Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hearts of Steel: Chapter Twelve

I hated to leave him like that, but what else could I do? Somewhere, in the great, unwritten parenting handbook, it has been decreed that parents will forever have that power over their children. I could be a hundred years old, blind, deaf, and toothless. It didn't matter.

Whenever that porch light went on, I'd better run toward it as if it were the light showing the way to heaven. I'd better hear my parents when they call my name loud enough to rival the final trumpet blast, and answer for my sins if they had to flash the porch light more than twice to get my attention.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hearts of Steel: Chapter Eleven

Mind over matter. Mental telepathy. Or some sort of sleight-of-hand parlor trick. It had to be. Otherwise, how could I at one instant be this close to giving Jack the brush-off, and in the next, be in his arms?

Not just holding him, or hugging him, but pressing myself against him as if he could absorb me into his skin. How did it happen? What did he do to me? Wave a magic pendant in front of me to put me into a trance?

Hearts of Steel - Chapter Ten

"Take me home, Jack."

She might as well have said, "Take me to the moon," for all of the effort that it cost me to walk out of there. I couldn't leave for several reasons, only one of which was the desire to knock in the mouth the knucklehead who'd thrown that drink at us.

Just as Priye had not wanted to end our date at the emergency room, I didn't want it to end on that note, either. The look on her face when the drink had splattered against her got to me. She was angry, disgusted, and a little frightened. Not of the knuckleheads at the other table, but of me. Of my reaction. She'd taken one look at my expression and bolted for the door. I'd run her off.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hearts of Steel: Chapter Nine

"Don't lose them," Priye said and grasped my arm.

"I won't," I promised. "Don't worry."

"There!" She pointed excitedly. "They're turning off there."

A flash of red brake lights and the amber blinking of turn signals pointed the way to the caravan of cars that had left the restaurant.

"I see them, Priye. Relax. Even if they do get ahead of us, I know what hospital they're going to."

"I don't believe this," Priye muttered. "All we wanted was a quiet evening with the family."

"I did my part," I replied, trying to ease her fears with a little humour. Very little. "I didn't talk about football tonight."

She returned a reluctant smile.

"At least your grandmother liked her bears. That's something to be thankful for, huh?"

"Her face did kinda light up when we brought them in," she remembered.

"That's better." I squeezed her hand.

"I'm sorry I'm not being better company. I'm just a little worried about my cousin, Ivie."

"She'll be all right."

"How do you know?" She demanded. "She could have brain damage."

"I doubt it!" I laughed at Priye.

When she made a huffing noise at me and folded her arms, I patted her reassuringly.

"They were just being kids, Priye," I continued. "They're extremely resilient. The doctors will be able to take care of her just like that."

"Corn flakes?" She said incredulously. "What normal kid sticks corn flakes up her nose?"

"Could have been worse," I offered.

"I don't see how."

"It could have been vegetables. Ivie told me at dinner that she hates vegetables."

Priye's smile widened. "She told you that?"

"Uh-huh. Made me swear that I wouldn't tell anyone. She's got everyone fooled into thinking that she's a good girl who always cleans her plate."

She looked at me, pursed her lips, and shook her head. "You're on her side, aren't you?"

"Whew. . .boy. . .the rain really is coming down," I said, deliberately sidestepping the question. "Here, put this on."

I handed Priye my jacket to throw over her as she opened the car door. I tried to find a parking spot close to the emergency room entrance. The best that I could do was about fifteen yards away. The parking lot was full tonight.

Priye stepped out and down into a puddle of standing water. I heard her curse under her breath and wondered whether she could still take her brand-new shoes back, as long as she kept the receipt.

I placed my arm around her waist, guiding her as we headed for the emergency-room doors. The doors slid open as soon as we stepped under the cover of the awning.

Priye slid the jacket off her shoulders, shook some of the raindrops off, and handed it back to me. She did all of this with barely a break in her stride. She'd caught sight of Ivie's parents talking to the nurse.

"Uncle Anthony," she called out, and clasped him warmly to her in a supportive hug.

I turned my eyes away so that she would not see the surge of jealousy. I didn't mean to feel petty. It was just that I had been looking forward to spending this time with her. Having to spend it in the emergency room of a hospital, instead of over a candlelight dinner, did something to me. Emotionally, I was somewhere between pissed that I'd skipped practice for this, relieved that little Ivie seemed to be all right, and pleased that Priye had chosen to ride to the hospital with me instead of abandoning me at the restaurant with the remainder of her family.

Something in me kinda snapped. Before I'd gotten a chance to get close to her, I was upstaged by a nine-year-old with corn flakes crammed up her nose. At some level, I felt about as childish as Ivie. I was three times her age, but was behaving, in my opinion, half her age.

While Priye tried to get information from her relatives, all I could do was stand by and try to look as if I was being supportive. A person could only stand around for so long without feeling about as functional and uplifting as the reproductions of artistic prints adorning the hospital walls.

I touched Priye lightly on the shoulder and said, "If you need me, I'll be over there." I indicated a row of chairs across the room.

"Uh-huh. Okay," she replied, though I wasn't entirely convinced that she was talking to me. She could have been responding to her uncle, for all the attention that she gave me. She never quite looked directly at me, just sort of turned her head toward the direction of my voice.

I took a seat and tried to find a way to look sympathetic, yet supportive. It's possible, though I put a cramp in my facial muscles like you wouldn't believe. The muscles that controlled my eyebrows alone went through some serious contortions; furrowed with concern, raised with sincerity, then arched in sympathetic support.

It wasn't that my sentiments weren't sincere. They were. No one could have foreseen how events would have turned out tonight. No one. I'd prepared for grilling from the parents, maybe scorn from the grandparents. I hadn't figured on having to dust off my old CPR skills.

