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Part I. Face Painting for World Peace
Who wouldn't be nervous? Lola eyed herself carefully in the full-length mirror, hoping her best floral print skirt and matching jacket weren't too colorful. She felt like a child headed off to her first day of school. It had been more than twenty-four years since she had started a new job, and she still wasn't sure how the time had flown by. Today's uncertainty was both disconcerting and a little exhilarating.
"So how do I look?" she asked 13-year-old Teddie, her resident fashion expert and her only child still living at home.
"Mmmmm … not bad mom. It is a little ‘90s. And try to calm the hair down if you can. Here. Use my straightener. It's already hot."
"You know I really cannot believe that these things are safe for one’s hair," Lola said as she reluctantly pulled Teddie’s gizmo around her thick auburn brown hair. She sighed. It was a fact that most of her better clothes were from the ‘90s, back when standard office fashion had still been more formal. They had been bought as Lola's company had consolidated in Houston, and as she had flirted briefly with being in middle management before returning, with some relief, to the role of rank-and-file worker. She smiled ruefully, realizing that decision was pretty much what had doomed her to an eventual lay off in a world where you either rose into management, segued into a related specialty, or worked your way into becoming "overpaid" compared to the youngsters with whom you could be replaced. With whom, in fact, she had been replaced.
So, the usually brightly dressed woman with congenitally unkempt hair, a too frequent smile, and a knack for finding oil, had found herself back in the job market, "severed" from her allegedly deeply appreciative former employer of almost two and a half decades, and about to start work as the sole geophysicist for a small start-up company in Houston whose best opportunity to date was acquiring shallow drilling rights on a land deal in the Niger Delta. Offshore Nigeria.
Well, Lola thought, oil was oil. And though the stuff had turned out to be incredibly nastier for planet earth than she'd known it was when she started to look for it way back when, the fact remained that the world still needed it for now, and she was still good at finding it. And people were still willing to pay her well for doing so. Which was particularly good given the mortgage on their beautiful home and all the expenses they had somehow managed to amass over the last twenty-four years.
"So how is my favorite geophysicist?" At the end of day one, Alex met her with a hug as she entered the kitchen. The smells of sautéed onions and garlic added to their friendly hello. As a teacher, he had always gotten home before her, and it was the family's good fortune that he liked to cook. He hadn't said much about what she'd gone through the last few months—the surprise layoff last fall, her reluctant job search at forty-nine years old, the contacts at the old company too nervous to return her calls lest she be contagious, and finally, the interviews, the waiting, the getting hired. But she knew that he knew, and both his culinary efforts and his giant engulfing hug tonight said it all.
"Well, I'm in a little room with no windows for the first time in twenty years," she laughed, "and I'm on lousy loaner computer ‘til mine comes in, and these guys have a drilling obligation and need me to work up a location on this lease by the end of March."
"Sounds like fun."
"The more interesting news is that this company actually employs two Nigerian geologists. Right here in Houston. They have more Nigerians in the office here too, and they have a little office in Lagos because they believe in being involved in the country where they do business. I think that they are trying to be the good guys compared to big multinationals that just come in and take what they can."
"It's got to be nice to be working for the good guys? Relatively speaking, anyway?"
"Yeah," she mused. "It is. And the folks I met today were great. At least with this particular group it seems like office politics isn't their main activity."
"No one tried to get you to put forty million dollars of theirs in our bank account, did they?"
Lola rolled her eyes. "You know, I bet the average Nigerian is pretty damn embarrassed by that. Don't you dare make that joke near my office."
And Alex thought to himself, That's interesting. She likes these folks already.
Ikenna was genuinely undecided, and it was an uncomfortable feeling which he did not enjoy. For the past fifteen years his life had been predictable and pleasant, more so than he had thought possible. There were still times, of course, when he thought of his one great young love Amaka with sadness, but his two new wives had been fertile and friendly and had brought him no cause for grief. He could not say he shared that much of his heart or mind with either, but socially and physically each of them met all his needs, and the fact that they had become friends with each other was certainly an added bonus. And the nine children they produced between them were, well, more than he deserved. He thanked God every day for the mercy of a second chance.
