اصلی The sweetest remedy
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This book was so good. I love that the diffrent pov weren't overwhelming. The view of the culture was also okay tho I expected more. I would give it 4 stars
08 April 2022 (14:15)
When illegitimacy, inheritance,love,money, and secrets come into play, a pot left brewing ,you better expect the brew to be piquant.
Hannah grows up without a father,one day she learns of his death and is to go to his home country for his funeral, Nigeria. She decides to go and meets his kids(Jolades) for the first time. Turmoil brews,secrets come out of the dark, she finds love with her father's mentee,Lawrence. Forgiveness and acceptance prevail, in a blink of a second everything comes crashing down, Hannah runs back home to San Francisco to return to normalcy. The Jolades follow her trying to make amends. Everything works out in the end. A very refreshing story,with a light ending definitely a sweet note in my mouth .💞
Hannah grows up without a father,one day she learns of his death and is to go to his home country for his funeral, Nigeria. She decides to go and meets his kids(Jolades) for the first time. Turmoil brews,secrets come out of the dark, she finds love with her father's mentee,Lawrence. Forgiveness and acceptance prevail, in a blink of a second everything comes crashing down, Hannah runs back home to San Francisco to return to normalcy. The Jolades follow her trying to make amends. Everything works out in the end. A very refreshing story,with a light ending definitely a sweet note in my mouth .💞
16 August 2022 (20:41)
PRAISE FOR Ties That Tether “A beautiful, heartfelt story about the power of love, identity, and family. Ties That Tether is a delightful debut that romance lovers won’t want to miss!” —Chanel Cleeton, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Train to Key West “Lovingly written and heartfelt. Ties That Tether is a beautiful exploration of culture, family, and romance. Azere’s journey to find her own voice should resonate with anyone who’s ever felt trapped between conflicting worlds and expectations.” —Helen Hoang, USA Today bestselling author of The Bride Test “Ties That Tether takes the reader on a rich, emotional journey. A big, bold story about finding ourselves amidst the struggles of family loyalty, honoring one’s culture, and the endless facets of love. Loved every glorious moment of this book!” —Jennifer Probst, New York Times bestselling author of Love on Beach Avenue “If you like snarky, clever stories, Azere’s narration is *chef’s kiss.* ” —The Washington Post “[An] intriguing examination into the dynamics of family relationships and what it means to have pride in one’s culture and heritage. It also holds some unexpected twists and turns that will keep readers engaged until the end.” —The Associated Press “Igharo’s impressive debut tackles interracial relationships, ambition, and family with evenhanded clarity and just a hint of melancholy. (And some very hot love scenes.)” —BookPage “Happily ever after is hard-won and satisfying in this #ownvoices romance.” —Shelf Awareness “Igharo’s debut beautifully depicts the tension between self-determination and the desire to live up to family expectations. . . . Clever and heartwarming storytelling. Readers will be rooting for Azere from the very first page.” —Library Journal (starred review) “An unexpected and heartfelt romance about true love and the sacrifices we make for it.” —Sonya Lalli, author of The Matchmaker’s List “Ties That Tether was a roller-coaster ride from page one and hol; y cow did I love it. Jane Igharo chronicles Azere’s journey in such a beautiful, wrenching, and relatable way. I laughed and teared up and cheered and yelled. Best of all, Jane Igharo delivers a happily ever after that made me smile until my cheeks hurt.” —Sarah Smith, author of Simmer Down “A Nigerian immigrant herself, Igharo tackles issues like immigration, cultural identity, and interracial dating in a compelling way. While a love story at heart, this book is so much more than that. It’s a must-read for your summer vacation.” —Betches “A wonderful fall romance with immense depth, Ties That Tether seizes you from the very beginning.” —Shondaland “The best part of this book for me was Azere and her mother’s relationship. It is so fraught with the immigration experience. . . . To read this book is to read it for the tenderness of the romance and for the immigrant experience, to feel your heart soften and your throat clog with tears, and to celebrate the resilience of the spirit. As Rilke has said, ‘To love is the ultimate human task.’ So celebrate the love between the protagonists and within their families as you turn the pages.” —Frolic “With deft writing, snappy dialogue, rom-com movie references throughout, and a delightful cast of characters, Ties That Tether is a wonderful romance and the start of a long career for Jane Igharo.” —Fresh Fiction “With writing that marries genuine and infectious emotion with witty humor, Igharo has created an endearing love story about family, culture, and identity.” —Booklist “Igharo brings a great deal of heart to Azere’s internal conflict as she navigates two cultures. This emotional debut marks Igharo as a writer to watch.” —Publishers Weekly Titles by Jane Igharo TIES THAT TETHER THE SWEETEST REMEDY A JOVE BOOK Published by Berkley An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC penguinrandomhouse.com Copyright © 2021 by Jane Igharo Readers Guide copyright © 2021 by Jane Igharo Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader. A JOVE BOOK, BERKLEY, and the BERKLEY & B colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Igharo, Jane, author. Title: The sweetest remedy / Jane Igharo. Description: First edition. | New York: Jove, 2021. Identifiers: LCCN 2021025767 (print) | LCCN 2021025768 (ebook) | ISBN 9780593101964 (trade paperback) | ISBN 9780593101971 (ebook) Subjects: GSAFD: Love stories. | LCGFT: Domestic fiction. Classification: LCC PR9199.4.I37 S94 2021 (print) | LCC PR9199.4.I37 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2021025767 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2021025768 First Edition: September 2021 Cover design by Emily Osborne Cover art by Fatima Rehmat Book design by Kristin del Rosario, adapted for ebook by Shayan Saalabi Title page art: Fan pattern © tabosan/Shutterstock This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. pid_prh_5.8.0_c0_r0 To Nigerians everywhere—at home and in the diaspora. I am in awe of your talent, resilience, and innovation. I dey hail una. Contents Cover Praise for Ties That Tether Titles by Jane Igharo Title Page Copyright Dedication Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Chapter Thirty-Two Chapter Thirty-Three Chapter Thirty-Four Chapter Thirty-Five Chapter Thirty-Six Chapter Thirty-Seven Chapter Thirty-Eight Chapter Thirty-Nine Chapter Forty Chapter Forty-One Chapter Forty-Two Chapter Forty-Three Chapter Forty-Four Chapter Forty-Five Acknowledgments Readers Guide Discussion Questions About the Author ONE HANNAH san francisco Hannah stepped into the bustling room and knew she had made a mistake. A huge mistake. She should have stayed home. Instead, she was at a fancy cocktail party packed with some of San Francisco’s finest. Her best friend, Flo, was already sipping a drink and chatting with a bald-headed gentleman—probably some Silicon Valley tycoon she wanted to snag as a client for her real estate firm. This was the only reason Flo came to these sorts of events, and usually, she dragged Hannah along on the promise they would have a good time. But now, Hannah was alone and watching a man maneuver around a waiter and approach her with a haughty, overstated gait that seemed like a desperate plea for attention. “Hey. I’m Blaine.” He flipped his blond hair from his suntanned face and grinned with the confidence of a man well aware of his Ryan Gosling–esque appearance. “And you have to be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” The most beautiful woman. Hannah suppressed a snort. Did men ever tire of doing that—spitting lies and cheap lines at women as if they were items and the currency for purchasing them was deceit? Get your woman here, she imagined an enthused merchant at a bazaar saying, two shining lies for one pretty woman. Hannah presumed her father had done the same to her mother— spun the sweetest lies and the slickest pickup lines—right before he knocked her up and took off. “I’m sure you get this a lot,” Blaine went on, his gaze shifting over Hannah. “But you look so exotic. What are you? I mean race.” He brought his wineglass to his lips—sipped, swallowed, and smirked. “What are you mixed with?” Hannah hated that question but concealed her annoyance and offered a routine response. “I’m part black and part white.” “Yeah. But what’s your ethnicity?” As Blaine proved, some people were never satisfied with Hannah’s routine response. What’s your ethnicity? Hannah hated that question more because although she had the answer, she didn’t really have the answer. She could tell people about her American mother. That part was simple. But what could she tell them about her Nigerian father, who she’d met only once? What could she say about his Yoruba culture she knew nothing about? What’s your ethnicity? That question also indirectly asked her another. Who are you? And similarly, Hannah had the answer, but she didn’t really have the answer. She sighed. She should have just stayed home to work on her article before the deadline on Monday. Better yet, she should have volunteered at the youth center like she did a couple of times a week. Rather, she was attending a cocktail party in a luxurious penthouse that, through its floor-to-ceiling windows, had a spectacular 180-degree view of the San Francisco Bay Area. The interior—with its pale settee that curved into a sphere and its textured wall coverings that made the space seem somewhat alive—combined simplistic sophistication with a dramatic flair. It was a setting Hannah did not fit into. She glanced at her ensemble of a white T-shirt and a leather pencil skirt and sighed. Her outfit could not compare to the designer cocktail dresses that clung to the slim figures of every woman in the room. And her red Nine West stilettoes, which were rubbing against her sore toes and surely cleaving a layer of skin, could not compare to the Christian Louboutin pumps with their signature red soles reflecting on the polished floor. Hannah had felt chic when Flo picked her up. Now, she felt inferior amid all the glamour. “Okay. Maybe I can figure it out,” Blaine said, shifting his narrowed eyes over her features as if attempting to associate them with a specific ethnic group. His gaze stilled on her hair—a billow of ginger-blond coils that hovered above her shoulders. Her hair often muddled people, made them reconsider what they had concluded. For others, it was her nose with its short bridge and wide base. For some, it was her lips—the plumpness too proportionate and unexaggerated to have been the result of injections or a cosmetic lip kit. These features—hair, nose, lips—were set against a fair complexion with a warm, golden undertone. It was a combination that often prompted questions. And sometimes, if Hannah was so unlucky, prompted the guessing game. “Okay. I’ve got it,” Blaine said. “You’re Russian and Ethiopian.” Hannah snatched a glass off a platter a waiter held. She needed a drink. “You know what?” she said calmly. “You’re really starting to get on my nerves, so I think I’m just gonna go.” “Wait. What?” Blaine’s eyes widened with surprise. “I thought we were having fun—getting to know each other.” Did he really believe his intrusive questions were fun? Or that she enjoyed his guessing her ethnicity with the excitement of a game-show contestant? Some people really were clueless. Hannah downed her drink, dropped the empty martini glass on a tray a waiter was parading, and walked past Blaine. She navigated through the cluster of poised people and headed toward the open balcony doors. On the terrace, the mid-June breeze with its mild warmth and briny flavor cooled her cheeks that were hot due to her irritation. The nerve of that guy. She pressed two fingers to her pulsing temple as she surveyed the space. There were a group of people at the far end of the terrace, engaged in conversation. She slipped her aching feet out of the Nine West stilettos and wiggled her toes against the cool, smooth