“International or domestic?” The cab driver interrupted Deborah’s thoughts again, but this time she wasn’t nearly as irritated by his interruption because it was necessary.
“Domestic. Stop at the Jetblue terminal.” She looked at her Blackberry. She had a new message from Eva, which read: I will miss u, girl. Safe flight to NY. I look forward to seeing you soon. Xoxo. Eva was the first Nigerian and African person Deborah met at Georgetown University. Deborah had transferred from Columbia University to Georgetown just in time before James release from the neonatal ward at St. Mary’s hospital. She had started the transfer process the moment Chinyere called her to inform her that the doctor had observed complications in her 4 month pregnancy. The school change was a decision she didn’t have to think twice about. With their mother based in Nigeria and their other relatives located in Houston, Texas, Deborah knew she was the only person available to support her sister and she was excited to fulfill that role.
Deborah enjoyed the slower pace of life in the DC area. She moved into the basement of Clinton and Chinyere’s large house in McLean, an affluent suburb of Virginia. The lawyer and doctor were generous with their finances and they made sure Deborah was comfortable through out her stay. The story was vastly different for Deborah’s school transition; she didn’t like the homogenous preppy look a majority of the students at Georgetown had. Even though the city’s population was very eclectic and vibrant, the campus population was overwhelmingly white, save for the few blacks, Asians, and Latinos that dotted the gothic landscapes. Even worse was the California valley girl accent most of the girls spoke with; surprisingly, a few boys had adopted it as well. So the day Eva walked up to her at the cafeteria and asked in her forced fake American accent if she could take the unused chair beside her, it was memorable. Deborah had spent a week on campus and up until that interaction she had spoken to almost nobody.
“Is anybody sitting here?” Eva had asked Deborah with a twinkle in her eyes. Many people who met her usually suggested that she moved to New York to attempt modeling, while others commented on her made-for-television symmetrical face. The bright printed vintage sheer mini dress, beige fedora, and thrift designer handbag accentuated her charismatic, cosmopolitan look. She had walked so gracefully across the crowded cafeteria despite her high brown wedges, which made her appear taller and skinnier.
“No, nobody is here. Just me.” Deborah replied.
“Do you mind if I take the chair?”
“You can have it. Not a problem.” She had tried to conceal her disappointment, for she had assumed Eva wanted to sit with her. Her lips bent downwards revealing a sad face. Just as Eva had turned around to leave with the chair, she paused and asked what country Deborah was from.
“Really!” She dropped the chair and turned to face Deborah. “I swear I almost said Nigeria. I’m from Nigeria, too. I guess you’re new here; I’ve never seen you before,” she laughed. “You should come and meet my friends over there. They are all from Nigeria, as well. This should be interesting.” She cleared her bangs from her eyes. Her weave was perfectly done. It looked just like the hair black Hollywood actresses wore. Deborah packed up her half-eaten burger and seven remaining sticks of fries and then followed Eva to the table where her friends waited.
Deborah handed the cab driver a ten dollar bill and proceeded to the Jetblue ticket counter. She checked-in her baggage and placed her boarding pass securely in her purse. She took a seat at the gate and replied Eva’s text message. She told her how much she would miss her and how she could not wait for her to visit New York. Although Eva was partly responsible for her departure from her sister’s house and her relocation back to New York, she bore no animosity against her. The girls exchanged messages until Deborah boarded her flight. Throughout their texting Deborah couldn’t stop herself from remembering how their friendship blossomed following a chance run in at church.
Deborah drove around the parking lot for the second time. She had spent fifteen minutes looking for a parking spot in the crowded church complex. Five churches shared the complex; and unfortunately, their Sunday service times overlapped. All the members seemed to assemble on the parking lot at the same time in order to get the parking spots closest to the church building and avoid the treacherous 10 minute walk from the reserve parking lot a few blocks away. Recently, the pastor of the biggest of the five churches had urged his congregation to consider carpooling to church because it is not only environmentally and wallet friendly but also an act of brotherly kindness. But judging from the unchanged traffic and number of cars at the parking lot, more than three weeks later, the congregation preferred their other acts of brotherly kindness and environmentalism.