And now that he was older and more sensible, he regretted his emotional withdrawal in that dark time after Amaka's death. Heaven knows he had tried hard over the years since to regain the understanding and affection of his oldest daughter Somadina. But Somadina seemed to still blame him for his lack of affection for Nwany and his neglect of both girls as he wallowed in his own grief. She had never warmed to his new wives or to her half-siblings, or for that matter to much of anyone in the years after her mother died. In fact, she had become something of a rarity for an Igbo girl—a person who preferred solitude.
Which was why the acceptance of a marriage offer for her had been such an easy decision. True, Somadina had expressed no desire to be married, and so Ikenna had waited patiently until she was well past eighteen. When Azuka (Ah ZOO kah) and his parents had asked for her hand, Ikenna knew that although the family lived in the same village, they had moved there only a generation ago and luckily bore no relationship to Somadina, making the union acceptable. Better yet, Ikenna knew Azuka to be a reasonable young man, of a good traditional family, with skills he was learning from his own father on how to repair small devices and machinery, and Ikenna knew that those skills would one day help provide for Somadina and her children in a changing world.
It was true that the boy was only Somadina's age and rather young for marriage, but he seemed genuinely to like Somadina, and she seemed to at least not object to him, and she clearly had no particular attraction to another that would interfere. At eighteen it had been time, and so Ikenna had readily agreed, believing that whatever affection he had not been able to give Somadina himself while she was growing up could now somehow be made up for by providing her with a good husband. And once her first child, a grandson, had arrived to the joy of all, he had felt that he had at last done right by her and some of his guilt was eased. But not all.
Which is why this second decision was so difficult. He had barely managed over the years to demonstrate a forced warmth to his second daughter Nwanyi, but he had genuinely tried, after the combination of time, his new wives, and the arrival of more children had helped heal the throbbing gash in his heart. And God himself must know that Nwanyi had not been easy to love. She had not had the good fortune to inherit her mother's warm nature nor her beauty, but had grown instead into a short, scrawny girl who tended to be silent and secretive. She did not have Somadina's intelligence or confidence, but tended to hang back nervously, all too obviously craving encouragement and approval. Ikenna had tried to find something he liked about the child, but it had been hard.
Nonetheless, the guilt for his poor behavior persisted, as did the feeling that he would never be whole in Somadina's wide and penetrating eyes until Nwanyi somehow found some happiness. So the plan seemed simple enough. Secure an equally reasonable young man from an equally respected family to marry Nwanyi. It was of course understood and accepted by Ikenna that this would require a significant reduction in the normal bride-price, a sacrifice that, under the circumstances, he was more than willing to make because once Nwanyi was a happy wife and mother herself, then certainly all would be forgiven and Ikenna's self-respect could be fully restored.
Then several weeks ago had come the unexpected but very generous offer from the Yoruba man named Djimon (JEE mahn). He was a very serious man, a bit thinner and shorter than most, but well muscled, and his stature paired nicely with Nwanyi's own. His age, perhaps mid-thirties, had its benefits and disadvantages. He was obviously well off, which was a plus, and well educated with an advanced degree in some fancy field Ikenna knew little about. However, there was prestige in the fact that he taught university classes in the subject.
Nwanyi would be a second wife, which could be good or bad. It certainly would put less pressure on Nwanyi to perform household chores and to reproduce often, which might be better for Nwanyi's reticent nature. She would of course move to Lagos, to her husband's home in Western Nigeria, which would not sit well with Somadina, but would probably be a relief to everyone else. Including, he had to admit, to himself.
Nwanyi, safely married, well cared for, and out of sight. And a huge bride price, as Djimon had insisted, given entirely to the father. Why was he hesitating?