cement. Releasing a pent-up breath, she leaned into the iron railing and took in the view—the lit Golden Gate Bridge stretched over dark waters. “Hey.” Hannah spun around, her attention on the tall, lean man wearing a pale blue blazer over a white button-down. There was a pocket square peeking out in a puff of navy blue and burgundy. He didn’t wear a tie like most of the men inside, and yet he still exuded sophistication. His expression was serious, his lips pressed in a hard line. “Um . . . hi,” Hannah greeted. “Hi. I saw what happened inside with that man,” he said. He had an accent. Actually, it seemed like multiple accents—perhaps two distinct ones that morphed into something novel. An African one and an English one. It was interesting. In a sense, regal. And attractive. He ran a hand over the trimmed beard that neatly enclosed his lips. “He was . . . um . . .” He couldn’t find the right word. Hannah, however, had many. “Rude. Insensitive. Unaware. Obnoxious. Intrusive.” She held up five fingers and wiggled them. “Take your pick.” He pondered briefly, tapping his chin. “Is all of the above an option?” “Hmm.” She held up a sixth finger. “Looks like it is.” “Then all of the above. I think that sums it up best.” “Yeah.” Hannah nodded. “Me too.” She laughed, maybe even giggled, and it was light and sweet and unexpected. Where the hell had that come from? Only minutes ago, her cheeks were burning hot with irritation. They weren’t anymore. She dropped her hands and watched him gaze at the view beyond the terrace. She noted how moonlight touched his deep brown skin and cast a silvery shimmer over the gentle slants of his cheekbones. He was handsome but in a way that wasn’t immediately obvious, especially under the current dim lighting. She had to pay attention, take notice of the subtlety in his features. Like the natural squint of his eyes and the ease in which his bones structured his face—not with sharp, hard angles but with soft ones. “What a view, right?” he said. “Yeah. It’s pretty amazing.” She forced her gaze away from him. “It totally makes up for Flo ditching me . . . I guess.” He turned to her. “Who’s Flo?” “My best friend. She brought me as her plus one, then bailed the moment we walked through the door.” “Why would she do that?” “She’s working the room, on the lookout for new clients. She’s a Realtor, and even though she said she was coming for pleasure not business, I didn’t really buy it. The girl loves her job and is damn good at it.” Hannah shrugged. “I can’t fault her for it.” She regarded him, an eyebrow slightly raised. “What about you? Business or pleasure?” “Unfortunately, business.” “On the hunt for potential home buyers?” “Not exactly. The host owns a start-up I would like to purchase. We had a two-hour meeting this morning, and just when I thought we had a deal, he invited me here. Along with the three others interested in buying the company.” He chuckled then frowned, quietly considering something. “I’m starting to think this might be some kind of Hunger Games situation.” “Hmm.” Hannah looked through the open doors and examined the well-dressed guests. One woman wore an elaborate headband, heavy with pearls and multicolored jewels. Another wore a short, fuchsia dress with too many layers of ruffles. When she looked at him again, she nodded. “Yeah. Everyone in there can definitely pass as citizens of the Capitol.” He glanced inside to deliberate, and when he turned to Hannah and their eyes connected, they laughed out loud. The sound surprised Hannah just as the giggle had surprised her earlier, but she embraced it completely. As their laughter died down, they looked at each other, a glint in their eyes. “I’m Lawrence.” He extended a hand to her. “Hannah.” She took his hand, and her heart broke out of its routine rhythm, banging briskly and shortening her breaths. They fixated on each other, smiling. And then, abruptly, a phone rang. The repetitive chime disrupted the moment. Lawrence released Hannah’s hand and reached into his pocket. His brows furrowed as he looked at the screen, at the caller ID. “Would you please excuse me while I take this?” “Yeah,” Hannah said. “Of course. Go ahead.” He stepped a few feet from her and brought the phone to his ear. He listened, and then he spoke, his whisper still discernible. “Oh my God.” He pressed his eyes closed and shook his head. “Okay.” Now he nodded. “Okay. I’m on my way, Tiwa. Okay? I’m on my way.” After ending the call and releasing a deep sigh, he returned to Hannah. “I’m sorry, but I—” “No need to apologize.” It was obvious he had just received bad news. His shoulders sloped, and his eyes glistened with tears he fought back by blinking rapidly. “It’s okay.” She gave him a sympathetic smile. “Go.” She didn’t want him to, but he definitely had to. “I hope everything works out.” “Thank you. Goodbye.” He turned and hastened away. As Hannah watched him leave, she tried to disregard the connection she’d felt. It didn’t matter. He was gone now. And that was that. “There you are!” Flo shouted, stepping onto the terrace. She approached her best friend with rushed steps that made her silk dress flap behind her. “Jeez. I’ve been searching this entire place for you.” “Well, I’ve been out here.” She didn’t want Flo to detect her disappointment, so she paid attention to her voice, ensuring it had a believable measure of liveliness. “I was just getting some air and talking to . . .” What was the point of telling Flo about him? “Some of the other guests.” “Oh. Great. Happy you had some company. I’m . . . um . . .” Flo frowned, her attention on Hannah’s bare feet. “Um . . . why aren’t you wearing any shoes?” Hannah looked down, her eyes widening. She’d forgotten about her lack of shoes. Had Lawrence noticed that? Maybe not. He hadn’t mentioned it. She brushed off her embarrassment and laughed. “My feet were killing me. I needed a break.” “Right. Anyway, sorry about basically abandoning you.” Flo’s alabaster complexion, already flushed from the suddenly cool air, lost more of its natural hue. “But I’m all yours for the rest of the night. We can stay or get outta here—it’s up to you. Anything you wanna do.” “Really?” Hannah eyeballed Flo skeptically. “Anything I wanna do—no complaining?” “Yep. No complaining.” The confirmation was all she needed to hear. “Let’s go back to my place. Order a pizza and watch a movie.” “Come on,” Flo groaned. “It’s a Friday night.” “You said no complaining. Remember? You wanted me to pick, and I have.” “Yeah. But I just thought you’d make the right decision—do the right thing, you know?” Hannah chuckled. “This is the right thing.” At least it was for her. It had already been an eventful night. She just wanted to go home. “I’m in the mood for anything with Michael B. Jordan.” “Hmm.” Flo smirked and fiddled with the pearl pendant on her necklace. “Okay. All right. Looks like there’s a light at the end of this tunnel after all. Let’s find something where he’s shirtless like seventy percent of the time.” Their eyes went wide and together, they said, “Creed,” before bursting into loud laughter. “Hold on a minute.” Hannah cleared her throat and dug a hand into her purse. “My phone’s going off.” She pulled out the device that was both vibrating and chiming. “It’s my mom.” After reading the text messages, she frowned. “Is everything okay?” Flo asked, stroking an auburn tress behind her ear. “I don’t know.” Hannah gawked at her phone, unblinking. “She wants me to come by the house.” “Why?” “She has something to tell me. It’s about my father.” TWO HANNAH The scent of Hawaiian Breeze nauseated Hannah. The artificial fumes the three-wick candle released usually soothed her. Now, as she sat on the burgundy couch with her mother, the tropical aroma triggered a sickening sensation in her gut. She put the cap over the container, and the flames went out. “Mom,” she said, her voice soft. “What’s going on?” Hannah’s mother said nothing. Her blue inflamed eyes wandered around the living room as if she had lost her nerve and was trying to find it within the rustic interior of the town house. Two minutes passed. The air was clearer, no longer heavy from the candle’s fumes. Hints of lasagna wafted. It was past eleven on a Friday night. Hannah wished they could go into the kitchen and bond over a good meal like they used to when she lived at home. But then she looked at her mother, whose eyes still wouldn’t meet hers. “Mom.” Hannah breathed deep and mustered the courage to voice the question she’d asked herself since receiving the text messages. “Is he dead?” Her mother ruffled her strawberry-blond hair that was usually in a slick ponytail. She looked at Hannah, turned away, then nodded. “Yeah. I got the call a few hours ago. His lawyer reached out. He told me he died yesterday. Honey, he was sick. Prostate cancer.” “Oh.” Hannah wanted to act casual and unbothered by the news, and she succeeded for approximately five seconds. But then her lips puckered and quivered, and she released a rough, broken sound that shocked even her. She was crying for a father she had met only once in all her twenty-eight years, a father who never wanted her. But as tears fell, Hannah understood that she wasn’t mourning his death at all but a fantasy—the idea of all they could have been, if only he had just shown up. “I’m so sorry,” her mother said, holding her. “I’m so, so sorry.” “It’s fine.” Hannah stopped crying, patted her cheeks dry, and composed herself. “I’m fine.” She stood promptly and grabbed her purse off the couch. “I’m gonna go. I have this article to write for work, so . . . yeah. I . . . I gotta get it done.” “Honey, this is a lot to take in. Maybe you should stay—sleep over tonight.” “What? No. I’m fine. Good night, Mom. Love you.” She shuffled along the cramped space between the couch and the whitewash coffee table, then marched to the front door. “Hannah, wait. There’s more.” “More?” She turned around, exhausted. “What is it?” What more could there possibly be? “Why don’t you sit down. Please.” Hesitantly, Hannah retook her position on the couch. “According to the lawyer who called, your father’s funeral is in Nigeria in two weeks.” She fidgeted with the cord on her silk robe. “And you’ve been invited.” “Invited.” Hannah cocked her head. “What do you mean? I don’t understand. What exactly am I being invited to do?” “It was your father’s wish that all his children, including you, attend his funeral and the reading of his last will and testament. In Nigeria.” For a minute, Hannah said nothing. She fixated on the landscape painting on the white wall and then gradually came to understand her mother’s words and all it implied. “No. I’m not going to Nigeria.” It was the only rational response. “Sweetheart, I understand how hard this is for you, but—” “I am not going.” She enunciated each word as if her mother was suddenly hard of hearing. “I know this is asking a lot, but it was his final wish.” “I don’t care, Mom!” A sob scratched her throat, made her voice tiny and raspy. “He got you pregnant and just took off—went back to his family in Nigeria.” Hannah knew how it all happened. When she was a child, she would recall the details as if her mother and father were characters in a tragic love story. Once upon a time, there was a young woman called Lauren Bailey. Lauren was a waitress in a hotel restaurant, working her way through graduate school. One day, Lauren met Wale, an older gentleman who visited the hotel frequently from a faraway land called Nigeria. They started seeing each other. They fell in love. They were happy for a few months. But one day, Lauren told Wale she was pregnant, and Wale returned to Nigeria to a wife he’d kept a secret and never came back. The end. “He didn’t want me.” And that was at the core of the story. “He left because he didn’t want me. And just because he sent you a hefty check every month doesn’t change anything. Honestly, I wish you hadn’t even taken his money.” “His money is the reason you could get braces,” her mother said, a sharpness in her tone. “It’s the reason you could take ballet classes and piano lessons and go on that high school graduation trip to Europe. His money is the reason you’re not stuck with a load of student loans. So yes, he wasn’t the best father, but at least he did something.” “Something,” Hannah said, “but not enough. He didn’t do enough. And honestly, I don’t owe him anything.” Tension overpowered the scent of Hawaiian Breeze and lasagna. It made the air dense, heavy, hard to inhale. They sat in silence for several