Koya’s Choice is one of the Romance Novels set in Africa.
Koya took a risk on love when she was in college, and the man she gave her heart broke it, sending her a terrible letter that left her broken. Eight years later, Koya has shut out the idea of love and focuses on building her business and comfortable life, never once entertaining the idea of love. Until the day her best friend tells her that the man who broke her heart is back in town.
Charlie Dhali has loved Koya for as long as he can remember. When he returns to Nairobi after eight years, he discovers a new world. One without Koya’s love, and his best friend might have taken his place at her side.
Can these two lost souls find their way back to each other, under the hot Nairobi sun?
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A broken sob dragged his attention back from oblivion. Charles turned to his right to see his mother crying, her nose pressed into a pristine white handkerchief. Her tears were endless, her sobs heart-wrenching. She cried for her first-born child, Tony.
The one she loved most, Charles thought.
His father stood beside his mother, an arm wrapped around her shoulders, grounding her lest she disappears. Dark sunglasses covered his father’s face. Most assumed it was because of the blazing sun, the unrelenting sunrays found at the equator, but he knew his father cried too. The sunglasses hid swollen eyes, and tear-stained cheeks.
Charles looked away from his father and tugged on his suit jacket. He still could not believe his mother insisted he retain his suit in the blazing sun. It was midday. The sun was high in the sky, the heat unrelenting. His mother’s words this morning filled his head.
“We might grieve, but this family keeps up appearances, Charlie. Keep yourself looking smart.”
Her grief was hard to bear.
Damn, Charles Dhali let a sigh escape.
His world was over. He stared at his older brother’s casket and wondered at the rage brewing inside him. Instead of grief, burning anger grew with every minute.
Charles clenched his fists, closing his eyes as the priest recited the final rites, and the funeral home attendants moved to remove flowers from the casket. The rage flamed inside him as he watched Tony’s casket lower to the ground.
Charles was angry with Tony.
So angry, he wanted to scream but could not. He could not do much but stand with calm on this somber occasion. Not with his mother two feet away crying, her sobs tearing through him. All their relatives and friends watched their family, waiting to see them crack as Tony was laid to rest.
Charles wanted to scream in anger at the injustice of his brother’s death. His parents would force him to take on more responsibility. All because Tony Dhali could not have the sense to stay away from trouble.
Charles felt a tear slide down his cheek. Life truly was not fair.
Koya and Charlie
A day after Tony Dhali’s funeral, Koya walked up Ndwaru Road heading to Charlie’s house.
“Look, that’s Hugh Kalahari’s daughter.”
The words drifted to her without trouble.
Koya shook her head in amusement. Gossip was expected living in the Ndwaru rd Estate. The families living on this street were a complicated mesh of relationships, which supplied the gossipmongers with fresh fodder by the hour.
Everyone knew everything about everyone.
“She must be back from college for the funeral. I heard she’s friends with that Dhali boy.”
“Well, it’s nice she is in college. Let’s hope it stays that way. Who knows what could happen if she pushes it further with the Dhali boy.”
Koya gave the three women at a vegetable stall a hard look. They smiled as though they weren’t talking about her, and waved at her. It was no use scowling at them. The gossip mill would continue. She offered a smile in return. The three women lost interest in her and moved on to the next victim.
Koya increased her pace and decided to forget about the gossipmongers.
Her boyfriend was having a hard time. She continued up the slight hill on the main estate road heading for the Dhali Estate at the top.
The Dhalis were the richest family on Ndwaru Road.
Isaac Dhali made his money through foreign investments and real estate. He built his precious wife a huge manor on six acres of land he owned through purchase. The couple had two children, Tony, and Charles Dhali.
Well, with Tony dead, the Dhali Family only has one son now, Koya thought.
Two weeks ago, the Dhalis lost Tony at a club shooting at the Ndwaru Shopping Center. Nobody knew the reason why unknown thugs shot Tony, but the rumor mills were working on overdrive. Word was Tony sold drugs. Others said Tony joined a gang and pissed off the gang’s big boss.
Well, speculation aside, her boyfriend, Charles, was having a hard time dealing with Tony’s death. Which made her depressed too because she truly loved Charles Dhali, and hated to see him suffering.
Her cell phone buzzed and she answered with a small smile when she saw the name on the caller ID.
“I’m coming up the hill,” Koya said. “I needed to drop off documents at the chief’s place for my father.”