For starters, the entire process was far too rushed for Igbo tradition. Furthermore, Ikenna was not a stupid man. He knew when a situation might be too good to be true. Things about this unusual arrangement bothered him. What was the hurry? Why not take the time for a proper courtship? Furthermore, these days some of the bride price often went directly to the bride, to give her a little independence, perhaps a means for education. Ikenna was well aware that he had done poorly by not sending Nwanyi to any formal schooling, leaving it to Somadina to educate her younger sister. She could remedy this as an adult, but Djimon had insisted that in his household such would not be necessary.
Perhaps that was a cultural difference. Ikenna thought to himself that he knew too little of this household. A typical Igbo father and mother would investigate the background of a suitor thoroughly if it was not already known, and would turn down an offer in which the family exhibited qualities that caused them concern. But Ikenna had no real means with which to investigate this older stranger from a distance. And he had to admit that the man's choice of Nwanyi was strange.
Ikenna decided, for the time being at least, on not deciding. Rather, he would arrange a second meeting with Djimon to discuss his concerns. It was only right, for both Nwanyi and to honor Amaka's memory.
The first couple of weeks in the new office left Lola with the realization that she actually knew almost nothing about Nigeria. She could only name one town (Lagos, which it turned out wasn't even the capital anymore). She wasn't sure who had colonized it (though she was willing to bet on England) or when it had become an independent state. In fact she had to face the sad fact that she knew almost nothing about Africa in general, and now that she thought about it her knowledge of anything outside of North American and Western Europe was pretty damn limited. Time for a little work on the internet.
In 1994 Lola's father had been diagnosed with cancer. He was fifty-nine years young at the time, and she, her mother, and her sister had been determined to help him fight the disease with all the love, medicine, and technology they could collectively muster. Lola—as the scientist—had investigated the newfangled thing known as the world wide web. It was a scarier place then, with few safe pathways, harder to avoid coarse pornography and sites boasting offensive crass jokes. But she learned to hold her nose while she navigated her way to medical websites, subscribed to bulletin boards on cancer research, set herself up to receive alerts on clinical trials. And she got answers the real live doctors would not give. How does cancer kill? How does chemo work? What really are the odds of remission for a particular type of cancer at a particular stage? The amount of available information was massive, the presentation was sterile and, in her father's case, the news was bleak. But it was knowledge, there for the taking—and in the end it was valuable to really know. Lola had embraced the full possibilities of the internet before many of her cohorts had learned to use email. By 2009 she considered the internet almost an appendage.
She typed "Nigeria history" into her favorite search engine at lunch and studied the various ornate and enticing doorways into her new world. Pick a door, Lola.
Well, for starters, door number one informed her that there was no such place as Nigeria. Not until recently anyway. There were groups, tribes, clans—some loosely affiliated and others sincere enemies—all trying to live their lives as best they could, to care for their own, eek out what small comforts and joys they were able to. Then along came these strange pale-skinned people willing to provide lavish gifts in exchange for enemies captured and provided to them. Less enemies around? And lavish gifts as well? What was not to like about that arrangement?
And so what started out as an apparently sensible response to an offer grew into a situation where, for about sixteen generations entire kingdoms became rich by selling to the white people far more Africans than they could ever have procured for themselves. Over those several hundred years, somewhere between thirty and three hundred million, that's right - three hundred million, of Africa's hopeful and strong young people were shipped off of the continent never to return.
And then, one day out of the blue, some of the strangers arrived and declared, "Selling people is morally wrong. It is bad to sell people of any kind. You must not do it any more." This would have been confusing enough after all of this time but some of the other strangers, the ones from a place called the New World, said, "Do not listen to them. They are British. We have a great large land that needs more and more of you and we will pay an even better price if you bring us more enemies." And so they did, paying much better prices for a few generations.
Then the British army arrived, angry and with many soldiers, and took control of all the lands saying, if you cannot stop this horrible immoral slave trade then we will do it for you. And once the British came, they never left. Eventually they took all the tribes that hated each other and those that liked each other and those that did not know and could not speak to each other and said, "You are now all one country, and we are in charge of you." And then there was a Nigeria.
