Taiwo rose early the next morning. After a refreshing shower, she dressed in gray cotton sweatpants, a white t-shirt, and sneakers. Grabbing a wad of cash, she jetted down to the lobby to look around for Samnibba who was in conversation with a cook who was setting up his stations for breakfast.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked as she snuck up on him tapping his shoulder.
“Morning. I’m ready.” Employees stationed at the front desk greeted her and wished her a safe morning. “Where to first?”
“Take me to rest a car, I have some shopping to do.”
Though her presence was noticed, Samnibba preferred to negotiate the best deal for a reliable car. Times like these made her realize there was still so much inequality in the world towards women. If she were to put a positive spin on things, at least she wouldn’t get cheated since Samnibba was by her side championing for her. Once the transaction was successful, they parted way with a hug.
Taiwo’s mind was on clothes. It had been a long time since she splurged on a couple of outfits. She just crossed her fingers and toes hoping that Niobe’s Fashion Boutique was still in existence. Air and earth filled her lungs as she drove with the windows down. There were so many new buildings she wanted to explore, yet two weeks wouldn’t be enough. Thankfully, as she put the car in park, Niobe’s was still open for business. The shop looked exactly as she remembered. The building sported a rose color with white trim all around set off against a row of flowers hugging the perimeter of the entrance. Stepping inside, she was quickly welcomed and encouraged to look around.
Niobe peeked out from the storage closet eyeing Taiwo. “Can I ask what you’re doing here?” Turning, she stared back at Niobe folding her arms defiantly. An instant smile lit up her face as she raced toward her childhood friend.
“Taiwo.” Tears pooled in her eyes at her friend’s unexpected visit. “How long have you been here?”
“We flew in yesterday evening.”
“Who is he? Tell me all about him.” Grabbing Taiwo by the wrist, dragging her to the rear of the store, she ordered her to sit n the stool and spill her guts.
“I came here to shop.”
“You can ge to that later. I’ll even hive you a discount. Spill it.”
“I wasn’t looking for Connor-“
“Connor? You’ve gone and done it. He’s white isn’t he?”
“I knew you’d take the unconventional route.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You always fought for more, more than what’s in Benin. I knew once you left, you’d make something of yourself. You never seemed afraid to dive into the unknown. You were the brave one.”
“I wasn’t being brave.”
“You came back here with a white man. You don’t call that brave. And your uncle…”
“I’m sure he’s heard by now. I’m going to take Connor with me to meet my family.”
“I hope this Connor has a strong backbone.”
“He’s a good man.”
“How did you meet?”
“It’s a long story but I don’t regret crossing paths with him.”
“Do you love him?”
“You could say that.”
“Yes or no child.”
“What about my discount?” Rising to her feet, she started walking back to the front of the store but was caught by her elbow.
“Don’t be like this.”
“Like you mother.”
“What are you talking about?”
“When was the last time your mother told you she loved you?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Just answer the question.”
“I don’t remember.”
“I don’t understand what you’re getting at. My mother loves me.”
“I can’t remember a time when she ever told you so. Do you remember the day you left, between you and I, I was the only one with tears rolling down my face.”
“You’re accusing me of being cold. I didn’t want to leave you behind any more than you wanted me to leave. How could you not know that?”
“I’m not accusing you of anything. You’ve endured much hardship and you turn it inward. Even if like, people, situations hurt you, you should grieve them. I’ve never even seen you cry. Take time to grieve, decompress, or else it’s going to catch up with you.”
“I’m fine Niobe.” Jerking her elbow from her grip, Taiwo stormed to the front tearing through the clothes rack for a couple of outfits. Not one to be deterred, Niobe stood beside her old friend, leaving her with some final words
“People who love you the most tell you like it is, and here’s how it is. You run when a fraction of love is shown to you.”
“You sound like Connor.”
“So he sees you then.”
“As your friend, listen to what he’s telling you. Seems to me he’s solid which is exactly what you need.” Niobe glided to her employee working the register and whispered something in her ear, waved Taiwo a goodbye and disappeared into the back of the store. After blowing through the racks, she walked away with the addition of her discount, three complete outfits, black leather palm sandals, and two head wraps. Switching gears, she drove to a local market that sold everything from fresh fruits, meats and an assortment of nuts. She used to visit this market many times when her mother physically couldn’t. Taiwo had been known by name and often had most of her groceries sacked up waiting for her upon arrival.
