Happy Tuesday! Welcome to another week.  Today, I will be sharing the 2nd story in our August Fiction Series.  This story is titled, Hotel Surprise.  Toba has a surprise waiting for his cousin, Dunni who is visiting from America.  To find out what the surprise is, you’ll have to read the story. 😉

In case you missed it, the first story, Unfriending Mama, is up.  Feel free to read, enjoy, share.

Have a great week!

Hotel Surprise


Dunni’s face lit up with excitement once she heard Toba’s answer.

“Of course I’ll take you there.”

That was his response to her request to take her to a restaurant she had not visited in more than a decade.  Having left Nigeria in the early ’90s when she was nine years old, Dunni’s memories of her place of birth were well-preserved in her memory, frozen in time.

After her junior year in college, and having no concrete summer plans, she had decided that a trip to Nigeria was in order.  It would be her first visit since she left as a child.

It had been only two days since her arrival, and almost everything had been a shock to her: the fact that NEPA still took light, the strictly-enforced 8:00pm curfew in her auntie’s neighborhood, thanks to the relentless rage of armed robbers, the inescapable heat, and a list of endless surprises, regarded as unpleasant by foreigners, returnees and visitors to Lagos. She was sure that by now, Auntie Kike, her mother’s older sister was sick and tired of hearing her say, “That’s not how it is in America o,” or “In Maryland, that would never happen.”

“Welcome to Lagos,” Auntie Kike said, more than once.  “What you think is impossible elsewhere, is part of everyday life here.”

Dunni had been caged indoors for two whole days, which were spent sleeping off the jet lag from her long trip and taking in the experience of being physically present in Lagos.

Her cousins, Ronke and Toba, filled her in on what they supposed she had missed, and what they couldn’t tell her, she learnt from watching local television.

But they never got to the subject of restaurants.

Dunni was familiar with Mr. Biggs and Sweet Sensation, and had seen a few branches of these fast food restaurants on the way from the airport.  However, there was still one restaurant she had in mind, one that stood tall in the field of her childhood, pre-America memories.

Chicken George

That day, a Wednesday, Ronke went to the market with her mother.  Their father, Uncle Bode, was at work.  Dunni was home alone with Toba, who confined himself to his room.

Tall, and long-limbed with the lean muscles typical of young men accustomed to physical labor, Toba was the spitting image of his late maternal grandfather.  Everyone said it, and he was used to the “Oohs” and “Aahs” and “This boy looks too much like Pa Adedokun,” comments that usually accompanied encounters with people who knew Toba’s grandfather when he was alive.

But because genes can be so funny, Pa Adedokun’s honest face wasn’t the only thing Toba inherited.  It was a well-known fact that Pa Adedokun, in his younger days, loved to play tricks on people.  Yes, pulling pranks was one of his many hobbies.

Guess who he passed this genetic baton to?

That’s right: Toba.

That afternoon, with no one else at home, Dunni approached Toba, whose prankster ways had made a very limited appearance in the days she had spent at their house.  She had no inkling of what lay in store for her when Toba agreed to take her to Chicken George.

“You’ll pay for my shawarma o,” said Toba in a loud voice, as he combed his thick hair with one hand, while the other hand rapped at the door of his sister’s room, where Dunni was staying.  Since he stood on the other side of the door, Dunni didn’t notice the mischievous smile that curled up his full lips when he made that statement.

Neither did she hear the naughty laughter he subdued into a cough afterwards.

No, Dunni completely missed those two clues.  Blame it on the music blasting from the speakers in Ronke’s room.

“Shouldn’t you be the one paying for me, ehn?” she called out, hinting at the two-year age difference between them.

“Why, when you have dollars?” he said.

Dunni hissed and grabbed a few notes from her luggage, stuffing them into her wallet.

As she emerged from the room wearing a sleeveless black and white striped dress, feet clad in white laced-up sneakers, Toba commented on her appearance with one word: janded.

“You look quite local yourself,” said Dunni cheekily, though there was nothing local about the jeans and graphic tee Toba donned.

“Ah, keep insulting me.  It’s now two shawarmas you’re owing me,” he jeered.

“Let’s go jare,” she chuckled.  And off they went.

