When on the commercial bike taking her home, Callista observed Chukwudi’s SUV parked in their front yard, she cursed out loud.
“What did you say?” Ogoli, the bike rider, asked.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Callista snapped, considered asking him to turn around and take her to Jebolisa’s house, and crushed the thought.
Why should she run away from her home as though she were afraid to have another encounter with him?
Because she was, Callista thought and with a sigh of displeasure. She had done well yesterday when he’d come acting all high and mighty at her salon, but would she display same good sense and courage this evening?
Well, of course, she would. She would do it, whether her spine had cold sweat sloping down on it or her stomach muscles were tightened as a string for fear. She had mocked Chukwudi and restored some of her self-respect in front of her clients and worker yesterday and would do so again in front of her mother.
But just look at the way he was seated like a king on their cushioned cane chair and chatting with her mother as if he was a honoured guest.
And she had welcomed him, her own mother. Disappointment made Callista mutter and curse as she dismounted and paid for the ride. She refused to smile even when the two on the veranda were beaming as if they couldn’t be happier to see her.
“Look who’s here, Cally, Chukwudi Udolisa and he came bearing gifts,” her mother said. “A bag of rice, a bottle of wine for me,” she beamed at this. “And this fat envelope. He called them Christmas presents. Can you imagine?”
Callista looked from the 25kg bag of rice, the bottle in her mother’s hand and focused on the envelope on her lap. It wasn’t exactly fat, but more than the rice and wine, that offended her the most.
“I don’t know why he would bring you Christmas presents, Mama. He’s never done it before and no one asked him to do so now.”
“Callista!” Ijeoma Okoli’s voice rang with reproof. “We don’t speak to people who show us kindness in that manner. What is wrong with you, have you forgotten how to be polite?”
“Is it impolite now to speak the truth?” Callista countered with a defiant stare which she aimed at Chukwudi. “We were together near to three years and never once did he bring you a Christmas present, and he comes with three now. Why? What are they for, Chukwudi?”
“Presents, that’s all they are. I told you I had one for you yesterday, I didn’t mention I had also for your mother.”
He was smiling affably and Callista wondered at the unruffled expression. He’d stormed out of her salon in anger and now he was being nice? What was he up to, to make a fool of her again?
“I don’t know what you are up to, Chukwudi, but–“
“I want to talk to you. I told you that yesterday too,” Chukwudi interrupted her. “Now that you are home, I hope you won’t claim to be too busy to give me attention.”
“No, she won’t as that would be rude,” Callista’s mother said, getting to her feet. “I will leave you alone to talk.”
“There’s no need to leave us alone, Mama, as I can’t imagine what Chukwudi has to say that’s so private.”
“I have to begin to prepare dinner, so I am going in all the same.” Her mother shot her a glance that again reproved her rudeness before disappearing inside.
“Won’t you sit?”
He made the invitation as if this was his house, Callista thought sourly, and for that refused to take the seat her mother vacated.
“Why are you here, Chukwudi?” she demanded instead.
“The question is, why are you acting so cold and why did you behave so insulting to me yesterday?”
“You found my behaviour insulting, because I did not leave my client to go chatter with you?”
“I wasn’t there to chatter. I was there to talk to you.” Annoyed because she was still treating him without courtesy, Chukwudi grabbed her hand and dragged her to where he parked his car, wanting a little privacy from the house. “Enough of this childish game you’re playing. While it might be giving you pleasure, it’s insulting to me and I want you to put an end to it.”
“What game are you talking about?”
“This one of acting like you are indifferent to me when we both know that’s not the case.” Chukwudi had thought about it, figured it out. “You think it’s not clear to me that you are putting up a show to make me jealous? I must say you and Mario almost had me the other night.”
Callista stared at his handsome grinning face in utter shock and dismay. He had seen through her plan and was now laughing at her. She wanted to die of shame, to bury her head in it. How could she have forgotten how smart he was?
No, it wasn’t smartness. It was conceit, Callista realised. It was that arrogance she’d excused in the past that had him thinking that she was incapable of getting over him. Well, he might have guessed right, but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of a confirmation.
“You think we are putting up a show, Mario and I?” Callista curled her mouth in a scornful sneer. “I don’t know why I was so blinded not to have seen it, but you are indeed one pompous fellow, Chukwudi Udolisa. So you think I will waste my time to concoct a fanciful tale of being in a relationship with a man just to show off to you? Do I look like the sort of desperate and silly woman to do something like that?”
“Cally, I said enough with the game. Your man is back and all he wants is you.” He drew her to him. “If it makes you feel better, I will tell you that it worked. I was shocked and jealous the other night and quite mad at you yesterday.”
The confession and his hold didn’t give Callista the thrill she’d expected–maybe because she was already annoyed with him for being so conceited.
