Home > Ties That Tether

Ties That Tether
Author: Jane Igharo

 Chapter 1

Culture is important. Preserving it, even more important. It’s the reason I’ve always abided by one simple dating rule.

Tonight, I’ve broken that rule.

It all started when he kissed me, when his silken lips and skilled tongue moved against mine with a perfect and sensational mixture of tenderness and force. It was the kind of kiss that rid me of all my wits and made me act spontaneous and reckless for the first time in my life.

That kiss brought me here—to his hotel room.

We stagger through the door. Our bodies, entangled, navigate blindly, attempting to reach the bed. He slides a hand into my blouse and, in one swift movement, unhooks my bra.

This wasn’t where I envisioned my night going. A few hours ago, I was having dinner at Louix Louis, located on the thirty-first floor of the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Toronto. My date was not the man currently undressing me, but Richard Amowie, the engineer my mother referred to as “husband material.” Like me, he was Nigerian—of Edo descent. He was also a Christian and, from the series of questions he had been asking, the kind of man who believed a woman’s single purpose was to breed babies and cater to her husband. Was I surprised by his archaic mentality? Not at all. My mother’s matches usually have this trait in common. As well as being Edo—the most important trait of all.

“What do you do for fun?” he asked, slicing through a well-done steak. “Do you like to cook? Are you a good cook? Do you know how to make Edo food?”

Despite the glamorous restaurant with a glistening coppery interior, I was not on a date. I was being interviewed for the position of dutiful Edo wife by a man who couldn’t chew with his mouth closed. The sight of his jagged teeth breaking apart the wine-glazed beef made nausea tickle my throat. My appetite morphed into disgust, and I had no desire to finish the walnut-crusted salmon on my plate. I looked through the large window, at the stunning view of downtown Toronto—clusters of high-rises invading the sky with height, the sight of Lake Ontario spread out in a vast expanse of shimmer and blue, and the CN Tower posing majestically as the city’s greatest beacon.

“Well?” Richard asked, one eyebrow raised. “Do you? Do you cook?”

“Yeah. I do.”

“Edo food?” This specification was important to him.

“Yes. I learned when I was a kid—back in Nigeria.”

His brow dropped, defusing the tension on his massive forehead. “Good. Very good.” His lips stretched and widened, hitting his cheekbones and exposing his teeth.

It was official. I had advanced to the next round.

“Want to know my favorite?” he asked. “Black soup with fresh catfish. I love it.”

“Yeah. So did my father.”

“He died, right? When you were back in Nigeria.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Before my family and I moved to Canada. I was twelve at the time.”

“Oh.” He chewed his dinner with the temperament of a ravenous goat, not taking a moment to offer a gesture of condolence. “But you’re twenty-five now. So, it was a long time ago.” He made the statement with a casual ease as if referring to a childhood pet rather than my father, a man who died too young and agonized on a hospital bed before he did. “So. About your job,” he continued. “What is it you do again?”

“I’m a creative director at an advertising agency.” At that moment, curious about his follow-up question, I pulled a lock of my box braid behind my ear and leaned into the table.

“Impressive. But you would quit once you had a family to take care of, right?”

I chuckled, amused and stunned by his idiocy. “No. I absolutely would not quit.”


“Yeah. Really.”

His gaze was stern and steady on me, an intimidation tactic I fought by conveying the same look, but with a hint of disdain to go with it. It occurred to me then that if looks could seal fates, he would have ignited to cinders.

“Well.” He blinked rapidly, his glare quivering under the strain of mine. “You’re stubborn.” He knifed the steak again. “Your mother didn’t mention that. Personally, I prefer my women to be a lot more . . .” He pondered, eyes narrowed and darting as if considering some vast complexity, and then his stare stilled on me, and he said: “Submissive.”

At the utterance of that word, rage seethed inside me. “And I prefer that my men weren’t chauvinistic pricks with the brain and table manners of a caveman!”

It was a statement loud enough to capture the attention of the diners at the nearby tables. Inquisitive eyes shifted between me and Richard, inspecting, speculating, and then concluding.