Whoa. Lola looked cautiously across the hall at her coworkers. They were two young Nigerian men, both experienced geologists, both with easy smiles and helpful natures. If they were pissed about how their country got formed, they were hiding it well.
"Lola. Staff meeting at one." This message delivered in a walk-by from Bob, the older American engineer who was loosely in charge of the technical staff. Right. She closed the internet quickly and thought, Have I got a lot to learn.
Djimon seemed surprised at the request, but he agreed to come back to the Ebonyi region where Ikenna lived and meet Ikenna at one of his wives’ houses for tea and more conversation. He drove in on a Saturday morning just after the clearing of the land had begun for the year's yam crops. After exchanging pleasantries for a full cup and a half, Ikenna took a small sip and a small breath and did his best to tactfully share with Djimon, father to father, his concerns.
The Yoruba man could not have been more understanding. Yes, of course, he already had three children with his first wife and one was a daughter. What had he been thinking, expecting a good father like Ikenna to agree to a marriage so quickly and with such little information. He should clearly have expected more questioning.
Djimon went on to explain to Ikenna that his own mother had come from far away, a Fulani woman from the far north of Nigeria. She had moved to the southwest to marry a Yoruba man, and as Djimon believed himself to be particularly gifted in every arena, he credited his own ample genetic advantages to the mixing of the blood from two such separate regions.
His own first wife had been a local girl selected by his parents, of course, and he had of course respected them and accepted the wife. But now that he was older and had means of his own, he wished to duplicate the wisdom and good fortune of his own father and secure a bride from yet another corner of this fine nation, in hopes of producing sons, and yes even daughters, as physically and mentally gifted as he himself. The specific charms of the girl in question mattered not, as long as she came from a line of fertile, strong, smart people, which Djimon could clearly tell was the case just by meeting Ikenna and seeing all of his fine young children playing in front of the house.
Ikenna nodded at that. Yes, indeed there was a fine strong group of youngsters in his yard. The wife who had just brought in more tea smiled in flattered agreement as well.
"So she is perfect," Djimon explained. "She is young and healthy, not spoken for, and most importantly she clearly brings excellent lineage." He paused, hoping for Ikenna's concurrence. When Ikenna stayed silent, he continued.
"As I explained to you earlier, unlike in your culture, the idea of bringing her into my home to live for awhile as a guest in order for us both to evaluate the situation just isn't accepted, sensible though your custom is." He paused again.
"I've become rather taken with the idea of marrying her, and if it would help to reassure you of that then I am willing to increase the bride price. Say by twenty percent? And as we discussed, to pay the amount to you in full before the marriage."
Still silence. Unbelievable. An Igbo man who was hard to buy. Djimon hesitated, trying to figure out what possible remaining objection Ikenna could have. There were many seconds of silence.
"Will you be good to her?" the father finally asked.
"Oh. Why yes. Of course. Very good to her. I promise."
And with that, Ikenna was satisfied at last.
When Djimon left a bit later after necessary matrimonial arrangements had been made, Ikenna turned to find the wife and share his relief that this marriage would take place after all. But she was nowhere to be found. She had run over to her co-wife's house, bursting with news at the amazing, even-better bride price their brilliant husband had negotiated. The two women jumped and hugged with joy.
Somadina had of course heard through the other women, but she had the manners and sense to keep the information to herself as she served juice to her father the next day. She inquired after his health, his wives' health, his children's health. Finally, as though as an afterthought, he said, "I have been thinking lately about Nwanyi's future." By unspoken agreement they never mentioned Nwanyi to each other, so Somadina was sure that her father was going to give her the news.
"She will be sixteen years old in less than a month," Somadina remarked.
"Plenty old enough for marriage," her father replied.
"No, barely old enough," Somadina corrected. "But a suitable suitor is not always easily found."
"True. Sometimes a father must be more creative on behalf of his children," Ikenna said.
"True," Somadina offered back, at which point Ikenna knew that Somadina knew, and that at the very least she would not fight him on this.