“You could let me pick you up,” Charlie complained. “We’re not fooling anyone, Koya. There is no point hiding our relationship.”
“At college, you may pick me up all you want, but not here,” Koya said.
There was no need to give proof to the rumor mill.
Koya cleared the hill and took a right turn onto a tarmac road leading her to the Dhali Estate’s main gate.
“I’m at the front, you can come out now.”
“You’re exasperating,” Charlie said into his phone. “Give me two minutes to drive out. Don’t talk to the guards. I get jealous.”
“You’re so bossy,” Koya said with a laugh.
She ended the call, smiling to herself. She stopped right before she reached the gate. Putting her cell phone in her pocket, she hoped she had dressed appropriately for the evening. The plan was to hang out with friends before they all headed to university the day after tomorrow. At least on campus, she never needed to worry what people said about her and Charlie.
Koya decided she would make it up to Charlie then.
The gates opened and a black jeep appeared.
Charlie drove like a maniac. She took a cautious step back on the sidewalk as he stopped with a screech. Charlie leaned over to push open the passenger door. Koya held on to the door and stood taking in Charlie’s welcoming smile.
Charlie was handsome. Dark skin, beautiful dark eyes, a strong jaw, and the sexiest mouth she ever saw. Of course, she would never tell him her thoughts. His ego would only inflate higher. Charlie was born with a golden spoon in his mouth. His mother then reared him as one would an egg. In return, Charlie developed an ego that could piss off the devil.
Despite this very large shortcoming, Charlie had a good heart, and Koya loved him for it.
“Are you getting in, or are you going to stare at me all night?” Charlie asked. “Come on, woman.”
Koya grinned and got in the passenger seat. Charlie started driving off as she closed the door. She reached for the seat belt, struggling to put it on. Charlie stopped at the turn to help her snap it on before he stepped on the gas pedal, and took off down the main road.
“Consider a chill pill when driving, Charlie,” Koya said, once they hit the first major road and had to slow down because of traffic. “Where are we headed?”
“Westlands,” Charlie answered in a curt tone.” Kim and Ashi are waiting at the club.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Koya asked, hating the tense note in his voice. “Is it your mom?”
“She won’t get off my case,” Charlie said, bitterness colored his voice.
“Is it me?” Koya asked.
Ashley Dhali had changed of late. Charlie’s mother hated her now. Koya didn’t know what she did to warrant the change of heart, but Charlie’s mother did not like her.
“She hasn’t been very receptive to us being together.”
“I don’t care what she thinks,” Charlie said. “It’s my life and you’re in it, period. God, I can’t wait to get back to CUEA. We can have peace.”
The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, known as CUEA for short, was the university they all attended: her, Charlie, Kim, and Ashi. Charlie and Kim were two years ahead. She and Ashi were in the second year.
Koya worried about Charlie graduating first. It felt like their relationship would end.
“What’s really going on?” Koya asked after a while.
They were speeding along the highway, Waiyaki Way headed to Westlands. One of their college friends was opening his club tonight.
Koya knew asking questions before a night out was relationship suicide, but she could not take not knowing anymore. Charlie was holding back an uncontrollable fury raging through him.
“It’s nothing,” Charlie said.
He started to turn on the radio but she turned it off.
“That’s a lie,” Koya said. “I know you’re sad because of Tony’s death, but we can’t go on this way. Tell me what’s wrong, or I’m going to make your mother happy by walking away from you.”
“You’re kidding right now, right?” Charlie asked, his eyes wide when she finished her tirade.
“I’m not,” Koya snapped.
Charlie pulled off the highway with one abrupt jerk and parked the car on the curb across the ABC Place. He switched off the engine and stared out the windshield with a glare.
“My mother is sending me away,” Charlie said. “My father is going to Taipei for work. She wants me to go with him. I didn’t know how to tell you.”
Charlie was leaving.
Koya shifted in her seat to face him.
“Mom is afraid I’ll end up like Tony,” Charlie explained. “She asked my father to take me with him.”
“Turn out like Tony?” Koya frowned. “You’re not your big brother, Charlie.”
“Tell my mother. I can’t fight her on this. Tony got himself shot and she can’t think beyond that truth. She’s having it rough with my brother’s death.”
“So…when are you leaving?”