I emphasized my emotions because I knew that everyone would be watching me. Priye came from a large family, but it was an extremely close-knit family that jealousy guarded against any rivals for affection. All I had done was give Priye my phone number. You'd think, from her grandmother's reaction, that I had passed on the plague.

No self-respecting mack would have let an opportunity for getting to know a beautiful woman pass by. As I sat in the hospital waiting area, I thought about what I might have done to change the progression of events that had brought me here.

"What are you in for?"

A voice, gravelly and demanding, accosted me as if I were an unwelcome guest at the country correctional facility.

I looked to my left, then to my right, and twisted around to try to find the interrogator. A little boy, who couldn't have been more than eight years old, sat cross-legged on a chair behind me and four seats over.

His arms were folded, his chin resting on his forearms as he peered back at me with two of the oldest eyes that I'd ever seen in a child. Curious and suspicious at the same time.

"Are you talking to me?" I pointed to myself.

"Yes, I'm talking to you," he responded. He had an old man's voice, too. I didn't get that much bass in my voice until long after puberty.

"I'm not sick, I said. "I'm here for a friend of mine."

"The fine lady in the black dress." He nodded his approval to me. I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. They say that kids are brutally honest. And it was obvious that he had good taste in women. So I let that one go unchallenged.

"What are you in for?"

"I'm not here for me, this time. I was here last week. For this."

He held up his arm and I noticed that it was encased in a bandage from elbow to wrist. The bandage was covered with signatures in various inks, various colours.

"I'm here for my sister. Can you hear that screaming?"

I lifted my head, training my ears in the direction of one of the wards."

"I don't want injection! I don't want injection!" It was a childish treble, rising in pitch, intensity, and frequency, followed by the crash of something loud and metallic.

"That's her. She's going to get stitches. Flipped off the bed and busted her fat head wide open. Mum told her to stop jumping in the bed. That's what she gets for not minding."

"Stitches. Man, that's rough."

"She'll be all right," he said knowingly. "When they strap her down, she'd get the injection."

"How do you know so much about the emergency room? Do you want to be a doctor when you grow up?"

He gave me a look that said, Oh please!

"What's your name, son?"

"Mum said that while she's in there with Dammy, that I shouldn't talk to strangers. I shouldn't tell them anything. Not my name. Not where I live. Or nothing."

"That's good advice that your mother gave you." I extended my arm to him. "Just so we're not complete strangers, name is Jack. Jack Deneen. My friends call me J.D."

"Nooo," he contradicted with all of the enthusiasm of a child catching an adult in an untruth. "Everybody calls you Flash."

"Now, just how do you know that?"

"My daddy saw your picture in the paper and told my mum that you might just do some good for football if your ego didn't get as big as your head. What's an ego, Flash?"

"You tell your father. . ." I began, then quickly checked myself. This was a kid, even if he did have an old man's mouth. "You tell your father thanks for the advice." I amended.

"Do you want to sign my bandage, J.D?" He asked, holding his hand up again.

"Sure. If you can find some room for me."

"Mrs. Larry's whole class signed it. Even Junior. And he's the one who pushed me off the stairs in the first place. See? He signed it right there and drew the broken bones with the blood gushing out of it."

"A veritable Vincent van Gogh," I remarked.

"A very who?"

"Van Gogh. He was a famous artist back in the day."

"Emeka is not going to be an artist when he grows up. My mum says that he is going to be a sociopath. What's sociopath, J.D?"

"You'd better have your parents explain that one." I deferred.

He tossed a dark blue pen to me from his stash of crayons markers, and pens crammed conveniently, if not orderly, into a zippered plastic bag.

"I think I see a spot right here," I said. "It's just below the elbow." He turned his back and extended his arms as best as he could. I signed my name with a flourish and drew a flattened oval with cross-hatching. That was my rendition of a football. In the center of the oval, I penned my jersey number. Not exactly worth displaying, but the artistic attempt brought a smile to his face.

"Thanks, J.D. I guess this means we're not strangers anymore. So I'll tell you my name. My name is Damola, my parents calls me Junior. I still don't know why. But I'm not going to tell you where I live. I don't want my mum to beat me."

"Pleasure to meet you, Junior. And you're welcome." I resisted the urge to reach out and pat him on his head. I settled for balling up my fist and holding it out to him for a little dap. He clenched his own fist and tapped it once on top of mine.

"There you go," I encouraged. It struck me as oddly sentimental, how small his hand looked on top of mine. For a moment, I could almost imagine that this wasn't a stranger's hand. Instead it was the hand of my own son, sharing a special moment with me despite the grimness of our surroundings.

When who I presumed to be his parents came out to collect Junior, he ran up to them, shouting on top of his lungs that I had signed his bandage. My signature had been elevated to importance over Emeka 's gore-gushing bone drawing. A proud moment for me - to go from booger-picker to best ball player all in one evening.

"Looks like you've made a new friend." Priye settled into the seat next to me.

"He's a good kid." I assessed.

"If a little loud," she observed.

"You have issues with kids?" I asked, partially to tease her about the comment she'd made about the kid in the airport. The other part of me wanted to feel her out. I wanted to know her feelings about kids in general.

Myself, I can see an entire carload of kids. I want enough to start my own football team, offense, defense, and coaching staff included. Sounds impractical, maybe even like the ramblings of a madman. But that's what I want. And I want a woman who shares that vision. Or nightmare. It all depends on how you looked at it.

So far, Priye seemed two for two against children. She loved the kids in her own family. Her panic when Ivie had fallen back in her chair, choking and grasping at her throat, told me that she had the capacity within her to love. But it's different when they're your relatives or someone else's kids. You could love them as much as you want to, then give them back when it's inconvenient for you to have them around.

I still didn't have a good clue of where she stood on having children of her own. That reminded me of how little I actually knew about her. Did she want kids? Could her thinly dislike of children be a symptom of sore grapes? Maybe she wanted kids but couldn't have them.

