She didn’t sleep all through the night, and felt utterly drained by morning. But she tried to hide her fatigue and helpless grief behind light makeup and a nice look.
Why she bothered, Callista couldn’t fathom, except probably some terrified part of her mind didn’t want to give Chukwudi any reason to decide she didn’t play her part well enough.
She left home at seven-fifteen, knowing Mario usually opened the store between eight and eight-thirty; and walked a fair distance until she found a bike rider she knew before getting on one.
Her mind ran riot with a myriad of options. She would tell Mario the truth and together, they would confront Chukwudi. Or, she could go to the police and report him for physical assault, kidnap and blackmail. Or, she could go back, face him and let him know she would not yield to blackmail. Or, go to the elders and chiefs, and have the matter brought before the Obi.
Or, she could go back home, lie down and wait for death.
A myriad of options, but by the time she stood in front of Lucius Elue’s stone-brick house, Callista knew she had only one option. The only one she could live with.
In front of the front door, she debated for a full minute before she took out her phone, dialled his number, and when she heard him pick up, clasped the phone in her palm and knocked.
Then she inhaled, blinked back all her tears and waited for the door to open, praying no one should open it.
Ifeoma did, after about half a minute.
“Cally, it’s you,” she said, offering a greeting with a friendly smile. The smile quickly switched to concern though. “Are you ill? You’re not looking good.”
So much for makeup and a nice look. “Only a headache. Is Mario home?”
“Yes, he’s actually at the backyard with Mama.” But Ifeoma wasn’t convinced it was only a headache that gave her this hollow-eyed look. “Are you sure you’re not coming down with a serious sickness? I would suggest you go to the hospital. You’re not looking well at all, Cally.”
They’d always been friendly. Their common ground as sister and friend of Mario made them share a mutual respect and easy liking for each other.
Where she would have appreciated her concern in the past, today it was an extra trial on her fragile courage.
“I’m fine,” she said stiffly, wanting to dissuade further inquiries. “I only need to see Mario.”
But her tight tone only made Ifeoma more concerned. “Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong.” Because she’d spoken too sharply, Callista offered a smile. “I just need to see Mario, Ifeoma. I’ll hunt him down myself, as you look dressed to go out.”
“We’re going to Agbor to see my aunt, Mama and I.” Taking the hint that her concern wasn’t welcomed, Ifeoma stepped back. “Come inside. He’s at the backyard like I said.”
She should have followed the side gate, Callista thought as she walked through the living room to the back of the house. It would be easier if she didn’t have any interactions with anyone, but Mario.
But it was as if Chukwudi was going to have his wish for an audience, as Ifeoma followed her outside, and as she’d said, her mother was there with Mario.
Mario’s mother. They too shared a friendly relationship. She always treated Callista with kindness and affection.
After what she was about to do to her son, she would have nothing but contempt for her.
“Good morning, ma.” Oh Lord, she sounded so stilted. She supposed she looked that way too. But she couldn’t help it.
“Morning, Cally. How are you, my dear?” Like her daughter, concern instantly clouded her eyes. “But you’re looking unwell. Are you feeling under the weather?”
“No, ma, I’m fine.” Desperate to avoid anymore kind overtures, she turned from her to Mario. He was tweaking with the bottom of a blender, but his gaze was on her.
Intent. Possessive. Passionate. Worried.
All four emotions shattered her heart. They almost shattered her composure.
Determined, as she had no choice, Callista took a step in his direction. “Good morning, Mario. I…um, we need to talk.”
“That we will do, I’m sure. But first, what’s wrong with you?” He set the blender on a tray, and started towards her. Tilted up her chin to study her. “You look terrible. Didn’t you sleep last night?”
Oh God, this was the man she loved. The man who cared for her, if nothing else. Callista wanted to collapse against him, and tell him everything.
Instead, she took a step back, so his hand fell off. “I’m fine. We have to talk.”
There was something wrong. Deeply wrong. “Okay, let’s go inside,” Mario said, reached to take her hand.
She evaded his grasp. “No, we’ll talk here. I have no wish to go inside with you.”
Mario pursed his lips. “Really? And you’re sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine.” From the corner of her eyes, she caught the curious stares from his mother and Ifeoma.