Deborah glanced at the clock on her dashboard; she was five minutes late to the thanksgiving and baby dedication service of her nephew. Today was a very special service. Chinyere had finally conceived after 10 years of trying and her son, James, born three months before his due date, had fought multiple bouts of pneumonia and jaundice. Deborah had helped her sister prepare and send out dozens of invitations to the church service and the after party / house warming party at her sister’s newly constructed house. After going around the parking lot for a third time, Deborah finally heeded the advice of the traffic usher and drove off to the reserve parking lot. Parking there was not nearly as arduous; she slowly pulled her red Honda Civic into the first spot she saw. She slipped her feet into her black stilettos while silently resenting the long walk back to the church. Even though today was her first time attending the church, she had no one to blame; her sister had apprised her of the parking situation and advised her to arrive as early as she could. She looked in her rare view mirror, adjusted her hair, and added a fresh coat of plum lipstick to her glossy lips. Her bangles chimed and moved from her wrists to her elbows each time she touched her face. When she was satisfied with her appearance, she grabbed her black purse and her frayed bible from the front passenger’s seat. She hissed repeatedly as she made her way on the potholed road back to the church complex. She walked past the traffic usher who smiled and waved lustfully. “God forgive your soul, so that’s how you do your job on a Sunday,” she thought to herself.
Deborah was thirty minutes late to the church. The ushers welcomed her warmly and directed her to a seat in the pews. “I’m here for the Mark’s baby dedication,” she screamed into an usher’s ear. The music from the choir drowned her words.
“I see. Wow, sister Chinyere didn’t tell us to expect beauty overload,” the usher teased. “Anyway, she is a pretty lady herself. I don’t know what I was expecting.”
When they didn’t find a seat in the section reserved for visitors of the celebrants, they searched for a seat in the pews. They settled on a seat in the first row. Deborah wasn’t too thrilled about sitting near the pulpit., never mind that she was nearsighted and she had neither her glasses nor contacts. Deborah joined in the praise and worship, but she was continuously distracted by the speakers in front of her. From time to time, she focused n mundane things such as the individual styles of the choir members. She hated the silver wedges the lead singer wore, but she loved her brunette bangs. She didn’t like the way the way the lead male singer danced, she felt it was pretentious. She also disliked the way he communicated tacitly with the skinny light-skinned lady beside him; never mind that she knew nothing of their relationship, but she disapproved of their flirtatious glances. She laughed at the height difference between the three men who shared a single microphone. The guy in the center was the cutest of the three. He had the physique of a professional basketball player, and he closed his eyes as he passionately sang the slow worship song. Deborah, whose gaze remained fixated on the tall dude, didn’t notice Eva standing a few feet from him. At the end of the worship session, the choir filed off the stage and took their seats behind Deborah.
“Hey, Debby!” Eva tapped lightly on Deborah’s left shoulder. “What are you doing in my church, girl?” She extended her arms to give her a hug. “I saw you the moment you stepped in the church. Girl, you look so good and different.”
Deborah turned around; she was shocked at the friendliness and surprise in Eva’s tone. Since their introduction, their relationship had been limited to mostly “Hi” and “bye” and she regarded her as an acquaintance rather than a friend. She explained her reason for being in the church and then invited her over to the house party. “Girl, you know I’m gonna be there; the choir was invited already. I got my IV like, what, maybe 3 weeks ago,” said Eva, releasing Deborah from her embrace. They continued talking until the tall man Deborah admired asked them to be silent. The pastor walked to the stage and delivered a brief, trite sermon on prosperity and the principle of sowing, reaping, and diligence. His sermon was followed by a wave of offerings and finally praises and dancing in celebration of the thanksgiving/baby dedication.
The dee jay collected the remaining half of his money and hastily rushed to his next gig. Clinton placed the remaining unopened champagne and beer bottles in the refrigerator.
“I told you he was good,” he said. “He had very good reviews and ratings online.”
Chinyere emptied the remaining Jellof rice into the trash. “As much as I don’t want to admit it, he was. A couple of people raved about him,” she shrugged. “Debby, you didn’t tell me you knew Eva. I’ve always wanted to ask whether you knew her, since you both attend the same school, but I always figured that you might not have crossed path, I mean Gtown is huge.”
“Em, yeah, we always say hi and stuff, I won’t say I really know her,” Deborah replied.
“It didn’t seem like it at all from the way the both of you were talking. I like Eva a lot. I don’t know what it is about her, but whenever she sings a solo, her voice always ministers to me. I find myself either crying or reflecting, and that is why I made sure she led the praise during James’ thanksgiving and dedication.”