The date or interview was officially over. I stood and grabbed my trench coat. “It’s obvious we aren’t a good match.”

“Yes,” he said. “Very obvious.” Because of the attention he had gained, he was trying to portray a composed facade, but his straight lips kept reverting to a tight frown. His fingers rolled into fists that trembled, the guise of the perfect husband shedding to reveal his true nature.

“Goodbye, Richard.” I left him alone at the table with strangers eyeballing him and offering silent and likely accurate judgment.

It was past eight at the time, and I ended up in the hotel lobby, heading for the lounge instead of the exit. A drink made by a professional seemed more enticing than anything I could mix at home.

The lounge had a more relaxed vibe than the restaurant; the beige-and-gray palette, cushioned seats, and electric fireplace created a modern and cozy ambiance. I ordered a whiskey sour and sipped with relief. The alcohol unwound the tension that had accumulated throughout the night. My back slacked, and I leaned into the comfortable chair, but the thought of my mother made my spine spike up straight again. She would blame me for how the date ended. At the realization, I emptied the sweet cocktail in my mouth. The flood of alcohol warmed my insides and made my eyes close.

I racked my mind for a solution—a way to either survive or avoid my mother’s wrath. I considered multiple possibilities, including hopping on a train to Montreal. While still contemplating, a deep voice broke through my thoughts. I opened my eyes, turned to the seat next to me, and saw the man who had spoken. He was looking at me, waiting for my response, but I had no clue what he had asked.

“Excuse me?” I said. “Did you say something?”

“Yeah. I was just wondering if you were okay.” He smiled, and a deep blush snuck up his cheeks, staining his white skin. “You downed that drink pretty fast. And for a minute, it looked like you were sleeping . . . at a bar.”

“What makes you think I wasn’t meditating?”

“At a bar?”

I shrugged.

“Well, if that was the case, I apologize for interrupting your meditation.”

“Apology accepted.” I turned to my empty glass, and he turned to what looked like scotch. I watched him from the corner of my eye, sipping his drink and working his thumb against his phone. “I wasn’t meditating,” I confessed, no longer able to ignore the guilt of lying.

“Oh.” He switched his attention to me. “Then you lied. And accepted my apology.”

“Yeah.” I smiled, a playfulness suddenly bubbling inside me. “I could give it back if you want.”

“No.” His blue eyes dashed across my face, a quick examination. “Keep it. On behalf of whoever upset you tonight, I apologize.”

“And how are you so sure someone upset me?”

“I just am.” He lifted the tumbler to his lips and drank. “Am I wrong?”

I shook my head.

“Who upset you?”

“Um . . .” The question was intrusive. I didn’t owe the stranger an answer, but somehow, he put me at ease. “My date.”

“And what did he do?”

Another intrusive question I could have dismissed, and yet, my loose lips offered the answer without restraint. “He was a sexist ass.”

“Those still exist?”

“Yep. And my mother knows exactly where to find them.”

“Your mom set you up?” Amusement curved his flushed lips, which stood out against his pale complexion.

“Yeah. It’s kinda her thing. This one didn’t work, so she’ll probably arrange another for next week and another after that if necessary.”

“Sounds like torture. I think that warrants a second drink.” He waved the bartender over, and I ordered another whiskey sour. He insisted on paying, and I objected a few times before giving in.

He was a gentleman, and as I recall, a well-dressed one, sporting a navy-blue blazer over a white button-down and black dress pants. His hair had a perfect side part that separated the dark, wavy strands into precise proportions. The strong angles that structured his square-shaped face were made soft by the calm blue of his eyes and the gentle fullness of his lips. He had an elegance about him that was neither intimidating nor arrogant.

“I’m Rafael,” he said, extending a hand.

“Nice to meet you, Rafael.” I gripped his hand, and he gripped mine. It was a standard gesture—simple, nothing intimate or remotely profound—and yet, it stirred a reaction from both of us. His jaw tightened as if he were fighting some frustration, and my heart raced, triggered by an indefinable thrill. “I’m Azere.” The motion to separate our hands was reluctant.

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