There were familiar faces that time molded in to an adults. The village kids she’d grown up with had taken over their families’ businesses. Some took to agriculture while others pottery and woodworking. All were there to sell their goods with wide smiles. Perusing various stalls, she felt she was being watched under surveying eyes. As she casually strode past, the sellers’ eyes snapped in recognition. Excitement rang in their voices as she was pulled aside and huddled around. Her beauty was praised and even had to turn down requests for dates.
Extra fruit was generously cut up for her to eat on the go. Waving her goodbyes, she piled back in the car, nestling fruit containers in the passenger seat and checked the time. It was noon by the time she made it back to the hotel. Rushing through the door, she passed the front desk and punched the elevator button for her ride up. On the way up, the nerves throughout her body were standing on ends. The bags tapped against her thigh as she walked down the hall to her and Connor’s room. As she put her hand on the knob, the door opened revealing blank eyes staring back at her.
“Where’ve you been?”
“Shopping. I brought fruit back. Did you have breakfast?”
“Yes. Do you want to have lunch together?”
“Sure.” tossing her bag of clothes on the messy bed “Listen, while I was at the market I was told there’s going to be a party later tonight. Do you want to check it out?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Also, I want you to meet my family if you’re up for it.”
“Okay…you seem nervous about it.”
“I am. Just a little.”
“Because you look just a little different than what my family is used to.”
“Just a little?” he teased.
“I’m not embarrassed. I just don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”
“You’re the only one uneasy about us.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know what you said.”
“Relax, you’re worrying too much. Let’s just have a good time. But first, let’s have lunch.”
“Wait. I need to figure out which dress to wear for the party.” After mulling things over, she chose a simple black racerback maxi dress and red flats. Tossing everything in a bag, they headed down to the lobby chatting about where to dine for lunch. She hadn’t a preference just as long as she was beside him. Once on the road, she told him whatever caught his eye that’s where they’d go. A food truck with many customers piqued his interest, so that’s where the stopped.
As they stood in line, he noticed women did the ordering. Somehow they juggled motherhood and being a wife seamlessly. The men seemed too relaxed for his taste. Women shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of everything. He had to admit, those women were very strong, especially unmarried young mothers. He’d never seen such unhappiness in the eyes of a woman before. The young mother begged passersby for money to feed her young daughter she had balanced on her hip, but she was ignored or scolded for having a child at such a young age.
Witnessing the woman’s plight called back to memory of Taiwo’s fear of marriage and motherhood. He better understood her concern after watching the young mother try to find food for her daughter. Looking down at Taiwo, he watched her eyes trained on the struggling mother and could only imagine the thoughts going through her mind. When it was time to order, he bought meat pies, chicken, puff puffs and bottles of water.
“You must be starving.”
“Some of it is for that woman over there. Looks like she’s having a difficult time getting her child fed. Stay here while I run this over to her.” Watching him give to that struggling mother reminded her of her first day at Shaw and Fletcher. Connor was so warm and attentive to the employees there. They all were practically family, so it shouldn’t have surprised her that he would be so giving to someone he knew nothing about. Without hesitation, the little girl reached out to him to pick her up and the mother nodded in approval. He bounced her, tickling her in the process. Giggles gurgled from her throat into the air and triggered Taiwo to trip out some of her own. Connor would make a good father, he was so at ease with that child and did even better with the mother. She had stars in her eyes and didn’t want to let him go. From what she could see, he passed her some money and stroked the little girl’s cheek and started back to her.
“Welcome back Mother Teresa.”
“Nah. Just helped someone who needed it.”
“In any case, you won over her daughter.”
“She’s adorable and I have an amazing set communication skills that could win over just about anyone.” he joked.
“Wow, tooting your own horn, I just love a humble man.”
“Doesn’t get any better than me, Tai.”
They walked while they ate, trading jokes along the way.