Though I couldn't help but notice that she had what my grandfather called baby-bearing hips. Her hips were wide enough to handle the load of the last stages of pregnancy. Yet they were not so wide that I couldn't wrap my hands around her. They were not so unwieldy that I didn't want to put my hands on either side of her and pull her toward me.

"Look, Daddy! Look who signed my bandage!" Junior turned around so that his father could get a good look. "Jack 'The Flash' Deneen. You were wrong, Dad. He's not a struck-up pretty boy with washed-up dreams of ever playing in the NFL. He's good people."

Priye and I exchanged glances. I don't know who started laughing first. The gleam of amusement in her eyes might have been sparked by the quirky twitching of my lips. She laughed until tears came to her eyes, then rested her head on my shoulders to gasp for breath. I kissed the top of her head.

"How's Ivie?" I asked.

"She's going to be all right. She's more scared than hurt and more embarrassed than scared. Thanks for acting so fast, Jack."

"I'm glad I was there to help."

"Don't be so modest. You know that you picked up a few points with my family, don't you? They'll be talking about you for weeks to come.

"Really?" I asked, toying with a few strands of braids that had worked themselves loose from her twist. My index finger traced the line of her jaw and followed along the outline of her full lower lip.

"And what about you, Priye? Will you be talking about me, too?"

She pulled her head away, coy. "I can talk about you now, if that's what you want," she replied, lifting one eyebrow in mock annoyance. "Let me see. What's an old standby? Oh, yes. You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny."

"That's not what I meant and you know it."

"I know," she said, turning serious in an instant. "And I can't say what I'll be thinking about in the weeks to come, Jack. I haven't planned that far ahead."

"Then why don't you let me put something on your mind now?" I asked tacit permission for something I'd pretty much made up my mind I'd do from the moment I saw her at the restaurant: I was going to kiss her. I had to. There was no way I wasn't going to try.

As I leaned forward, I hovered just a fraction before moving in. I wanted to give her the chance to change the direction of the conversation. She didn't pull away. Instead, she closed her eyes.

"Hey, Flash! My dad wants to shake your hand."

Junior popped between us, yelling his father's offer to make introductions.

"Hold that thought," I murmured to Priye, and forcibly pulled myself away.


There he goes. I sighed in both relief and resignation. I watched as he chatted with the little boy’s family. The Flash was charming, gracious, as smooth as fresh silk. He certainly had a way with people. His popularity had something to do with being some kind of hotshot athlete. But I was equally sure that Jack Deneen would be just as charismatic flipping patties at some joint.

He was a force unto himself, drawing everyone in and around him with all of the intensity of a tornado during the play-by-play reconstruction of a Steeldog glory game. As the gathering around Jack grew larger, I felt my patience growing thinner. This wasn’t the time or place for gridiron grandstanding. This was a hospital. There were sick people here. People on their deathbeds. The feats of an athlete seemed inconsequential in comparison to the life-and-death battles going on all around us.

Not everyone agreed with my sense of propriety. When a young woman resident in too-fight scrubs stood close, laughing a little too loud at one of Jack’s corny jokes, I felt my waning patience come to an abrupt end. I’d had just about all I could take of Jack Deneen and his entourage of devoted fans for one night.

Yes, I was grateful for his quick thinking and his knowledge of CPR. Because of his efforts, my cousin Ivie would live to hate and hide another corn flakes. And yes, I had to admit that we made a good-looking couple, walking arm in arm into the restaurant. Heads had turned as we’d walked by. The way my family responded favourably to him, I had private, fleeting fantasies of seeing him as a permanent addition. If he looked at me one more time with heat in those tiger eyes, I was going to melt into a messy puddle.

But the more time I spent in his company, the more I realized how much I didn’t know about him. I see the public face that he puts forward, the crowd-pleaser, the female magnet. Judging by the quick way he’d dumped me for the willing ear of an audience, it made me rethink how much I wanted to know him.

I hoped that it wasn’t jealousy. Could I be that petty, that selfish? He was a man of the public. His profession counted on his being +able to please the people. So he wasn’t doing anything. Not really. He was just being Jack. If I couldn’t handle who and what he was, then the fault was mine. It was better that I found out now, before I allowed myself to get emotionally invested in him.

I told myself that it really didn’t matter. I was only going to be in town for a few more hours anyway. I might as well enjoy his company for the little time we had left. I stood up, physically putting myself away from the negative feelings that were starting to bring me down. A few words to my aunt and uncle to check on Ivie, make my excuses. Said my good nights. Then I raised my hand to vie for Jack’s attention.

When I knew that he was watching, I held my hand up in the shape of a T. Time out. Game over.

He nodded and mouthed over the heads of his fans, Sorry. He tried to pull away, but not before signing a few more autographs, shaking a few more hands.

“Time to go now, Jack.”

“Is everything all right?”

“Uh-huh. They’re taking Ivie home tonight.”

“Some crazy night, eh, Priye?”

“Absolutely insane. I’m exhausted.”

“Then let me give you a lift home.”

“Do you mind? I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t stand being in hospitals.”

“Come on then.” He placed his arm around my shoulders. And in that moment, all of my irritation fell away. He felt so right, he should have been at my side all along. As if he’d always be there.

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to trust those feelings. So much had happened this weekend. My emotions had gotten a total working over.

“The rain’s stopped,” he said as we stood under the awning of the emergency-room entrance.

“Uh-huh,” I responded, and congratulated myself on what a witty conversationalist I’d turned out to be tonight. I looked out onto the parking lot, shaking my head. “Some date this turned out to be.”

“Thank you,” Jack said, with a wry twist of a smile.