“Let’s go inside, Ifeoma, and leave them to talk,” his mother said.
“No. You don’t have to leave us alone. I mean I prefer you stay. I…” She broke off as her throat closed up.
“Cally.” Alarmed by the tears in her eyes, Mario took hold of her, ignoring her resistance. “What’s wrong?”
Everything. I’m finished. He’s going to destroy me. He’s going to destroy us.
“Let go of me.” She tugged off his hand, took a deep breath. “I came to tell you that I can’t see you anymore.”
There was a gasp–from Ifeoma or their mother, Callista couldn’t tell. She couldn’t afford to dwell on it either.
Her mouth was trembling, so she bit down on her lip. “It’s over between us. I’m breaking up with you.”
After staring at her for a full ten seconds, Mario sputtered out a laugh. “Is this a joke? April Fool in late December?”
“I’m serious. I’ve thought about it. I didn’t have time to before. We rushed into this relationship.”
“We rushed into this relationship,” Mario repeated, shook his head. “Cally, are you all right?”
“I am fine.” She all but shouted it this time. “I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong with me. I just don’t want to be with you anymore. I’ve had enough of you. I don’t want to date you, and I most certainly don’t want to marry you.”
“O-kay.” Eyes narrowed, Mario studied her. “You’ve been crying. I can see that. What’s going on, Cally?”
Oh God, why did he have to care? Why did he have to look at her as if he could only think to take away her pain?
Why did she have to hurt him when she loved him so much?
“Nothing’s going on.” If she shouted, maybe she would anger him. “Does anything have to be going on for me to break up with you?”
“Something has to be if you’re choosing to do it this way,” his mother said. There was only puzzlement in her voice.
“Please, Mama, this is between Cally and I,” Mario said. Then he grabbed her hand, pulled her forward. “Come on, we’ll finish this inside.”
“No, there’s nothing to finish.” She wrenched free when all she wanted was to throw herself into his arms. “There’s nothing between you and I. And if you must have a reason, I’m reconciling with Chukwudi.”
She couldn’t say it. It was unthinkable. Unutterable.
“He came to me, said he was sorry for…for everything.” Hard as she tried, she couldn’t stop her tears. “He said he was sorry for hurting me. He wants me back. He…I’ve found I still love him. I want us to get back together.”
“You saw Chukwudi.” Mario gripped her by the shoulders. “What did he do to you?”
“Nothing.” She shrugged off his hold. “He only apologised and I’ve realised it’s him I love.”
“You’ve realised it’s him you love? What the hell is going on, Cally?” He cursed out when his phone rang. Then shoved it out of his pocket when another ring pealed out. “What is this?” he demanded, staring darkly at his phone.
Callista froze. He’s sent Mario the pictures. Oh God, he’s started uploading the pictures.
“What’s the meaning of this? And this?” Mario shoved the phone in her face. “What’s going on here?”
It was a picture of Chukwudi and herself. Taken while he had his arms dropping down her shoulders, his head lowered in her neck, and she pressed backward into him, her eyes closed.
More like her eyelids swept down over her eyes, Callista thought with chagrin and heartbreak. A picture where she wasn’t naked. A lover’s pose. He’d perfectly made his plan. He had her trapped in every way.
“What is going on here with Chukwudi?”
She lifted her gaze to his. She felt sick. She felt like she wanted to throw up. “You can see for yourself what’s going on. I have gone back to him.”
“You have gone back to him? You, Cally, have gone back to Chukwudi?”
“Yes, I have. I love him. I never stopped loving him.”
“You never before loved him! Damn it, Cally, what is going on?”
“It’s over. That’s what’s going on. Just accept it and let me be.” She spun and ran.
“Callista, get back here!”
She thought he would run after her. She hoped he would run after her. She was thankful he didn’t run after her. For if he had, she couldn’t have kept it up.
Swiping off the tears on her cheeks, she raised the phone to her ear. “What now?”
“You go home and wait until I call you.”
The line went dead. She lowered her hand, and waved down an Okada. It wasn’t a rider she knew, but at this point, she didn’t care. Nothing could hurt her more than what she’d just done.
Nothing could, Callista thought, and cried all the way home.
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