“Who is driving this big car?”
Since she was busy with a client’s hair, as should Ndidi be, Callista asked with a fair amount of indifference, “What big car?”
“A jeep.” Ndidi used the popular name for SUVs. “Ah see, it is Chukwudi Udolisa. I can’t believe it. I heard someone say he came home but I didn’t hear he’s now driving such a big car. And he’s coming this way. Aunty Cally, I think he may be here to see you.”
Callista’s heart took an instant leap, but she just as quickly slapped down the punch of excitement. “Instead of thinking what people going on their way are doing, focus your attention on not ruining Oge’s hair with too much of that hairspray.”
Undaunted by the reproof, Ndidi continued to peek out the window. “He certainly is coming here, although he’s stopped now to greet Ochei. Chai! Look at the way his half-shoes are shining. They look brand new.”
“Ndidi, pass Oge a mirror since you’re done and stop your narration. Nobody asked you,” Callista ordered, refusing to give in to the temptation to stretch her neck and look.
She wasn’t going to give Chukwudi, or anyone else, the idea that she was still interested in him. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder if indeed he was there to see her. Callista hoped that was the case. It would provide her the chance to act all aloof and nonchalant.
“I told you,” Ndidi said now, her voice more hushed. “He’s almost here. Oge, I’m done with your hair. Pay me and let me sit and prepare to entertain myself with a good live film.”
“You think you’re the only one who wants to watch this film?” Oge, who managed her father’s supermarket two shops away, refused to budge. “I want to see for myself how Chukwudi treats Cally after leaving her to go to Port Harcourt.”
More like she wanted to see how Cally would react to Chukwudi after he so poorly treated her, Callista thought with a scowl she didn’t bother to hide. That was her big dilemma, wasn’t it? Everybody in town knows how shamefully Chukwudi treated her and now he was here for the Christmas holidays, they were watching to see how she would conduct herself. Not that it was their business.
Then again, people rarely minded their business, Callista mused. But if they wanted something to entertain them and keep their tongues busy, she was going to provide a show that would shine a favourable spotlight on her this time around.
“Good day, everyone here,” Chukwudi greeted generally as he stepped into the salon.
“Oga Chukwudi Udolisa. Big man, big car,” Ndidi hailed. “Look at how you are shining like someone who just landed from abroad.”
“Only from Port Harcourt,” Chukwudi said lightly, but his wide smile indicated the compliment pleased him. “How are you, Ndidi? Are you still here working for Cally?”
“No money yet to open my own salon, so I have no choice.” As one who never dwelled on what she considered her bad luck, Ndidi moved to ask a more important question. “What did you bring for us from the oil city now?”
“It’s actually the Garden City. But since I couldn’t carry bread all the way from there, let me atone with this.” Chukwudi got out his wallet and drew out five hundred naira notes, passing two to Ndidi and Oge, who went on a shout of praise singing.
To the older woman Callista was styling her hair, he held out two notes of the bill with both hands. “Mama Victor, allow me to buy you malt.”
“And it looks like you want to buy me an entire crate,” Mama Victor received the money with a beam. “How are you, my son? How is Port Harcourt?”
“I am well and Port Harcourt is still where I left it, I’m sure.” Now that he was standing close to his object of interest, Chukwudi looked at Callista. “Cally, how are you?”
“I’m well. You?”
“Well too. I actually came to see you.” The fact that she wouldn’t even spare him a glance both surprised and irritated Chukwudi. He was a man who didn’t deal very well with being ignored. “Can we step outside and talk?”
“No, we can’t. As you can see, I am busy with work.”
“It will only be for a few minutes. And I’m sure Ndidi can take over from you.”
“Yes, I can, Aunty Cally, if you want to go out and talk with him,” Ndidi chipped in.
“Chukwudi,” Callista finally made herself look at him and almost lost the train of her thoughts, before she slammed a firm hold on her jittery emotions. “This is working hours for me and I am busy. I can’t just leave my customer and go outside to chatter. If you are so desperate to talk to me, then you will have to return when I’m less busy.”
Chukwudi gaped at the woman that was once again focused on the hair she was attaching an extension on, unable to believe she’d just spoken to him in a careless and aloof manner.
Callista? His Cally, the woman who would jump to do his bidding no matter what he demanded? The woman so besotted with him, her effusive devotion sometimes irritated him?
But since he wasn’t a man to let a woman, or anyone, embarrass him without doing anything about it, Chukwudi let out a teasing laugh. “I see you’re still mad at me. Believe me, that is why I’m here, to make up for my bad behaviour.”
“There’s no need to make up for anything. Whatever was between us has ended and that is that.”
He didn’t like her aloof tone. He didn’t like discussing this with an audience. “Let us go outside and talk. I have a surprise for you in my car. One, I guarantee you will like.”
Her curiosity pricked, but Callista only reached for a fresh needle. “Your surprise and you will have to wait, Chukwudi.”
“I don’t want to wait. And I want you to come outside now with me. We will talk inside my car.”
She would have obeyed the brusque instruction. It mortified Callista to recall the many times she’d obeyed coolly dictated orders just like this one because they came from him–and she was so desperate to please him.
Even now, her first instinct was to do as he’d said, but she clamped hard on that instinct. “If you can’t wait, then you will have to forget altogether whatever it is you want us to discuss, because I can’t spare the time to listen to you now.”
“Callista…” unsure what he wanted to say, Chukwudi cut himself off. “Since you persist in this foolishness, I’m out of here.”
Chukwudi stalked out of the salon, mortified by the utter embarrassment he’d just suffered. What had come over her? Was it because of that Mario?
“Uh, thank you for the money,” Ndidi called after him. Then turned to stare wide-eyed at Callista. “Aunty Cally, I can’t believe you dismissed Chukwudi Udolisa like that.”
Callista couldn’t believe it either. In fact, she was shaking so much inside her, it amazed her how the tremors weren’t visible.
“Thread more needles for me and stop with your drama, Ndidi,” she said in a nonchalant tone that made Callista proud.
“You call what I said drama when the real drama is what you and Chukwudi Udolisa just displayed?” Ndidi asked with a laugh.
“I know I accepted his money–after all, who in their right mind rejects money when you don’t have to pay a price for it?” Mama Victor limply shrugged. “But you did well, Cally. A man cannot just turn his back on a woman, then come back and expect her to fly into his arms. It is good to show him that he has to work hard before he wins you over again.”
“I am not interested in Chukwudi winning me over again, Mama Victor.”
“Ah, my dear, don’t take it too far. If he’s ready to make amends, then accept him back.”
“I don’t want him back. I have moved on with my life, and he should do the same.” Callista wished he would never be able to do that; that he would live the rest of his life pining for her. Of course, that wicked wish was impossible and she knew it. “In any case, if you have not heard, I am in a relationship with Mario and he’s the only man I’m interested in.”
“I didn’t know you and Mario Elue were in a relationship,” Ndidi said. “You always said you two were friends.”
“Now I’m telling you we are more than friends.”
“But since when?” Ndidi demanded, still looking baffled.
“Ndidi, I don’t make it a habit to provide every detail of my life to people. I have told you what I want to tell you, now let’s drop it and get back to work.” She looked at the other young woman. “Oge, don’t you think it’s time you get back to the shop?”
“Yes oh. I’ve seen and heard enough for one day, and even earned me free five hundred naira. I will see you guys later.”
In the silence that followed her exit, Callista mentally applauded herself. She may have struggled, but she had done it, and she would continue to do it, until Chukwudi Udolisa drove his big car back to his garden city.