They had more clients than they usually did in a day as it was only two days to Christmas. The evening, and tomorrow, would be busier, Callista knew, but she was grateful for the short break they were having with the salon presently empty.
It wasn’t empty for long, and she hadn’t even began to take the nap she so craved when Jebolisa strolled in.
“Cally, could you allow Ndidi run an errand for me?” she asked just as she plonked into the chair right beside her.
“If it wouldn’t take her too long as we are having a busy day,” Callista said.
“No, it won’t. I only want her to deliver this to Mummy Anieke at Aboh.” She nodded to the textile bag she’d dumped by her chair. “I would have gone myself, but I’m not feeling too well.”
“Oh, what’s wrong?” Callista asked, concerned at once.
“A mix of fatigue and headache. Nothing overly serious. I don’t just want to aggravate it.” Jebolisa held out the bag and some money. “Here, Ndidi. Please, help me deliver this to her. I’ve given her a call and she’s expecting it. This will do for transport fare, and a bottle of malt when you’re done.”
The promise of a drink brought a beam to Ndidi’s face. “Thank you, Aunty Jebo. I won’t be long, Aunty Cally,” she said, already heading out.
“You won’t be, if you want that Christmas bonus,” Callista said, knowing Ndidi would otherwise while away the time if she didn’t add the warning.
Looking closely at Jebolisa, she frowned. “Are you sure it’s nothing serious? You’re looking wan.”
“Just fatigue, like I said.” Jebolisa paused, and then shrugged. “I’m pregnant, so it’s taking that initial toll on me.”
“Oh my goodness, you’re having a baby?” Instantly filled with delight, Callista sprang up to give her a hug. “A sibling for Nma, but that’s wonderful news. Ah, that explains why you stuck to soft drinks all through the party last night.”
Jebolisa grinned, as the news had her quite excited too. “That’s right. I’m hoping it will be a boy this time. David doesn’t care one way or the other. He’s just pleased with the prospect of having another child to fawn over.”
“That’s how it should be. It’s having a baby that’s the blessing, not what gender the baby is.”
“I know. But I want a boy as I’m considering stopping after this one. David and I talked of three when we discussed children before marriage, but I’ve found I might not have the energy to deal with more. One child demands so much out of you, let alone three.”
Grimacing, Jebolisa adjusted so she could stretch her legs across a stool. “Anyway, how are you? Last night was such a mess. I mean, after that stupid Chukwudi swaggered in to sputter all the nonsense in his mouth.”
“I’m fine. I freely confess it was a moment of utter mortification for me, but I’m over it now.”
“The arrogant fool. I wish Buchi left Mario to beat him some more before he separated their fight.” Offended for her friend’s sake, as she would be for any other woman, Jebolisa hissed. “I hope that after his uncle’s birthday celebration this evening, he will pack up and go back to wherever it is he snuck from.”
“I don’t care what he does, or doesn’t do from now onwards, Jebo. Last night, I realised that I allowed into my life a self-absorbed, shallow man who never had even the smallest regard for me.”
Because it was a past she was determined to put behind her, Callista didn’t allow the feeling of self-blame to take root. “All the same, from now onwards, I won’t spare him even the slightest thought. He no longer exists for me, and that’s final.”
“I say good for you,” Jebolisa approved.
“Yes, good for me.” Callista gave a nod. “I only wish I snapped out of my state of shock and shame last night to give him a piece of my mind.”
“You shouldn’t worry about that. Mario defended well your honour, and we were all there to witness it.”
“So he did,” Callista agreed, sat back and murmured after a pause. “But he didn’t mean it, you know.”
“He didn’t mean what?” Jebolisa asked, rising to get herself a water sachet from the cooler Callista kept in a corner.
“What he said about wanting to marry me. Well, he did mean it,” Callista amended. “But not because he wants to marry me for real. I mean, he does want to marry me. But–“
“One more but, and you will have me as confused as you have yourself,” Jebolisa muttered.
Callista chuckled at her mildly irritated tone. “I am not confused. I am making a muck of what I want to say because I’d promised Mario I won’t talk about it. But it’s you, and you know the true situation.”
“I’m sure I don’t know this situation, so tell me.”
“He said it to save my face. And he means to do it for same reason.”
“Mmm.” Jebolisa finished her water as she tried to make sense of what her friend was saying. “You’re saying that Mario said he intends to marry you because of the insulting statements that fool Chukwudi made?”
Callista nodded. “That’s what I’m saying.”
“And he would do as he’d said because he doesn’t want you shamed in future?”
“You get it exactly.”
“I think I do,” Jebolisa agreed, rose to dump the sachet in the bin. “He was only being a good friend. That’s what you are saying.”
“Yes. No. Well,” Callista frowned, shrugged. “We are kind of more than friends now. We are dating–for real.”