“I made a deal with her. She’ll let me graduate my last year at CUEA. We have the rest of the year together, Koya. It will be okay.”
“You’re leaving me,” Koya said. “How is that okay?”
“I’m not leaving yet,” Charlie said.
He took her right hand, holding her gaze.
“I don’t want to leave, Koya, but it was this or leave next week with my dad.”
A year, Koya thought, she only had Charlie for a year.
“I hate your mother,” she said.
“Don’t,” Charlie soothed, lifting his free hand, he stroked her right cheek with his index finger. “She’s worried I’ll end up dead like Tony. I’m her only son now.”
Koya sighed because she understood Ashley Dhali’s fear.
“Koya, whether I’m here, or abroad, you matter to me. You’ll always be my girl no matter where I am.”
“I should record these lines,” Koya said with a shaky laugh. “No one would believe you say them, bad boy.”
“Only for you, princess,” Charlie said.
He leaned over the console and kissed her. A soft kiss, left her heart fluttering in excitement.
She could not help wrapping her arms around him, drawing him into a tight hug. A year did not seem enough.
“We should go,” she said, against his shoulder.
“In a bit,” Charlie said, tightening his arms around her.
At their friends’ new club, Koya allowed Charlie to open the passenger door for her and waited while he locked the car. He took her hand in his as they walked up to the club’s entrance. Loud music filled the warm evening as they entered Club Klutz. A group of girls swept past them dressed in slinky dresses. Koya ran a hand down her hip-hugging tight jeans and clingy blue blouse. Her hair was in a slick ponytail, thanks to her morning visit to the salon.
Charlie glanced at her with a grin.
“You look sexy, Kalahari. I’d let you know, otherwise.”
She smiled, her cheeks burning.
Charlie slipped his arm around her waist, navigating through the crowded club. A few patrons called out to Charlie, and as he waved back, she found her thoughts preoccupied with the news of Charlie leaving.
He was taking it well. He smiled, and laughed, as though their world wasn’t about to rip in two.
“Hey,” a familiar voice said from above their heads. “Koya, Charlie, up here.”
Koya looked up to see Ashi Mwende leaning on the railing upstairs. She waved at her and allowed Charlie to lead the way upstairs.
Ashi, short and cute, her hair short and blown out, rushed Koya, engulfing her in a tight hug. Ashi let her go and hugged Charlie too.
Behind Ashi, Bernard ‘Kim’ Kimani strolled at a more leisurely pace. Kim was taller than Charlie. He wore his hair long in a short fro, his body built for hard labor: beautifully sculpted with hard muscle. Dressed in a blue t-shirt and a pair of black jeans and boots, Koya imagined Kim would have a lucrative career in hip-hop if he chose. He had the look for it.
There was a time Koya thought Ashi and Kim would make a great couple, but they were too alike. Ashi said they made good friends.
“What took you so long?” Kim asked in greeting. He kissed Koya’s cheek and glanced at Charlie. “I thought you weren’t coming.”
“Charlie was giving me a confession,” Koya said.
Her gaze slid to Charlie before she allowed Ashi to lead her to the lounge seats along the wall.
“You couldn’t wait,” Kim said to his best friend.
“She threatened to walk away from me,” Charlie said with a shrug.
Charlie sat across Koya at their table and reached for a bottle of Heineken. It looked like Ashi and Kim had made their usual orders. Charlie took a healthy swig straight from the bottle and winked at Koya.
“I can’t have that,” Charlie said.
Ashi sat next to Koya.
“I know Charlie leaving is sudden, but we have a year with him.”
“I can handle it,” Koya said, not wanting to be the one who took this news badly.
Charlie seemed relaxed. Ashi and Kim were not stressed either. Why would she be the one bent out of shape?
“He’ll be back anyway, right Charlie?” Koya asked.
“Right,” Charlie said, holding her gaze.
“Unless he goes and falls for a Taiwanese girl,” Kim teased with a sparkle in his eyes. “Charlie might start talking Chinese, and then before you know it, he will love it there.”
“Stop being an ass,” Charlie said.
“Well, I hear they have the best seafood except for snails,” Ashi said, ever the optimist.
“Snails are not seafood,” Kim pointed out.
“Did I say they were?” Ashi asked. “Don’t listen to him, Charlie. He’s jealous.”
“Guys, stop talking about snails. I’m not leaving yet,” Charlie said. “If you want to try eating snails, we can collect the ones in your mother’s garden.”
