Luck was favouring us.
Not only did we get that big donation from the Castles but we also closed on the purchase of the old clinic all within days of each other. There was only one other potential buyer but I managed to outbid them. Right now it didn’t look like much but as soon as we fixed it up it would be a modern, well-equipped hospital.
“What do you think?” I asked Abike as we looked around.
“I…didn’t think it would be so horrible on the inside.”
“It’s not so bad. Kinda reminds me of this old restaurant my friends and I used to hang out in during high school. Are…are you okay?” She looked like she wanted to barf.
“Yes.” She answered quickly. “Just a little nauseated. It’s nothing.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“There are weird smells in here.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Tell me more about this construction firm Steve hired.”
“Oh, yeah, they’ve got some great online reviews and I checked out the last job they did and spoke to their clients. They’re pricy but…I think it’s worth it.
She had this distant look on her face as I spoke. Abike was always so cheerful and smiley. I’d never seen so much of a frown on her before now. “Are you sure you’re okay, Abs?”
“How soon will they begin?” She asked, completely ignoring my question.
“Monday. You still didn’t answer my question.” I persisted. “Come on, you’ve been quiet all morning. Talk to me.”
She sighed heavily and shook her head. “I don’t want to burden you with my problems.”
“Let me decide if it’s a burden. It’s better to get it off your chest at least.”
“Alright, can we sit down?”
We found a semi clean couch in the corner. It was the one with the least amount of dust and cobwebs and the only one that didn’t reek of some kind of odour. Shiloh, who had spent the better part of our time there sniffing everything, followed us there.
“She’s so adorable!” Abike cooed, her mood lightening the moment Shiloh wagged her tail at her. “I love how she just comes to you without you even calling. Reminds me of my Blue.”
“You have a pup, too?”
“A German Shepherd.” She said as she sat down. “I always wanted one ever since I saw that movie with that kid getting lost in the forest.”
I didn’t know what movie she was talking about but she was smiling again so I sat there and listened as she went on about that movie and how it was her favourite as a child.
“That’s how I learned how to speak English.” Her phone vibrated so she stood up and started to text back whoever had messaged her. The frown on her face returned but she still said nothing to me.
I figured she needed a distraction from whatever it was. “You know, I never asked where you came from originally. I picked up on a bit of an accent but I couldn’t place it.”
“I’m from Simbabwe, Africa.”
“Simbabwe? I did a report on it for my geography class in high school. They have one of the tallest waterfalls in the world.”
“And also some of the best spices.” She added with a smile. “Which makes for the best cuisine in the whole continent!”
“Know any good recipes you can teach me?” Not that I do much cooking anyway but I could share it with Mom.
“I do, but most of them contain goat or beef.”
“Ah…okay, no thanks.” I chuckled.
“I left my country when I was eight years old, just before the civil war. It’s a long story but basically my parents sent me here because they wanted me to have a better life. I left Simbabwe with my Aunt, but she died along the way. There was an accident…” Her voice trailed off, the sadness in her eyes revealing the pain she felt at the memory of whatever it is that happened. “…and then I ended up in a detention centre for months.”
“So…why didn’t they simply send you back to your country?”
“The war started so they couldn’t. I became a refugee but I had no one. No family. No one to look after me. I was placed in foster care.”
“That must have been hard for you growing up here alone.”
“It was lonely at first but then I easily made friends once I learned the language, and I was lucky to always end up with kind foster families.”
I had to admire her strength and resilience. Hearing her talk about all that she had been through and knowing the big hearted, optimistic person she is today made me like her even more.
“I haven’t spoken to my parents in years.” She continued. “I didn’t know if they were alive or dead and then about a week ago, Hunt helped me track down a cousin of mine. I just spoke to him this morning. He told me my parents and my younger brother and sister – I have siblings now – moved out of our village years ago to the city. He fell out of touch with them. All he knows is that my family is living in the city of Simadoma after my father got a job for an engineering company.”
“Okay…so when are you leaving?”
“Yes, to go back home and find them. I mean, you have to go look for them, right?”
“Olive…I can’t go back to Simbabwe. If I go back, I won’t be able to return.”
“What?” I asked. “Why not?”
“I should have told you this before but…due to a mix up with immigration and the fact that I changed social workers so many times, none of my paperwork went through. They don’t even have a record of me being a refugee.”
My eyes widened at the realisation of what she was saying, “So…you’re technically undocumented?”
