By AKUNNA MADUEKE
- Chapter 1
- MEETING GEORGE
The comfort of her bed beckoned her beauty-full but bushed body. She was going to throw herself on the bed with bag and shoes still attached to her traditional-attired self. She buzzed the gate open and proceeded slowly over the speed bump. She pulled up the slight slope, past the manicured circular grass patch, and stopped by the massive mahogany deluxe double door. Only the front door stood between her and the dream double bed befitting a princess royal. She switched off the smooth-spewing engine of her black BMW Coupé 2020, stooped to take off her shoes, and walked in on ten toes.
The door was unlocked. She walked into the large lobby. Through the gold-ribbed and tinted glass partition door, she saw the light in the large living room, which was set up like an imposing imperial court. Her father sat comfortably on the throne, as they called his special chief chair.
“Good evening, daddy. You are still awake.”
“Good morning, Ada. How was the reception?”
“Don’t ask, daddy; I am tired. I will tell you all about it in the morning.”
“It is morning, my dear. Go grab a cup of coffee and come say hello to our guest.”
Ada protested with a squeeze of her face and a roguish wink, but she did not vocalize her feelings. She looked across the room and saw a figure seated responsibly at the far end, as if he had been looking out of the window. He appeared fidgety. He must have been expecting someone. She ignored him. She guessed that he must be the graduate student who was supposed to come in for some scholarly interview sessions with her father, but the 2020 pestilence prevailed. Why he stayed till midnight was none of her business. She needed the coziness of her bed and, if the bed could talk, it needed her too.
The coffee helped. She walked up to the young man, a Colin Kaepernick look-alike but with a mastered and shorter hairstyle. He was also clean-shaven.
“George, that’s my daughter I told you about. Ada, that’s the young man we expected all last year.”
George stood up and offered his right hand: “Black, George Black.”
“Chiọma Chineke. You can call me Ada; everyone does.”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Chi… .”
“Ada,” she said as if to save him from mispronouncing her name.
“Ada, I have heard only nice things about you.”
Ada smiled and said, “You have not spoken to all the witnesses.” She walked away from him and sat on her mother’s special seat by her father. It was on a lower elevation. She had as clear view of her father.
“So, daddy, why this late?”
“Well, we got carried away. By the time he called for his ride, all his calls went to voice mail.”
“So?” Ada had in mind to ask why they did not call Uber or Lyft, but she knew that her father did not subscribe to using the services of tele-taxis. The custom of bringing people to the house and taking them home worked well because they had a live-in driver, who also doubled as a groundskeeper. He had most weekends off, except when his father was in town and attending events. This was his weekend off.
“So, if you catch your breath, you can drop him off in Livingston.” With that, her father stood and walked up the wide stairs to join his wife in the master bedroom.
It took Ada a whole minute to process the situation. The main knot was why her father felt that she should do the run without giving her an advance notice and without considering that she would come home tired. She will deal later with these and other issues concerning her continued living at home. For now, dropping off the guest was a task that must be accomplished.
She went back to her room, put a pair of jeans and a blouse, and she wore a pair of dashed running sneakers. She searched for her car key. No luck. Down the stairs and past the living room. She could not recall hanging her keys, but she looked at where car keys hang. It was not there. She locked the front door and walked back into the large living room.
“Okay, George, are you ready?”
“Sure.” He followed her like a goat to the slaughter slab. She walked to the other end of the living room, opened a door, and stepped into a well-lit four-car garage. She keyed in a code to the Rolls Royce Phantom parked behind a vintage Ferrari and asked George to hop in from the passenger’s side. The car roared into life as soft as the night. Like clockwork, the garage door rolled up, and she backed off from the garage. Once clear, the door rolled down and shut off the Maybach Benz sitting by the right and behind a 2020 red Range Rover Sport SVR.
The gate swung open on approach and let her onto the county road that snaked down the hill to I-287 N.
Ada cleared her throat, hoping that George will say something. He did not. The Morristown exists were coming up. The ever-busy Route 287 had high beams of light in front and behind her at such an unholy hour. She needed to speak with someone to stay fully awake, and someone was in the car.
“Happy 4th,” Ada wished him.
“Happy 4th to you too,” George responded. “America is back.”
“Where did it go?” Ada joked and chuckled.
“What Trump put us through is better forgotten.”
“I beg to disagree: Trump did us a great favor. He helped us to see more clearly the ugly underbelly of our imperfect union. He played a good role. He saved us some money too.”
“For all of us. Gas prices almost doubled. Beyond economics, Trump helped us to see that lies have short legs, that one person could not cook for all, that power is indeed a fleeting feeling of status. We vented. Coronavirus came. We learned quite a lot about American democracy. The rest is politics… partisan politics. America is stable. We are slowly perfecting the union. Trump played his part. Life goes on. We must now take charge of our lives and stop complaining.”