“Why are you thanking me? It was horrible! First, you’re raked over the proverbial coals by my family. Then you have to dredge cornflakes out of my cousin’s nose and wind up driving through a spring monsoon to get to the emergency room. Please, Jack. You don’t have to be kind.”

“I wasn’t being kind, Priye,” he gallantly denied. At least, I thought I was being gallant. “Trust me,” he replied. “I was being completely selfish. My actions were motivated by my own self-interests.”

“I don’t believe you.” I shook my head slowly back and forth. “I don’t think you have a selfish bone in your body.”

At that, he laughed loud enough to draw the attention of several of the waiting room occupants still inside. He bit his lip to stem the laughter, leaned close, then whispered.

“Yes, I do, Priye Cole. And one of these days, when we get to know each other more intimately than we do now, I’ll show you.” He raised my hand to his lips and kissed it. His eyes never left mine. And before I knew it, the words popped out.

“I don’t want the evening to end like this.” They flew out of my mouth before the wisdom of revealing my innermost thoughts could prevent them. I think that I surprised him as much as I did myself. He took a started step back and didn’t speak for a couple of seconds.

“In that case, darling, what would you suggest?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know. I just know that we can’t let the date end on this note. Maybe we could go out for a drink or something? To talk, rationally, normally, without the fear of a fiery airplane crash or being under the watchful eye of my relatives.”

“Sure. I’d like that. And I know the perfect place.”

“What are we waiting for?” In my mind, I reasoned that I had one more chance to correct the karma between us. If we couldn’t make an honest connection sitting and talking over a drink, then there was no hope for us. None at all.

I had a two-o’clock flight tomorrow out of Lagos back to my safe, predictable life in Accra. Here was my chance to step out, to take a chance. A little voice in the back of my mind kept urging, egging me on.

. . .Go for it, Priye. You go, girl.

“I’m going, I’m going.” I said out loud in response to the voice, and ignored the strange look that Jack threw in my direction. I had to make myself take this chance. As much as I liked him, if we didn’t establish a bond here and now, I had no doubt our chances for success would be ruined once I was back in Accra. I barely made time for my own family. I couldn’t see myself putting forth the effort for a man whom I’d known only a couple of days.

The drive to the restaurant was quiet. But the silence wasn’t strained. It was natural, expected. It was as if we both were caught up in our own thoughts. Once, we stopped at a red light. He clasped my hand and raised it to his lips. Such a sweet gesture. So smooth.

One part of me basked in the attention. The other half wondered how many women he’d charmed with so polished a move. No! I pushed the thought to the back of my mind. I’d made the decision to go with this feeling. I wasn’t going to ruin it by letting negative thoughts seep in. I didn’t want to know who he’d been with. He was with me now. In here and now, that was all that mattered.

He held my hand. I squeezed back. I couldn’t go so far as to kiss him but I could let him know what kind of effect he had on me.

Jack released my hand long enough to pull into a parking spot. It was even more crowded here than at the hospital. I glanced at Jack.

“Are you sure you want to go in there? It looks kinda crowded to me.”

“It’s a popular place, so it’s always crowded. Don’t worry about it, darling.” He winked at me. “I’ll get us a table.”

“You must know somebody on the inside.”

“I know a lot of somebodies,” he admitted.

“I don’t doubt it,” I muttered under my breath. If he heard me, he didn’t respond. Instead, he helped me out of the car. His arms was wrapped securely, possessively around my aist as we walked up to the door.

From the moment we walked in, I could feel all eyes on us. I felt self-conscious at first, not unlike a bug under a magnifying glass. From the number of people who hailed him as soon as he walked through the door, I couldn’t tell if it was because he was a sports celebrity or because he still frequented this place.

“Welcome back, Flash.” A hostess greeted him with a kiss. She barely glanced at me. Why would she? Who pays attention to window dressing? That’s how I felt. Like something to adorn his arm, like a watch or a cuff link.

“Hi, Anne. Got a table for me?”

“Always, sweet thing. Just give me a minute to clear out your regular spot. Next time, don’t make yourself such a stranger.” She disappeared through a maze of tables.

“One of your old haunts?” I asked.

“Yeah, me and my boy, Paul, you remember him? The one who was on his honeymoon? We practically lived at this restaurant anytime we are in the country.”

“I wasn’t talking about the restaurant,” I said, then winced. Did that come out of me, sounding like a jealous hag?

“Oh, you mean Anne? She’s like a sister to me.”

I rolled my eyes. I could grab any man here, plant a sloppy wet kiss on his lips, but that didn’t make him my cousin.

Anne came back, crooked her finger at Jack, and led him to a table in the rear of the restaurant.

Jack held out the chair out for me, kissing me on the cheek as he slid it under me.

“So,” he said, as he took a seat across from me, “what shall we talk about?”

“What do you want to talk about?” I countered.

“You,” he said simply, leaning onto the table.

I could feel my face growing hot under his direct glare. “Do you want to narrow the subject field a little? That’s a pretty broad topic.”

“Nope. I want to know everything about you, Priye.”

“That’s impossible. Even I don’t know everything there is to know about me.”

“Okay,” Jack relented. “Then let’s start with something simple.”

“Simple is good,” I agreed, nodding enthusiastically.

“How’s this for starters? Tell me how you feel about me?”

I nearly choked, so unexpected was the question. Kinda early to start talking about feelings, though mine were running the gamut with this man. Why couldn’t he ask me what my favorite colour was or my favourite food? Why not start with something like where I grew up or the types of movies I liked. Any one of those would have been an appropriate first date question.

“What?” he asked, smiling smugly at my stunned expression. He knew that he’d rattled me. I guess that was his way of paying me back for playing it so cool at the airport.

“Simple?” I suggested, lifting an eyebrow at him.

“A man of simple needs and wants,” he corrected. “Not simple of mind.”

“What do you want?” I asked.