"The stranger about which you have no doubt heard talk has given me his word that he will treat your sister well." This yielded only a stony silence. "Your sister is closer to you than anyone, closer than to her aunts or to my wives. I was hoping you would talk to her. Prepare her a little for what will happen. You know."
Yes, Somadina thought. I know. And she assured her father that she would be there in every way for Nwanyi. As always. "Have you told her yet?"
"No," Ikenna sighed. "That is next." And he finished his juice with resignation.
Somadina generally worked hard during the day, caring for her small son and husband with diligence, if not with enthusiasm. She almost always fell asleep early and easily, tired from the work and heat and happy to stretch out on the giant double bed that she shared with her husband and son and content to cool off under the large fan in their small bedroom. However, during the night Somadina's mind seemed to work overtime while she slept, and she often had trouble staying asleep until the morning.
That particular night, Somadina slept poorly and, as was her way when she was worried, she became even more restless as the sky took on the faint dull grey of first light. Dozing and waking, tossing and turning, she kept thinking of the various horrible ways a marriage could go wrong for a shy woman who was far from her family and whose husband had been chosen quickly and unwisely.
That particular night, in the comfortable king-sized bed that she shared with Alex, Lola tossed and turned. She was someone whose body naturally wanted to stay up past bedtime each night, and who therefore always had problems falling asleep. She knew that she tended to do her worrying when she went to bed, and she'd had more restless nights than usual over the past few months, mostly worrying about money.
Alex was a good teacher, he had been a good coach, and he was a man doing exactly what he was meant to be doing. She admired him beyond belief. But he also was not making the salary that was putting kids through college. Zane, turning twenty-three in just a little over two weeks, had finished his bachelor's degree over a year ago at one very expensive Ivy League school. They'd been so proud of him for even getting in that they had sworn to find a way, and every bonus and extra bit had been funneled into his education. Until lively, capable Ariel had gotten into a very prestigious school two years later, with dreams of her own. Then every extra penny had been split between the two.
Now they were still paying on both educations, while Zane was working and trying to save his own money in hopes of returning to graduate school in a year or two. Alex was still driving his 1996 Taurus, and her 2000 Camry wasn't far behind on its journey to the scrap heap.
And then, she'd found herself unexpectedly unemployed, with little debt but also no savings to speak of, and a mass of regularly occurring bills that could not be ignored. The severance package had helped get them through the last few months, and they would manage okay, if she could keep this job for at least a few years no matter what happened with the economy. Geez, she was trying. …
But tonight's restlessness was different. Not money. Safety? She ran through her loved ones. Alex was next to her and Teddie was asleep upstairs. Yes, she was sure. The cats were quiet and so was the house. She tried hard to hear a subtle background noise that might be sending her signals of which she was barely aware, but there truly was nothing.
Sometimes she still worried about her mom, before she remembered. Right. No mom to worry about now. So not that. And on a weeknight in January, Zane should be sleeping, and Ariel studying. So who? Well, there had been an odd conversation with her sister today.
She and Summer had been very close growing up, in spite of their five-year age difference. It had been just the two of them, with big sister Lola serving as adviser and protector to sweet but far more mischief prone Summer. Lola smiled to herself, remembering how at eight years old she had promised her little sister that she would always protect her. And in fact she had done so, for years shielding Summer from a stern no-nonsense mother, from the Foley brothers next door, even from the dog down the street.
Then their lives had gone very differently. Lola, in Houston, had pretty much gone straight from grad student to married woman and professional while Summer spent years more enjoying life, dating and partying, and had finally, only a decade ago, married an older man with considerably more means, two ex-wives and a handful of grown children of his own. Each sister cheerfully shared and took vicarious joy from the others life, and Lola felt for years that she and Summer had somehow complemented each other well.
Then when Summer married and moved to Denver where Gregg had his primary residence and most of his businesses, she passed on having kids and embraced a life centered around entertaining, caring for her husband, keeping herself attractive, and overseeing a clothing boutique, which her husband owned, an employee ran, and she played at when it suited her. As the years passed, Summer had more trouble understanding Lola's long hours at work and at PTA school carnivals, and Lola had not understood Summer's dedication to pampering herself and Gregg. But beneath the growing lifestyle rift, they still loved each other.
