She woke up with a numbing headache coming right from the back of her head to converge on her temples. Wincing, Callista supported her head with both hands as she bundled herself up to a sitting position.
What time could it be? she wondered, patting around for her phone.
The unfamiliar feel underneath her fingers ticked off her memory, and it struck her that she wasn’t on her bed. It couldn’t be morning–or perhaps it was. But she’d been captured by ritual killers, the bike man and another man, and they must have brought her here.
But where was here?
“I’ve a feeling you’re thinking of screaming. I’ll advise you don’t unless you want the kind of attention you shouldn’t be getting in your present state.”
“Chukwudi?” Callista turned, whimpered at the pain which burst through her eyes, and blinked several times before focusing on him. “What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you to wake up. I wondered if they put you in a coma.” He grinned as if the thought was amusing. “Anyway, I think you should dress up, so we can get on with business. Unless you prefer to be naked, then…” The grin turned lascivious.
But she wasn’t paying attention to the leering smile.
“Naked?” Alarmed, Callista looked down at herself, and then yelped as she scrambled to drag the sheet over her. “Oh my God, what did you do to me?”
“Undressed you and took a few pictures,” Chukwudi told her. “I have to tell you, you don’t have a photogenic body. All thin muscles, and barely any curves. Not feminine at all. It’s why I could never find you attractive. No one can.”
Callista gaped at him in horror, gripping the sheet tightly to her body. “You took pictures of me? While I was naked?”
“It wouldn’t have the effect I desire if you were dressed.” He shrugged as he lazily crossed one leg over the arm of the chair. “You shouldn’t look scandalised as if I’ve not seen you naked before.”
“Why would you take pictures of me naked? It is…horrendous. Why have you brought me here? What is going on?”
“Uh, you know what? I’d prefer if you get back into your clothes. Something about you awake and naked on that bed is playing with my mind.”
The suggestive leer on his face sparked disgust, and terror, into her. “Don’t you dare come near me!”
“If you don’t want me to, then put your clothes on.”
“Step out of the room and I will.”
“Whatever for? I’ve seen all there is to see on your body, so what’s the modesty for now?” Chukwudi was genuinely baffled. “Or could it be you’re thinking of a way of escape?”
It hadn’t occurred to her, but it did now. “You may have undressed me and taken pictures of me while I was unconscious, but I refuse to dress up in front of you. I won’t do it.”
“Oh yes, you will. Or I will do it for you.” He flung to his feet, and ordered when she screamed. “Shut up! You think anyone is coming in here until I’m done with you?”
“Oh my God! Where’s this place?” Frantically, she looked around the room. A television set mounted on the wall. A refrigerator, the armchair and bed. The ordered, neat look. “Is this a hotel room? You brought me to your uncle’s guest house?”
“Smart girl. Now, you understand why screaming down the walls won’t do you any good. Besides,” he grinned as he flashed his phone. “I’m sure you don’t want everyone to see what I have in here.”
Callista went completely cold. “Why are you doing this, Chukwudi? What are you doing?”
“Get dressed and I will explain.” Since she didn’t move, Chukwudi repeated himself. In an ominous voice. “Get dressed.”
Tears welled up, but crying would be pointless. Telling herself not to think about it, Callista let go of the sheet, got off the bed, and making sure not to look his way, she walked to where he’d dumped her clothes and picked them up.
She dressed with a haste she’d never before applied. Then taking a deep breath, she made herself look at him. “I’m done.”
“You forgot your sandals. Put them on.”
She found the pair a step away from the door, and slipped them on.
“Now, you sit on the bed and listen.”
She did as he instructed.
“I see how you’re trying to remain calm. That’s good, as being agitated won’t solve anything.”
“Tell me why you’re doing this, Chukwudi.”
“Surely you can guess? I told you I will punish you for your repeated insults to me.”
“That’s what this is about?” Shell shocked, Callista gaped. “You had me kidnapped–“
“Hey, I didn’t have you kidnapped,” Chukwudi corrected with a shake of the head. “I only hired people to bring you here.”
“Taking someone against their will is kidnap, Chukwudi.”
“I disagree. Anyway, you being here is the first of your punishments for daring to think you can treat Chukwudi Udolisa as if he’s a nobody. I tried to make up for my neglecting you, but you were all snooty and superior. You, a small town hairdresser.” His face twisted into a sneer. “Well, your day of retribution begins today. I did tell you I will make you pay, didn’t I?”
“You took pictures of me. What are they for?”
“Blackmail,” Chukwudi said, and chuckled at her gasp. “You’re going to do everything I tell you to, or these pictures will become the properties of the world wide web. Do you know what happens to things on the Internet? They are at the reach of anyone, and everyone.”
Her teeth began to chatter. “You can’t do this,” she whispered hoarsely.
“Yes, I can. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Even a broadcast on WhatsApp. I will create a fake account, upload them and tag all the dear people we know–and those we don’t.”
“You can’t do this, Chukwudi.” Tears slipped. She couldn’t stop them. “You just can’t do this.”
“Oh but I can. The entire world is going to see you in your truest form, no holds barred. Want to have a preview?” He swung over, set the phone in front of her, and started swiping. “You see yourself, Cally? Naked as the day you were born, only you’re not a cute little baby. You’re a full grown woman, so your nudity is a thing of shame, not delight like a baby’s.”
