Finding Grace {An Excerpt}

Grace blushed and threw Sonia a dirty look. I’ll get you, she mouthed silently. Unfazed, Sonia waved at Grace cheerily and winked at her over Azuka’s head as she walked into her room. Embarrassed, she busied herself with clearing the table and was relieved when Azuka just chuckled.

“Your sister is pretty funny. Is she always like that?”

“Is she always ragging me, you mean?” Grace shook her head, torn between laughter and frustration with her sister. Why did she call me his girlfriend? Now, he’ll think I have designs on him and he’ll probably take off running! Grace found that thought surprisingly disturbing. She didn’t want Azuka to run off…she looked at him and her expression softened. She really liked him, and part of her hoped for more than friendship. But, she was scared. Could she trust him? Maybe things would start out wonderful, like it had been with Alex and go downhill in the blink of an eye. What did he even want from her? She had veered away from that thought because she wasn’t yet ready to confront the thought of dating someone else. But, Alex was married. That chapter was firmly closed – bridge burned, ground to dust and thrown into the ocean! I can’t move backwards because there’s nothing to go back to.

“Grace?”

Azuka’s voice broke her reverie and she realized that she had been lost in thought for a few minutes and Azuka was waiting for her to respond to his earlier question.

“Oh…yeah, yeah. Sonia is always teasing me. I’m younger by a couple of years and she thinks it’s her life’s mission to embarrass me in public”, she said wryly.

Azuka smiled wistfully. He was an only child and didn’t know what it was like to spar with siblings.

“I noticed she calls you Cece. Is that a nickname, or…”

“It’s a nickname and she’s the only one that calls me that. My mom told me that she was still learning to talk when I was born and for some reason she couldn’t call my name properly. Instead of saying ‘Grace’ or ‘Gracie’, she would just say ‘Cece’, and I guess it stuck.”

“Cece…” the name rolled off his tongue and Grace blushed. It sounded different when he said it - nothing like the teasing tone that her sister used. His tone and the look in his eyes held a world of promise and something unspoken passed between them.

She stood, rooted in one spot. In an instant, she felt something change between them. Her heart pulsed and her stomach quivered. Shaken, she leaned against the dinette table and placed a hand on her stomach, as though the simple gesture could still her quivering heart.

***

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Who Are You {An Excerpt}

CHAPTER ONE | IDENTITY

Lagos, Nigeria

“Who are you?” he screamed, eyes bulging and face filled with rage.

Onye ka I bu? How dare you look at me like that?” The questions came fast and furious, each one designed to rip away her self-assurance layer by layer. What little she had left. The questions always came first. Then the taunting would start.

 “You are even lucky I came to your father’s house and took you off his hands!”

“Who do you think would have married akpa awo like you if not for me?” Insults about her gently rounded figure were a regular whip. Cruel words designed to wound. And wound they did. 

He liked to wound her. He liked to hurt her. The words were for the invisible places where no one could see. No one but her. The words were to make her believe that she was whoever and whatever he called her. The invisible wounds they created dragged down her spirit and made her shoulders droop a little more each day.

The cuts and bruises were for him. Inflicting them gave him pleasure. Seeing them gave him power. She was his wife. He could do whatever he wanted with her. No one would question him. Who would dare?

The bruise over her left eye stung as she cleaned it with Dettol. Another cut, another accident with the door, or falling down the stairs. She tried to remember which story she had told the last time. She didn’t want to repeat the same one twice. Then, everyone would know she was lying and start asking more searching questions, and that wouldn’t do. That wouldn’t do at all. 

She peered at her face in the mirror and could hardly recognize the person staring back at her. The heart-shaped face was familiar. So were the full, curvy lips and turned up nose, which now pointed askew as if someone had moved it and forgot to put it back in exactly the same position. The features in the mirror were familiar, but a stranger stood opposite her. The woman in the mirror looked defeated, cowed. 

Who are you? Who are you? 

It hadn’t always been like that. Not in the beginning. He had been so different then. Charming, kind, attentive – he was her knight in shining armor and treated her like a queen. The whirlwind courtship left her unable to catch her breath. Her parents were excited – and so was she.  A big, successful businessman had come all the way from Lagos to marry her? Excitement was called for. No other girl in the village could boast of a beau like him. He was tall, handsome, and rich…very rich. He promised to build her parents a house as soon as they gave their consent and the house stood in the village now, majestically dwarfing all the other houses in the area.

She was excited, but sometimes in the middle of the night when silence reigned, she had wondered. 

Why me? Why did this man choose me out of every other girl in this village? Why had he sought her out? She had asked her mother, only to be shushed.

Why question your good fortune? God has smiled on you, my daughter and you need to be grateful.”

Only later, on her wedding day had the whispers come to her ears.

Eh heh! Na now Oga don marry who go born pikin for am.”

The story came out in bits and pieces. He was married before. For ten years, they said. His first wife had died childless and he needed an heir. He decided to seek out a wife untouched by Lagos life and attitudes. A village pastor’s daughter was his choice. She was a virgin, untouched by any man. Innocent, she would bear him children.

The insults had started after the first year; the beatings in the second year. He married her for only one reason and she had failed in that. She was of no use to him anymore except as a punching bag.

Ashamed, she bore her pain in silence. Only once had she dared to open up. She still remembered her last trip home to visit her parents. Her mother had listened in silence as she spilled her story. Listened in silence and advised her not to provoke her husband. The gleam in the mother’s eyes as she spoke of all he had done for them told the daughter all she needed to know. Her mother would not help her. And if her own mother would not help her, then what hope had she? As she fingered the cut over her eye, she remembered her mother’s words to her in those early days.

God has smiled on you.” She stared hard at the woman in the mirror and wondered if He was still smiling.

***

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