minutes. Then Hannah’s mother sighed. “You’re right,” she said. “You owe him nothing. But . . .” She paused. “But you should go. Not for him but for yourself. He has four other children. Honey, you have siblings.” Hannah was aware of her father’s other children. In high school, she googled him often—desperate for any detail about him. On his Wikipedia page, she’d learned he was an oil tycoon with other businesses in real estate, shipping, and finance. There was a picture of his children on the same page—three girls and one boy. She studied that picture repeatedly, imaging herself in it, wondering how much she would stand out, how much she wouldn’t fit in. It had been years since she looked him up or studied that picture of her siblings. They were strangers, and she had accepted that that was all they would ever be to her. “He wanted you to meet them, Hannah. He wanted you to meet your siblings.” “He had years to make that happen, so why did he wait until now?” Her mother contemplated in silence, then shrugged. “I don’t know. But I know you’ve always been curious about him and them and even his culture.” She huffed. “I hate that I couldn’t help you understand where he’s from.” But she had tried. When Hannah was a child, her mother would research Yoruba history and culture. Then she would present her findings in diagrams and collages. However, despite her attempt to educate, young Hannah detected a lack of certainty and authenticity in the lessons that made her reluctant to learn. “I know this isn’t how you imagined getting to know your father and his family. So, if you don’t want to go, I’ll understand. Really. I will.” She held Hannah’s hand tenderly as if it was made of glass. “But will you just think about it?” When Hannah was younger, she wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Back then, she was like a child at the windowsill, waiting for her daddy to come home. She imagined him showing up one day, claiming he’d made the biggest mistake of his life by abandoning her and her mother. She imagined a reunion and waited for it—hoped for it. At nineteen, she realized the reunion would never happen. Even then, she had to deal with the shame of wanting someone who did not want her. That had been the hardest part, being absolutely sure that her father did not and would never want her. She eventually learned to accept his permeant absence, to make peace with it, and move on. And although she hated to admit it, Hannah knew her father’s absence had created holes in her, holes where portions of her identity should have been. But she didn’t dwell on that. Instead, she filled those holes with other things—an excellent job as senior writer at a top women’s publication, a loyal best friend she had known since college, and a mother she loved more than anything in the world. Hannah had taught herself to be content. She needed nothing else. THREE LAWRENCE san francisco Lawrence sat beside Tiwa on the couch in her suite at the Fairmont. With her long legs huddled to her chest, she gazed out the window, her somber brown eyes on the cluster of concrete towers that made up San Francisco’s financial district. “I can’t believe it,” she said, “my father is dead.” She rushed the words as if eager to get them out of her mouth, to speak them once and never again. “I thought he had more time. The doctors said he did.” “I know.” There was a sudden tightness in Lawrence’s throat as his heart pounded. “Tiwa, I . . .” Unable to find the words to express himself, he grew mute. For a moment, it seemed like time had snatched him and hauled him into the past, to the day his mother died. He was ten at the time, leaping over puddles as he walked home from school with his book bag slung over one shoulder. There was a smear of mud on his white-and-green-plaid uniform from when he had fallen earlier in the schoolyard. A young woman hawked on the littered Lagos street, one hand supporting the bowl of pure water on her head, the other wiping the sweat that drenched her fatigued face. All around, cars honked, people hollered, engines revved up and died as they slowed in the infamous Lagos traffic. An okada zipped past him; there was a woman on it, clenching the driver tightly, the child on her back clenching her even tighter. As Lawrence came closer to the worn, rusty gate that surrounded the tin-roof bungalow, he smelled his mother’s efo riro soup. His mouth watered, but he soon noticed a smell stronger than stockfish and spices—smoke. He ran frantically; his feet plunged into pools of rainwater that stained his white socks brown. There was a crowd in the small compound, wailing neighbors who didn’t notice him squeeze between their bodies and into the shabby house where he lived with his mother. The front door led to a small space that was both the living room and the kitchen. The acrid air burned his eyes and scratched his throat. Between the breaks of white fog that veiled the room, Lawrence saw his mother beside the blackened kerosene stove. She was motionless on the cracked, chipped tiles—her eyes wide-open yet unstaring, the wooden spoon she had used to stir the soup still in her hand. The news of Chief Jolade’s death took Lawrence back to the frightened boy who became an orphan at ten. Tears pricked his eyes. He wanted to mourn the man who had been like a father to him, the man who had taken him in after his mother’s death, but then he looked at Tiwa’s expressionless face and knew this wasn’t his loss alone. “Tiwa.” He draped a blanket over her bare shoulders that quivered. “I’m so sorry. I’ll make arrangements for us to go home.” “No.” She shook her head. “Dad wanted us to come to San Francisco and close the deal. How did it go tonight? Did you hear anything?” She had planned on attending the party with him but hadn’t been up for it, too preoccupied with thoughts of her sick father before eventually getting the news of his death. “You called. I had to leave the party.” “Then we’ll—” “Let it go, Tiwa.” He knew it wasn’t about business for her. It was about doing one last thing for her father. “It’s okay,” he assured her. “They’ll be other opportunities. Right now, we have to go home.” She nodded slowly, unsure but accepting. “Yeah. Okay.” He blew out a breath, relieved she hadn’t argued—something she was infamous for. “Tiwa, I understand how you must feel right now. I understand how devastating this all is. If you want to talk, I’m here.” They had been best friends since they were children— basically siblings. He knew she wasn’t an expressive person. He knew she wouldn’t accept his offer, but he still had to make it. “And what would you like me to say?” She turned to him sharply; her short, slick bob whipped her face as she moved. “My father is dead. Talking won’t bring him back. Nothing will.” Her lips shuddered, and her eyes filled with tears. For just a moment, it seemed like her hard exterior had cracked and all the softness she kept locked away was leaking out. It seemed that way for only a second, and then her lips straightened to a firm line and strength resurfaced in her dark eyes. She stood and tossed the blanket aside. “I’m going to try reaching Segun and the twins.” She marched to her bedroom, her phone in her shaking hand. The door thudded closed, leaving Lawrence alone in the living room. His face dropped into his hands. Tears he could no longer hold back fell. That horrid childhood memory cropped up, the details clearer than ever—the scent of efo riro soup entwined with smoke, the crowd of neighbors who had either gathered to grieve or gape, his mother lying still, the wooden spoon in her hand flecked with the residue of the leafy soup. More tears fell. His heart pounded. His skin dampened with sweat. He would go back to Nigeria. Back to the house he grew up in, to a family that was not his by blood but one he loved just the same. And for the second time in his life, he would have to say goodbye to someone he loved. FOUR SEGUN new york The club on the Lower East Side of the city was packed and lively, as it was every Friday night. The crowd cheered and booed artists as they saw fit. Wisps of smoke drifted in the dim space above bobbing heads and elevated hands. The air was musty and reeked of weed and cheap liquor. Sweat flecked Segun’s forehead. In just a few minutes, it would be his turn. It was his first real performance, and the crowd had been savage all night, but he had the right soundtrack, dope-ass lyrics, and a shitload of swag—a winning combination. He ran a hand over the cornrows that lined his scalp. The shaved detailing on his sideburns was neat and bold and drew attention to the diamond studs in his ears. There was no doubt about it. He looked damn good. As he adjusted the gold chains around his neck and admired his Air Jordan sneakers, he thought of the years he had spent in Nigeria under the microscope of his father. Back then—when his father wasn’t tormenting him with long lectures on how to become a successful businessman—Segun would watch American movies like Hustle & Flow and Straight Outta Compton. He would mimic the accents, slang, and gestures of the male actors. Often, he would spend hours listening to Kendrick Lamar, Nas, and Tupac, studying hip-hop culture and using it as a blueprint to create his own music. He was mesmerized by African Americans. Looking at the energetic crowd and the artist swaggering onstage, Segun found himself still in awe of them. They were black but a different type of black, a kind of black he desperately wanted to be—one utterly different from his father. For a moment, he wondered what his father would say if he saw him now, standing backstage at a club with a new appearance, pursuing a career as a rapper. He conjured the voice and the would-be words in his mind. Segun, I sent you to America for an education. Now look at yourself. Only ten months in the country, and you have turned into a wayward child, pursuing a career as a babbling fool. You are nineteen years old and you are absolutely senseless. Segun pushed the monologue out of his head. He couldn’t think about how disappointed his father would be. Tonight, he had to stay focused. Tonight, he was going to kill it onstage—do the damn thing like it had never been done before. He would pave his own way, separate from his father’s name and legacy. As he began a mental rehearsal, his phone vibrated; he pulled it out of his skinny jeans and looked at the screen. It was a call from Nigeria. He recognized the number; it belonged to his father’s lawyer, the man he had always called uncle even though they weren’t relatives. African Americans didn’t have to do that shit. If you weren’t blood, you were called by your first name. Segun thought he would give it a try. “Dayo,” he said with the phone to his ear. “ ’Sup, man?” In Nigeria, if Segun had referred to his elder in this manner, he would have gotten a backhand slap on his face. A slap so firm, so sound, he would have felt the effects of it in his toes. “Ehn?” Dayo paused as if taking a moment to glance at the phone to determine he had dialed the correct number. “Segun, is that you speaking?” “Yeah. It’s me. Now, you gon’ answer my question or what? ’Cause I ain’t got time for all this.” The line went silent. Perhaps Dayo needed a moment to come to terms with what he had heard. A few seconds passed, and he cleared his throat and said: “Segun, your mother has been trying to reach you for hours to no avail, so she asked that I contact you.” “Hell yeah. She been blowin’ up my phone all day. What she want, man?” “Segun, she wanted to give you some news.” “Yo, please tell me she ain’t planning on coming down here again. She treatin’ me like I’m some kid or something. That ain’t right, man. And I ain’t ’bout—” “Oga Americanah, will you shut up your dirty mouth?” Dayo snapped, his patience at its end. “I called to tell you that your father has passed.” Segun laughed. “What? Fuck is you talking about, man?” “Your father, Chief Jolade, is dead.” The music stopped. The rapper onstage received cheers from the hyped-up crowd. The MC appeared and introduced the next artist. “Lil Sege.” It was time for Segun’s entrance. It was time for his introduction to the world of hip-hop, a world he had long idolized. The MC motioned for him to step onstage, but Segun remained fixed. The rowdy, restless crowd started booing. The stage manager urged him to go on. Segun did not respond. His mind went blank. He began to babble, combining words that created incoherent sentences. His tongue loosened and lost