When they had spoken briefly today, Summer's normal effervescence had been a little too bubbly as she avoided questions and turned the conversation back to Lola every time. The more Lola thought about it, the more sure she became that something was wrong. Damn it, she should have persisted and gotten some answers. She was still big sister and protector.
Images of Summer's fluffy blond hair and Gregg's well-trimmed mustache floated through her barely dozing consciousness as she tried to drift off to sleep. It was their images, right? Gregg was a basically friendly man, but he looked harsher than she'd ever seen him. Darker, too. That was weird. And Summer had always been a beauty and had known it. Had she ever seen Summer look that hesitant? It was like she was seeing them, but she wasn't. This was just goofy. Lola fell into an uneasy sleep, promising herself she would call again this week and ask more direct questions.
Djimon knew that the next few days would be crucial and difficult. Money and flattery had eventually won over the old man, though it had taken more of both than he had anticipated. Word had been that the father cared not at all for the girl, which is what he had been seeking, but some vestigial sense of duty must have kicked in and prompted him to become uncharacteristically concerned about the girl's welfare. It did not matter. It had been handled. And some of what Djimon had said was even true. His mother was Fulani.
But at the engagement ceremony, which Djimon had gotten the old man to agree to hold just days after consenting to the marriage, he would basically be on display to the whole village. Suspicious behavior on his part could still void the entire arrangement. It was bad enough that he was an unknown stranger with no family at all attending and acting as his own officiating elder, but at least it was less of a breach of etiquette here than it would have been in his own mother's village. And he had gone to pains to excuse it with a combination of his age, the story he had invented about seeking a wife from afar, and the distance he had traveled.
The greater danger was that someone would see through to his complete lack of interest in the girl. No, more accurately to his repulsion to her. For the biggest lie he had told Ikenna was that he believed that the mixing of genes produced advantages. In fact, Djimon opposed such unions on many levels, and was hoping that he could count on the repulsion he naturally felt towards the unrefined-looking southern Nigerian woman's features to keep him from ever once losing control and planting his seed within this new bride.
It was true that he had searched hard to find the perfect Igbo woman for his needs. He required a girl with no close ties to parents, one whose family for one reason or another might find it expedient to send a daughter elsewhere and would be willing to ultimately lose track of her. In other parts of the world an unwanted pregnancy might suffice for that purpose, but among the children-loving Southeastern Nigerians there simply was no such thing.
So he had been left to find an Igbo daughter who truly was not wanted. Word travels. He had found Nwanyi. And as soon as he set eyes on her he knew she was perfect. But for the next few days, he did need to convincingly play the eager husband to the probing eyes of her kin.
On the night that had been selected, he arrived at her father's house in his best clothing, and knelt before her father. He and Ikenna had agreed to honor some of each of their customs, while improvising a bit to accommodate the particulars of the situation and to move things along a little faster than normal, as he was understandably anxious to return home.
He presented a handwritten letter of proposal tied with a pink ribbon to Ikenna who sat against one wall, with his two wives, his two oldest sons, now both fourteen, the two sisters who had taken the largest hands in raising Nwanyi, and Nwanyi's older sister. All were smiling for joy, except for the older sister who eyed him quizzically. Okay. That was the one with whom he needed to take special care. Everyone else was clearly all for this marriage.
At the father's gesture giving permission to rise, he stood, opened his letter and read aloud his desire to marry Nwanyi. He thought he gave it a good read, but big sister's eyes stayed puzzled. Nwanyi was then brought from the kitchen and presented to him. He had asked that she be veiled, as was the custom of his people, and that no alcoholic wine be drunk, though he knew many a Nigerian Muslim who would forego the prohibition against alcohol for such an occasion. He thought that both the veil and the lack of inhibition-reducing liquor would work in his favor. In the spirit of give and take, he had agreed to present the father with the traditional kola nuts, which he happily did now with a flourish.