Now it was Jack’s turn to raise an eyebrow. The heat in his eyes answered the question for me. The way his gaze swept over me caused my heart rate to quicken. My breath caught in my throat. I cleared it delicately and clarified my question by asking: “What do you want out of life? What happens when you’ve played your last game?”

“I’ll be in my grave and hopefully heaven bound,” he responded. “But seriously, I have other plans. Other ventures I’m working on. My sports center, for example.”

He took a few minutes describing his business ventures to me. I listened intently, injecting questions to keep him talking. Anything to keep the focus off me. I think he knew what I was doing, but was willing to let me get away with it for now.

“And when I get too old to run those anymore,” Jack continued, “I hope to settle into my old rocker, spend my golden retirement years on secluded property somewhere. I’d spend my days fishing and watching my children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren grow up healthy, wealthy and wise.”

“I take it that means you want children?” I stated the obvious.

“Lots. Lots and lots and lots.”

“You plan on having several wives then?” I teased. “One woman couldn’t possibly have all of those babies.”

“Maybe,” he conceded, then took my hand across the table. “But won’t it be fun trying, Priye?”

“You weren’t an only child, were you, Jack?”

“No. I have a younger sister, Joella.”

“Where does she live?”

“She stays with my dad in the States.”

“And your mum?”

“She lives in Accra. I’d like for you to meet them. My dad should be visiting Accra soon.”

I tried to imagine Jack’s father, an older version of himself. And what about his mother? What kind of woman was she to help raise such a man?

“What do they do?”

“Retired. My mother has a side business, selling jewelry that she designs over the Web. My father’s retired from the state department.”

“Do they. . .” I began, but Jack cut me off.

“Want to become grandparents. Of course they do.”
“So, we’re back to babies again, are we?”

“You have something against them, Priye?”

“I come from a very large family, very close family. I would be a pariah if I said that I didn’t want children.”

“But how do you really feel about them, Priye? I’m learning about you that what you say and how you feel don’t necessarily go hand in hand.”

By the intense way that he squeezed my hand, it seemed important to him that I answer yes. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about children of my own. I mean I assumed that one day I would get married and have kids. But that day wasn’t here yet, so I hadn’t dwelled on it.

“What makes you think that I wouldn’t want kids?”

He shrugged. “Remember that kid at the airport?”

“Kwame? How can I forget?”

“He seemed to get on your nerves.”

I started to laugh. “He was getting on my nerves, but only because he was after my bears.”

I stroked Jack’s hand, easing his concerns. “I love kids, Jack. Absolutely adore them. That’s part of the fun of helping my parents plan our family reunion. I get to see all of my younger cousins again. That business about Kwame. . . well, that wasn’t as much about kids as it was a certain kind of kid. My parents doted on us. But my brothers and I were raised very strictly. My parents didn’t tolerate such ill behaviour from us. And I won’t tolerate it from my kids.”

I think I’d answered that question to his satisfaction. I could feel the tension easing from his face.

“Anything else bothering you Jack? Anything you want to know?”

So we talked. And we talked. . .

So we talked. And we talked. And we talked. And we sipped. Then we talked some more. Sometimes over each other in our haste to get the words out. The floodgates had opened and the flow would not be stanched.

In a perfect world, we would have shared, in the three hours that we talked, a lifetime of memories. He, painting a picture of his world; me carefully outlining and censoring the details of mine.

I sat with my chin propped on my fist, watching his expression change with each glimpse he gave me into his life. His emotions bubbled beneath the surface. I imagined his entire body to be a percolator, constantly steaming, bubbling. To take in his aroma was to be uplifted, rejuvenated. I couldn’t get enough of him.

We talked. And talked. Had an argument about his ever disturbing fans, who didn’t know when to mind their business and stay glued to their seats, rather than signing autographs. We stopped talking. Stood up. Then left the restaurant.

Jack climbed into the car, inserted the key into the ignition, and was out of the parking lot before he finally spoke to me. His movements were jerky, mechanical.

“Where are we going, Priye?” Jack asked. His tone was clipped, precise, carefully modulated to dampen the irritation I knew he must have felt. I guess he thought that he was trying to be civil to spare my feelings. It didn’t work. I knew that he was mad. He knew that he was mad. I think I would have felt better if he’d just been honest about it, instead of hiding behind that veneer of false civility. It made me feel worse to think that he couldn’t be honest with me.

Where are we going? Nowhere fast, I thought glumly.

All of the progress we’d made as we sat and talked was nullified in a single act of senseless aggression. Hmmmmph. Just like football. It’s no wonder I loathed the game so much.

I gave him directions to my parents’ house.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hearts of Steel: Chapter Eight

I couldn’t take my eyes off him. This was worse than it had been at the airport. When I’d first caught sight of him, striding through the terminal, I had what I’d considered to be a mild case of curiosity. It had been just an exercise in people-watching to help pass the time. The way he carried himself would have drawn my eyes to him – even if I’d been in a committed relationship. After all, I am a woman. I’ve got eyes.

I used them to their full effect, zeroing in on him with laser-beam accuracy. This time, I didn’t have a magazine to hide behind. This time, when he saw me, he knew that I was watching him. My appraisal was open, unfiltered.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hearts of Steel: Chapter Seven

I heard the telephone ringing, but couldn’t find it right away. It was stuffed in the bottom of my bag, wedged somewhere beneath my sweaty workout gear. My first inclination was to let it ring. I had voice mail. Whoever it was could wait. But something, loud and unwilling to be ignored, in my mind said, “You’d better answer that. It could be Priye.”

Instinct, maybe. Or wishful thinking. I didn’t remember being this impatient waiting for a woman to call since high school. I congratulated myself. Somehow, I’d almost managed to get through the entire practice without thinking about Priye Cole, and wondering whether or not she was thinking about me.

