“Sorry for waking you up so early in the morning dad.”
“It’s alright.” he yawned.
“Tai and I are heading out. I stopped by to drop off the key.”
“You could have stuck it in the mailbox.”
“I could have.”
“But you chose to wake me up.”
Connor chuckled. “I did.”
“What’s wrong, son?”
“Nothing. I’ll be back soon, I promise.”
“By the way, your sisters and brothers aren’t at all happy you didn’t stop by to see them.”
“They didn’t come here or the cottage. I’ll hash it out with them soon enough.”
“They’re also desperate to meet the woman who sent Stacey into a tizzy.”
“Tai has that affect on people. Listen, the meters running. I’ll call when I get back to the States.”
“Okay, give Taiwo my regards.”
Skipping down the stairs, he stalked his way back to the taxi, climbed in and settled next to his lovely headache.
“What did your father say?”
“He said hello.”
“I see. So, are you happy to be heading back home?”
“We only spent two weeks together. I’m sure we need another two, don’t you agree?”
“I suppose we’re going to have to plan accordingly.”
“The plans have already been made.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re going to Benin.”
“Not at all. You’ve spoken about missing Nigeria and I thought now would be a good time to take advantage.”
“Thank you so much.”
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you-if you let me.”
“I have to find a way to pay you back.”
“Like I said before, I only spend money on what’s worth spending it on. You’re worth it and you’re not indebted to me.”
Thankfully it was too dark for him to watch her trailing tears creep down her face. She would have been embarrassed allowing him to see her cry. But her heart felt as if it going to burst with joy. Taiwo was dying to see her family after such a long time. She wondered if Benin would look the same, if her neighbor’s still lived in the village, what her siblings accomplished in her absence.
It had been an exhausting eight-hour flight but when they landed in Benin Airport, Taiwo felt thankful to be back on solid ground. She could never get used to being a foreigner in the air. After claiming their baggage, Taiwo hailed a taxi and gave the driver the address to their destination. Chugging along, she gazed intently out of the window drinking in the familiarity of the buildings in the distance. Some were new and other looked updated, yet kept its distant personality. Soon the taxi turned onto a red dirt road. The closer they were to their destination; kids appeared on the side of the road from the fields. Most were young boys in ripped jeans, shorts hacked at the knees, and tattered stained white t-shirts.
Looking up at the magenta sky reminded her of the time when she ran off to the local library looking for a little solitude away from her siblings. They hadn’t granted her that, they followed her around town like the spies they were. Since she was adamant on learning all she could, they figured they’d miss out, they later confided in her. There had had never been a time when she’d acquired knowledge that she wouldn’t pass it on to them. Her dream for her siblings was to make it out of poverty, to be self-sufficient, body and spirit. She hadn’t wanted them to be at the mercy of anyone, especially people who promised to love and cherish them only to break their hearts.
“Driver, you can stop here.” Taiwo gave him five naira and thanked him for the drive. Retrieving their bags, they walked along the dirt room until a small building came into view.
“Where are we?”
“We’re going to see the elders.”
“Isn’t it kind of late to intrude?”
“It’s never too late to see the elders.”
Kids and teenagers stared as they walked past, little girls even giggled and whispered. I’m sure they were all wondering why she was keeping company with a strange looking man. As they got closer, a hand clasped down on her arm spinning her around.
“Hello. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Nbosie. I recognized you from your picture.”
“There’s a picture of you hanging in the library.”
“Yes. The elders even named the building after you, The Taiyona Library.”
“That’s crazy! No way.” she laughed in disbelief. The last time she was here it was known as a community library. Why in the world would they name it after her, and what was the deal with displaying her picture?
“It’s true. Ask the elders when you go inside. Before you go, can I get your autograph?”
Has this young man lost his mind? She was no celebrity and it made her uncomfortable for him to think of her that way.
“Go on, give Nbosie your autograph.” Connor teased.
“I’m in my last year of high school and I get to attend college because of you and the community.”
“I’m sorry but I’ve been away from Benin a long time. I can’t take part in the success of your education.”
“The elders put together a scholarship in your name. Your brothers, sisters and uncle came up with the idea of gathering money from the community and put it to good use. Any kid in the community can go to college when they pin down a major! You really didn’t know any of this?”
“I really didn’t.”
“The elders told us all about you, how much it meant for you to earn an education even though you had many hardships. They said you made it out of Benin and became successful. You did it, so I believe I can accomplish anything.”
Taiwo was mind blown. She was made out to be some poster child of success when she held an ordinary job. Nbosie handed her a portrait of herself he’d kept with him, folded up in his pocket, hoping to one day meet her. Connor fished a pen from his bag and placed it into her hand. With the portrait signed, Nbosie asked for a picture for proof to show all his friend on his phone. She obliged and he skipped down the dirt path.