When Nwanyi nodded her consent with her face still covered, Djimon had no idea whether it was with eagerness or reluctance, nor did he much care. Ikenna voiced consent on behalf of the rest of the family and Djimon produced an envelope with cash which would suffice as the owo-ori-iyawo, to a Yoruba, or the ika-akalika, to an Igbo, either of which was basically a gift from the groom to allegedly compensate Ikenna for the very great expenses he must have incurred to raise such a magnificent daughter.
Food was produced and tables began to fill and overflow as neighbors now arrived and additional kin showed up. The strong smell of pepper soup mixed with the aroma of fried plantain. Cooked goat and chicken was lavishly provided. Djimon helped himself to the jollof rice, savoring the thick tomato taste while he watched a particularly large man deftly fashion a big helping of stiff white pounded yam into an eating utensil which he then used to expertly scoop up a large portion of the hearty greens-laden fish soup.
Wine was being poured, albeit somewhat discretely, in spite of Djimon's request, which annoyed him. He did not like having his wishes disregarded. But he forced himself to bury his irritation deep, reminding himself that this was all a charade anyway, merely a means to an end, and what was one more tiny piece of play acting in the grand scheme. Nwanyi's more astute relatives noticed his brief disapproval and his tactful decision to ignore the wine, and it bought Djimon a small measure of approval in their eyes.
As the evening progressed Djimon was hugged and greeted and inquired about by many guests. He assured all that he could not wait to return for the wedding itself in a month. The hospitality here was tremendous. Oh yes, it was all terribly rushed, but what was a busy businessman like himself to do? And really, why delay when it would be such an auspicious start to the marriage for it to take place on the feast day of St. Valentine, celebrated in so much of the world as a patron saint of love. Wasn't that indeed a fine day and one worth rushing the wedding for? Djimon had been very proud of himself for finding that reason to push the marriage ceremony into the month of February instead of delaying it for months like Ikenna had wanted.
Yes, he agreed, it was indeed true and so very sad that his own mother was ill and his sister attending to her, and they would be unable to make the wedding next month. Mom just was not strong enough to travel. Yes, it was true that his friends and family were mostly busy or gone, so yes he had told Ikenna not to plan on many of his own people there, but then again that was all the more reason to embrace Nwanyi's lovely family, right?
Of course his own kin would host a wonderful welcoming feast for Nwanyi in Lagos once she arrived. What? Umm, yes, of course Nwanyi's kin here would be welcome to attend that feast if they were willing to travel all the way to Lagos. He'd send an invitation, as soon as it was all arranged. Of course.
A fair bit of time passed before he saw that his wife-to-be had removed her veil, to eat of course—how could he object to that—and she was eyeing him with nervous anticipation and just a bit of fear. He nodded with satisfaction. That is a good start, he thought, pleased. I can work well with nervousness and fear.
On January 21, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the forty-fourth president of the United States. While most of Lola's Texan acquaintances were loudly unenthused about the event, Lola's Nigerian coworkers were genuinely pleased by it. Lola herself was quietly hopeful that this multi-racial intellectual with an apparently kind heart and African roots would be just what America, and maybe the world, needed.
On Monday January 26, The New York Times reported that in one day alone U.S. companies announced over sixty-two thousand job cuts in their offices worldwide. Reuters added that Iceland's prime minister said he would resign as his coalition government had fallen apart under the pressures of the bankrupt country's financial crisis. Lola marveled that an entire country could actually go bankrupt.
That same day, Lola celebrated her forty-ninth birthday at a favorite local restaurant. She and Alex toasted to her being employed again. Teddie, always her sensitive cheerleader, gave her a small magnet to keep near her desk at work, and Lola smiled as she read it. "Everything is okay in the end. If it's not okay, then it's not the end." Wisdom from a wise thirteen-year-old.
This could be so much worse, she muttered to herself, wondering how many others could not, would not find work as easily as she had. Times were tough. She resolved quietly to appreciate what had gone right, move on from what had gone wrong, and to do whatever it would take to make this new job work out well for a few more years.
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