hold of his forged American accent and dialect. Yo became ehn and man became oga until he was speaking pidgin English and then his native language, Yoruba. Then he completely let go of his alter ego and shouted “Jesus!” and threw his hand on his head in a manner that was distinctly Nigerian. “Segun,” Dayo said gently, “it is time to come home.” FIVE SHOLA london At dawn, the sun’s sharp rays steadily split through the dim sky. The air, still damp and earthy from last night’s rainfall, poured through the open veranda doors, filling the two-story Knightsbridge apartment with dewy freshness. Shola sat inert on the velvet chesterfield sofa with her hands on her knees and one leg tucked behind the other—just as her strict boarding school teachers had continuously taught her. A balmy, sluggish breeze slipped through her hair; the cowries on each lock of twist rattled—one tapping her temple and another her eyelid. She allowed the slight inconvenience and tolerated others like the pang in her stomach and the itch on her neck. Shola did not move. She could not move. For hours, she’d been frozen—a fixture in the glitzy apartment with its silver and gray palette and mirrored wall. The only action she managed to perform was to text her twin sister, telling her to come home. Now, she held back tears, waiting for Dami to walk through the front door, so she could utter unbelievably heartrending words. Dad’s dead. It was a Saturday, and Shola had planned to go to the Arts Club for brunch and then to Harrods. There were a few accessories she wanted to pick up for an upcoming photo shoot. Of course, her plans had changed. She sighed and glanced at the watch on her wrist—the Rolex Lady-Datejust in Everose gold. A few weeks ago, after she had won the Cosmopolitan Influencer Award, her father had sent her the watch with an engraved message on the case back—Always Proud. Love, Dad. The last time Shola spoke to him, he had suggested the whole family spend part of the summer in their home in Dubai. She was looking forward to the holiday, looking forward to seeing her whole family. It suddenly occurred to her that her family would never be whole again. The truth was a punch in the gut that made her breath hitch. Tears filled her eyes just as the front door swung open and Dami waltzed into the apartment with all the carefree disposition of a child. “Hey,” she said, pulling off her metallic chrome Dr. Martens. “Hi.” Shola quickly regained her poise and tapped her chest, a silent plea for her heart to settle down. “How was it? How did you do?” “Killed it. As usual.” Beats headphones, embellished in red and white Swarovski crystals, hung around Dami’s neck. She had six pairs in different colors—all a gift from their father for every city she had deejayed in. “I’m at Tramp tonight. Try not to miss this one. I always do better when you’re there. Please come.” “Yeah. Sure.” Shola looked through the open veranda doors where the sun beamed too brightly and the world carried on while hers stilled. “I thought you were spending the night at Ben’s. You practically live with him these days.” “Yeah.” Shola turned to her sister. “Change of plans.” The news of their father’s death had altered her Friday night plans with her boyfriend as well as her Saturday morning plans. Undoubtedly, it would alter the rest of her life. “Thanks for coming home.” “Well, I was gonna stay over at Marlo’s but then you texted. So here I am—present but absolutely knackered.” She flopped on the sofa and crossed her legs—not in the manner their boarding school teachers would approve of. Her short dress crumpled up and revealed her pink underwear. “Now, why did you text me before the crack of dawn, asking me to come home? And this better be good.” She picked up her phone, fixed a dent in her Afro, and posed with pursed lips. As Shola watched her sister, she remembered when their parents enrolled them in a London boarding school. They were sixteen and identical—one easily mistaken for the other. They wore the same clothes and always wove their hair into two French braids. They were twenty-four now and had changed so much. Shola wore a variation of twists and braids, and Dami’s hair was big and curly and usually set in an Afro. Dami’s style was artsy and Shola’s, Afrocentric. They had even found their own creative career paths—one with music and the other with fashion. Their father had been so proud of them, and now he was gone. “What’s wrong with you?” Dami asked, eyeing her sister. “You don’t look so great. Everything okay?” Shola blinked and refocused on the news she had to deliver. “I have something to tell you.” “Okay. Go ahead.” Dami tossed her phone on the gray ottoman, shaking the metal tray that held a small pot of hydrangeas and three crystal candlesticks. “What’s up?” “It’s about Daddy.” Shola paused and searched for the right words, the right phrasing. She came up with nothing. There was no way to sugarcoat the news. “He’s dead. Dad’s dead.” “What?” Dami’s brows bumped together in a scowl. She watched her sister skeptically as if searching for proof she was telling a distasteful joke. “What the hell are you talking about?” “Mommy called me. She said he’d been sick for a while. He had cancer. Everyone knew—Lawrence, Tiwa, everyone, but Segun and us. He didn’t want us to worry. He didn’t want us to know he was sick.” Shola released a shaky breath. “Now he’s gone.” “No.” Dami sprung to her feet. “You’re lying. He’s not. He can’t be . . . be dead.” Tears came down her cheeks, leaving a streak through the layer of shimmering bronzer. “I know.” Shola stood and took her sister’s hands. “I can’t believe it either. But he’s gone. Dad’s gone.” In sync, the twins wailed. They fell into each other’s arms and then onto the couch, crying and mumbling encouragement as they consoled each other. “I can’t believe this is happening,” Dami said, clinging to her sister. “Did you talk to Segun and Tiwa and Lawrence? Are they okay? Are they going home?” “Yes. I spoke to them. They’re going home. We’re all going home.” Shola and Dami had not been to Nigeria in two years. Though Shola had found a way to carry home with her—in the hairstyles she wore, the thin twists and box braids and cornrows that clung to her scalp and swung against her back. And even in her clothes—an array of styles created with African textile. Sometimes, she found it was the least she could do to keep home close—maintain this outward appearance, an often exaggerated idea of what it meant to be Nigerian or African in general. But in London, this appearance served a purpose. It told people she was proud of her culture, of who she was. And Shola was proud because her father had taught her to be. SIX HANNAH san francisco On Monday, Hannah made the biggest decision of her life. In response, her mother called a man named Dayo, who immediately emailed Hannah instructions to get a visa and two days after that, emailed her a business-class plane ticket. Destination: Lagos, Nigeria. On Thursday, a day before her departure, Hannah pushed a fork through bits of kale and tried to ignore the anxiety that had given her a sleepless night and an unproductive morning in the office. Despite her attempt, the nerves were impossible to disregard. She tossed the fork on the plate and huffed. “Not hungry?” Flo said, pulling round sunglasses from the crown of her head and over her narrowed eyes. “You’ve hardly eaten a thing.” “I don’t have much of an appetite today.” A fly buzzed above Hannah’s head. She swatted it and protected her drink with one hand over the rim. The salad, she didn’t bother to guard. She had given up on it, her growling stomach be damned. “Maybe we should have gotten a table inside.” Flo dipped sweet potato fries into a glop of ketchup. “It’s so damn hot today.” And the massive umbrella wedged in the middle of the round table did very little to ease their discomfort. The humid air moved sluggishly, transporting a nauseating concoction of cigarettes, fried food, body odor, and old trash. Hannah surveyed the outdoor space—people conversing, cutlery clicking, servers gliding through the cluster of the lunch crowd. Their waitress was nowhere in sight. “Hannah, what’s going on?” Flo sipped her Pepsi; her small lips left an imprint of red on the white straw. “You seem tense. Is it about Nigeria?” “Yeah.” Hannah gave up on tracking down their waitress and looked at Flo’s tinted Ray-Ban glasses. “I’m supposed to be leaving tomorrow, but . . .” “But what? Are you having second thoughts?” “Yes. Absolutely. I don’t even want to go, but my mom wouldn’t give it a rest.” All weekend, Hannah received numerous pestering phone calls and text messages from her mother, each persuading her to go on the trip. It had driven her insane and eventually driven her to say yes. “She’s convinced going will be good for me or something.” Her shoulders slumped. “I don’t know.” “Well, maybe it will be. Just think about it.” Flo leaned into the table, her chest pressed against the rounded edge. “You have a whole ’nother family on the other side of the world. That’s kind of amazing.” “I don’t need another family. I have my mom.” For years, it had been just the two of them. Her mother, orphaned at sixteen, had only one living relative—her grandmother. Though, she had died when Hannah was six. With no one else, only the two of them, they’d created their own family. It was small, but it was everything a family should be. Hannah’s childhood had been filled with love, warmth, and stability. Her mother had always been there—at every school event, every dance rehearsal and tennis match. But she wasn’t just there physically. Even as a young single mother juggling a full-time job as a middle school teacher, she had been present emotionally. Hannah grew up in a happy home, with a mother whose disposition was calm, tender, and sweet. They laughed a lot—in the kitchen as they failed at new recipes, on the couch as they watched cheesy romantic movies, and on the long rides they occasionally took through the countryside. There were so many memories of holidays and birthdays and vacations—so many good memories. Even with only one parent, Hannah had never lacked the essentials. She’d always had everything she needed. Even now. “My mom’s enough,” she said gently. “She’s all the family I need.” “Yeah. Of course.” Flo smiled. “I know. And I’m not saying push your mom aside and make room for your siblings. I’m just saying it’s a cool opportunity to get to know them. This might be a good thing.” “A good thing?” Hannah scoffed. “I don’t even know what I’m getting myself into.” She would be walking into the unknown alone. And though her mother had offered to come along, Hannah believed it was best she stayed in San Francisco—far away from her father’s possibly resentful and unforgiving wife, who might consider her the other woman. “Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. What if his family doesn’t like me? What if they think I’m some sort of impostor because—let’s face it—I don’t exactly fit in?” “And what if they love you? What if you totally fit in because you’re family? What if this turns out to be the best decision you ever made?” Hannah considered the possibilities and uncertainties of the “what if” scenarios and shrugged. “But what about the Youth Hope Center? Their annual fundraiser is happening in a few weeks, and I’m supposed to help prep.” She’d assisted in organizing the event since volunteering at the center five years ago. The fundraiser was usually a fun night for the kids, who dressed up and met some of the donors who enabled the center to have summer camp and computers and after-school activities like rock climbing and swimming. The event was important, and Hannah thought it would serve as the perfect excuse to cancel her trip. “Maybe I should just stay. In case someone at the center needs me.” “You’ll be gone for only a week. There’ll be enough time to prep for the fundraiser when you get back. Stop looking for a way out.” “Ugh. Fine.” “Besides,” Flo said, “keep in mind that if you need backup while you’re down there, just call me and I’ll be there.” “Really?” Hannah laughed. “You’d leave your job, your clients and come to Nigeria?” “Absolutely. With my fists ready to give a smackdown to anyone who messes with you. Don’t underestimate me. Remember in college when I punched Brian Thomas for getting too touchy with you?” Hannah would never forget the day Flo’s small fist came in perfect contact with the cocky frat boy’s nose. There had been blood and tears and