As the telephone continued to ring, I flipped it open and checked the caller ID before answering. It was a number that I didn’t recognize. Usually, I don’t answer those kind of calls. There are so many scams out there. You answer a call from someone you don’t know, accept long distance charges from an unfamiliar area, the next thing you know, you’re fighting an outrageous bill with little recourse because you were the idiot who took the call.

The number was unfamiliar, but the area code said that it was a local call. I took a chance.


“Yes, hello. May I speak with Jack Deneen, please?”

“Speaking.” I paused in midstride. It was a voice that I didn’t recognize. Feminine. Elderly. There was the tiniest bit of treble, indicating advanced age. And it was colored by a soft, cultured drawl. At the same time, it was an authoritative voice. The way she asked for me made me believe that she knew that she was speaking to me before I’d confirmed it.

“Mr. Deneen, my name is Mrs. Adesuwa Johnson.”

I didn’t recognize the name. If this was another telemarketer trying to sway me, I was going to be perturbed. “How did you get my number, Mrs. Johnson?”

“Never you mind how I got this number. What I want to know is what intentions you have for my granddaughter.”

I could have dismissed her as a crank caller – simply hung up the phone and turned off the ringer. After repeatedly getting my voice mail, crank callers usually gave up. Yet something about this call didn’t feel like a crank. Most cranks that stumble on my phone number don’t know that it’s mine. That is, they don’t ask for me directly. This woman had.

“You mean you make it a habit of passing your private number out indiscriminately, sir?”

That struck a raw nerve. I should have hung up. I could have hung up. I didn’t. Instead, I stood out there in the parking lot, tired, baking, wondering who this was and what they wanted. If curiosity killed the cat, what was it going to do to this Steeldog?

I cradled the phone between my ear and shoulder as I climbed into my SUV and started the engine. I adjusted the air-conditioning to full blast cold, thinking that the jolt of cold air would also cool my temper. I was too tired, too hot for guessing games.

“There is nothing indiscriminate about my behaviour, madam,” I said, adopting her formal tone. It was indeed formal, almost regal. This was the tone of a woman who commanded respect.

“I can’t answer your question because I’m not sure who your granddaughter is and how she got my-”

She cut me off, even as the realization of who this woman might be hit me. An image of Priye, adjusting those ludicrous bears on the airplane seat, saying almost in chagrin, “Grandpa always gets the window seat.”

Those bears were presents for her grandparents. This must be Priye’s grandmother.

“Let me refresh your memory, Mr. Deneen. Priye Cole is my granddaughter. She’s a nice girl – a good girl.”

Priye! She’d contacted me. Correction – it was her grandmother who’d called. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how she’d gotten my number. What would possess her to call me? Overprotectiveness, obviously. Somehow, she’d found the number and was now rushing to her granddaughter’s defense of what her tone suggested was an evil, immoral, callow fellow.

It almost made me want to laugh. If only she knew how unnecessary her defensive response was. Priye was quite capable of fending off any unwanted advances. As easily as she could draw me to her with her reluctant smile, she could also chill me with a disapproving frown and a toss of her head.

“More than nice, Mrs. Johnson. The very essence of proper civility.” I said, and hoped that she didn’t hear the humour I tried to squelch from my tone.

“I see.”

I couldn’t tell by her tone if she was mollified or if she thought that I was full of it.

I forged ahead, unmindful of the verbal roadblocks the grandmother was throwing in front of me. It must be genetic, this coolness of verbal response. Priye was loaded with it.

“In fact, Mrs. Johnson, I’m surprised that she kept the number at all. She was very reluctant to take it. I think she did it to humour me, to get me to stop bothering her with my completely unsolicited conversation.”

“Hmmmm. I see.”

Again, the noncommittal response. Was she giving me monosyllabic replies to keep Priye from knowing what was going on?

I took a chance and asked, “Is she there with you now? She can tell you for herself.”

Either Mrs. Johnson didn’t fall for it or Priye wasn’t there with her. I kept talking, quickly, trying to erase whatever negative impression she had of me.

If I had to guess at Mrs. Johnson’s age, I would wager that she had been raised in a time when people valued manners over expediency. I wasn’t going to find out what I wanted to know by bombarding her with prying questions. It was going to take gentility. Finesse.

“Mrs. Johnson, it’s obvious that you care very much for Priye. I can hear the concern in your voice. You can rest assured that my, uh. . .intentions are completely honorable. If you know her so well, then you also know what an attractive, intelligent, well-bred young woman she is.”

Was I laying on too thick? Was I smothering my chances of ever getting to see Priye again? If Mrs. Johnson didn’t think I was sincere, she could end this conversation just as quickly as I could – with the press of a button. Click. Dial tone. No more Priye.

If Priye was as close to her family as the conversation led me to believe, then I wasn’t going to get very far with her without going through the grandmother first. I had to keep her talking.

“Is that a fact?” she said, in a curious mixture of material pride and condescension of my obvious flattery.

“An undisputed fact, madam. I’d be a sorry spectacle of a man – stone-blind, deaf in one ear, and dumb as a brick – if I didn’t at least try to get to know her better. I’d like another opportunity to try, if that meets with your approval, Mrs. Johnson.”

“ Well, sir, in that case you can tell her yourself over dinner.”

Victory! Something had worked. Either that, or she was luring me to do me in, to make sure that I never bothered her granddaughter again.

“Do you like Nigerian food?”

“I love Nigerian food.” I said enthusiastically, though I wasn’t sure if I did or didn’t. I hadn’t tried it in a long while. I had a vague recollection of needing lots and lots of water. But for the chance to see Priye again, I’d eat a platter of Pepper.

“Eight o’clock sharp at the Nobles restaurant. Do you need directions?”

“I’ve visited Lagos countless times and even have a home here,” I said solemnly, assuming that a woman like Mrs. Johnson would appreciate the appearance of stability.

