He was taught to respect his elders and that lesson topped the reasons he had any for Ugo Chimokwu. At the moment though, it was a struggle to remember even that reason.
“A man cannot stand with others against his family. It’s not only that his mother is my sister. I’m what I am today because of his father. What you did was wrong, Mario, and you’re old enough to know every action has a consequence.”
“What he did was wrong, and the consequence of it was what I dealt him.” Mario met the eyes that lacked the courage he considered a worthy trait in a man. “It seems to me now that I dealt lightly with him. A foolish mistake.”
“Don’t talk arrogantly. The mistake was yours. A real man finds better ways to express his fury than using his fists.”
Only a real man would recognise one, Mario thought caustically. Aloud, he said in the same unruffled tone. “What is the purpose of this meeting, Chief? For I am sure you did not invite me over to reprove me for beating your nephew when he insulted a woman.”
“Your continued persistence in this prideful speech disappoints me, Mario,” Ugo Chimokwu said. “I thought you a decent, sensible man but you proved yourself to be no better than a ruffian without any self-control.”
“And your nephew, are you disappointed that he took delight in belittling a woman?”
“I am not disproving Chukwudi did any wrong. But as his friend, you–“
“We stopped being friends a long time ago.”
“Don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking, boy,” Ugo Chimokwu bit out. “Whether or not you stopped being friends, you are men, and men do not fight each other over a woman.”
“While I’m pressed to dispute your claim, I will instead clarify that we weren’t fighting over a woman. The woman was mine, your nephew insulted her, and the beating you’re so affronted over is my lesson to him never to mess with me, or mine.”
“Perhaps you should have learned that lesson first before trying to teach it to another.”
“Oh, I have mastered the lesson, and many others. And allow me the grace to point out that you should not confuse what you’re doing now with what I did.”
Ugo Chimokwu swore. “Arrogant chit! You should be begging me.”
“Why, Chief? What am I to beg you for?”
“Not to snatch the food from your table. Do you forget I have the power?”
“I think if any of us is forgetting something, it is you, Chief. You do not put food on my table. That I take care of myself.”
“And my property where you manage to achieve this aids in no way. Is this your thought?”
“Is that why I’m here, to discuss your property?” In an inquiring manner, Mario lifted his eyebrows. “Your focus on your nephew’s conduct had me confused.”
“If you’re confused, this then should clear your mind.” Ugo Chimokwu extracted an envelope from a folder he kept on the glass-top centre table. “You have three months to find another property where you can put food on your table.”
“Three months seems fair. I doubt though I would need all of it.” Unperturbed, not by act, but in reality, Mario stuffed the envelope in his pocket. “Would that be all, Chief?”
“You did not open it?”
“It’s an official notice to vacate your property, I understand this, and have in fact expected it.”
“Then you must have realised you went too far.”
“No, that is not why I expected it.” Mario held his gaze, and let the flicker of disappointment speak for itself.
Ugo Chimokwu had the grace to look discomforted. “I had no wish to do this. As a matter of fact, I had hoped I would not. If you had shown any remorse–“
“I am not remorseful. My only regret is not giving him a stiffer beating.”
“Then you must welcome the consequence of your action. You think you can easily find a property at a prime location which offers not only visibility, but also accessible traffic?”
“You doubt the possibility of finding another in this town?”
Ugo Chimokwu hissed at his nonchalance. “Properties at viable locations are all taken. It would be wise to rid yourself of this sudden arrogance. If you’re to make amends for your ill-judged action, I might be willing to withdraw the notice.”
“My action wasn’t ill-judged, and I’ve no need to make amends for it.” Offering an easy smile, Mario got up. “I think this ends our meeting, Chief. I’ll get back to my store while I still have it. Good day, sir.”
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
“Proverbs 16:18. I’m familiar with it. You should teach it to your nephew.” He paused to see annoyance flare into the other man’s eyes. Satisfied, he gave a nod. “I’ll see myself out, Chief.”
