The suite that Demoniker occupied in the part of the hotel with a breathtaking view of Calabar city was a beehive of activity. Casually-clad network technicians moved about, wielding wires, cameras and tripods, just barely bumping into more formally-dressed underlings from Highland Records, who were present to ensure the smooth operation of the impending interview.
Ensconced in a section of the suite that was cordoned off from the main area with a screen of white fabric, Demoniker sat poised in the middle of a hairstylist and a makeup artiste, both of whom were briskly working to transform the singer from the haughty beauty she was to a woman viewers could empathize with on TV. Sandra Dede, the woman who the entire team was trusting would walk Demoniker through her journey into the forgiving hearts of Nigerians was flying in from Lagos that morning.
“I have to say, Demoniker,” said Ben, the singer’s Highland au pair, as he moved past the screen into her private space, “this interview is actually a very good idea.”
“I know. I made the decision,” Demoniker said as she angled her face to the side under the brush strokes of the makeup artiste’s blusher.
“Of course, of course,” Ben said. “I mean, you did the crime – so you going ahead to apologise is the right thing to do. Your Nigerian fan base will eat it up just like that!” He snapped his fingers in punctuation of his anticipation.
Demoniker said nothing in response. Her publicist, Nneka, however made a scoffing sound. Ben looked at her. She didn’t look back. Her focus was on the phone she held in her hand, so intent was she in monitoring Demoniker’s social media news feeds for the reaction of Nigerians traipsing through the internet. Just when they thought there couldn’t be bigger news that that of the affair, Demoniker tweeted about her intention to give an exclusive interview yesterday, and that had razed the cyberspace with the speed of a bush fire in Harmattan, with internet pundits hotly contesting the purpose of the interview. Demoniker’s tweet had already been retweeted several thousand times.
Ben turned back to Demoniker as she queried, “Say Ben, have you heard anything from your boss?”
She was referring to Joshua, and Ben’s grimace gave her an answer before he replied, “No, not since the concert. But all the other higher-ups at Highland are staunchly behind you on this.”
Of course they are. I’m what’s hot on their label right now, Demoniker thought caustically. As soon as the spark of irritation lit up inside her, it was doused by the wave of melancholy she felt at how strained her relationship with Joshua seemed to have gotten. He hadn’t also reached out to her ever since he punched the obnoxious reporter that night at the concert. She wasn’t sure just how much knowledge of her affair with his father would ruin their working and social relationship.
You’ve really made a big mess of things, Demoniker, she thought with a sigh, resisting the urge to bat away the hand of the hairstylist fussing with her hair.
“Is he back in Lagos or still in Calabar?” she asked, turning to the hyperactive man standing before her.
Ben had angled his face downward, his features squeezed into a small squint. “What did you say?”
“I asked –” Demoniker began, but her voice faltered when Ben shook his head at her and gestured to his ear, indicating that he was listening to someone on the other end of his Bluetooth device. “Alright, I’ll be there right away.” He tapped the device briefly and returned his attention to the room. “Sandra Dede’s plane just landed,” he said to Demoniker. “I’m off to go be her welcome party. Why the woman would insist on having Highland’s point man meet her at the airport is beyond me. It’s not like she’s that big a deal. But hey…” – he chuckled – “women, right?”
The four women in the partitioned section of the room with him turned wooden expressions to him.
He grinned. “No, not you women – I mean, her, she’s a woman – that is…” He stopped to give off an awkward laugh, before barreling on, “Okay. This was fun. I’ve got to go now. See you in a bit, Demoniker. And ladies” – he turned to the women fussing over the singer – “remember, less Beyoncé, more Michelle Williams. We’re going for the Mary Magdalene effect here.”
And with that, he was gone, his eager-beaver energy leaving with him.
For a moment, no one said anything, and the only sounds that filled the suite were from the hubbub beyond the partition.
Then Nneka said, “You just got an email from Talk That Talk – you know, that popular women’s talk show in Abuja. They’re asking for you to come on their show tomorrow.”
“That’s like the umpteenth offer from a TV network,” Demoniker observed.
“The zeal has heightened now that it looks like you want to talk,” Nneka said.
Demoniker wasn’t sure, but there seemed to be a slight inflection, a note of disparagement colouring her publicist’s use of the word ‘talk’. She flashed the younger woman a quick look. Her face was averted, focused on the phone screen as she did what she did best, serving as a bulwark between the superstar and all those out there baying for her blood.
“Hey! Don’t you dare touch me!” a screech suddenly ripped through the air.
Nneka looked up in the direction of the suite’s entrance, just as the female voice shrieked again, “I know she’s busy, but I need to see her! And you idiots won’t let me! For heavenssakes–!”
