest?”

His father’s smile was wry. “I knew you didn’t understand when I said I’ll support whatever you decide. I meant it, Raju. If you want to marry her, marry her.” His gaze warmed J.R.’s face. “As a grown man, you make decisions about your future. Just like the immigration center, trials and tribulations might make you question if you made the right one, but you must work through and live with the choices you made.”

L.J. chuckled softly at the stunned look on his son’s face. “I know it’s hard to believe, but I too wondered if I’d made the right decision stealing your mother’s heart and running away to America the way I did. At times I felt like a selfish coward, but there was no turning back. We were raising a child and trying to make a life in a foreign land. I knew I had to make a better life for my family, no matter what.” L.J. squeezed his son’s hand. “I trust that same stubborn gene is in you to see things through no matter how hard it’ll get. And I trust you’ll do far better than I ever did. So marry the woman you love, Raju, and build a life for you and your family. I will support and honor your decisions.”

All J.R. could do was drop his head against his father’s shoulder, and let L.J. wrap his arms around him. The emotions were raw as J.R. wept again in his father’s embrace; relief, gratitude, regret and joy all mixed up. He wrapped his arms around L.J.’s skinny shoulders and wished his father would live long enough to see him live out his legacy.  He just had to make it work, in honor of the father that sacrificed it all for him.

Darah glared at Jeremy sitting across the room, she refused to let him take the stool by her bed. It was a wonder that her brothers even allowed him inside the room, them standing just outside ready to pounce in the sign of trouble. “What did you say to him?”

Jeremy frowned. “To who? The guy who claims to be your fiancé?”

“He is my fiancé,” Darah answered curtly. “What did you say to him?”

“That was quick.” Jeremy arched a brow. “You certainly didn’t waste time getting over me.”

Darah didn’t bite the bait; much too mature for goading. “What did you say to him?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t get to say anything. Someone came to get him, something about his dad.”

Her eyes widened in alarm. “What else did they say?”

Jeremy arched a brow. “Like I care. Wanna tell me what’s going on here? Tess said you had to tell me something.”

Darah scowled. “Of course she did.” She would’ve preferred he leave so she could ask about J.R., but from the way he sat with his arms folded and gaze expectant, he had no intentions of leaving soon.

“Is the baby mine?”

Her eyes flitted to his face, noted the deep furrow in his brow. She sighed. “Yes.” Unfortunately.

His eyes widened and he gaped at her. “And you weren’t gonna tell me?”

“As far as I was concerned, we were done.” She shrugged. “Didn’t see any reason to tell you—that was my bad,” she barreled on when he started to speak. “Regardless of how I feel about the situation, we made a child together.”

Jeremy looked like he swallowed a golf ball and Darah sighed, dragging a hand over her hair. “Look, I’m not asking you to take responsibility. That’s why I didn’t tell you, I’d prefer you don’t.”

“Why, because you’re getting married?” Jeremy croaked out, disbelief and something indecipherable in his face. “Do you really think I’m that bad to suggest I wouldn’t want to?”

Darah frowned. “You want to?”

He looked away, features tense. “… I don’t know what I want.”

She nodded, understanding his conflicted feelings. “Take your time.”

“Don’t patronize me.”

“I’m not—”

“And that guy doesn’t care that you’re carrying someone else’s baby?” Jeremy shifted to face her, brows furrowed in confusion. “He’s not mad about it?”

She bit the inside of her cheek. “I’m sure he’s disappointed, I am too. I had loved him for most of my teenage life and beyond, and yet in my moments of weakness, I settled. No offense.”

“None… taken,” Jeremy muttered begrudgingly.

Darah sighed. “I still love him and it’s a wonder he wants me regardless of the fact that I’ll be a single mother.”

“But does he want the responsibility of raising another man’s child? Because if he doesn’t…”

“What you’ll ask for custody?” At the shocked look on his face, Darah couldn’t help but laugh. “Look Jeremy, it’s fine. We don’t have to discuss this now. It’s new to you, you’ll need time to think about it. It’s a messy situation, and we’ll be dealing with two families… so take your time. I mean that, no pressure.”

His expression turned skeptical. “You’ve… changed somehow.”

Darah’s lips twitched a smile. “No Jeremy, I’ve just grown up a bit.”

“Maybe…” Jeremy stood slowly, his eyes drifting to her stomach, then back at her face. “I’ll call you.”

“Let’s plan for the four of us to talk when you’re ready. I’d want both J.R. and Tess to be there.”

He nodded haltingly and edged toward the door. “Hope you feel better soon.”

“Thanks. Goodbye, Jeremy.”

When Jeremy opened the door, J.R. was standing in the doorway. Darah held back a laugh when Jeremy edged around J.R. and her scowling brothers to leave the room. She flashed them a grin and waved for J.R. to enter. “How’d it go?” she asked as he settled in the seat beside her. Immediately she noted his reddened eyes and sat up in alarm. “Is he okay? What happened? What did they say?”

J.R. pulled her into a hug and rested his cheek against her ruffled mane. “He’s fine.”

Unconvinced by the sound of his voice, she leaned back and looked up at him. “Then why were you crying? You almost never cry.”

He gave her a gentle smile, gaze warm as he searched her face. “You told me I could.”

“Yeah but…” she paused when he embraced her tightly. Then she sighed and rubbed his back. “You okay?”

“Better than okay.” He planted a kiss on her forehead and then loosened his hold. “My dad wants to see you. When you’re ready, of course.”

Anxiety rolled in her stomach as she looked up at him, unable to reconcile the gentle smile on his face with the dreadful announcement of his father summoning her. “He does? Why?”

“He wants to meet his daughter-in-law, of course.” J.R. laughed at the shocked look on her face and stole a kiss. “We must not keep him waiting long though. He gets cranky when he’s impatient.”

“Are you serious? Seriously?” Darah smacked his arm when he kept laughing. “J.R.!”

The door opened, the whole family curiously peeking in when her protests grew louder. “You guys okay?” Phoebe said bemused, stepping in with Darah’s brothers and Geraldine who recently arrived.

“Better than okay,” J.R. said amid laughter and enveloped a grumpy Darah in his arms.

<<Chapter 25 || Chapter 27 (Final)

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