neither had come from Flo. There was no doubt about it. If Hannah needed reinforcement in Nigeria, her best friend would be there, offering both moral support and combative defense. It made her feel slightly better. SEVEN HANNAH Rather than folding clothes into her suitcase, Hannah drove from her home in Potrero Hill to the Youth Hope Center in the Mission District. It was a little past six in the evening, and at this time, the neighborhood had a distinct charm. The restaurants she drove past were bustling; customers overflowed from the inside onto the patios. If Hannah rolled down her window and got a hit of the various aromas wafting in the air, she would be tempted to stop and grab chicken tacos from one of her favorite spots, La Taqueria. With no detours, she drove directly to the center and parked her red Mazda in front of the large beige building. A vibrant mural covered one wall—the word HOPE the focus of the stunning piece. Hannah relaxed into the leather seat and studied the images painted inside each block of letter. She squinted, making out the details of a cable car in H. O contained a skull in honor of the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. Hannah loved the colorful patterns and flowers on the pale skull. Just as her stare settled on P, she flinched, alarmed by a rat-a-tat against her car window. Mariana, a sixteen-year-old girl who frequented the center, stood on the other side of the glass, waving while using her other hand to secure the bag strap on her shoulder. Hannah turned off the engine and stepped out of the car. “Hey. How’s it going?” she asked. “Okay.” Mariana pulled a brown tress from her tanned face and watched Hannah. “How about you? You were just sitting there, staring into space. Were you daydreaming or hallucinating?” “Neither.” She chuckled lightly. “I was just admiring the mural.” “Why? It’s not like you haven’t seen it before.” “That doesn’t mean I can’t take a moment to appreciate it now and then. You should try it sometime.” “Nah. I’m good.” Mariana flapped her eyes as if both bored and tired. “Anyway, what are you doing here? Thought you didn’t volunteer on Thursdays.” Hannah didn’t. But she couldn’t stand another minute in her apartment, packing with the knowledge she would get on a plane to Nigeria the next day. She needed to avoid that reality for a while. “I had some free time. Figured I’d just drop by.” She stuffed her car keys into her pocket, and they walked from the curb to the entrance. The weather was warm, cooler than it had been during lunch with Flo. Every bicycle stand had a bicycle chained to it. With people walking in and out of the center, the large wooden doors didn’t stay closed for long. It was clearly one of those busy evenings. “So, I read your article,” Mariana said as they entered the building. “Oh yeah?” Hannah turned to her after waving at a group of kids leaving the center. “Which one?” “The one you wrote last week, about the importance of female communities.” She broke eye contact and shrugged. “I liked it. It was good.” “Thanks. I appreciate that.” And Hannah did because she’d learned years ago, when she started volunteering, that a teenager’s approval is rare. She pressed her lips in a firm smile and tried to act nonchalant so Mariana wouldn’t revoke the approval. They continued down the hallway, the doors on each side opened. The rooms they passed hummed with conversation and laughter and even music. Hannah loved the sound. It confirmed the center was supporting the kids in the community and the kids were receptive. “Do you think you’ll host another writing workshop?” Mariana asked. “The last one was pretty cool.” Another approval. Hannah fought the urge to pump her fist in the air. “Yeah. Sure.” “Really? That would be amazing. And you know what? You could also include a prize for the person who shows the most promise. They could get a summer internship.” “A summer internship where?” “You know. Teddy Girl. Where you work. I mean, you already got the hookup and everything, so . . .” Hannah stopped walking, folded her arms, and turned to Mariana—her posture serious even with the smirk on her face. “Is the workshop some ruse to get yourself an internship?” “Um . . .” She looked from Hannah to the floor and then up again. “Okay. Fine,” she conceded, rolling her eyes. “I want an internship at Teddy Girl. That would be freakin’ amazing. But I wanna earn it. That’s why I suggested the workshop.” She smiled—sweet, innocent, hopeful. “So? What d’you think?” Mariana’s initiative was impressive, and so was her willingness to earn the internship. It was admirable. “It’s a good idea,” Hannah told her. “I love it. I’ll speak with Caroline to see if we can set up another workshop, and then I’ll make arrangements at work.” “Seriously?” Mariana bounced on her toes, grinning and yelping. “Yes! Thank you!” “But if this happens, know that I’ll give you no special treatment. When I choose someone for the internship, I’ll base it strictly on merit. I might pick you, and I might not. Nothing’s certain.” The possibility didn’t faze Mariana at all. A smug smile appeared on her pink lips. “Oh, I’m not worried. I’ve got this. You’ll see.” She turned and walked down the hall, her bag swinging in response to her quick strut. “See what?” The center’s program coordinator, Caroline, stepped out of a room. She stood beside Hannah and watched Mariana’s departure. “What’s she talking about?” “Another writing workshop.” “Oh. You know, that would actually be nice.” She pulled a pen from her messy top bun; it was one of three pens wedged into the knot of silver and black curls. After scribbling in a notebook, she turned to Hannah with an arched brow. “Hey, what are you doing here? You’re not usually here on Thursdays.” “I was free. Thought I’d stop by to see if you guys need a hand with anything.” “That’s so thoughtful, but shouldn’t you be at home, getting ready for your trip? I thought you were leaving tomorrow.” Caroline assessed Hannah, her gray eyes filled with the sort of warmth and tenderness that could tempt anyone to reveal their darkest secrets and biggest fears. Hannah had no secrets, but she had a major fear—going to Nigeria. Though she didn’t want to discuss that or even think about it. That was why she had driven to the center. “I was done packing and had some free time, so I dropped by. Anything around here for me to do?” She didn’t have a specific task at the center. Usually, she did whatever needed to be done—from administrative work to manual labor. Just last week, she spent the evening in one of the recreation rooms, filling the cracks with drywall. A month ago, she’d used a makeshift net to teach some of the kids how to play tennis. And last year she’d led a writing workshop. She’d enjoyed doing that most, sharing her passion for writing with the kids, some who seemed just as passionate. “Well.” Caroline hooked her arm around Hannah’s and led her toward the gymnasium, where sneakers squeaked against the floor as a group of boys played basketball. “There’s always something to do around here.” * * * • • • When Hannah got home that night, she looked at the half-packed suitcase on her bedroom floor. The room was dark, but the glow of streetlights slipped through the blinds and reflected on the suitcase, highlighting all the empty spaces her clothes and shoes could fill. She tousled her curls and groaned. In just a few hours, she would be on a flight to Nigeria. With no distractions, she faced this fact and her apprehensions alone. If she fixated on her fears for too long, she would change her mind. In need of words to drown out her thoughts, she connected her phone to speakers and pressed Play. An orotund voice filled the apartment, narrating one of Hannah’s favorite books, Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler. She listened to the story attentively and began folding clothes into the suitcase, gradually filling it with everything she would need for her seven-day stay. But there was one thing missing—one thing she needed but did not have. She thought of the word on the mural. HOPE. She wished it was something tangible, something she could pocket and take along with her. That would make the trip easier—hope that, even though she was in a foreign country with people, a family she did not know, everything would be okay. But Hannah didn’t have hope to fuel positive thoughts, only the fears resounding in her head, overpowering the audiobook, and making her heart palpitate. EIGHT HANNAH lagos, nigeria The hot air was dense, especially with the accompanying smell of exhaust fumes and dry soil. Hannah stepped out of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, and the heaviness of the air settled in her lungs and on her skin. She was in Nigeria, a completely different world, and she was alone. This was a mistake. The thought had occurred to her several times during the luxurious business-class flight. Now, in a country where she knew absolutely no one, her fear resurfaced. She tried to dismiss it while walking on the concrete pathway that led to an opening with parked cars. Arriving travelers rushed past her and into the arms of their loved ones. It was one happy reunion after another. Already, Hannah missed her mom. She missed San Francisco and the safety of her world. She didn’t want to admit it, but she feared that being in Nigeria, in her father’s home, would make her a little less content with her life. She feared the child she used to be, the one who dreamed up reconciliations and happy endings, was still somewhere inside her, eager to be a part of her father’s world. Unwilling to fully confront that fear, she shook the thought away and searched for her ride. She had communicated with Dayo before leaving San Francisco, and in his last email, he had given simple instructions. When your plane lands, step out of the airport and someone will be there to pick you up. He’d also included a number in the email, but she would use it as a last resort. Until then, she would wait. Two minutes went by. The duffel bag she carried was heavy on her shoulder; the leather straps pinched her skin that was already flushed and moist from the heat. In any normal situation, two minutes would have been nothing to fret about. This situation, however, was anything but normal. Another minute passed. Hannah dug her teeth into her lip just as she spotted a middle-aged man step out of a black SUV. He was dressed formally and stood in front of the car—one hand in his pocket and the other holding up a sign with her full name. Hannah exhaled and approached him. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Hannah.” “Ah. Wonderful. Nice to meet you, ma. I am Solomon, the family’s driver. Mr. Dayo sent me.” He lowered the sign, tucked it in his armpit, and opened the rear door. “He is waiting for you at the house. I will put your bags away, and we can be on our way.” “Sure.” She slid the duffel bag off her sore shoulder and extended it to him. “Thank you.” In the car, the air conditioner freshened her damp skin and soothed her slightly. As Solomon drove away from the airport, she looked through the window. Lagos, Hannah found, was a vibrant city with a distinct aura of urgency. Through the tinted car window, there was heavy traffic. Drivers communicated their frustration, not only by honking their horns but also by flailing their arms through the window and raising their gruff voices. The streets teemed with cars, yellow buses, motorcycles, rickshaws, and determined hawkers who hollered catchy tunes to entice customers. They sold ripe bananas, polo shirts with distorted Gucci logos on them, chilled water in small plastic bags, and so much more. Swiftly, they maneuvered between slow-moving vehicles, showcased their merchandise to drivers and passengers, and sang their brassy tune that blended with the piercing boom of horns and the exasperated bellows of drivers. As the Mercedes moved farther, the streets became less congested. The number of hawkers lessened until there were none at all. On a wider, smoother pavement, the car accelerated. Lagos was like any other metropolis with high-rise buildings and highways. But soon, they crossed a massive bridge and a suburb of mansions replaced the urban scenery. Solomon provided a passcode at a security gate before entering a street with massive, extravagant homes. It was a different world, separate from the chaos of honking horns, screeching drivers, and tenacious hawkers who had a desperation in their eyes and a haste in