George could not wrap his head around the views of some Republicans; Ada’s father had confessed to being one. The man was vocal about his condemnation of the unnecessary increase in gasoline prices, and his daughter was echoing similar sentiments. He had met a few proud Nigerian died-in-wool Republicans. Ada appeared to be one. He was a not card-carrying Democrat. Like Bernie Sanders, he was a liberal. He voted regularly, but he was not partisan. Ada’s father was not shy about his party membership and his native republican traits too. He understood the missteps of Trump, even said that Trump was not a true Republican and supported the Lincoln Project, but he wore the Republican label proudly and told George so.
George decided to change the subject. He was passionate about his political beliefs, but Ada appeared to be more passionate about current American politics. It will be suicidal to engage in such a dialogue this early in the morning and with someone he had just met. “The pandemic that overwhelmed the world from Wednesday, March 11, 2020 to Thursday. March 11, 2021 is something we will live with for a long time. I remember those dark days very well, what I was doing, where I was, and major events in-between.”
“Correct,” George retorted and wondered what he said that gave it away.
“Belated Happy Birthday.”
“Thank you so much. Appreciated. I bet yours is ahead.”
“I am inviting myself back to your mansion.”
“It’s way down the end on the year.”
“So they say. I don’t do sign, and I am not crazy about birthdays.”
“Are you okay?”
“Sure. I can wait; besides, good reasons to celebrate pop up often. By the way, this is my first time in a Rolls.”
“Don’t let my father hear you,” she said with a conspiratorial voice. “It’s Rolls Royce. His brand car of choice.”
“Wouldn’t he mind that you took the car out this unholy hour?”
“Why… would you mind walking home? It is a car like every other car, just ridiculously expensive at half a million dollars. I did not have a choice. I could not locate my car keys. I need to catch some sleep sooner; and the mandate to get you home must be done. Do me a favor, start the Google map on your phone.”
“My battery died over an hour ago. I didn’t have my charger.”
“Yikes. Here… use my phone. I don’t want to stop and figure out how the GPS or Alexa in this monster machine works.”
George took her iPhone and had it talking within a minute. He knew the route, but he did not want to aggravate the raw nerves of someone he was meeting for the first time at that time of the morning. The exit ramp for Route 24 came up. She exited.
The road was open. Few cars were on the secondary road off the freeway. Police cars raced on the opposite direction towards Morristown. She saw two cop cars parked on roadside. Her father was known in the tri-counties: Essex, Morris, and Somerset. She did not panic about being pulled over by the cops. The trouble could come from one observant rookie cop wondering what a Rolls Royce was doing on the road that early on a Sunday morning, but it was not a traffic offense to drive any car at any time.
Within 20 minutes, she pulled into a street of modest buildings off Columbian Turnpike and not far from famous Livingston Mall.
“Here. Do you mind if I call my brother to open the door… I do not have my key.”
George called twice. No response. “Oh, I will use the kitchen door. Thank you for the royal ride. I apologize for the inconveniences.”
“It’s not your call. Please, next time, use Uber.” Ada tried a tired smile.
George had thought about it, but his brother had promised to pick him up whenever he was done. He had dropped him off at about 6 pm, on his way to a date. Ada had left for the wedding. The talk was so interesting, and he had so many questions. His host obliged, and he was in no hurry to answer all George’s questions. The egusi soup and pounded yam dish from the wife was delicious. The man has a good taste in fine wine. George could have finished a bottle of Grand Marnier Cent Cinquantenaire … if not that he would be deemed irresponsible. It was that smooth. He was ready to leave by 11.30 pm, but Matt was not returning his calls. Using Uber totally escaped his memory, and his host made it easier to forget by offering that his daughter would return before midnight, in less than 30 minutes thence, and give him a ride across two counties to Livingston. She did.
George snapped back to reality. “Sure. I will be fine.”
“No, go in and, once you are inside, turn on the light where I can see it.”
“Thank you. You are so caring. Goodnight.”
The security lights came on as George walked to the back. Soon, the living room came alive. Ada did not wait to see if it was someone in the house or George was inside. Whichever, he was home and dry. She accelerated, turned towards South Orange Avenue, and rolled the Rolls left into Eisenhower Parkway. It was a longer route through I-280 W, from where she picked up I-287 South and cruised back to Bernardsville, New Jersey.
She had lost the immediacy of sleep by the time she came back to her room. The boost from the coffee had kicked in. The conversation with George was interesting. He was all over the place, but it was not totally unexpected. Even as adults, people who meet for the first time under such circumstances often find it hard to secure a common conversation theme. They fished and hit a few rocks. A 30-minute, 20-mile trip at that time of the morning of Sunday, July 4th was not a long ride at for a memorable chat.
She struggled through a hot shower and hit the bed in her bathrobe.