“Tonight’s party isn’t far from here, it’s at Erevan Beach. I’m excited to meet people I haven’t seen in ages. My siblings will most likely attend as well.”
“There are how many of you again?”
“Five total, Sarina, Bosah, Daren, Lawrence and of course, me.”
“I have four other siblings as well. I couldn’t have imagined living so far away from them when we were younger. I guess life happened.”
“On occasions, I regret leaving my family behind to make a better life in another country. In life, we’re forced to make difficult choices.”
Snug inside the car, Taiwo gushed over her family, her favorite places to read when she finally escaped from the demands of her brothers and sister. They even had a pet rabbit her uncle, Nosa, skinned and cooked by accident. Her chatter dripped dry as she pined, anxious about Connor meeting her uncle. Times had changed and she hoped he had too.
Pulling into the drive, she sat a moment staring out at Nosa’s house. It was her summer home when on break from school. This had been a place where she earned a reprieve from familial responsibilities that unduly fell into her hands. At night she climbed onto a heavy black, large chest that sat next to the window, gazing out at the midnight sky. The stars shimmered brightly as did the glow of the moon that washed her in its light. The night had become her peace, her best friend when she needed the quiet to overtake her mind. Nosa knew the stress and strain that was thrust upon her, but never did she complain. He made her summer’s there carefree; anything she wanted, he gave with without question. She remembered boys trespassing on her uncle’s lawn to get a glimpse of her. When she did smile, the trespassers said, she was the most beautiful girl they’d ever seen. As beautiful as she was, her uncle wasn’t having any misbehavior on his watch. He often threatened those boys with a machete citing Taiwo had a bright future ahead of her and he wasn’t going to let anyone ruin her prospects.
“Are you ready?” she asked still looking at her uncle’s home.
“I was wondering if you were having second thoughts.”
“I was just recalling some find memories I had here.” Opening the driver’s door, feet planted on the ground, slowly she walked toward the steps and up the porch. Nosa had a habit of leaving the shutters open and window pulled all the way up. Leaning on the frame, she stuck her head inside and scanned the interior. “Uncle?” Five heads darted from the kitchen with wide smiles that could were face splitting.
“How’ve you been Sarina?” she shouted back. Her brother’s and uncle flooded the living room as her sister cut her way through, opening the door, bumping into Connor. She looked up at him and slammed the door in his face and shouted back to Taiwo.
“There’s a white man outside!”
“I know and he can hear you. The window’s open remember.”
“He’s with you?”
“Who is he?” she whispered.
“His name is Connor and he’s my man. By the way, you’ve never been good at whispering.” Staring back at the frowned faces of her brother’s and uncle, she felt the testosterone raise by degrees. She hoped it was because they were protective of her. Standing by Connor’s side, he wrapped his arm around her waist and felt her tremble. Her face displayed confidence but her body betrayed her. Sarina opened the door again and smiled.
“Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay,” Connor assured her.
“Through and through.”
“You didn’t bring home a regular white man Tai.” she teased. “You’ve got an exotic one.”
“Cut it out Renna.”
“Well if Tai brought you home, you must be special.”
“Oh? I hope so. Have other guys meet your family?”
“Okay, you two. You going to let us inside?” Sarina stepped aside allowing her sister to kick off her shoes as Connor followed suit. There was a small mat where she bowed on hands and knees, greeting the men. Connor hung back, twice he’d watched her honor family in an unusual way. She only greeting those she loved in this manner and it made him wonder where he stood. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have a clue how she felt, but other men seemed to get extra from her. “Hello, uncle.”
“You’ve been missed, niece.”
“It’s been a long time, I know.”
“What has brought you back?”
“Family. I only have mom back in the States.”
“How is my sister?”
“She’s doing well, running a fabric shop.”
“Has she remarried?”
“Is marriage on the horizon for you?” Taiwo looked back at Connor and waved for him to come forward. Standing, she smiled and wrapped her arms around his.
“Maybe. Uncle this is Connor, Connor, my uncle Nosa.” Connor held his hand out but earned a hug.
“There was a time I’d be livid over such an offense in my sight but I’ve grown older and have come to understand life a lot more. As long as you take care of my niece, you are welcome in my home as family.”
