Callista was in the process of closing when she strolled in, a lofty expression on her face as she gave the place a condescending look-around.
“Did you miss your way?” she asked, her eyebrows arching inquiringly.
“No, I did not. I want my hair done, and came here as Felicia is not open.” Regally, as she tended to carry herself before other females, Adanma drew out a chair and sank into it. “I see you’ve made some changes in the years since I was last here.”
Callista ignored the snooty observation. “You will have to find another stylist as I’m closing up.” She locked the cabinet she kept her combs and brushes, extracted her purse and padlocks from another cabinet. “Go on. I’m in a hurry to get home.”
“Is this the way you treat your clients these days?” Adanma clucked her tongue. “Little wonder Felicia is doing better than you even though you opened business before her.”
“Is she?” Seeing through the bait, Callista smiled and headed towards the door. “Unless you want me to lock you in, you will get off my seat and out of here.”
“Please, I need your help.”
The sudden plea stopped her from slapping off the second light switch.
She turned to Adanma who’d swivelled the chair around and was now facing Callista with a pleading expression on her face. “You are begging?”
“Obviously,” Adanma snapped. Then she aimed a contrite look. “Sorry for my sharp tone. It’s just that I’m desperate. I have a party to attend tomorrow, and confident I would find Felicia at her salon, I took off the weave I had on, washed my hair and prepared to re-style it. Only she wasn’t open, and now I’m stuck with coming to you.”
“You’re stuck with coming to me.” Callista laughed. The woman required some humbling. “No, you’re not stuck. You have plenty of choices. Seek a salon still open, take a bus to Ibusa or even Asaba if you’re not satisfied with services rendered here. Or…” Now, she grinned. “Wear your natural hair. Looks nice enough, even if your front line’s completely gone.
“You silly…” The outburst was hastily cut short. “We’re not friends, Cally, and you don’t owe me any favours. But my hair’s in a sorry state, and you must know I can’t attend a party looking like this.”
“I don’t see why not. It’s your hair and you should be proud of it.”
“Unfortunately, I’m not as it is an embarrassment. Are you going to do your job or not, and fix me a new weave?”
“No. Not when you’re so rude.” She turned out the light, and headed for the door. “Come out now. I’m eager to get home.”
There was a hiss, a mutter, before she heard the words she didn’t think she would hear.
“Please, Cally. Don’t walk away. Help me, please. I will pay extra charges if you want.”
She didn’t want extra charges. The low, pleading voice was enough.
“Fine.” She turned and put back on all the lights. “But it will have to be a simple style. I’m not going to waste hours here working on a complicated style.”
“Just centre-parting, all-back.” Adanma handed over the hair extension.
Callista eyed the pricey weaves and then her smug smile. Why did both suddenly make her feel suspicious?
Since she couldn’t find the answer to her question, she ordered, “Sit then. We’re not going to get it done standing.”
“Of course not,” Adanma said, sat and tilted up her neck for Callista to slip on the cape. “Ndidi not here today? That’s your apprentice’s name, is it not?”
“She’s not an apprentice,” Callista said shortly.
“Oh, I thought she was. She works for you then. Felicia has three girls working for her.”
What Felicia had was two apprentices and a cousin who sometimes helped out at the salon. But Callista chose to ignore her.
“I’m sure you do just fine with only Ndidi given your small customer base. Anyway, how’s Mario? I hear you and he are now an item.”
Since she couldn’t take a hint, Callista decided to make it clear. “We’re not going to pretend to have small talk, Adanma. Just sit quietly and let me do my job.”
“And you say I’m rude?” she muttered. Then lifted her shoulders. “Well, whatever. I don’t need to talk to you.”
She started to hum. And when the mournful sounds, which grated on Callista’s nerves, weren’t enough for her, she switched to singing in a whispery voice. An overly seductive whispery voice.
If she was a man, she probably would have been impressed. But she wasn’t, so Callista ignored her until she was done. Which was another hour and forty minutes, because the stupid woman stopped her halfway with a complaint that it was too tight.
And she had to loosen and redo all she had done.
No amount of money was worth that sort of stress, Callista thought as she stuck the money she paid into her purse. “Now, get on with you. And next time, book an appointment with your stylist before you start feeling like you command her time.”
“I will keep your advice in mind.” Peering into the mirror, Adanma made a tsk. “This is not at all finely done. Felicia has a better hand.”
“Want to sit, so I can loosen it?” She was willing to waste that time.
“I will manage it for tomorrow.” Tossing her sneer, Adanma flounced out.
“Foolish girl. Not even a thanks. Felicia has a better hand. If I hear.” Callista hissed, cleared out her tables, turned out the lights and locked her doors.
As she flagged down a commercial bike, she contemplated calling Mario to know if he was home.
No, she would go home. If he wanted to see her, he should come over. It never paid for a woman to be overly available. She’d learned that lesson now.
Calling out her destination, she relaxed behind the bike man to enjoy the cool evening breeze. The harmattan had been stronger this year, so the air was cooler than usual. She liked it. What she couldn’t stand was too much heat, and that would be coming with a vengeance as the month of January rolled into February.
“Why are you going this way?” she asked, noting he’d gone off the main street into a side lane.
It was a street that led into a series of farm pathways. Itself was no better than a pathway, motorable only up to a point before it turned into a bumpy, erosion-ridden street most people avoided.
“There’s a get-together going on along your street and they’ve blocked off the way with canopies.”
“There is?” She hadn’t heard anything about a get-together happening, but blocking off streets was a regular occurrence. “They can’t keep doing things like this. It’s not right. What of car owners needing to get home? They should park their cars in other people’s yards and walk home on foot?”
Since the bike man didn’t offer any response to her rant, she switched to a complaint that concerned him. “But if you knew the street was blocked, why go this way instead of going through the primary school where the path is not as narrow, or bumpy?” And not as isolated, she added to herself, irritated.
“I didn’t remember the blockage on time.”
He didn’t remember on time, Callista thought grumpily, such a poor excuse. He should have his mind alert when on the road, shouldn’t he?
Then she stifled a chuckle and told herself she was being unkind because he hadn’t said anything to her complaints. Anyone could be forgetful.
“Sorry. You don’t mind if I stop to relieve myself, do you?”
Well, he wasn’t only forgetful. He was a time-waster too.
“Go on,” she said with more graciousness than she felt.
He stopped the bike by the side of a crooked farm pathway, climbed off and hurried towards the bushes. Good mannered, Callista turned her back to him to afford him privacy. She sincerely hoped he meant to pee, not do the major.
There wasn’t a house close by, but a car was parked a little away from them. A man, or woman, seeking too to relieve themself in the bushes?
Or maybe one with a farm close by.
She frowned into the shadowy darkness, wondering why she wasn’t hearing the sound of someone peeing. Was he done then?
Aiming a cautious glance across her shoulder, she saw the bike man, and another man approaching. The owner of the car?
But he didn’t turn in the direction of the car. Like the bike man, he kept on towards her, his attention focused on her. Neither spoke to the other, but something about their matched steps said they had the same intention.
The same hostile intention.
Her scream was instinctive, and so was the leap to run. But her foot had only taken a step before one of the men clasped a hand over her mouth, and a hard object hit the back of her head.
Ritual killers was her last conscious thought as Callista crumbled against a hard body.