Although Dunni had made the same offer five times, Toba had rejected her offer to drive, wielding the same three excuses.

“Number one, you don’t have a driver’s license.  Your American one doesn’t count.  Number two, this is Lagos.  These streets will chew you up and spit out your bones. Don’t joke with them! Nobody cares if you’ve weathered the roughest streets of New York.  Lagos is different.  Respect that.”

The third excuse, which Toba uttered as they were pulling over to the side of the road in Shitta, where money changers converged, was this:

“Number three, it’s not your car.”

Dunni daggered Toba with her eyes.

Neither was it his, but there at least, he outwitted her.

Even before the car came to a complete stop, a throng of men in flowing monochrome kaftans, speaking all at once with a distinct Northern accent, swarmed round the car. Each man said the same thing: they could change foreign currency to naira.  What made their offer more attractive was that the rate of conversion was higher than what banks and other financial institutions offered.

Dunni watched the entire process with a mix of wonder and apprehension.  Wasn’t it dangerous to trade currency on the black market? In broad daylight for that matter?

But Toba was too wrapped up in one-on-one negotiations, haggling at its basest, with the traders to pay attention to Dunni’s concerns.  As she watched him in action, she finally accepted that it was wiser to sit back and let Toba, who was used to the Lagos hustle, handle these matters.

Toba changed Dunni’s $ 100 dollars to naira at the going black market exchange rate.  Then, they left.

As they continued their journey to Chicken George, Dunni squealed in excitement each time they drove past buildings she remembered seeing as a child, amused that they were still standing, as solid in person as they had been in her memory.

“Oh my goodness … this bank is still here,” she said, as they drove past Enitan Primary School on the right, opposite Aguda market.

“Yes, it is,” said Toba.

“Are we close to Chicken George? I think it is at the end of this street, if I remember correctly,” said Dunni, craning her neck to inspect both sides of the road, keeping a sharp lookout for a building with red and yellow signage that bore the name, “Chicken George.”

“Yes.  We’re close,” said Toba, the same mischievous smile creeping up his lips.

Dunni missed it yet again, as her gaze was turned to the right side of the road, building inspection in progress.

“Okay.  About how many minutes?” she said.

“Less than ten–” said Toba, who was grinning. Without warning, he pulled a piece of cloth out of his side pocket.  It was a navy blue bandana with a white anchor print.  “–Which is why I want you to use this,” he added as he pushed the bandana towards her.

Dunni looked confused.

“What’s this? Part of your secret cult uniform?” Dunni asked eyeing him with unbridled suspicion.

Toba laughed heartily.  “You think I’d tell you if I was a cultist?”

“It’s not written on anyone’s forehead, you know,” said Dunni rolling her eyes.  “But seriously, cultist uniform aside, what’s this for? To cover my hair?” Dunni asked, sniffing the bandana cautiously.  It smelt old, like something that had been languishing in the nether regions of a person’s closet for months, far from sunlight.  And air.

She made a face.

“What? You don’t like the smell of old?” Toba asked, chuckling at her disgusted face.

“Be serious, Toba.  What am I supposed to do with this?” Dunni asked frowning.

“It’s not for your hair.  Blindfold yourself,” he said finally.

“Ehn? Are you kidding me?  I will do no such–” Dunni began, flinging the bandana on the dashboard.

“I kid you not,” said Toba coolly, hands tightening on the steering wheel.

“If I refuse nko, what will you do?” Dunni asked.

“Easy.  I’ll just reverse and we’ll go back home.”

“No! You wouldn’t!” Dunni cried.

“Watch me,” said Toba, and he pulled to the side of the road, near a vulcanizer’s shop.

“Okay, okay.  Gosh! You’re such a bully!” said Dunni, hissing as she tied the bandana in a blindfold around her eyes.

“Grammar!” Toba jeered.  “No peeping o,” he added, as he rejoined the flow of traffic in the direction of Chicken George.

Dunni held her tongue, sulking.

Waving his hand in front of her face, he asked,

“How many fingers am I holding?”

“52. One for each week in a year,” said Dunni drily.

Toba burst out laughing.  “You sure it isn’t 365?”

“Just drive, please.  All this gra-gra … For what?” she mumbled shaking her head.  “It better be worth all this drama.”