“Well, well, well.” Again, Jebolisa sat back on her chair, stretched out her legs, a knowing smile coming around her mouth. “And this new phase of your relationship started before last night, did it?”
“Yes, we agreed to…” Noting the significant gleam in her eyes, and Callista shook her head. “Don’t read meaning into this when I’m telling you there’s no need to. Yes, we’re now a couple, and Mario means to marry me, but I won’t let him.”
“You won’t let him because you’re convinced he would be making the sacrifice only as a friend.” Jebolisa cocked her head to the side, studied her friend, and wondered how she could still be so innocent. “Except, two of you are no longer just friends, and are in a relationship that might end up naturally in marriage.”
“It might, but Mario didn’t know that when he made his declaration last night. What I’m saying, Jebo, is that I don’t want to take advantage of him.” Callista was starting to think she should have let this be, as making Jebo understand was becoming impossible. “And I don’t want to marry a man who only wants to marry me because he wants to shield me from pain and disgrace.”
“Have you asked yourself why a man would be desperate to shield you from pain and disgrace, as you put it?”
“Because that man is Mario, and we both know how caring he is.”
“He’s not being caring. He cares for you,” Jebolisa retorted. “Cally, I was there. I saw for myself the way he was with you throughout the evening. His gaze stayed on you. When it deviated for any reason, it returned with such haste as if he couldn’t bear to have you out of his sight. He was like a man burning with a secret hunger. He wanted you, and he didn’t care to hide the fact.”
A tingle shot through her, but Callista told herself to stay sane, and smart. “Yes, he wants me. But sexual desire isn’t a good enough reason for marriage.”
“What makes you think it’s only sexual desire he feels?”
“What else could it be when a man can’t take his eyes off you? I know he likes me, but I think desires me even more, and frankly, I’m a little alarmed that he suddenly feels this way. Not because I’m confused why he should find me desirable,” Callista explained.
“I will never again think of myself as unappealing. But it’s the quickness with which it’s happening that bothers me. I’ve known him for many years and he never felt anything like that for me, and now I’m worried where it’s all coming from.”
“I see,” Jebolisa said, thinking that Callista liked to complicate matters. “Let me ask you a question. Are your feelings for Mario still the same, or has anything changed?”
“I don’t know.” But Callista frowned. “Or, maybe I do know, but I’m not just quite sure what it is I feel now for him. I seem to be more aware of him, and in a way I never was before. I like it when he looks at me with that intent gleam in his eyes like he’s wanting to do more than look.”
Jebolisa grinned. “He most likely wants to.”
“Maybe he does.” And the thought of it now made her quiver. “But the thing is I have all this quivery feelings, and I keep wondering where they sprang from, or where they were before now.”
“Buried inside you,” Jebolisa said. “He was your friend, and you taught yourself to not feel anything stronger than like for him, as he taught himself. But now, when you see him in a different light, what lay dormant awakens.”
“Can it be that simple?” Callista wondered.
“Must it be hard and strenuous before we believe it’s real?” Jebolisa asked. “He stood up for you. He fought for you like a man would the woman he loves. In the presence of others, he showed his regard for you. You see a friend, or maybe now, a boyfriend. I see a man who deeply cares for you.”
Cared for her enough for marriage?
“I see a man, the kind of man, you deserve,” Jebolisa went on, her tone determined. “You’re like a fisherman who cast his net and caught a big fish. Why cast back the fish because you’re wondering if it’s yours to keep?”
“I don’t quite like this analogy. I don’t want to be the fisherman. I want to be hunted, not hunting.”
“Fine, you be the fish, and he, the fisherman. If he’s caught you in his net, why do you want to wriggle back into the ocean? Cally,” Jebolisa leaned forward, so they stared at each other closely. “Don’t ruin a God-sent chance with too many questions and doubts. Mario’s just the kind of man who will suit you.”
“But of course. He knows you, cares for you, and in time, he will learn to love you. I am confident of that.”
“All right. But if I don’t learn to love him. What if, at the end of the day, he’s not what I want?” Callista shook her head to stop any hasty argument. “Jebo, it’s taken me a long while to see and acknowledge my worth beyond my physique. I am gaining a new confidence in myself, and I never again want to short change myself because I’m scared I might lose a good man. Or, any man at all.”
“Do you think you will be short changing yourself where Mario’s concerned?”
“I don’t know,” Callista said honestly. “But I’d like to find out. In the meantime, he wants us to leave the matter of his declaration last night as it is. I’d suggested we find a way to tell everyone the truth. He said to leave it be, and in future, I could say I refused his proposal.”
“He said that, did he?” Slowly, Jebolisa smiled. “My dear friend, I hope you’ll see soon enough what I’m able to see seated on my lowly wise seat.”
Callista snorted. “Lowly wise seat indeed.”