their movements. There was a clear line— marked by the crossing of a bridge and then a guarded gate, a clear distinction of class. Hannah felt a pinch of guilt as she acknowledged this divide, as she noted her position on the other side of the line, in a Mercedes with a chauffeur. The car pulled up to a steel gate that slid open and gave way to a straight, wide path lined with coconut trees and cycads. The plants, which added a tropical touch to the immense estate, stopped short of a magnificent pillared building with tall arched windows. There were several balconies on the second floor, each enclosed with curved iron railings. As the car drew close to what Hannah could only consider a palace, she noticed intricate gold molding on the pillars fixed at the sides of the front door. The glittering color was the perfect accent against the beige building; it added an imperial flair to the neoclassical-style mansion. Hannah gaped and tried to reconcile where she was with where she had come from—the people on the street who had been vying for the attention of passengers and hustling under the smothering heat. People lived like that, and people lived like this, in a secluded paradise. The car stopped, and she stepped out. Her feet landed on the interlocked stones paving the estate’s grounds. “Madam, I will tell Mr. Dayo you are here,” Solomon said before marching into the house. “Yeah. Sure,” Hannah murmured absentmindedly, tilting her head back to view the entirety of the house. It was spectacular even with the sun gradually setting, its beam on the building receding. “Hannah. You’re here. Welcome.” She stopped admiring the house and turned to the front door, to the man in a black three-piece suit. He stood erect, hands behind his back, dignified. He had that hot older-guy thing going on, sort of like Idris Elba. His features were handsome, and the specks of white in his neat beard stubble and shaved hair were just the right amount. Hannah had an idea who he might be. “Dayo?” “That’s me.” He stepped forward, smiling warmly as he shook her hand. “It’s wonderful to finally meet you.” “Yes. You too.” “How was your flight?” He released her hand. “I hope it was pleasant.” “It was. Thanks.” “And how are you doing? I imagine a lot must be going through your mind right now.” “You don’t know the half of it.” She pushed her fingers into her hair and tousled the tight curls. What would happen once she stepped inside? She couldn’t imagine anyone being pleased about her arrival. This was a very bizarre situation. She bit her lip, tasted blood, and released it. “Can you give me an idea of what to expect? How do you think they’ll react? Are they even okay with me being here?” “Well.” He cleared his throat. “Here’s the situation. I didn’t exactly disclose the fact that you are coming. Or that you exist.” “What?” Hannah said, an edge in her tone. “You’ve told them nothing about me?” “I thought it would be best to wait for you to arrive and then tell them everything at once.” “Really? You thought that would be best?” “Yes. But I’m now realizing I might have made a mistake. I probably should have told them everything days ago—given them an opportunity to absorb the news before you arrived.” He rubbed his tense forehead. “I’m just a little out of my depth here. Your father passed, leaving me to handle this situation. I’m trying to keep everything under control—avoid chaos, especially since emotions are already high. But perhaps I could have done better. I apologize.” Hannah sighed and nodded. It was an unusual situation. She imagined there was no set way to go about it. “It’s fine,” she told him, her tone calm. “Thank you.” He exhaled. “So? Shall we go inside?” “Um . . .” She took one hesitant step forward, then halted. “No need to be nervous, Hannah. This was your father’s home. And he wanted you here. It was his wish.” She nodded and followed Dayo through the door. Her sharp nails pierced her sweaty palm, and her heart thumped. In the lengthy foyer, Hannah dawdled behind and examined a portrait of her father. She had a picture of them together—of her sitting on his lap while they both smiled at the camera. Her mother had taken the Polaroid photo when Hannah was eight, the one time she had met her father. He looked different in the portrait—older, fuller, not as handsome. At the end of the foyer, double doors led to a grand space with a two-way staircase. The area was cream-colored with arched windows and gold crown molding. Three crystal chandeliers dangled from the high ceiling, emitting a warm glow over the artistic marble floor. Hannah’s breath caught in her throat as she gawked, utterly and shamelessly amazed. “This way,” Dayo said, directing her to the left. “The living room is just this way. The family is waiting. Are you ready?” She imagined the dazed, angst-ridden expression on her face conveyed she was not ready, but she nodded and said, “Yes.” NINE LAWRENCE lagos, nigeria Sitting in the living room with the whole family, Lawrence looked around and tried to determine what had changed about the space. It looked different somehow. Perhaps the maids had rearranged some of the furniture. He wasn’t sure. Taking a new angle, he cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. And then slowly, it dawned on him. The room was the same; the decor had not changed. The only difference was the absence of Chief Jolade. In the evenings, after dinner, he would lounge in this room—a cup of tea or a strong drink in his hand, depending on the kind of day he’d had. His wife would sit beside him, and Lawrence and Tiwa would sit across from them. For hours, they would discuss business or politics, debating passionately and then laughing when more lighthearted topics came up. With the twins and Segun abroad, they had spent many evenings like that. But they would never have those moments again, and this room would never be the same. “So what do you think this is about?” Tiwa asked Lawrence, shuffling closer to him. “Why do you think Uncle Dayo called a family meeting?” Lawrence shrugged. “I have no idea. I’m sure it’s nothing.” “It’s probably about the will,” Segun suggested, reclining on the couch. “Maybe he wants to read it.” “No,” Tiwa said. “I don’t think that’s it. He sounded very serious.” “Well, the will is very serious,” Segun said. “I wanna know what I got.” Tiwa glared at her younger brother. “Segun, please. If you have nothing reasonable to say, then just don’t open your mouth.” “Whatever.” He sank deeper into the blue cushions, where his mother also sat, poised and regal—her grief guarded by an exterior of calm and elegance. She had never been a talkative person, but an observer, a silent contemplator. However, Lawrence noticed that since her husband’s death, she’d had even less to say. Her stare was often far off, her eyes fixed on an object without really looking at it. Whenever she caught Lawrence watching her, she would force a smile to convince him she was okay. But she wasn’t. None of them were. “Well, whatever Uncle Dayo wants to tell us, can he just be quick?” Shola muttered. “I want to go to my room.” “Me too,” Dami added. “Patience.” Iya Agba, who sat between the twins, took their hands. “I’m sure he will be here soon. Eh? Just relax.” They did. Shola rested her head on her grandmother’s shoulder, while Dami rested hers on her grandmother’s lap. The action seemed to cut their age in half. They looked so young suddenly, so helpless and weary and hopeless. Lawrence was certain they all felt the same way, even those who hid it well. “Are you sure you don’t know what’s going on?” Tiwa asked Lawrence again. He groaned and met her gaze. “No. I don’t know anything, T.” Looking in her eyes was the only way to convince her. Everyone knew he couldn’t lie while keeping eye contact with Tiwa. It had been that way since they were children. He would look into her steely eyes and be propelled to talk. It was like she had an invisible hook she threw down his throat to fish for truths. “Who did that to you?” she’d asked him when they were ten. His mother had just died, and he was living with the Jolades. He had transferred to Tiwa’s school, and it hadn’t been an easy transition. He didn’t speak much. It was as if his mother’s passing had shrunk his vocabulary. His classmates thought he was strange, and one day, on the schoolyard, one beat him up for it. When teachers and Chief Jolade asked about his bruised cheek and swollen lip, he’d said, “No one.” The only person able to get the truth out of him had been Tiwa. She’d asked one question, demanded it with a fierceness most grown women don’t have. And Lawrence told her everything. He’d expected her to tell her parents. Instead, the next day, she approached the boy who had beaten him up. He was a year older than her and a few inches taller too. But Tiwa slapped him hard across his face, then drove her knee into his groin. As he dropped to the ground and moaned, she glowered down at him and said, “If you touch Lawrence again, if you try it, you will see what I’ll do to you.” That was his best friend. She could stand up to just about anyone and get the truth out of him if she wanted to. This time however, he had no truths to reveal. “Okay.” She sighed and crossed her legs. “I guess we’ll just wait for Dayo.” It seemed like the only option, so they did. They waited. And a minute went by. And then two. And then three. And then the closed living room doors opened. Lawrence sat up straight. He narrowed his gaze. He blinked sharply to clear any haze from his vision. He considered a reasonable explanation for what he was seeing: he was imagining things. People did that when they were sleep-deprived, and he hadn’t slept much since he returned from San Francisco. San Francisco. His time there had been brief—cut short by the news of Chief’s death but made memorable because he had met her. “Hannah?” He stood and approached her. “Lawrence.” Her lips were caught between gasping and laughing; they somehow managed to do both. “What are you . . .” She huffed, disheveling her curls. “What are you doing here?” “I was wondering the same about you.” He was confused, but he was smiling. They stood face-to-face just as they had that night on the balcony. He remembered it well, even the little details like her bare feet and purple toenails. He remembered how witty and easygoing she was. They had laughed, and then he’d held her hand—the warmth of her palm meeting the cool of his. In that moment, he had felt excited and uncertain, charged with anticipation. And then with one phone call, everything changed. “Is this why you called a family meeting?” Tiwa asked, her tone snappy. “To introduce us to Lawrence’s girlfriend?” “She isn’t his girlfriend,” Dayo said. “Well . . . um . . . I don’t think she is.” “We’ve met before,” Lawrence explained. “Briefly. Last week in San Francisco.” “Oh.” Dayo nodded. “I see.” “Okay.” Tiwa tapped her foot. “Well, if she isn’t his girlfriend, who in the world is she?” Yes. That was a question Lawrence had not yet considered. Who was she? TEN HANNAH All eyes were on Hannah. She felt less like a person and more like a walking question mark. Uneasy, she averted her gaze from the inquiring faces and examined the massive cream-colored and gold-specked room that had similarities with what Hannah now referred to as the great hall. Curtains draped the edge of the tall windows; the embroidered material was a soft blue, matching the three camelback sofas hosting six people who still had eyes on Hannah. “Everyone.” Dayo cleared his throat. “Before I get into the thick of things and explain why I asked you here, allow me to do a quick introduction.” He took a deep breath. “This is Hannah. Hannah, this is Sade.” He pointed to a striking fair-skinned woman in a coral caftan; the loose material draped her slim physique and cascaded over the chair and onto the Persian rug. “She’s Chief Jolade’s wife.” Hannah forced a smile, an attempt at lightening the mood. Sade attempted nothing. She appraised Hannah, an eyebrow arched and her lips straight. The callous stare definitely had the power to shrink someone—to make them feel small, like less than what they were. “This is Chief Jolade’s oldest child. Tiwa.” Hannah knew that face. She had seen it before, while examining the picture of her siblings on the computer. Tiwa’s features were still the same, but her face had matured; it was leaner and more elegant, especially with the sleek, straight bob that curved and met her pointy chin. “These are the twins,” Dayo said, turning