Outside the guesthouse where Ugo Chimokwu kept an office, Mario chuckled as he got in his car. So, Chukwudi Udolisa considered this the worst he could do.
Such a spineless wimp.
An hour later, and after he’d read the formal notice and dumped it in a drawer, the reason behind it strolled into his store.
Mario read his satisfaction in the cocky smile and added swagger to his gait. “Pleased with the outcome of having others fight your battles, I see. I was thinking though that little habit should have been one you outgrew.”
“If a thing serves its purpose, why outgrow it?” Smile broad and conceited, Chukwudi dismissed the jibe. “You did not expect it, did you? You thought it would be beneath me to ask my uncle to deal with you as you deserved.”
“Actually, I expected it. I recall you running home to your mother when you had a fist shoved in your face as a boy. And having your father evict a tenant because you had a quarrel with his son.” Mario reached over and took the notepad he’d picked up. “You’re still that spineless boy who starts a fight, but can’t finish it, Chukwudi.”
“Spineless, huh?” Anger flared into his eyes, but he grinned. Like a venomous snake, Mario thought. “We will see what you think when I’m done with you.”
“You mean this is not all you intend to do? Why, are you going to have the Obi banish me from the town?”
“You jest now, but you won’t find it a joke soon. You think you’re smart, Mario Elue. But what you are, is a fool for believing women to be loyal creatures.”
“I think it’s time you get out of my store.”
“Don’t be such an idiot,” Chukwudi hissed. “Any man with half a sense knows that women are loyal only to their mercenary desires. They want money, and they want it where it abounds.”
“You’re asking for another beating, Chukwudi. While I’m willing to accommodate you, it’s getting late and I wish to close my store.”
“She will leave you. Mark my words. You think a woman like her won’t have the guts to do it, don’t you?” The smile around his mouth twisted with scorn. “Well, she will, because unlike you, she won’t care to save your face. She’s a woman, and they think only of themselves.”
“Go home and sicken the females in your family with this hogwash, I have no interest in your opinions. But I do have a warning.” Mario leaned his head forward so they were face to face. “Keep away from Cally. Walk away when you see her. Far away.”
“Oh my, I just got an unofficial restraining order.” Chukwudi bellowed out a laugh. “It’s pitiful the way you’re so protective of her. I actually feel sorry for you because I know, in truth, the kind of woman she is. Hey, I don’t mean that as an insult, so don’t start a fight. Buy you will see soon enough how right I am.”
“Get out. And as long as my store is here, you’re barred entrance.”
“I’m going, so chill.” He pushed off the chair, shot him a grin as he said, “Remember how I told you women prefer men like me? You will have the proof of it in a matter of hours.”
“Keep away from her, Chukwudi Udolisa.”
“What should worry you, is if she can keep away from me?” Shooting him a wink, Chukwudi turned, whistling as he strolled out of the store.
A minute after he was gone, Mario was still unable to rid himself of the wave of uneasiness he’d deftly hidden. Chukwudi Udolisa was vindictive as long as he had someone to carry out his mean acts of malice. Had he been hasty in dismissing the threats he’d made to Callista?
If he meant to punish them, it couldn’t only be with this quit notice, could it?
Mario dug his phone out of his pocket, dialled Callista’s number. It rang out without her picking. He called her again, and it was the same.
Stop it, he told himself, cutting off his second redial. He was letting Chukwudi get to him, which was exactly what the jackass wanted. Callista would call him when she saw his missed calls, and she would be all right.
But he couldn’t quite restore calm into himself as he went home. And it got worse when he drove to her home, and her mother said she hadn’t come back yet.
Short of calling Jebolisa to inquire if she was there, and acting like a demented, possessive lover, he left her a message for her to call him as soon as she was home.
If anything happened to her…
Mario stopped the thought because he couldn’t bear to think it. But he knew he would make Chukwudi Udolisa pay. And not just with a beating.