A wide, proud grin spread over his face. There were still so many things he didn’t know about Taiwo. She stared back at him in utter shock and found it difficult to find her voice. Dazed and finally making it to the front door of the Sanctuary Community Center, she slipped her shoes off knocking on the screen door. A familiar male voice shouted for her to enter. Turning around she told Connor to remove his shoes and let her do the talking. They slipped inside to a dim room. A long worn wood table rested at the far end of the room. Atop sat a small wicker basket with two lamps guarding either side.
Ornamental grapes, oranges and bananas were placed on the table against the wall. Samnibba Okuma, one of the village elders appeared from a room in the back and greeted Taiwo with a white cheeky smile. Immediately she fell to her knees and bowed, her forehead resting on her upturned palms. Connor hadn’t witnessed her so readily submit to anyone as a streak of jealousy jetted through him. He’d actually felt a little slighted. Watching her rise to her feet, she flung herself in this elder’s arms with abandonment. As much as he prided himself on being strong, another knick etched it’s way into his armor. She was giving another man free attention and he didn’t like it.
“Taiwo, it’s an honor to have you back. Are you here to stay?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not. Connor was nice enough to surprise me with this trip. We’ll be here for two weeks.” Taiwo waved for him to come closer to meet Samnibba. As he grew closer, he sensed he was being sized up, if he could be trusted. Holding out a hand, they embraced and put space between one another.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
“I hope I will be able to say the same for you.”
“Who are you to Ms.Yona?”
“I’m her man.” Samnibba looked down at Taiwo with disapproval.
“Do you have a problem with that?” he inquired.
He smiled, “I like that you’re to the point. You wouldn’t find one person who’d dispute that I’m like a second father to Taiwo. I just don’t want to see her hurt.” A crowd of children squeezed outside the door listening to unspoken threats of Samnibba.
“Taking advantage of Taiwo isn’t in my plans. She’s a good woman, stubborn, but good nonetheless.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I have to agree with you there.”
“I’m standing right here.”
“I hope you live up to your words, if you don’t, I promise I’ll find you and pay you a visit.”
“I’ll give you my contact information right now if you want.” Samnibba smirked thinking scaring him up wasn’t going to work on this man. The village boys were easier to deter in her adolescence.
“I wanted to stop by because I wanted to make a contribution to the center. It’s not much but I hope it helps.” Digging through her bag, she pulled out a white envelope of cash and held it to her lips and silently blessed it. “May I?”
“Sure.” With each step she felt happy to be giving back even in a small way to where life started for her. With each step she felt happy to be giving back even in a small way to where life started for her. Before releasing the envelope into the basket, she said another silent prayer, hoping that her contribution helped someone in need.
“The Center appreciates any donations it receives and we make sure to disperse it fairly.”
“I trust you all.”
“Have you two eaten anything?”
“Just snacks that were available to us on the flight here.”
“We have left over Jollof and rice stew.”
“That would be nice.”
“We should get to the lodge, it’s getting late Tai.”
“We have time for a meal before we go.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll have Lorna to drop you two off. I’ll be right back.”
Taiwo turned an irritated glance at Connor, “What was that?”
“What are you talking about?”
“We have to go? It’s disrespectful to turn away hospitality from our elders.”
“I just wanted us to get to the lodge and get comfortable.”
“There’s time for that. We have two weeks, remember?”
“Let me make myself clear, I want to spent time with you.”
“I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
“You weren’t here. I feel like I’m in the background. You just threw yourself at his feet.”
“And what am I?”
“Connor, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s how I greet my elders. Samnibba is like a father to me. I greet my uncle the same way. Are you jealous?”
“You are! You are!” she giggled. Wrapping her arms around his hips, she looked up at his grim face. “Don’t be mad.”
“Ahem. Why don’t you two have a seat over at the corner table.”
Taking their seats, plates placed in front of them, Samnibba thanked her for stopping by and left them to their meals.
“I’ve missed home cooked meals.”
“Did you do most of the cooking among your siblings?”
“I’m the oldest. I had to do everything.” Connor scooped up a fork full of the vibrant rice and left the flavors play over his tongue. She watched color rise from his neck up to his face in a washed out pink. “Spic isn’t it?” From the darkness, boisterous laughter erupted as did gurgles from the front door.
“Wow, what is in this rice?” he yelped.
“Spices and scotch bonnets.”
“No Tai, this isn’t going to work. How can you eat this?”
“My stomach is made out of lead. This is a milder version of Jollof.”
“It gets worse?” he asked astonished.
Laughter slowly subsided while Connor finished his rice stew as she rescued him from the rice from hell. They gave their thanks as they exited the Center and climbed into Lorna’s car to head for the lodge.
Click By Design (10) for the next chapter.