Her tirade broke off with the sound of a scuffle.
“I said, don’t touch me! What is the matter with you idiots!”
Demoniker arched her brows as Nneka turned to look at her. Cutting through the intruder’s shrill cries were the steadier and deeper rumbles of the voices of Demoniker’s security.
“Madam, we can’t let you in –”
“I said I have to see her –!”
“She can’t see anyone right now –”
“You people have no respect! What I have urgent news for her, like her mother dying or–!”
“Then they’ll definitely not let you see me,” Demoniker’s voice cut through the fray.
She’d stepped through the partition and now stood, clearly halfway through with her transformation and still very much in charge.
“My mother is already dead and these gentlemen know it.” A smile hovered on her lips. “But maybe if you’d said you have news about my sister developing a stroke from reading all that they’re saying about me, that would have gotten you past them very quick.”
“I’ll remember that in case of next time,” the woman who’d been a virago moments ago said with an unsteady smile as she began to pull her sangfroid back around her.
“Hi, I’m Demoniker,” the singer said, stepping forward with an outstretched hand.
“Of course I know it’s you,” the woman said, looking slightly flustered as she moved forward to take her hand. She was stockily-built woman with a doughy face that did not detract from the fierceness in her eyes. “I’m Victoria Omoghene.”
“You’re not a reporter, are you?”
“Me? No. No, no, I’m not. But I’m here about the interview you’re about to do.”
Demoniker chuckled sardonically. “You couldn’t wait to view it along with the rest of the nation?”
Victoria’s stare was unsmiling as she replied, “I couldn’t wait to tell you not to do it.”
“So tell me, who are you again?” Demoniker queried.
The women were back behind the screen. The underlings had returned to fussing over the singer’s appearance, and Nneka was back to her business on the cyberspace. Victoria was seated on a chair that a member of the security had fetched for her, and she looked squarely at Demoniker.
“My name is Victoria Omoghene. I’m from the National Initiative for Women’s Rights in Nigeria.”
Demoniker instantly felt her hackles rise. A Women’s Rights association! The only thing worse than the media calling you a slut is an association of your fellow women calling you a slut.
“What do you want?” she said coolly.
“I told you. On behalf of our organisation, we would very much like it if you do not do this interview.”
“And why would I want to do that?”
“Listen, Demoniker,” Victoria became earnest, “men in this country have enough privilege as it is. And for crying out loud, something has to change. We believe you can start it – by not apologising for an affair with Ryan Bassey until Ryan Bassey apologizes!”
Demoniker stared at her for awhile, feeling her coolness thaw under the threat of her sardonic amusement. “You’re joking, right?”
Victoria reared back in slight affront. “What would be the joke in what I said?”
“No offense, I’m as much a feminist as the next woman who’s had to work her way up in what is largely a man’s world. But are you the only one who doesn’t know that I’m already getting tried, judged and sentenced for this, while Ryan sits pretty, largely unmentioned by the public? The onus is on me to get a narrative out there –”
“Why is that so?” Victoria interrupted primly. “Why should the onus be on you to get a narrative out before him? Why should your narrative be that of sole responsibility for the mess you two created?”
“That’s not what I’m going on air to say,” Demoniker countered, her brows furrowing at the other woman’s inference.
“That may be so, but the moment you open your mouth before that camera and begin to apologize” – she spat the word out like it had a bad taste – “then that’s all everyone will think and judge you for – the home wrecker who should have minded her business and left a married man alone, but who has now come to her senses, and hallelujah, has repented.”
It was Demoniker’s turn to draw back, her expression betraying her uncertainty over which emotion to indulge. The nerve on this woman!
“Demoniker, you are a beautiful strong human being who made a mistake along with another human being,” Victoria carried on. “I don’t condone what you two did, but the fact remains that you two did it. And yet, with things going sour, you’re expected to step up to the plate? That is not the kind of message you ought to be sending out to the Nigerian people. It takes two to tango. And men should share the blame of indiscretions like this.”
By the time she was done talking, she was breathing deeply as though winded. Several moments of silence passed as the hair stylist and makeup artiste finished with their work on the star and quietly moved their wares and presence out of the space.
Demoniker was left sitting, finally ready to face the nation. Her face was artfully made up, the maquillage so skillfully understated, that it succeeded in at once subduing and enhancing her beauty. Her hair was pulled back in a sleek chignon, with soft tendrils left to hang loose around her face to break the austerity of the hairdo. Outwardly, she projected an assuredness that was important in her line of work. But within, she felt knotted with tension in a million different places.