“No, I don’t imagine that you do.” She used that tone again that felt oddly like a slap on the wrist – as if admitting that I knew my way around the city was like admitting that I got around.

What could Priye have told her about me to give her that negative impression? There wasn’t much she could have said. I thought I’d been my best behaviour at the airport.

“May I ask the occasion, Mrs. Johnson?” My mind raced ahead to figure out what I had in my closet to pull together appropriate attire.

“It’s my anniversary, Mr. Deneen. A very special one, so please dress accordingly.”

The phone line went dead. And just like that, I had a date. I had a date!

I slapped the steering column and crowed triumphantly to the roof of the SUV. Suddenly, I paused. Doubt crowded in. I had a date, but which one? Priye or her grandmother?

It didn’t take a Rhodes scholar to figure out which woman I preferred. But if I had to charm the older one to get to the other, well. . .a man had to do what a man had to do.

And the first thing I had to do was get the feel of the football practice off me. Even though I’d taken a brief shower after the drills, my grandfather would have called it “a lick and a promise.” I needed hygiene fortification. I needed charm power. That meant the works: haircut, manicure.

Somehow before eight o’clock, I had to squeeze in the second practice session, buy an anniversary gift for the grandparents, buy flowers for Priye, wash myself, get my car detailed, select an outfit, find the restaurant. . .

If Mrs. Johnson was as discerning a woman as she sounded over the phone, then she would scrutinize me from head to toe. Normally, I wouldn’t have worried. I am a man of discerning taste – a little gift from my mother. She would scrimp and save to purchase something of quality that she wanted, rather than settle for something of lesser value.

Sometimes that meant extravagance. But not always. She taught me the value of caring for the few quality items we had. The alternative was not caring for the cheaper items because we knew they were easily replaceable. Mother was not one for waste. Now, I choose my clothes and accessories carefully, paying as much attention to quality and style as I do to the price tag.

My grandfather taught me a long time ago that money couldn’t buy class. Class came from within. It was conveyed by the way you conducted yourself.

“Keep your head unbowed, Jackie boy. There’s nothing wrong with a long day’s honest work. A little dirt under your fingernails won’t kill you. And that’s the God’s honest truth.”

Then he’d sent me off with a pat on the back, saying, “But your mother will kill you if you come to the supper table without washing your hands.”

Let Mrs. Johnson use the white-glove test on me. I was going to pass the inspection with flying colours.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, I considered the possibility of blowing off the afternoon practice session. Maybe I was taking an awful chance, jeopardizing my good standing with the coaching staff and team owner by going AWOL. We had a scrimmage game next week, which was why I was here in the first place.

What if this night turned out to be disastrous? What if I got to the restaurant and found that I couldn’t stand to be around Priye Cole and her intrusive, well-meaning, family?

I paused at a red light, my fingers nervously drumming on the steering wheel.

Why was I doing this again? I tried to rationalize why I was having recurring thoughts about a woman I barely knew. I played over in my mind our chance meeting at the airport – from my first glance at the full lipped, full hipped, honey dripping woman nestled between two bears, to the last look as I left her struggling with those toy monstrosities on the plane.

We had only been together two hours. Not much time. But packed within that two hours, I’d shared with her a gamut of emotions that left me wanting to laugh with her and love with her. In reliving those two hours, my hands tingled when I remembered the strength of her fingers as she clasped my hand in fright.

The plane had dipped unexpectedly, raising a cry from the passengers. She’d stopped in mid-sentence, and her hand had flown out to grab mine. It had been an instinctual response. One human being seeking out another when one believes that death is imminent. We were not so perfect strangers, sharing a less-than-ideal situation. The brush of her fingertips against my palms had sent a jolt up my arm, that made me want to wrap it around her tense shoulders and draw her close to me.

They say that adversity brings people together, forges an undeniable bond. Could my attraction for Priye be a by-product of that experience? Could I, in seeking her out, subconsciously be seeking the closeness we’d shared, if only for a while?

I shook my head at my foolishness. Psychobabble. I’d wanted to get to know her before I ever stepped foot on that plane - before the forces of nature ever forced us into each other’s company. Nature had played a part in guiding me to her before the storm.

My mouth turned up into a smile, remembering how she’d reluctantly laughed in polite tolerance of my jokes. I appreciated the depth of her commitment to her family. I was given a glimpse into her upbringing by her open expression of irritation at the airport hellion.

Only two hours. Two lifetimes’ worth of emotion combined into that short spam of time. I don’t remember ever before meeting a woman so open, so passionate about life.

Open is such a funny word to think of in terms of Priye Cole. Because if you’d asked her, I’d bet that she’d say that she hadn’t revealed a thing about herself to me. Her carefully modulated responses to my questions might have deterred a less persistent man.

I can attest that you don’t get far in this world giving up at the first, halfhearted block. If you wanted something, really wanted it, you kept at it.

If I was willing to brave the perils of a family in full force on a first date, then I was going to make it worth my while. Maybe I’m just crazy. One too many sots to the head without my helmet. Call me crazy, then.

I wasn’t going back this afternoon to practice. There was just too much at stake.

“Vamp,” Brenda said, shaking her head. Her expression was my prime factor in deciding against one of two dresses that I’d bought to wear to my grandparents’ anniversary dinner. We sat in my room, comparing our purchases and catching up on old times.

“Who asked you?” I muttered, holding the dress in front of me as I checked out the effect in the mirror. Traffic-stopping red. It had a high collar, but was shorter than I remembered. Its hemline was definitely nearer to my waist than it was to my knees. My mother wouldn’t approve, but I was sure Jack Deneen would. After the verbal lashing my grandmother had given him, I wanted him to know that at least one Johnson woman was on his side.