to the second sofa. He pointed at the twin with long twists. “This is Shola.” Then he pointed at the twin with an Afro. “And Damilola.” He looked at the elderly woman seated between them, her cheeks full and round much like her body. “This is Grandma Kemi, or as we call her, Iya Agba. She is Sade’s mother.” The elderly woman was the only person who smiled. It was a big, warm smile; it lifted her droopy cheeks, and the loose skin around her eyes gathered. Hannah returned the gesture then followed Dayo’s gaze. “The gentleman with the bored expression on his face is Chief Jolade’s son, Segun.” “ ’Sup,” Segun said, shifting his eyes between Hannah and his phone. Tiwa, Shola, Damilola, and Segun, all with the same deep brown complexion as their father. Hannah was standing in front of her siblings, in front of the faces she used to study. It was strange and unbelievable, and Lawrence was present too, making the strange even stranger. She looked at him and smiled slightly—caught between happiness and confusion. How did he fit into all of this? Who was he? A relative? That didn’t sit well with her. “Enough with introductions,” Sade snapped. Her voice— heavy with a Nigerian accent—was cold, sharp, beautiful, like a shard of ice. “I would like to know who this woman is and what she is doing in my home.” “Well.” Dayo pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and patted his moist forehead. “Before I begin, I would like to apologize for how this whole situation is unfolding. I—” “Just tell us what is going on,” Sade demanded. “Right. Of course.” Dayo inhaled and exhaled, undoubtedly gathering courage. He really was out of his depth. “As you all know, when Chief was younger, he spent a lot of time abroad, building his father’s multiple businesses.” Everyone nodded. “Well, during his time in America, he started a relationship with a woman, a white woman who conceived. She had a baby girl.” He looked at Hannah. “This is her. This is Chief’s daughter.” Beside Hannah, Lawrence tensed. He opened his mouth, then closed it when nothing came out. It seemed like he and everyone in the room didn’t have the words to express their astonishment. However, their faces—their wide eyes and slack mouths—conveyed the emotion perfectly. “Is this a joke?” Tiwa asked. “Is this some sort of joke?” “No,” Dayo answered. “Your father told me everything before he passed away. He wanted Hannah to attend the funeral and meet all of you. She’ll be staying here. In the house.” Tiwa laughed, a forced, mirthless laugh. “I’m waiting,” she said. “I’m waiting for the punch line.” It didn’t come. She stopped chuckling, the truth finally sinking in. Her expression hardened. She glared at Dayo. “You knew about her all this time, and you kept it from me . . . from us?” “Tiwa.” He spoke her name tenderly, uttered each syllable with a degree of care. With his doleful eyes on her, there seemed to be a silent exchange between the two of them. “Your father asked that I should. I was honoring his wishes.” She clenched her jaw. Obviously, she had a lot more to say but held her words back. “Hannah, I’m sure you are exhausted,” Dayo said. “Lawrence, will you please see her to a guest room? I have a few more things to discuss with the rest of the family.” Hannah was exhausted—not just from her long flight but from the current situation. She needed to step away and process everything. She needed to give them a moment to process everything. It had been naive not to consider how her arrival would affect them. She saw it now though, how confused and shocked and crestfallen every one of them was. And maybe their reaction had more to do with the fact that they had been lied to for years. It must have been heartbreaking. Hannah couldn’t imagine it. “Good night,” she said to no one in particular, and followed Lawrence out of the room. ELEVEN HANNAH The grand stairs led to a drawn-out corridor. As Hannah walked alongside Lawrence, still recovering from the scene in the living room, she focused on the simple act of inhaling and exhaling. She concentrated wholly on the subtle, seamless way air moved in and out of her body. She concentrated on the small gears within her that functioned collaboratively to make something so complex, so very simple. Breathe in, breathe out. Gradually, the knots in her stomach loosened. Lawrence stopped at a door and pushed it open. “Your room.” He motioned for her to enter. She did not. “Would you like me to go in first? To check for monsters?” “Ha. Funny.” She smacked his arm playfully and entered the room, her steps slow as she inspected the space that was larger than her apartment. Back home, her place was a riot of colors and patterns, nothing uniting to form a specific or intended decor. Here, the decor was intentional—shabby chic. The colors were minimal and tasteful. White curtains draped the tall windows, filtering the waning natural light. The walls were lavender, and the French-style bedframe and its matching dressing table and wardrobe were a shimmering silver that complemented the crystal light fixture on the ceiling. “The en suite is straight through there.” Lawrence pointed at the door beside the walk-in closet. Hannah’s attention was elsewhere—at the scenery through the closed glass door. Stunning mansions and a body of water extended far off, dusk casting an ocher blaze on both. The view within the estate consisted of a rectangular pool with a vanishing edge and a tennis court. “There’s a tennis court.” She stated the obvious with unabashed enthusiasm. She relished that emotion, made the most of it, as she had felt many things since deciding to come to Nigeria, and excitement had not been one of them. “I used to play in high school. I was on the team and everything.” “Well, I guess you and Tiwa have something in common,” Lawrence said, stepping beside her. “She likes tennis?” “Loves it. She plays often. Maybe you can join her sometime.” “I don’t know about that.” She turned away from the view and looked at Lawrence, who, to her surprise, was studying her. “She didn’t look particularly pleased to see me. Understandably.” “Yeah. Tonight was unexpected. To say the least.” He squinted and considered her deeply. “The news shocked everyone, including myself.” Hannah shuffled to the snow-white chaise longue at the foot of the bed and sat. “I’ve been wondering,” she said. “How do you fit into all this?” Finally, she would get the answer. “Are you a family relative?” “Um . . . well.” He sat beside her, leaving a small gap between them. “My mother used to work for the Jolades. She was their maid for years. They were always kind to her and me. Sometimes, when school was on break, she would bring me to work with her. I used to play with Tiwa.” He took in a deep breath, then let it go slowly. “When I was ten, my mother died. It was sudden—a brain aneurysm.” “Lawrence.” She started to extend her hand to his but then withdrew it, suddenly uncertain. “I’m so sorry.” “Thanks.” He looked at her hand, the one that had been so close to touching him. “Anyway,” he continued, “my father died a little after I was born. My mother was the only family I had. It was always just the two of us.” His lips curled up in a half smile that gradually straightened. “When she died, I had no one left. I would have ended up in an orphanage or on the streets. Chief Jolade took me in. He loved me, cared for me, gave me the same opportunities he gave his children.” He took Lawrence in, cared for him, loved him—loved someone else’s child but not his own. Hannah shook her head. She hated the thought. At least she’d had her mother. Lawrence had been an orphan. Her father had done a good thing. He wasn’t the heartless bastard her resentment often portrayed him as. Though Hannah couldn’t help but wonder, not about her father but about herself. What’s wrong with me? Why couldn’t he love me? Why wasn’t I good enough? She hadn’t asked herself these questions in years. Being in Nigeria was doing something to her, unearthing old insecurities. “The Jolades embraced me like I was one of them.” He stared off as if recalling the memories that supported his statement. “They’re good people, Hannah. And once they get over this shock, you’ll see it.” She nodded. “Thanks for sharing that with me—for telling me about your mom.” “You’re welcome.” His eyes, which had been narrowed as if adjusting to the sight of her, returned to their usual size. “It’s crazy, don’t you think?” “What is?” she asked. “The fact that you’re here.” “Yeah. It is.” Hannah couldn’t control the wide grin that stretched across her face. She was still stunned. The world, even in its vastness, shrunk to allow this coincidence. Seeing him had been a surprise. A pleasant one. She had been on edge for days—since agreeing to come to Nigeria. With the travel arrangements made on her behalf and then the journey to another country, it had seemed like Hannah was falling. She was uncertain of where she would land . . . where she would crash. Though, when she saw Lawrence, a familiar face, it briefly seemed like she had landed in a soft place—cushioned, safe, embraced by a comfort she had felt at a swanky cocktail party in San Francisco. “That night at the party,” she said, “when you got a call—” “I received the news that Chief passed. That’s why I had to leave.” “Minutes after you left, I got the same news. My mom told me. Then she told me he wanted me to attend the funeral. We didn’t even have a relationship, but here I am.” She sighed and looked around the room. “I have to admit. This isn’t what I expected.” “What isn’t what you expected?” She looked at him, contemplating how to explain herself without sounding ignorant and offensive. “I know my father was successful, but I didn’t expect this . . . this place, this house. It isn’t really the image that pops into my head when I think of Nigeria.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry if I sound like a complete idiot. I don’t mean to offend you.” “It’s fine.” He chuckled lightly, clearly unbothered. “I get it. There are extremely poor people in this country. But there is also a middle class. And those who are well-off. “Though, unfortunately, one group is larger than the others. And that’s the image of Nigeria people are accustomed to. They have no idea places like Banana Island also exist in Nigeria.” “Is that where we are? Banana Island?” He nodded. “Some of the country’s wealthiest people live here.” “Like my father and his family.” “Yes. This is the Jolade family home. The twins live in London, and Segun currently goes to university in New York, but whenever they’re in the country, they stay here. And Tiwa lives here.” “And what about you?” “I moved out a few years ago—got my own place not too far from here, somewhere on the island. Though, I’ve been staying here since I returned from San Francisco—since Chief passed. I think it’s best we all stay together right now.” Lawrence—who was the true epitome of tall, dark, and handsome—was also thoughtful. Hannah’s heart skipped, somersaulted—did everything but move steadily. Her eyes burrowed into his with constrained focus as they tried not to shift to his lips or his fit physique that was apparent in the T-shirt he wore. When a thought occurred to her, she found something else to focus on. “Chief,” she said. “You and Dayo call him Chief. What’s that about?” “Your father held a chieftaincy title, meaning he was a leader here in Lagos—not in a political sense but more in a traditional sense, regulating traditional laws.” “Oh. I see. Interesting.” “You know,” Lawrence said, considering Hannah’s face, “you look like her a little. Like Tiwa.” “I . . . um . . .” She didn’t know what to make of the comment. Should she accept it, dispute it, say thank you? She pressed her lips together and said nothing. “It makes sense. You two are sisters.” Sisters. Right. Hannah had a sister—three in fact, and a brother. They were no longer frozen, unaging faces in a computer. They were real. They were downstairs. She had not fully absorbed these facts. She did so now. Sitting on a velvet chaise longue with a man she was undeniably attracted to, in a magnificent house that belonged to her father, in a country she had vaguely claimed as hers for years, she thought of her brother and sisters and felt something break open inside her. The door she had closed off for years—the family she thought she could do without, the father she convinced herself she did not need, the culture she swore meant nothing to her—cracked open just a little. She didn’t