“Mum, Dad, this is Cally.”
Cali gave me a look. “It’s Cali,” he corrected.
“That’s what I said,” I picked some lint off his blazer.
Cali enveloped my mother in hug. She looked taken aback but smiled. Dammit, I thought. I had forgotten to tell Cali that my mother did not like to be hugged by strangers. She’ll be talking about that when we leave, I thought. I knew my mother. She had already begun marking him, looking for flaws, for reasons to fail him. Nobody was ever good enough for her, not unless he had a PhD, was a medical doctor or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Or George Clooney, but he was off the market now.
“You’re quite tall,” she said.
I was glad for that. At least she would not hold height against him.
“We bless God,” said Cali and I winced. Since when? I thought. I didn’t how that phrase made him sound.
Cali remembered my father’s title and greeted him accordingly, clasping my father’s proffered handshake in two of his.
“Let’s take a look at this mystery man, finally,” my sister Nwamalubia pushed through my parents, throwing herself into Cali’s arms. She disentangled and looked at him critically. “Hmm,” she said.
“Wait, let me pose properly,” said Calestous. He started to do a number of poses while Nwamalubia pretended to take his photo. My mother looked alarmed.
“Cali, darling…” I started.
“Nice jacket,” said Nwamalubia. “Versace?”
“Yes, Versanchi. Very good. You know fashion?”
“I know beauty,” she replied. “I work with textiles too.”
“Why don’t we move from the doorway?” I asked, a little unsettled. I thought I had seen Nwamalubia’s lips turn up when he said ‘Versanchi’. I would have to have a word with her.
“Yes, let’s,” said my mother leading the way to the smaller living room. I smarted at that. I knew she had already judged Cali and found him wanting. The grander of the two living rooms would remain closed to us. She was so obvious! Not two minutes in the house and I had the beginnings of a headache. I would have to have a word with her too.
“Nwamalubia tells me you like fried rice,” said my mother. She saw Calestous’ puzzled look. “She searched your Facebook, dear. This one,” she pointed at me,” Doesn’t tell me anything.”
“I’m okay with anything you give me,” Calestous said, warming my heart. I took his hand in mine and squeezed it once. I was going to kiss him for that later.
“Good. Cook is making you fried rice. Special. Just for you.”
“Just for you,” added Nwamalubia, in an ominous tone. I turned to look at her. Just what were they planning?
“Eh-he, I forgot. Excuse me,” said Cali, going out to the car. He came back with three gift bags and stood back to enjoy my family cooing over their gifts, face shining like the sun. I squeezed his hand again.
Two hours later and Calestous held his fork and knife like they were machetes. He bent over, shovelling food into his mouth while his knife shuddered in his other hand, yearning for a piece of the action. I cleared my throat, tried to show him with my eyes, how to hold his cutlery but he was oblivious. He smiled at me each time. After the fourth or fifth time of clearing my throat, my mother snapped.
“For heaven’s sake Chielozona, sip something. You’re driving us insane.”
My mother had a way of co-opting everyone into her own sentiments. I obeyed anyway. My shoulders hurt from sitting in the correct manner. No sooner than I had taken a mouthful of my drink than she asked, “So Calestous, what is it that you do?”
My drink went down the wrong way and I started coughing. Cali’s cutlery clanked down on his plate. He slapped me on the back.
“Easy, easy mummy,” he said. My eyes were watering but I saw my mother raise her eyebrow at that. My sister Nwamalubia tittered.
“He’s an entrepreneur,” I said as soon as I could. I wiped the tears from my face.
“Oh interesting,” said my mother. She cut a piece of chicken, placed it in her mouth and chewed for a long while, even though it had only been a sliver of flesh. “And what is your area of expertise?”
“Men’s’ apparel,” I chimed in. “You know, the good stuff. All originals, which is a relief in Nigeria. Dad you should come down to Onitsha to see him. Cali is one of the genuine distributors of designer wear here in Nigeria. He also offers a fitting service…”
“I’m sure you’re very proud of your boyfriend dear, but he can speak for himself,” my mother cut me off. She smiled what my sister and I called her ‘Queen Regent’ smile. I tried to stop my nostrils flaring.
Calestous finished what was in his mouth. I made a mental not to talk to him about bulging cheeks, the darling, and waited until he’d had a sip of his water. “I’m a trader,” he said.
“Darling, you own a chain of boutiques offering bespoke services. It’s hardly trading.”
“I own shops. I sell men’s clothing. It’s trading,” said Calestous. A crease appeared in the middle of his face.
“It’s more than just trading…”
“Trading. Definition ‘The buying and selling of goods and services’,” Nwamalubia cut in. “Is that what you do, Cali?” Her eyes twinkled.
“Exactly. That is what I do. I am a trading man,” Cali affirmed, winking at her. “It’s not this English your sister is talking.”
I laughed, swatting him on the arm. “Yes, darling, I know. It’s just usually, when people talk about trading you know…”
“I think I’m ready for dessert now,” said my father. He had barely spoken a word since I introduced Cali to them. He got up from his seat. “Perhaps Cali, you wouldn’t mind joining me in my study? We can talk without this impertinent daughter of mine jumping down your throat. Lunch was superb dear, as always.” He kissed my mother on the cheek, tugged at my ear. Nwamalubia kissed his cheek and then he was gone.
“Thank you for lunch, ma,” said Cali. He kissed my mother’s cheek just as my father had done and left without looking at any of us. Anger and tears burned behind my eyes. My mother had upset him.
Nwamalubia watched him leave. She chuckled, nudging my mother. “M-m-m. What physique, what taste. Too bad he doesn’t…”
That was all I needed to hear. “Too bad he doesn’t what eh? Speak English well enough for you? Too bad he doesn’t know how to hold his cutlery? Well too bad for you, Nwamalubia! I love Cali and he loves me. At least he doesn’t live at home with his parents.”
Nwamalubia gasped theatrically. She was a spoilt little madam, much indulged on account of her ‘artistic temperament’ which she had inherited from our weaver-grandmother. Her handiwork littered our parents’ house and yet, she’d never had a gallery carry her stuff, claiming it ‘wasn’t ready’ and preferring to redecorate our parents’ house over and over instead. She was one to talk. At least Cali was his own man.
My mother stared at me, mouth open slightly. Cali’s mouth-print gleamed wetly against her powdered cheek. I fumed. She was probably going to talk about it when we were gone, about how nobody had taught him to kiss a cheek probably. The thought of them laughing at him made me feel ill to my stomach.
“I was just going to say ‘Too bad he doesn’t carry women’s wear I would have bugged him for a freebie’” Nwamalubia swallowed. “But never mind that, tell us how you really feel.”