“Basically, yes. I was supposed to be deported years ago but I managed to get it suspended for now and I’m waiting for an appointment for a citizen card. I want to live here. This is my home, all of my friends are here…and Hunter. But if I go back to Simbabwe now then all the work I’ve done to get on the pathway to citizenship will be for nothing.”
I was quiet for a while. I understood the situation she was in and I really wish I knew the right thing to say to comfort her.
“I’m sorry to trouble you with this, Olive.”
Oh no, she probably assumed my silence meant I felt burdened by her problems and that was not the case at all. “No, no. Don’t say that. I only wish there was something I can do.”
“You’ve done plenty for me as it is.” She said, as she stood up. “You listened. You’re a good friend. Thank you.”
She left to meet up with Hunter so she could give him the news. He was the one texting her because he wanted to know how the conversation with her cousin went. I felt really bad for Abike and I wished there was something I could do for her.
Our relationship up till that point had been strictly professional. We never hung out with each other outside of work. Even when Kyleigh, Steve and I would want to go out for drinks, she always had something to do instead. I barely knew anything about her except she’s a great charity organizer and she loves dogs.
Now I understand why despite how bubbly she is, she’s still a little guarded. I think she needed someone to vent her frustrations to and I just happened to be there. Still, I appreciated her trust in me to keep her secret. This isn’t exactly the kind of thing you’d want a lot of people to know because then they might use it against you.
I felt compelled to do something nice for her. I couldn’t change the current circumstances, but I could do something.
“You didn’t have to do this, Olive.” Hunter said.
“Of course I did. You know me, I can’t just not do anything now that I know.”
“It’s a lot – what you’re doing, I mean. But I really appreciate it. Thanks.”
“No problem.” I shrugged. “Besides when Poppy and Everett get married you’ll technically become my brother-in-law too, right?”
“Uh…not sure it works like that but our mothers are practically sisters so aren’t we already family?”
I smiled. “Touché.”
“Olive, what are you doing here?” Abike asked, as she walked into the restaurant. “You have a date too?”
“No, I just finished having drinks with a friend and thought I would say hello to Hunter since he was here.” I gave him a look so he would know not to mention anything about the plan to her as yet.
“You should join us.” She suggested.
“Oh, no way!” I protested. “It’s your anniversary. Two years is a big deal!”
I pulled out her chair and guided her to take a seat. She was so sweet to offer but there was no way I would intrude on their romantic evening. Plus Hunter would kill me.
“Are you sure?” She asked. “Because it’s totally fine…”
Hunter groaned just a little as he shook his head. I know Hunter was probably dying for some alone time with his girlfriend after spending so many months working towards tracking down her family. “Olive has plans. Right Olive?”
“Duh, of course.” I chuckled. “You two enjoy your evening, okay.”
“Alright, but, I just want to thank you again for today…I really enjoyed our chat.”
“I did too.” She didn’t need to thank me yet again for that but that was just her way I suppose.
My phone rang as soon as I stepped out of the restaurant. The cold air hit against my skin, a complete contrast from how hot it was earlier today. Hopefully, this call would give me the good news I needed to distract me from the chilly breeze. “Is it done?”
The next day at the office, Abike was so excited to tell me something but I had to take an important call first. Once I got the time, I went to her desk to find out what she wanted to tell me. Even though I could already guess what it was about. “Hey, what did you want to…?”
“Olive! I have great news!” She practically squealed.
“What? What happened?”
“I got a call from the Immigration Department. They’ve given me an appointment for a citizen card next week. If all goes well, in a few months, I’ll get permanent residency and then I’ll be able to travel back home to try to find my family.”
“What? That’s great!” I feigned excitement. I already knew this news because I placed a call to get her appointment moved up. It helps when you have a family member that works as a senior staff member at the Immigration Department. My Uncle Aden – though he’s technically my first cousin once removed – had no problem helping out his favourite ‘niece’ by moving up her friend’s appointment date.
“I feel so relieved.” She said. “You have no idea how uneasy I’ve been all these years. I don’t want to get my hopes up because if I get rejected I’ll be at risk for deportation again but…I have a good feeling about this.”
“I have a good feeling about this too. I’m sure you’ll get your citizen card.”
I knew for a fact she will. Abike was a model citizen. She was employed, she did volunteer work, and she never had a criminal record. Plus, having a recommendation from a legacy heiress couldn’t hurt. I’m always told that our family has a lot of power and influence. What’s the point of power and influence if I can’t use it to help a friend?