“It is you who need to stop with your self-delusion, Chukwudi.” She knocked off his hand and stepped away from him. “It’s over between us, I’ve moved on and in case you haven’t, I suggest you begin to do so now.”
“You moved on, with Mario your dear friend?” Chukwudi taunted, amused that she still persisted in her foolishness.
“Now he’s my dear lover.”
It was his turn to stare, to begin to doubt what he’d been so certain of. They couldn’t be serious–or could they?
“No, that’s impossible.” Chukwudi shook off the doubt, the worry, snagged her hand. “I know you, Cally, and you are all mine. Guess what? I am back as yours. This Christmas, you and I are going to reconnect again. You’ve missed me, haven’t you? That’s why you’re so intent on punishing me, because I’ve been away too long?”
The fact that she wanted to preen at his attention, believe every word he said and lean into him made Callista curse herself as she wrenched free. “Don’t put your hands on me ever again, Chukwudi, because you have no right. And how dare you, right here in front of my father’s house and at the full glare of anyone watching?”
“It’s because I missed you that I forgot myself.” Still a prude, Chukwudi thought, and became more certain she couldn’t have been with anyone else since he left. “But let me get your present. It will put a smile around that mouth you’re pouting.” He swept into his car, came out with a paper bag. “For you, my Cally.”
“Don’t call me that, I am not yours.” Once it had thrilled her, now she refused to let it do so. “Whatever is in there, thank you, but I don’t want it.”
“Don’t be silly. Take it, It’s a phone I bought for you.” To show her, and show off, Chukwudi dug out the phone case, opened and brought out the sleek, smartphone. “Infinix Hot 8. See how it gleams? I bet you want to feel it in your hand.” He held it out. “Touch it, see if you can resist it.”
Callista wanted, desperately, to feel it. She wanted even more desperately to take it, own it and kiss her old Tecno goodbye. But she didn’t have a price tag on her and she never would.
“I can resist it, because I’m not interested in it” she met his gaze and added for good measure. “Or interested in you anymore.”
It was neither the answer nor reaction Chukwudi was expecting. He’d expected, and was certain she would fly into his arms in delight and ecstasy. That she would confess she’d been trying to tease him and beg him to forgive her foolishness. But there she was watching him as if indeed she’d lost every interest in him.
“I bought this for you, Cally.” Did the woman know how much this cost him, plus the gifts he’d presented to her mother?
“And I thank you for it but cannot accept it.”
“Because of Mario?” It seemed inconceivable to Chukwudi that she would be rejecting him, and his present, over a fellow who owned a chemist. “You think he’s serious about you, that is if you two are together at all? You would choose him over me?”
“It’s not a matter of choosing one over the other, Chukwudi. You and I are done, and it’s him and I together now.”
“Well, I’m back now, so it can’t be you and him together. Yes, Cally, I came back so we can deal with our issues and get back together.”
“You said it earlier, didn’t you? I’ve never been known to come bearing gifts and yet here I am, and with so much.” Determined to have her back, Chukwudi ploughed on. “Don’t you wonder why? Well, let me tell you why, my dear Cally, it’s because I want you back. I did you wrong, made a mistake by allowing us to drift apart. Realising my mistake, I knew I had to handle this face to face. I came home earlier than I was meant to, because I couldn’t bear to be apart from you much longer.”
Callista gaped. She didn’t want to believe him, but he looked so earnest and she’d never really known him to blatantly lie.
“I don’t know exactly what is going on with Mario, but I ask you this: is he talking marriage?”
“What?” Callista blinked, tried to grasp his meaning. “Are you talking marriage yourself?”
“Yes. I am not just here so we can keep each other company for a while. I want to settle down–with you, Cally.” And there she was, Chukwudi thought when he saw the shock and confusion flickering in her eyes, his Cally, ever desperate for his love. “I know I hurt you and I’m sorry, but I’m here to make amends and to have you permanently in my life. Think about it.”
He gave her cheek a soft caress, got in his car and drove off.
Callista walked into the house in a daze. She found her mother in the kitchen.
“He said he wants to settle down with me.” It still sounded too unbelievable. “He said he’s sorry he hurt me. I don’t know if I believe him or not.” She peered at her mother. “Should I believe him?”
Ijeoma Okoli understood her daughter’s shock. Truth be told, what she was hearing, that Chukwudi Udolisa wanted to settle down with Callista, shocked her too. When they had been together, she hadn’t interfered even when she’d noticed how negligently he treated Callista because she’d hoped that a man like him showing interest in her would attract other men’s interest. It was the way of humans, interest attracted more of the same.
But now there was Mario Elue and though he was not as well to do as Chukwudi, Ijeoma Okoli considered him a better man for her daughter.
“It doesn’t matter if you believe him or not, what matters is you are with another man now, and you should make that clear to Chukwudi.”
But the other man wasn’t a real boyfriend, Callista thought. Mario was a fake she’d made up, but Chukwudi, was he being real?