Deborah laughed as she gently poured some chardonnay into her wine glass and joined Clinton and Chinyere at the dining table. She sat exhausted by all the cooking and entertaining of the day. “I could definitely tell that you like her a lot. She was surprised to know that you’re my sister.”
“My wife has always admired Eva. At one time, they were both on the church’s prayer squad, but Eva left the group to focus on the choir,” Clinton said, patting Chinyere softly on her back. A smile broke on Chinyere’s tired face. “He asked for your number, right?” Clinton asked with his gaze fixed on Deborah. His abrupt change of the subject of conversation caused a brief silence.
“Him, Edward -”
“Of course, everyone saw the two of you rendezvousing and flirting,” Chinyere teased.
“Oh, him, I mean I thought he was cute and pretty decent.” Deborah tilted her head to the side a little embarrassed that her flirtation had been overt. She took a gulp of her wine and nodded. “He asked for two things: my number and dinner tomorrow.”
“Wow, you guys need to chill and take it easy,” Chinyere teased again. “I could see that he was really into you throughout the party. When he wasn’t physically with you, his eyes would follow you around the room. It was a little weird, but not in a creepy kind of way –”
“Hmm, so you did. Interesting,” Clinton interrupted. He scratched his right ear and ran his palm across his face. “Did he tell you we work in the same office?”
“He probably wouldn’t; he’s such a dog. He goes after everything in a skirt; countless stories abound about him at the office. I wouldn’t even let my dead sister date that promiscuous piece of crap.”
The room was silent again, except for the noise of the dishwasher, which now sounded like a blaring horn because of the surrounding silence. Clinton raised his wine glass and took a sip of his wine while maintaining his intense eye contact with Deborah. He kept nodding his head and swirling the wine as he repeated the words “dog, big time dog” multiple times.
“Well, thanks for telling me now and saving me from unnecessary future drama and heartbreak.” She stood and tucked her chair neatly under the contemporary dining table. She poured her remaining wine down the kitchen sink and walked to her room in the basement after muttering good night to her sister and brother-in-law. The room remained silent for a few minutes until Chiyere finally broke the silence.
“You are still mad that Edward got the managing position at the firm, aint you.”
Clinton didn’t respond or make eye contact with his wife. “How many times do I have to remind you not to compete with a 24 year old? The fact that he has risen through the ranks in less than a year at the firm should clearly indicate to you that he is a rare gem. Come on, honey, that kid has a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Yale, and a JD and MBA from Harvard. I understand how frustrating it is to watch this young hawk fly in and steal a position you have dreamt of for the past few years. I really do, but you have to let go. You might not have an Ivy League degree, but you are very special, a rare gem, to me and James.” She stood behind him and sensually massaged his shoulders. “Honey, you know Edward is a good guy. He is everything any woman could ever want in a man. He is everything Deborah could want in a man. He is handsome, goal oriented, God fearing, sings in the choir; I know that she likes his ‘basketball player physique,’ and I know she would be very happy with him. They will make a wonderful couple.” She bent over to plant a kiss on his cheek, but he turned his face away to avoid the kiss.
The truth raged within him. He wanted to shout out to Chinyere that he had feelings for Deborah; that he had been in love with her ever since she introduced her to him at the thanksgiving dinner in Texas years ago. He wanted to tell Chinyere of the chemistry between them. He wanted to tell her of the ease with which their conversations flowed, like water from a water main break, free flowing and unobstructed. They shared a favorite author; they enjoyed the same newspaper columns; they rooted for similar basketball and football teams; they read the same books; they enjoyed soul music; they were interested in public policy and politics. He wanted to tell his wife that the moment he met Deborah, he knew that he was in a wrong relationship; that he was engaged to the wrong person. He wanted his wife to know that he had just lied to Deborah because his jealous infatuation could not watch another man claim a turf he was forbidden by law from owning, especially when the man was Edward, a man who had already won a round in their tacit competition. But regardless of how hard he tried, he couldn’t.
“There are times when life gives you options and you have to choose. You have to make a decision,” Clinton said, brushing off Chinyere’s hands from his shoulders. “You have two options, babe, you either go with me or you go with them! That is all I’m going to say, and if you go with them, I don’t want to ever see your sister in this house again. In fact, I might not even want to see you again, because I’ll consider that betrayal.” He drank the remaining chardonnay in one big gulp and walked away from the table.