“Ew, Charlie, that’s disgusting,” Ashi said, making a disgusted face at the suggestion.
Koya listened to them bicker. She smiled when they made jokes and laughed where appropriate, but inside she worried. She hoped her heart would be stronger by the time Charlie left. Charlie noticed her brooding and leaned over to hand her his drink. He winked at her when she took the bottle and sipped.
They stayed out all night.
Charlie dropped Koya and Kim at Ashi’s house the next morning at Six a.m. He drove home feeling lighter, his anger soothed. He could breathe without feeling pain in his heart.
Charlie was grateful Koya took his news so well. She remained calm, not a teardrop insight, she stayed levelheaded, even talking about when he came back. Her confidence on his return grounded him.
The nightwatchman opened the gates to his home, and he drove up the driveway to the main house. Charlie parked the car behind the house, in case his mother was up already. He used the kitchen door to enter the house. Removing his shoes, he tiptoed down the corridor to the stairs that would lead him up to the second floor.
“Where have you been?” Ashley Dhali asked as he took the first step.
Charlie looked up to see his mother standing at the living room entrance.
Charlie sighed, wishing he could escape what was coming. He held on to the balustrade and turned to face her.
“Answer me, Charlie.”
“I’m not sure what you want me to say. You’ll scream at me no matter my excuse, so get it over with.”
“I don’t recognize you anymore,” Ashley said, her voice soft and dripping with disappointment. “What has happened to you?”
“I’m still the same person,” Charlie said, exasperated. “You’re the one who has changed, Mom. You keep seeing Tony when you look at me, but I’m Charlie, Mom. I’m not Tony.”
“I know who you are,” Ashley said. “You’re my only son now. I’m going to make sure you don’t end up like your big brother. I allowed Tony too much freedom, and look where it got him. He’s in a grave. Do you think I’m enjoying this?”
“I know how you feel about Tony’s death, but I’m different,” Charlie said. “I won’t do the same things he did.”
“Really?” Ashley pointed at her cell phone. “Look at the time. It’s almost seven o’clock in the morning. You left last night. What do I know you’ve been doing out there? Were you with those friends of yours?”
His mother had developed a distinct dislike for Koya, Ashi, and Kim.
“I’ve warned you every day these past two weeks. You’ve refused to listen.”
“They are my friends, Mom. You’ve known them for years.”
“The Kalahari girl is the cause of your rebellion. You have never disobeyed me before. Now you talk back at will. I forbid you to see her again.”
“Koya’s my girlfriend and I love her. You can’t forbid me from seeing her. Mom—”
“You’re twenty years old, Charlie. You don’t know how you feel. Trust me, don’t see her again.”
“Try and stop me,” Charlie snarled in anger.
What was wrong with his mother?
“I will destroy them all,” Ashley warned. “Are you sure you want to keep pushing?”
“Mom,” Charlie said in shock.
Ashley Dhali’s threats were not light. She held power in her small elegant palm. Her anger had crashed many in business, their social circles, and even in political circles.
“Test me, Charlie,” Ashley said, her eyes alight with an emotion that frightened him.
Charlie wished his father hadn’t left for the coast so soon after Tony’s funeral.
“Koya has a sponsor for her university, right? A few calls and I’ll get it withdrawn. What about Kim? He’s a nice boy. His father’s construction company will develop loan problems. It’s very easy to make it happen. By the time the problems are cleared…well, the business will be over. And Ashi, is it? She’s also on scholarship, isn’t she?”
“You wouldn’t,” Charlie said, afraid she was not joking.
“Try me,” Ashley warned.
Charlie stared at her for a moment, and then because he knew she was not joking, he sighed.
“I’m already leaving to stay with Dad in Taipei. What more do you want from me?”
“I want you to stop seeing them,” Ashley said.
“If you insist, so will I,” Ashley cut in.
“This isn’t right, Mom,” Charlie said, his protest sounding weak even to his ears.
The thought of Koya being unable to go to school shook him. Koya was doing Business Commerce. She had dreams, big dreams. He could not allow his mother to trample them.
“It’s your call,” Ashley said. “We’ll go see your friends in a few minutes.”
Ashley moved to a table by the wall and grabbed a bunch of keys. She entered the living room and returned wearing a light beige coat over her nightgown. Her skin was light brown, her eyes sharp and keen.
