“I heard you were fighting in a bar.”
Lucius Elue only spoke his mind when he considered it the right time to do so. And he’d decided now was the right time to discuss what he’d heard three days ago.
“Fighting with Chukwudi Udolisa.”
“You heard right. He made insulting remarks about the woman I was with–Cally, actually–and I needed to teach him a lesson.”
“With your fists?”
Mario met his father’s arched gaze without flinching. “They seemed to be the only way.”
There was a short moment of silence before Lucius Elue said, “That may be so. But he shared the matter with his uncle, and the latter called my attention to it, his displeasure at what transpired obvious.”
“I am sorry if the Obi is unhappy that I dealt his nephew a few punches for insulting a woman. But if he does it again, the same shall happen–or worse.”
“I wasn’t referring to the Obi. He, I’m sure, has more important things to concern himself with, than his young nephew fighting,” Lucius Elue said mildly. Like his mother, Mario tended to be amenable until he lost his temper. “It’s Ugo Chimokwu, his mother’s brother, I was speaking of. You do not forget his your landlord, do you?”
“No, I don’t. But that changes nothing. Is he going to give me a quit notice because I beat up his nephew?”
“He might. Ugo Chimokwu is not known for his wisdom and sense of justice.”
His father was right, Ugo Chimokwu, from whom he’d rented the store was not a fair man. While they’d never had any issues, Mario knew he could not expect fair judgement from him if this became an issue.
“I can’t say I’m looking forward to losing the location where my store is.” Whatever disquiet he was feeling, Mario didn’t allow it reflect in his quiet voice. “But if it comes to that, then so be it.”
Again, his father studied him. Mario knew he was assessing the realness of his nonchalance.
“I heard something else,” he said at length, obviously letting the matter go. “That you’re talking of marriage to Callista.”
Since he’d known he would someday soon discuss this subject with his father, Mario merely shrugged. “I did say I will marry her, and I meant it. She, though, is yet to accept my proposal.”
“Mmm.” His father jerked a nod. “The way I heard it, you made your declaration after your fight with Chukwudi Udolisa. Now I’m asking if you really want her for your wife?”
Across the centre table, which separated them, his father stared intently into his eyes. The scrutinising stare brought to Mario’s notice the fact that he was yet to question his true desire on the matter after his talk with Callista that night.
One thing alone was clear to him, that he didn’t want her hurt or shamed in any way. If that would mean marriage to her, then he would marry her, and never regret it.
“I do want her for my wife,” he said finally, ignoring the part of him that ticked with worry. “If she accepts my proposal, I will be happy to marry her.”
It struck Lucius Elue that his son did not use the word ‘love’. It’s a word he’d never heard him use the few times they’d talked about any woman he was dating. If he’d done so now, he would have felt better at ease.
But the boy was no longer a boy. He was a grown man, and he could only accept and respect his wishes.
“If you’re serious about wedding her,” he counselled. “Then you should woo her to accept you as a husband.”
“That is what I’m doing, wooing her,” Mario said now with a smile. “It’s turning out a pleasurable exercise.”
“I was talking more of courting to win her heart, not seduction,” his father said, rightly recognising the gleam in his eyes for what it was. “Anyway, are you still insisting on not joining us to go see your grandmother?”
“I’ll see her on New Year’s Day. Tell her it’s a promise.”
“As you wish.” Lucius Elue pushed to his feet. “I’ll go get dressed.”
“Right,” Mario said, rising to return to his flat. “I’ll see you people before you leave.”
He was in his kitchen, working his way through the meal he was determined to prepare for Callista when Ifeoma came in.
“You guys ready to go?” he asked her.
“In a few minutes. Mama’s still getting dressed, which has Papa muttering under his breath.” Ifeoma walked over to turn down the heat under the plantain he was frying. “Less heat makes it better.”
“It was fine just the way I set it,” Mario returned.
“I hear you.” She stepped back to the door, propped a shoulder against it. “I heard your talk with Papa.”
“Eavesdropping, were you?”
“You know I wouldn’t do that. I was in my room, and overheard the conversation.” She allowed a brief pause. “It seems your relationship with Cally has progressed. Are you certain now what you feel for her?”
“I am certain I like her. I am certain I desire her. I am certain I want to be with her.”
“How about love?” Unlike her father, Ifeoma was worried enough to ask.
Mario scooped out the last of the plantain before he responded, “I expect love will come. Everything doesn’t have to happen at the same time, does it?”
“No. But you’re talking of marriage already. Will you marry her without love?”
Mario bit back a sigh of impatience. “Not all marriages are based on love, Ifeoma. And you should know that most people who talk about love don’t even know what it means.”
“So you don’t want to marry for love?”
Since her voice had tightened more with worry, Mario turned to face her. “Let this be, Ifeoma. Cally and I are getting to know each other more every day, and I’m sure love will come naturally.”
“And if it doesn’t, will you still marry her as you have publicly declared that you would?”
“Yes. Whatever happens, whatever I’m feeling, or not feeling, if Cally chooses to accept me, I will marry her.”
“If she chooses?”
“Am I wrong in my assumption that a man proposes, and it is for the woman to accept or refuse?” Mario asked, his exasperation plain as he returned attention to his cooking.
“No, that is the way of it. Look, Mario, I know it’s none of my business, and you’re a man who can make his own decisions, but loves makes a difference in any relationship. In marriage, it helps to make the burdens that come with it easier to bear.”
“I know you’re a teacher, but I wasn’t aware your area of expertise is relationship and marriage.”
Though his tone was teasing, Ifeoma could tell her brother was becoming irritated with her probing.
“You know I’m right,” she said quietly.
“I know you shouldn’t worry your head over nothing.” Letting out a sigh, Mario turned to take her hand and nudged her out of the kitchen. “Whatever happens, I won’t be making a mistake. Of that I am certain.”
“So long as you’re not going to mortgage your happiness to protect Cally, I will have no reason to worry.”
Mario lifted his eyebrows. “I thought, last time, you were worried about me hurting her.”
“I still am. I don’t want you to hurt her. But neither do I want you hurt.” She clutched his hands. “Both of you have a right to enjoy a loving relationship, so don’t short change yourselves to prove anything to anyone.”
“And that is not what we’re doing. Now, go help Mama finish with her dressing before she drives poor Papa crazy.” None too gently, he shoved her through the door. “Call out when you’re leaving.”
“She’s the reason you’re choosing not to go with us, isn’t it? All this elaborate cooking is for Cally.”
“You caught me. Now, run along.”
He shut the door in her face, marched back to the kitchen, and grabbed the ladle to check the water content in the coconut rice.
And he made sure he kept every unnecessary thought at bay. He would worry about love, marriage–and the possibility of losing his store later. Much later.