He’d taken pictures of her in different postures. And in all, she was stark naked. It was mortifying to look at the pictures and know he’d seen her this way when she was in her most vulnerable state–and he intended for others to do the same.
“What do you want?” Nauseated, she turned her gaze away from the humiliating pictures to him. “What do you want from me?”
“Break up with Mario Elue.”
“What? This…you did this just so I will break up with Mario?”
He nodded. “That’s all I want. But you will do it following my specific instructions.”
“You did all of this–kidnap me, violate my rights by undressing me while I was unconscious and taking nude pictures of me just because you want me to break up with Mario?” Was he insane?
Callista wanted to grab him and demand if he was mad. But she didn’t want to touch him. She couldn’t bear any physical contact between them. Not ever again.
“You two have been all over each other these last few days. Oh yes, I’ve had my eyes on you lovebirds.” Chukwudi snorted out a laugh. “He’s the kind of man you’ve secretly been wishing for, isn’t he?”
Callista stared at him. How could she not have known that she was dating a lunatic egomaniac menace?
“Answer me. He’s your kind of man, isn’t he?”
“Yes. He’s the man you could never be.”
“Watch that insolent tongue of yours, or I will increase my demands. And I promise you, you won’t like the things I’d ask for if you annoy me.”
Realising it wasn’t an empty threat, Callista held in another caustic retort.
“You will go to him tomorrow morning, before he leaves for that miserable store of his.” Seeing again how it would be in his mind, Chukwudi started to pace the room as he detailed his instructions. “Be sure you have witnesses. His family, a neighbour or two if you can manage it, and tell him you don’t want to be with him anymore.”
“No sane person breaks up a relationship publicly.”
“He gave you a public honour at the bush bar. I want you to give him a public dishonour at his family home.”
“Why? What does it matter if I do it privately or in public? He’s going to be hurt either way, and that’s what you want, isn’t it?”
Chukwudi shot her a glare over his shoulder. “Argue with me again and I’ll decide you do the breakup scene at the bar. Or any place equally as public.”
Callista opened her mouth, and then clamped it shut.
“That’s better. Keep that blabbing mouth of yours shut. Now, he will want a reason for you breaking up with him, and you’re going to tell him I came to ask your forgiveness, which led you to realise you still have feelings for me.”
“Yes. I apologised, and seeing you’re still in love with me, you want us back together.”
“I never was in love with you.”
“You are now.”
“No. No, I can’t do it. I can’t hurt him in this way. Tell me to do anything, but don’t ask me to hurt him like this.” Or in any way at all.
“I’m not asking you. I am telling you what you’re going to do. If you fail, or do it any other way, I will have these pictures published online by tomorrow evening. And, Cally?” He slowly smiled. “I will know how you did it because you’re going to give me a call as soon as you’re in his yard, and keep me on the line until your breakup drama is done.”
“No? You prefer these pictures out there? As you wish.” He started tapping on his phone. “We’ll begin with Facebook, I think.”
For a minute, Callista stared as his fingers swept across the screen of his phone. She told herself it wouldn’t matter. It wasn’t the first time it was happening. Not that many people knew her. More than half the people who would view the pictures didn’t know her. A few days, at best, and it would blow over.
“Stop!” She leapt forward and grabbed his hand. Then as if it burned her, let it go instantly. “Don’t do it. Please. Please, don’t do it, Chukwudi.”
“Do as I say, and I won’t do it.”
Tears burned out of her eyes as she nodded.
“For now, go home. Don’t see him, don’t speak to him. No calls, no text messages, no chatting. Go mute on him until you see him tomorrow morning. Understand?”
She nodded again.
“Good. I’ve saved my number in your phone book–saw you deleted it. Which entirely was malicious of you. Still, I must congratulate you on the new gadget. Little wonder you were snotty about accepting mine. Or was it a gift from your lover?” Chukwudi peered at her. Then he grinned at her sullen silence. “No matter. Time for you to go.”
“What will you do with the pictures?”
“You follow my instructions, I delete them. Simple and straightforward.” He gestured to the door. “Time to go. Staying longer is likely to give me the impression you want me to get you naked again–and do something this time.”
Recoiling from his leering grin, Callista followed him to the door and took the purse he held out to her.
“Oh, Cally?” Chukwudi stopped her with a last warning. “Make it convincing. If I don’t find it good enough, I will release these pictures. Don’t think too to tell him anything other than what I told you to say. Neither him, nor anyone else, can help you. Got that?”
Callista didn’t respond, only walked out.
And she walked all the way home. By the time she entered the house, she’d cried out all her tears.
“Why are you home late?” her mother demanded.
Callista didn’t look at her. “I went somewhere.”
“Where? But my goodness, you look exhausted. Was it a hectic day?”
“No, I’ve a headache. I’m going to have a bath and go to bed.”
“Mario was here. Hours ago. He asked that you call him when you got back. Is it his place you’re coming from?”
“No. I will call him. Good night, Mama.” She escaped before she asked anymore questions.
In her bedroom, she sat on the bed and started crying again, realising her well of tears was likely never to dry up. Not with the trouble she was in.