Charlie always thought his mother pretty, what with her trim figure always in elegant clothes and her hair done in the most elegant weaves. She was the envy of the town, but right now, she was the one he hated most.
“Have you decided?” Ashley asked, in that sweet voice that told him goodnight countless times.
Her sweet voice grated on his raw nerves now. He wondered what she would do if he hit her.
Closing his eyes, Charlie forced his anger down. His mother was not bluffing. This fight was not about him anymore.
Charlie stepped down the few steps he had taken and followed his mother defiantly to the front door.
Ashley led the way to her black SUV. Charlie had not seen it parked in the driveway. He would have known to avoid her. He cursed his muddled thoughts. Sliding into the front passenger seat, he watched his mother start her car with a determined look on her face.
Ten minutes later, they parked at Ashi’s house. A modest stone house, flowers grew around the property in a wild riot. Ashi’s parents worked hard to purchase the quarter-acre plot and build their home five years back.
Charlie cursed under his breath as he walked the gravel path to the blue steel front door. His knock on the door was soft. He took a step back and looked back at the black car waiting at the gate, the windows tinted so he could not see his mother.
The front door opened and Ashi stood there smiling at him in pink pajamas.
“Hey guys, Charlie is back,” Ashi said with a grin. “Did you miss Koya?”
The sound of hurried footsteps filled his ears, and the door widened to reveal Kim and Koya. There wore t-shirts and pajama bottoms. Their eyes were bleary from lack of sleep, Charlie could not believe he was doing this.
“You missed me?” Koya asked, her smile wide as she pushed between Ashi and Kim to hug Charlie.
“Lovesick,” Kim complained flashing a grin. “You’re both too much.”
Ashi and Koya laughed.
Charlie could not help wincing at their happiness. He cleared his throat.
“Actually, I came to—”
Charlie broke off and took a step back from Koya, looking back at the black car. He didn’t want to do this. Why couldn’t his mother wait the year?
Koya’s gaze followed his gaze to the black car, and she took a step forward. Her slender hand touched his, and he glanced back at her.
Her beautiful eyes filled with concern.
“Is everything okay?” Koya asked.
Her voice, the things it did to his heart, he could not imagine never hearing it again. But could he really convict her to a life without her dreams? She worked hard for the sponsorship opportunity at Catholic University. She worked hard to keep up her grades. Her dream was to start an advertising business after graduation.
How could he take her dream away?
“I came to tell you it’s over,” Charlie said, his voice raw even to his ears.
“What’s over?” Koya asked, her gaze still on the black car.
“We’re over,” Charlie said.
Ashi gasped and Kim took a step forward, as though to protect Koya from Charlie.
“Your mother is in the car, isn’t she?” Koya asked.
“No. I’m doing this for both of us, Koya. I’ve thought about it—”
“Cut the crap, Charlie. You’re doing what your mother wants, aren’t you? Is this what she asked you to do? Did she threaten you?”
Koya gripped Charlie’s arm, still looking toward the black SUV.
“Listen to me,” Charlie said, keeping his tone cold.
Koya was not one to take bullshit lying down. She was not going to make their breakup easy. If he did not get serious, she would fight his mother, and it would leave her with no future.
He had to protect her.
Placing his hands on her shoulders, Charlie met her gaze.
“I am telling you these things, not my mother, Koya. I am freeing you to love someone else while I’m gone. So do me a favor and listen. We’re breaking up.”
Koya shook her head in denial. Tears filled her dark eyes. Damn it, she was killing him.
“What about what you said last night?” Koya asked, her voice thick with tears.
“Yeah, Charlie,” Ashi said. “Why are you being a jerk this morning?”
“I’ve always been a jerk,” Charlie said. “You’re just noticing now. This is the best thing for us. I won’t be seeing any of you again. I’ve decided to leave with my dad today, so goodbye, and have fun at the campus. Koya, in time you’ll see I’m right.”
Charlie brushed his lips on her cheek, then let go of her shoulders. She fell back against Kim who stood behind her. Not wanting to see her tears, Charlie turned and hurried to the waiting car. Getting in, he wiped a hand down his face as his mother started the car.
“Very good, Charles,” Ashley said.
“You and I, we’re done,” Charlie said, as Ashley drove out of Ashi’s compound. “I will never forgive you for this.”