“I don’t need taking care of uncle.”
“Shh girl. You still have yet to learn what it is to be a woman. You’re supposed to be taken care of.”
“I agree one hundred percent.” Connor injected.
“Come you two, sit.” It would be an understatement to say she was embarrassed as her brothers didn’t help matters by yelping with laughter. “So, how did you two meet?”
“A company meeting.”
“You sleeping with the boss.”
“Shut up, Bosah. What Connor meant was he and his business partner came to the company I worked at. That’s how we met.”
“So where are you working know?” Bosah inquired.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“My sister’s working for you now, right?”
“See, sis, sleeping with the boss. I never would have imagined my responsible sister subscribing to something so…western.” he joked.
“That isn’t funny.” Tears stung her eyes as she pushed from her chair and stormed outside.
“When did she become so sensitive?” he asked truly surprised. The way he remembered it, nothing had ever rocked his sister, and they’d gone through some harsh times. Connor rose to follow Tai when he was instructed to let her cool off.
“Never mess with a woman when she’s emotional,” Nosa warned.
“Listen, I didn’t mean anything by what I said. I know my sister is an upstanding woman.”
“Now that my brother has royally screwed up, there is something I want to ask.”
“Are you really going to marry my sister?” Though Sarina was the youngest, she was the boldest of her brother’s. She didn’t want her sister to get hurt and was asking out of concern.
“That’s my plan, but I haven’t asked her yet. I’m waiting for an opening is all. I’m trying to be careful with Tai.”
“Then you’ll be making me an aunt, then?”
“I want babies but she doesn’t.”
“Hmph. I’ll talk to her. There’s no way I’m not going to be an aunt.”
“I won’t force the issue with her. I’m hoping she’ll come around to it on her own.”
“You’re going to have to help her make up her mind. I know why Tai says she doesn’t want a baby but don’t believe her. She wants a family. I snuck and read it in her diary when we were kids. We were a constant nuisance to her, she couldn’t keep anything hidden from us.”
“Tai would dip your face in mud if she knew you went through her personal stuff.”
“Well, she doesn’t know unless you all tell her.”
“I’m going to blackmail you, Renna.” Daren chuckled. “You’re doing my laundry for two weeks.”
“Over my dead body.”
Listening to them made him think of his siblings, how they crowded around the table for Sunday dinner. They had joked and recited stories until midnight crept upon them until they were shooed off to bed. He missed times like these. Connor wanted to create memories just like these with her as his wife chasing their children around in the backyard on sunny days, cuddled with them in a hammock, swinging on rainy evenings. A family makes life worth living.
“What are your plans for the rest of the evening?” Lawrence was the third oldest and the most reserved.
“Tai wants to go to this party tonight at Erevan Beach.”
“They are always fun. We’ll all be there.” Sarina added. “You will never go to bed hungry, there’s so much food.” Wrapping up conversation meant hugging the team that made up Taiwo’s family. Her fears thankfully were unfounded. Connor was walked to the door and Sarina walked him to the car he’d arrived in. There, Tai sat, head resting against the glass window. Her sister tapped the glass, jolting her awake.
“What’s wrong with you gal? You left your man all alone. We had a real good time with him too.”
“What did they do to you?” Concern was etched all over her face as she climbed out the car.
“I was just kidding Tai. Relax. You’ve gotten so sensitive in your old age. Connor says you’ll be attending the beach party.”
“That’s the plan.”
“Well, you don’t have much time to shower and dress.”
“I brought a change of clothes. It’s in a bag in the back seat.”
“There’s no point driving back to the hotel to get ready. Get your stuff and I’ll help you get dressed.”
“Go on. I’ll wait here.” Connor commanded. He grabbed her things and watched her get drug off back inside the house. Less than a half hour later she re-emerged wearing her black racerback maxi dress and red sandals. Sarina eagle-eyed Connor’s satisfied expression. He looked as if he’d never seen her before.
“I brought her back in one glorious piece.”
“Look, he’s blushing.” Taiwo’s gently swatted her sister’s arm.
“As I’ll ever be.”
“We won’t be far behind you.” She waved off Taiwo, jetting back inside.
“Do you want me to drive so you can relax?”