She took in a tremulous breath, and upon expelling it, she said, “I’m sorry, Victoria, but I can’t do what you’ve asked. This is about me, not some noble campaign on gender issues. I must give this interview.”
The stocky woman’s lips tightened as her expression shuttered. “That’s alright,” she said tonelessly. “I understand.” She got to her feet. “I apologize for wasting your time.”
The woman’s departure felt uncomfortably like an accusation, and Demoniker sat there, feeling increasingly tense, her brow knotted into an expression that betrayed her sudden uncertainty.
“What do you think?” she husked, without looking up from her hands that were clasped together on her thighs.
“Huh?” Nneka said from the window.
Demoniker turned to her. “You’ve looked like you’ve had something to say about this interview since I made the decision. So say it to me.” At the grimace that fleeted past Nneka’s face, she added, “I’m asking you, not as my publicist, but as one woman to another. What do you think about all this?”
Nneka stared at her for a moment before saying slowly, “I don’t think anything about this. I believe. I believe you’re Demoniker. I believe you’re a superstar. And I believe you’re a boss-ass bitch.”
Demoniker’s brows shot up and she gave the other woman an appraising look. Then she chuckled before saying, “That was very frank. You know, only one other subordinate has ever spoken that frankly to me in my life. He was my songwriter, Kevin.”
“What happened to him?”
“He no longer works for me.” At the stricken look that flashed through Nneka’s eyes, the singer chuckled again. “He left because he had to, not because I fired him. His counsel was very valued.”
Just then, there was a stir of voices and more activity beyond the partition, and Demoniker inclined her head. “It appears my journey through the hearts of Nigerians is about to begin.”
“What are you going to say?” Nneka asked.
Before she could answer, Ben walked in, still very astir with boundless energy. He was grinning as he took in Demoniker’s appearance.
“Beautiful!” he enthused. “Just beautiful! Demoniker, you look divine.”
“And you’ve got a bit of a drool you need to wipe off right there,” Nneka sniped, while gesturing at his face.
He ignored her, still beaming at the singer. “Ms. Dede is here. It’s show time.”
Demoniker turned to her publicist and answered her question, “We’ll see.”
The woman who sat on the upholstered chair opposite Demoniker had the most beguiling eyes the singer had ever seen. If the eyes were windows to the soul, Demoniker believed she was looking through those irises into a room where the newswoman had perfected the skill to make her demeanour serve as a reproduction of whatever emotions her respondents were battling with. Sandra Dede’s projection of the interviewee’s consciousness felt like staring into a mirror, at every flaw, every imperfection, and feeling drawn to the reflection. Demoniker supposed it was characteristic that had made the newswoman such an accomplished reporter. It was often hard not to talk candidly when you felt like you were speaking to yourself.
“When the news first broke,” Sandra was talking, “I remember telling a couple of my girlfriends that it couldn’t be possible, that Demoniker is not that type of woman, to be carrying on with a married man. She could have any man she wanted, any single, available man she wanted. And then you went and confirmed it on twitter. And I just want to know why.”
“Why I did it?”
“No. Why you admitted to it. Why you confirmed the rumours. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about telling the truth – I go to church at least once a month.” She said this with a rueful smile that had Demoniker smiling too. “But I know the instinct for self preservation. It’s inherent in humans to not go down the path that threatens their well being. You could have kept quiet, rode out the storm in silence. But you didn’t. Why?”
Demoniker shrugged. “I was tired. I was tired of feeling like the media and every other person held the narrative over my head. I was being part of a story that didn’t wasn’t real, wasn’t me. I just wanted the truth said.”
Sandra nodded. “How long did the affair go on for?”
“About four months.”
“How did it end?”
“I ended it after what happened with his wife. The mess of Maureen Bassey’s crimes was like a wakeup call for me, a realization that I wasn’t being the better part of me, and that it couldn’t lead me any place good. So I called him up and I told him it was over.”
“How did he react to the news of the breakup? Was he okay with that?”
“He didn’t have a choice.”
“And you… you made a choice when you tweeted yesterday, ‘I’m sorry, Nigerians. This wasn’t meant to be. Tomorrow, I will speak to you about how sorry I am.’ That was an incredible admission to make. It’s not often people own to their mistakes so publicly.”
“Yes, I was owning to my mistake. Not his.”
Sandra arched her brows in incomprehension. “What do you mean?”
