Together, they held their breath as they strained to make out the faint words floating through the closed door. They both failed, unable to decipher the harsh but hushed tones. They were not given much time before the sounds ceased completely. Zainab was ready to barge in, a hand on her shoulder making her rethink her actions. He was right, it would be too coincidental if immediately after her parents row ended they stepped in. It was better to risk one of them coming to the door and finding them standing there. A minute walked by and with it Namdi opened the door.
They were treated to Mrs. Shagari seated on the opposite end. The wide painting hung above her, the drip of the red wishing to end on the top of her head. A smile was on her lips but it did not reach her eyes. Her neck stretched proudly, hands clasped on the edge of the table. She said nothing when her daughter and son-in-law stepped in. On the center table, Namdi and Zainab set what they carried then walked to take their seats.
Mother faced daughter, Father faced son-in-law. More than an arms length separated one from the other.
"Let us pray. We thank you for the bounty before us and beseech thee that..."
Namdi's eyes opened as Zainab’s father carried on like a pastor at a Passover feast. Turning to his left, he wasn't surprised seeing Zainab's head bowed, eyes closed, and excitement colouring her cheeks. When it came to her father, she became a completely different person. He wondered how their friends would react if they saw Zainab like this. Pinching themselves in an attempt to wake up from a dream would be one common reaction. Church was a four event a year affair for them: Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving and the occasional wedding. While Namdi watched Zainab, he was unaware that he in turn was watched by her mother.
"So have we prayed?"
A soft amen floated to the rafters, a seal of finality. Zainab got up to serve the meal she had poured her heart to prepare. Before she could reach the first dish, a chair scraped against the black marble floor. The sound swept all attention to the sight of Mr. Shagari on his feet.
"We are leaving!"
Zainab was the most surprised from her father's words, his footsteps already taking him towards her before she could come to terms with what was happening.
"Leaving? But you just got here, we are about to eat."
She sputtered. In her words, she was unable to hide the disappointment of a little girl. Seeing her dad's intent unaffected, Zainab showed unease.
"I made this meal especially for you, daddy."
Her second attempt did not slow the footsteps of her father. Before he could pass, she reached for him, her hand filled with the fabric of the native he wore.
"Babbana na kai na."
Zainab said in a near whisper. Her father stopped. Turning, he looked into his daughters eyes, seeing the pleading in the depths of the brown. With his free hand, he brought her into his embrace, enveloping her in a gentle hug. Kissing the top of her forehead, he gave her slight shoulders a quick squeeze.
"Something came up that can't wait. I promise we'll reschedule. There is no need for you to see us out, we know the way."
By this time her mum had reached them, standing a bit off to the side. Breaking away from the embrace, Mr. Shagari held the door open for his wife. Zainab stood there watching the door her father had disappeared through. She didn't move as she dealt with her inner turmoil. Two strong arms slipped round her waist, lending her strength. With care, she was guided back to her seat, her body showing no resistance. In a daze she sat down, her eyes closing. The night had not gone anywhere near what she had envisioned.
In the background, she could hear the scrape of metal on ceramic, an event she cared little for; her mind solely focused on other thoughts. With great care, she felt herself lifted off the chair only to be set back down on what was firm and warm. A gentle heat tickled her soft lips. Opening her eyes, she saw herself sitting on Namdi's lap, a fork in front of her. On it was a white block very similar in look and size to the Dangote sugar cube that comes in a blue paper pack. On top of the block was a small serving of vegetable. There were more perfectly cut blocks sitting on the plate before them.
"Your eba and vegetable smells delicious. I'm sure leaving must have hurt your dad as much as it hurts you."
He said the words in comfort, his love for Zainab greater than the enmity between him and her father. She broke down, burying her face into his chest. Dropping the fork back onto the plate, he held her, whispering soothing words in an effort to dull her pain.
Continued on next page...
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