“You could just show me the way. You said the party isn’t too far from here.”
“I can get us there. Can you get us back to the hotel in one piece?”
“Of course I can. I’ve been paying attention.” Opening the driver’s door, she slid in and waited for him to climb in on the other side.
“Seatbelts.” he reminded her.
They’d made it to Erevan in under an hour, parking in the lot of a nearby mall. She could already smell meat and peppers being barbecued. All this time away from home made her crave traditional food and now her patience would be rewarded.
Connor watched as Taiwo slowly let her guard down. It was like watching the jacket of a banana being stripped away revealing its sweet flesh. Her smile became easy, more accessible, her shoulders slacked and arms swung freely. If he could pause time, it would be now. There just weren’t many times she had been this way. Worry and stubbornness, a sense of responsibility always sat on her shoulders. All he wanted her to be is relaxed and realize she didn’t have to carry so much.
The sky was growing ever darker. He didn’t think it was possible to get any blacker, but it did. Stars popped out greeting them. Partygoers began shoving and twisting tiki torches into the sand securing the base with small rocks. The stations were set up with food covered with foil, beverages in sealed containers. There was a DJ spinning music he couldn’t understand, but he could come to enjoy it with time.
As they walked along, Nbosie caught his eye. He was sitting on a long piece of thick lumber with his feet shoved in the sand. As the young man looked up, he waved wildly, smiling.
“You made it!” he shouted.
“We did. Hoping to have a good time.”
“You’ll have a blast,” the young man assured. “how’ve you been Ms. Yona?”
“Okay, just a bit tired.”
“Shouldn’t you be resting then?”
“No way, I wouldn’t miss this for anything.” She waved dismissing herself to a small empty table staring out at gently rolling waves. How she missed this. She’d no reason to feel so sentimental, she was here after all.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes. The waves just grabbed my attention.” Squeals grew louder making her twist around. Niobe and her old neighborhood allies rushed towards her, lifting her up out of her seat, hugging and chirping away.
“Come on, let’s dance Tai.’
“Connor, won’t you join us?”
“Go ahead, I’ll watch for a while.”
He watched as she and her friends danced to the thumps of tribal beats. She was mesmerizing, her body moved effortlessly. Her friends fished out pins securing her hair, letting her curls cascade down her bad. She ruffled her tresses and threw her arms to the sky in freedom. Women of all shapes, sizes, and hue joined them celebrating in their womanhood. Smiles and laughter were seen and heard all around. It was the music they made just by being a woman. How beautiful these women were; not having a care in the world. This was the woman he longed to see in Taiwo.
Kicking off her sandals, she ran into the cold water yelping in delight. The tide lapped at her calves, refreshing her senses. Why couldn’t every day feel like this, she wondered. Friends, family, fun and food made everything better. Trudging back on the sand she watched Niobe run back with a small plate of rib meat cleaned from the bone. Shoving the plate in her hands, Taiwo gladly consumed it giving it two thumbs up. As Niobe ran off with the plate, Taiwo went back to dancing until she felt her body being encircled. Twisting her head up, she found Connor looking down into her her eyes smiling. He danced surprisingly well to the beat; euphoria grabbed a hold of her and she began singing.
He understood it now, who she was, why she was, why she fought tooth and nail to preserve what was left of her people. She didn’t want what they have to die out, to be forgotten about, used or abused anyway one could see fit. It was beautiful here, and so where it’s people. Granted no group or culture is perfect, but if one gave it a chance, they’d see so much more than the external, what they could profit from monetarily. He found himself falling for her all over again. Kissing her lips he pulled her in closer wrapping his arms around her. She heard the beating of his heart as she pressed an ear to his chest. She smiled feeling safe in his embrace, but the comfort of safety didn’t last long. They were yanked apart by an old flame that she’d left in the dust.
“What are you doing?”
“What are you doing here with this man?”
“Get your hands off my woman.” Connor threatened.
“Let’s just go Connor.” As they began to walk away, Amenze caught her by the wrist and dragged her to his side.
“Let me go!” Tugging her wrist away only made Amended tighten his grip even more.
“You are a traitor to your people. Is this what they teach you in the West, to betray?”