mean for it to happen. It just did. Seeing them made it happen. Being in this house made it happen. There were pieces of her father here—fragments of who he was at her fingertips, just waiting to be assembled, so she could finally get a complete picture of him. She shook her head, convincing herself that she didn’t want to know him—she didn’t need to know him. She wanted to shut that door completely and dismiss her curiosity, but it felt as if the child she used to be, the one who dreamed up reconciliations and happy endings, was on the other side, pushing the door open. “It’s always just been me and Mom,” she told Lawrence. “You have no siblings back home?” Hannah shook her head. “My mom never got married or anything, so it’s always been just us.” “Then you two must be very close.” “We are.” “Yeah.” He nodded and smiled. “I was with mine too.” “I’m sorry, Lawrence.” “Don’t be. It happened a long time ago.” “It doesn’t matter.” She touched him this time, allowed her hand to fall on his. “I’m still sorry.” She squeezed his hand just as he squeezed hers, and then his finger reached out and tucked a lock of curl behind her ear. Hannah inhaled sharply, her heartbeat quickening. “You must be exhausted.” He drew his hands back and stood reluctantly, as if acting against his will. “I should let you rest. I’ll ask Solomon to bring your bags up. And I’ll send Mary to help with whatever you might need.” “Um. Okay.” Hannah’s voice, heavy with disappointment, was small. “I know who Solomon is, but who’s Mary?” “A maid.” “Oh.” She wanted to refuse the service but didn’t want to appear rude. “Okay. Thank you.” “No problem. Good night.” He walked to the door, and just as he turned the knob, Hannah spoke. “I’m happy you’re here,” she said. “I’m happy we met again.” “Yeah.” He nodded, his lips angled in a smile. “So am I. Good night.” Solomon arrived shortly after Lawrence left. He placed Hannah’s luggage by the closet while watching her with kind but inquiring eyes. Mary arrived next, curtsying before presenting a phone. “Oga Dayo told me to give this to you,” she explained. “He said it is yours as long as you are here, so you can make calls to America if you need to.” “Oh.” It was thoughtful, since making calls on her cell would have cost a fortune. “Thank you.” She took the iPhone and watched the maid who stood erect, awaiting instructions. Hannah gave none, and Mary eventually left the room. Alone, Hannah dialed her mother’s number. It was 9:16 p.m. in Lagos. San Francisco was eight hours behind, so it was 1:16 p.m. there. Her mother answered the phone after just one ring. “Hannah, honey?” Her tone was tight, nervous, uncertain, yet hopeful. “Is that you?” “Yeah, Mom. It’s me.” She released a long breath. “Thank God. You made it. Are you safe? Are you okay? How was the flight? How are they treating you?” “Fine.” It was such a relief to hear a familiar voice, her mother’s especially. “Everything’s fine, Mom. Actually, things are a little tense right now.” “Tense! What do you mean? Do you want me to come get you?” Hannah laughed. Do you want me to come get you? As if she were a child who wasn’t having fun at summer camp rather than an adult on another continent. “No, Mom. No need for a rescue. I’m good.” She told her mother about everything—the country, the house, the family. Her mother listened attentively and offered words of reassurance, the only thing she could do while thousands of miles away. When the conversation ended, Hannah felt more at ease and called Flo to fill her in. “Lawrence and I are not related. Thank God.” “Hannah, please tell me you’re gonna hook up with him.” “Flo!” “What? You deserve to have some fun. The last guy you dated was Marc, and he was . . .” She grunted. “Marc is the cautionary tale you’ll one day tell your future daughter. He was a lying ass.” To be more specific, he was a lying cheater. He had cheated on Hannah twice. The first time, she’d forgiven him. The second time, she would have forgiven him again. But Flo had talked her out of it—convinced Hannah she deserved better. That relationship had lasted ten months and ended a year ago. Hannah was over it. She just hadn’t dated since. “From what you’ve told me, Lawrence is really hot and seems like a nice guy. So, don’t hesitate to straddle him when the opportunity presents itself.” Hannah snorted with laughter. “Sure, Flo. I’ll make sure to do that. Thanks for the advice.” “Anytime.” Hannah ended the call and looked around the large room. She thought of taking a shower, but sighted her handbag on the bed and looked through it. Inside, there was a half-eaten bag of mint Milano cookies, a copy of Beloved she was almost through rereading, and at the very bottom, a Polaroid picture. Bringing it along had been a last-minute decision—a hasty and thoughtless grab, stash, and dash. She looked at her father, young and handsome, a broad smile on his face. She looked at herself—eight years old, a teddy bear in her arm, and a proud grin on her face. That was the first time she’d met him, but she’d leaned against him so comfortably, as if he’d always been there—at every birthday and Christmas and dance rehearsal. As if he had been the kind of father to make Sunday morning waffles and throw her over his shoulders. He hadn’t been that kind of father, but eight-year-old Hannah had hoped he would be. It wasn’t just happiness on her small, young face. It was optimism—optimism that had eventually wasted away. Well, Hannah wanted to believe that it had. But it was still there, inside her, pushing a closed door open. TWELVE SHOLA Like the rest of the family, Shola was quiet, incapable of expressing the swarm of thoughts crowding her mind. She hadn’t worked through the first batch of madness when Dayo cleared his throat. “There’s more I need to discuss with you all,” he said, sitting beside Tiwa. “But first, I would like to read your father’s instructions.” He reached for the leather briefcase atop the coffee table, opened it, and brought out a single sheet of paper. “Instructions?” Segun asked, a lazy expression making his red puffy eyes droop. Shola wondered whether her brother was high or had just been crying intensely. Then she concluded, based on his appearance and behavior, that it was a combination of the two. He was the only person in the room who hadn’t seemed shocked, angry, or betrayed by the recent news. He was unnaturally relaxed, considering the situation. “You know what?” Segun said, his tone mellow. “I ain’t up for all this.” He stood promptly, then swayed, unsteady on his feet. “Imma head out.” “Sit down, Segun. Now.” Dayo spoke sternly. His grip on the slowly crumpling paper showed he was losing his patience. “If you cannot show respect for anyone here, the least you can do is show respect for your late father. Now, sit down and be quiet before I beat some manners into you.” Segun obeyed quickly, like a child whose fear of chastisement was greater than his desire for rebellion. Again, the room was silent. Dayo cleared his throat and huffed. “Chief knew he was sick.” “Yeah. And he told everyone but Dami, Segun, and me.” Shola’s chin trembled, and her grandmother’s arm came around her. “He didn’t tell us.” “You all were abroad, living your lives,” Dayo said. “Your father didn’t want to interrupt that. He didn’t want you all—the youngest in the family—to worry.” “That wasn’t his call. We had a right to know.” “Yes. You did. Shola, your father wasn’t a perfect man. He made mistakes. The biggest one was not being a part of Hannah’s life. He sincerely regretted not knowing her and not allowing all of you to know her.” His regret changed nothing. It didn’t console Shola in the least. He had lied about so much. The damage had been done. “As some of you already know, he was planning a family trip to Dubai. He thought he had more time with you all. He planned on inviting Hannah so everyone could meet her before he passed.” Dayo sighed and pressed a finger against his temple. “This was not the scenario he envisioned, but he planned for it. He left instructions.” “What kind of instructions?” Dami asked. “Well, he asked me to ensure Hannah came to Nigeria for the funeral. He wanted her to stay here, in the house, so that everyone could get to know her and she could get to know you all.” “Well, I’m not interested in getting to know her.” Tiwa sprung to her feet. “So I guess I’ll be staying in a hotel.” “No one’s going anywhere,” Dayo asserted. “You’re all staying in this house until after the funeral.” “Says who?” Tiwa’s brow arched, a challenge. “Your father. It’s part of his instructions. Everyone stays in the house until after the funeral, when the will is read.” “But what if we don’t stay in the house?” Shola asked. “What then?” “Well, there are conditions. According to Chief’s instructions, if you all don’t stay under the same roof and get to know Hannah, there won’t be a reading of the will.” “Ah!” Segun was now alert, as if his high had cleared just enough for him to realize the gravity of the situation. “Uncle Dayo, what are you talking about?” For a moment, shock caused his tongue to slip out of rhythm with his false American accent. When he blinked sharply, he assumed the intonation again. “What you talkin’ ’bout? What you mean there ain’t gon’ be a reading of the will?” “There will be no reading of the will because there won’t be assets to distribute. The properties and the companies will be sold, and the money will be donated to various charities. All of you will be left with nothing.” “No,” Tiwa objected before anyone could process. “That can’t be true.” “Here.” Dayo extended the paper to her. “It’s the codicil. It contains your father’s instructions, detailing everything I just explained.” Tiwa snatched the paper and ran her eyes across the words. She looked up after reading, fuming as she handed it to their mother. “So he’s basically forcing us to spend time with her.” That was exactly what it seemed like. “Don’t think of it that way,” Dayo said. “Like it or not, she’s family. Your sister.” “So, let me get this straight,” Segun began, “all we gotta do is live with this girl until the funeral and then we get our inheritance?” “Technically, yes.” Dayo rolled his eyes. “But your father’s intention was to have everyone connect with Hannah.” “Well, yeah,” Segun said. “We can do that, right?” “Well, I certainly can’t,” Shola said. It didn’t matter what their father had threatened to take from them, Shola wanted absolutely nothing to do with Hannah. “I can’t do it either. I won’t,” Tiwa affirmed. “We don’t know that girl. She isn’t a part of this family, and we owe her absolutely nothing. What in the world was Daddy thinking—that a threat would instantly have us fawning over her?” She snorted. “I’m really starting to wonder if he knew us at all.” “Okay,” Iya Agba said, standing. She rolled her shoulders and retied her wrapper, tightening the multi-patterned cloth around her waist. “That is enough. Everyone is very emotional right now, so you should all get some rest. Tomorrow will be better.” “I don’t see how, when she’s still going to be here,” Tiwa said. “It will be better because we would have had some time to absorb this news. And hopefully, we will give Hannah a better welcome. I’m going to speak with Chef Andy—tell him to make a big breakfast for the whole family. It has been a long time since we have done that. It will be nice.” “So that’s it? A big fancy breakfast? You’re just going to let her into our lives, make her feel at home in our home? What about—” Iya Agba held up her hand, silencing Tiwa. “Listen. I am an old woman. I do not have the energy or the time to be making trouble with one small girl, who I don’t even know and who has done nothing to me. As for the rest of you, I know this situation is difficult. But like it or not, that girl is your family. Your father wanted her here. We must respect his wishes.” She dropped her hand, and the tension left her face. “He might not have been a perfect man, but he was a good man. Remember that. And remember that he meant everything to us.” She looked at her daughter, who had said little since Dayo revealed the news, and sighed, sympathetic yet still resolute. “Every one of you will be at breakfast tomorrow. With a much better attitude. Good night.” She left the room in an unhurried stride, and a moment of silence passed. “Well,” their mother finally said, rising. “This day has offered far more than I bargained for.” She assessed her children, her soft gaze meeting all of them—from the oldest to the youngest.