“Oh, it will,” said Toba, chuckling deeply.  “You won’t forget this outing.  Ever.”

Just then, Dunni felt the car slowing down, and then, it stopped.

“Don’t remove your blindfold o.  Wait,” Toba commanded.

Dunni obeyed, heart thumping faster and faster.  She could almost smell all the fresh pastries and see the rotisserie chickens roasting slowly in the large oven, dripping with flavor.

Toba pressed the horn twice and Dunni heard the sound of a metal gate swinging open.

“They now have a gate?” Dunni asked puzzled.

“Yes.  And a fence too, for security reasons,” said Toba.

Dunni found it strange, but shrugged it off.  Her stay over the past two days had already been characterized by strange events, like setting out plastic buckets to collect rainwater the day before.  This was just one more thing to add to the growing list.

The car started up again and moved forward.  Then, it came to a complete stop.

Turning off the car engine, Toba turned to Dunni and with a wicked grin, said to her:

“Oya, remove the blindfold.”

Dunni, all but ripped off the cloth from her eyes, and stared in front of her through the windscreen, reluctant to even breathe if she felt it would ruin the moment.

A tall, cream-colored building with a red roof loomed ahead of them.  It had three floors.

Dunni didn’t get it.  Was this Chicken George? Why did they need three floors?

“Toba, did they change the building?” she asked her cousin who was trying hard not to laugh.

“Emm … Sort of …” he said, stepping out of the car.  “But, you might want to read the sign over there,” he said pointing towards the red gate behind them.  It was one of those double sided signs. Dunni read aloud:

“A-Y-O-K-A … Ayoka Hotel.  Ayoka Hotel,” she repeated softly to herself.

And then, it hit her.

“Wait a minute,” she said, frowning and turning to look at Toba.  Her cousin had moved far away from her, standing several paces behind her, grinning hard.  “You mean … You mean there’s no more Chicken George?” said Dunni, a look of deep disappointment on her face.

Toba shook his head.

“And you … You knew about it?”

“Yes,” he said breezily, hands jammed into his pocket.

“And you kept quiet?” said Dunni, slowly moving towards him, anger dancing in her eyes.

He nodded.


“Because Dunni, some things are better experienced than told,” said Toba, a look of intense satisfaction brightening his face.

“Oh! I am so going to kill you for this! You better run!” Dunni cried as she chased Toba all over the hotel parking lot.


*  *  *


“You should thank me, you know,” said Toba as they sat munching shawarmas at another fast food restaurant thirty minutes later.

“For what? Abi, you don kolo?”Dunni asked eyeing him.  She was still ticked off at what Toba did, but the shawarma was helping with the forgiveness process, easing her along the road to recovery.

Toba chuckled. “You came here in search of memories.  I gave you a gift.”

The audacity of this guy!  If he wasn’t her cousin, she would have …

“What gift? Dashed hopes? You call that a gift? Abeg, abeg …” said Dunni, dismissing him with a wave of her hand before taking another bite of her shawarma.

“No.  The gift of new memories.  Admit it, you won’t forget this day lai lai,” said Toba, kicking Dunni playfully under the table.

The scowl on her face softened into a smile, and shaking her head slowly, she admitted that he was right.

“Dunni, the past is alive only in your memory.  Leave it there, will you?”

“Sure,” she agreed grudgingly.

“Cheers,” said Toba, lifting the remains of his shawarma to Dunni who still eyed him as she did the same.  “And thanks for the treat.”

“The bribe, you mean,” she corrected.

“Call it whatever you like.  It’s still in my belly.  One down, one to go!” said Toba, grabbing the second shawarma in front of him.

Dunni shook her head.  “You’re just a case,” she said chuckling.  Lifting her bottle of Mirinda to Toba, she added, “Cheers.”

“Cheers,” said Toba.

By the time Dunni returned back to America a month later, and saw a stack of rotisserie chickens at a local supermarket, she smiled.

“Toba was right,” she thought to herself.  “There’s no Chicken George anymore, but I’ll never forget how I found out.  And that memory is a gift.”


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More Short Reads:

Unfriending Mama

For the Love of Plantain

Elevator Ride

Without His Approval

The First Kiss

The Gift of Crabs

Ajebota Returnee

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