“You did,” Joy reminded me. “You asked, And I’m here to tell you, that the dress says hoochie mama to me,” she concurred. “All you need now is six-inch nail tips and sparkling gold shoes.”
“To match the gold tooth you’d need right up in front for all the world to see when you skin and grin at that football player.”

“You ladies are nothing nice,” I chastised.

“Trust me, you don’t want to wear that one,” Brenda said. She pulled off the plastic store covering protecting the second dress. That dress was more demure, but I had to admit, I liked the way it fit me better than the first dress. When I sat down in it, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether my hemline would crawl up my thigh with all the vigor of a salmon heading upstream to spawn.

The dress was black suede, and slightly off shoulder. The hemline was longer, falling just below my knees, but a kick pleat in the rear gave a tantalizing glimpse of my thigh when I walked. I ought to know. When I bought it in the store, I’d paraded up and down in stocking feet in front of the dressing room for a full ten minutes before taking it off. It had only taken me a split second to decide that was the dress I wanted – even when I saw the hefty price tag.

The fact that it appeared to slim my hips and lift my bust line was enough to blind me to the cost. Together with the open-toed, black suede pumps and the eight-inch pearl strand necklace that I’d borrowed from my mother (that is, that she didn’t know I’d borrowed), the outfit made me feel very sophisticated.

Standing in front of the full-length mirror in my room, I held the dress up to me and pulled my hair high, off my neck. Turning my head to the left and to the right, I considered the possibility that my cousins were right. This was a better choice. More appropriate for the evening. I’d feel more comfortable in this dress, more confident.

“I look good,” I lifted my chin and announced to the room.

That sent Joy and Brenda into spasms of laughter.

“Oh, you’re just jealous!” I accused them.

“I’ve got to go before Priye’s head swells, sucks up all of the oxygen from the room, and pulls us into the resulting vacuum.” Brenda stood as if to leave.

“Spoken like a true university professor,” I teased.

But before she left, she kissed me on the cheek. “You know that I’m just messing with you, Priye. You sure do look good, girlfriend,” she whispered. “Now, you go get that man.”

Joy made gagging noises. “Oh, brother. With all of this saccharine-sweet sentiment flying around. I’d better go before I need an insulin shot.”

“Come here, girl. Show us some love,” I called out to her.

We opened our arms and drew Joy into our circle. For a moment, we were kids again, swearing to be best friends forever – to never let anything come between us. And nothing did. Except of course, life itself.

Suddenly, I felt ashamed for every cursory e-maid I’d ever sent them in my halfhearted, family-obligated effort to stay in touch. I regretted the missed birthdays, graduations, and promotions. I lamented over tears we’d never shared together, losses we’d never helped each other to bear. I wanted to recant every broken promise to call, every unanswered Christmas or birthday card.

And at that moment, I resolved to try harder. To be a better cousin, a better friend.

“Get out of my room,” I said through a throat tightening with emotion.

“See you tonight, Priye,” Brenda promised.

“Later, cuz.” Joy planted a peck on my cheek and followed Brenda down.

I moved to the window, drew the curtains back, and waved at them from the window. The sound of their car engines, fading as they headed down the road, was an eerie reminder of just how easy it was to lose sight of what really mattered to me.

There was a time when there had been nothing I didn’t know about my cousins. Now, they were virtual strangers to me.

“Not again.” I made a solemn promise, one that I intended to keep this time. I turned to my stuffed animals. With them as my witness, I would have to stick to it.

 “I’ll never let them out of my life again.”

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hearts of Steel: Chapter 6

Fifteen yards out, I planted my foot and pivoted a hard ninety degrees to make a lateral cut toward the goalpost. As I looked over my shoulder to check my progress, I sensed the ball before I heard it whistling through the air, I could feel it before I saw it hurdling toward me – a dark speck against a cloudless cerulean sky.

Sometimes, in practice, it paid to count on more than just your physical senses to make a play. My junior high school coach imparted that bit of wisdom to me once after I’d dropped my third pass in a crucial game.

Monday, July 1, 2013

2face Idibia and Banky W spotted with Ebenezer Obey

2face Idibia and Banky W spotted with Ebenezer Obey
2face, Ebenezer Obey and Banky w

Well, they were at the Ebony Life TV Launch at Eko hotel, yesterday....2face idibia, Ebenezer Obey and Banky W (three kings).

and less i forget, Steve Forbes' (publisher of forbes magazine) is in Nigeria at the moment for the event

Iceprince wins 'Best African Act' at BET Awards '13


Beating 2face Idibia to it at the BET Awards in  Los Angeles, Ice Prince has won the ‘Best African Act'.

Apparently, for Ice Prince, this is his second time at being nominated for the award in the same category. Last year he lost out to Wizkid and Sarkodie.
Meanwhile, Yvonne Nelson earlier wished the rapper best of luck.

Yvonne wrote this along with a photo of her and Ice Prince on her Instagram page: ‘Good luck Panshak…#BET you are a WINNER….make me proud. Make Africa proud….my Hommie 4life…yeaaa he calls me Hommie. He’s cool like that‘.

Congrats to him!

Check out Toolz outfit to Ebony Life TV Launch

She is looking sassy and classy as always :) 

Hearts of Steel: Chapter 5

It took a few minutes to figure out where I was. When I opened my eyes, I was a little disoriented. My room didn't feel like my own. It was. It was just my room of several months ago.

Without moving my head, I let my eyes scan the contents. I had to squint, because sometime during the morning, someone had drawn back the curtains and opened the miniblinds. Probably my mother. She was a firm believer in the power of fresh air to cure all ills. She'd also opened the window a crack so that a steady, whistling breeze cut through the room.

She'd been doing that since I was in secondary school, when my body had started to go through the change - during what my older brothers affectionately called 'The Musty Years.' Between the ages of eleven and fourteen, I went through a lot of Secret and Love's Baby Soft. We should have bought stock in those companies.