“You need to grow up. People are just that, people.”
“White’s are not human and they never will be. They’ve taken everything from us. We have to stick together. Whose side are you on?”
“I’m on my side.”
“There is no “your side”, it’s us against them.”
“There hasn’t been a time where I haven’t fought for our people. I’m only one person, I can’t do it all. Fight for yourself.”
“So you’ve turned your back on the people who’ve made you who you are?”
“I’ve heard enough of this nonsense.” Connor stepped between the two of them and threatened bodily harm if he ever put his hands on Taiwo again.
“What you gonna do white boy?” he goaded.
“Don’t make me repeat myself.” As he and Taiwo began to turn away, Amenze landed a blow to Connor’s kidney forcing a hiss through his teeth. He quickly recovered, planting his fist at the right side of Amenze’s jaw knocking him on his back. Turing to leave, Amenze scrambled to his feet locking Connor in a chokehold.
“Stop Amenze.” Taiwo demanded, but her cries fell on deaf ears. Not one to be out maneuvered, his instincts kicked in. He hadn’t survived the Army, Judo, and Jiu-jitsu training not to use it when necessary. Breaking free, he wrestled his attacker onto his back, climbing over him, landing punch after punch into Amenze’s face. “You’re going to kill him. Stop Connor.” Pleading wasn’t working so she put herself in harm’s way, pulling Connor off his target. Amenze hobbled to his feet, blood dripping down his face.
“You’re a dead man.” his attacked assured him.
“Shut up Amenze.”
“I’m ready anytime anywhere. Bring it.”
“Walk away Connor.” She’d had enough of violence for one day.
“Are you defending him?”
“No, I just want this to stop.”
“He put his hands on you and you’re telling me to walk away?”
“You two were going to kill each other.”
“You’re mistaken, if it came to it, he’d be lying there waiting for someone to drag his body away.”
“Why do you always do this?”
“What have I done?”
“I fight for you, for us and you tell me stop. What did you expect me to do? What do you want from me?!”
“You could have walked away.”
“Like you do?”
“Excuse me? Don’t you dare turn this around on me.”
“Don’t ever undermine my manhood like this.”
“I was just trying to make sure you didn’t get hurt.” she added exasperated.
“I don’t need you to worry about that. If there’s one thing the Irish is good at, it’s fighting.”
“You don’t want me to care, I won’t. Consider us finished.” she spat back in anger.
“Finished? Is that what you really want?” She spun around and marching off with her head hung low, sinking step by excruciating step into the sand. She’d done many things but never turned her back to him. The fact that she wanted to break things off with him rippled down his heart. Swallowing hard, he fought back the sting of tears and yelled his response that he could only guess rode along the wind. “Fine. I don’t need you either. It’s been nothing but trouble with you since I meet you.” He stormed off in the opposite direction, toward the car they’d arrived in. He didn’t know how she was going to get back to the hotel and he didn’t care.
She’d never been so embarrassed in her life. All of Benin would know about this by morning. She couldn’t bear to look her family and friends in the face. She hadn’t wanted Niobe to take her back to the hotel and she didn’t want to crash at her place. All she wanted was peace and quiet. Quiet she got, but a storm brewed in her heart and mind. Not even she could believe she ended things with Connor. She’d always known at some point her quick temper and bullheaded ways would be the downfall of her. Tears blurred vision as she walked down the middle of the road. The night enveloped her steps reminding her the darkness was still her friend. When she couldn’t take another step, she plopped down on a curb cradling her knees up to her chest and sobbed. She cried until her throat ran dry. She cried long enough for Sarina to find her slumped over on the side of the road.
When she finally arrived at Erevan, the ruckus had already died down. She ran into Niobe and she filled her in on the event that took place. Quickly rushing off in the direction her sister went, she drove a half an hour until her headlights illuminated Taiwo’s red sandals. Parking the car, she ran to her sister, kneeling down, shaking her to wake her up. Taiwo didn’t stir, so dragging her was the only option. Once Taiwo was situated, Sarina drove them both back to her home. She couldn’t only wonder how Connor was fairing, especially after telling them he wanted to marry her sister.
Read the next part here By Design (11)