Demoniker took in a deep breath before commencing with her response. “Ever since I made the decision to be frank about what happened with Ryan Bassey, I’ve had different counsels, some of them trying to dissuade me and others encouraging me. One such counsel from the former asked me why I seemed like I was blaming myself for an affair that had two people in it. At first I didn’t get it. But then, I remembered the comments I’d chanced on Twitter about me…very unflattering comments, vicious defamation that I won’t bother repeating here. And there was a particular comment – someone who said I was a home wrecker. And I thought, why am I the one being called that? Why is the man who went out of his way to have sex with an artiste on his roster while he was still married not being called a home wrecker?”
“Because you’re a public figure,” Sandra said, a delicate frown marring her countenance as she realized the Demoniker she’d come here to interview wasn’t the one seated across from her. Her tone sharpened a bit as she added, “No offense, but what you do, what you say… They have an effect on the society.”
“He is a public figure too,” Demoniker rejoined with fire starting to flash in her eyes.
Beyond the cameras, Ben had a dumbstruck expression on his face as he muttered, “What is she doing?”
“She’s being Demoniker,” Nneka murmured with delight beside him.
“Look, I’m not saying what you just pointed out isn’t true,” Demoniker was saying. “But the truth, as much as people try to ignore this, is that there are two people who did what they did. But Nigerians don’t care. They want to blame the woman. They want to crucify her. To everyone, she bears the responsibility of guilt, the obligation of shame for daring to lead a married man astray. And as this moment that I’m spending with you drew closer, I realized something.”
“What is that?”
“That I don’t in fact owe the public any apology. What I did had nothing to do with them. The only person that deserves my apology – the only person I feel bad about hurting – is Joshua Bassey, Ryan’s son. He is – was…is my manager, my producer, and most of all, my friend. I’d like to think he still is all these to me. I realized that when I tweeted that apology, I was subconsciously reaching out to him. He is the one I’ve hurt and he is the one I owe an apology.” At this, Demoniker turned her head to the camera, staring at the screen, at the world beyond it. “Josh, if you’re watching this, believe me when I say I am deeply sorry for whatever pain or embarrassment my indiscretion with your father may have caused you.”
Josh, if you’re watching this, believe me when I say I am deeply sorry for whatever pain or embarrassment my indiscretion with your father may have caused you.
Joshua punched the remote with his thumb and the image of Demoniker’s face retreated behind the blank face of the television screen. He felt anger hum through his veins and he noticed with some irritation that his hands were shaking as he dropped the remote on the centre table in his father’s living room. He turned and walked over to the cellaret, and picked out a bottle of one the spirits lined in sparkling order on the shelves. He poured himself a drink in a tumbler, sloshing a bit over the side. He took a huge gulp, clenched his teeth and let the clean, clear liquid slide down his throat, feeling its fire course its way inside him.
He heard his father’s heavy footfalls in the hallway before the man emerged into the living room. He stopped when he saw Joshua, who’d just turned to meet his sudden glare.
“What are you doing here?” Ryan Bassey snapped as he slowly advanced into the room.
“I came to see my dear, old dad,” Josh said with a mirthless smile. “To know if you were watching your ex-girlfriend tell the whole world about how you fucked her. Or is that she fucked you? She said she broke up with you, so yes, she most definitely fucked you over.”
Ryan’s eyes narrowed. “Are you drunk?”
“On one glass of whiskey?” Josh drawled. “I think not.”
His father’s gaze went beyond him to take in the open bottle at the bar and the splatter of liquid on the polished surface of the counter. Irritation sparked in his eyes. “You idiot!” he hissed. “You come into my home uninvited, help yourself to my refreshment, and you can’t even pour yourself a drink without showing how sloppy you are at everything?!”
“Fuck you, dad!” Josh railed.
“How very disrespectful of you,” Chief Bassey snapped.
“Disrespect? You are talking to me about disrespect?” Another short burst of humourless laughter came from him. “That’s very rich coming from you.”
“Watch your tongue!”
“Or what? You’ll go find another singer in our label to sleep with?”
“Get over yourself already, Joshua,” the older man said with a sneer.
“You always do this,” Josh began with feeling. “Try to undermine me, embarrass me. I don’t know if it’s because you actually hate me, or because I remind you so much of Mum, but what I know is that you could have had anyone. Literally anyone in that office – anyone in the world in fact! But no, you had to go for her, my client, my artist, my –”
“Your what?” A disbelieving look came onto Chief Bassey’s face. He was chuckling cruelly as he said, “You’re carrying a torch for her, aren’t you? You actually thought you stood a chance with her? Demoniker may be a lot of things, but she certainly doesn’t sleep with men with no substance–”
Two things happened in quick succession. Josh tossed the tumbler in his hand to the ground, the glass shattering upon impact with the tiled floor as he darted forward, his cocked fist sailing through the air to connect with the side of his father’s face. The force of the blow propelled Chief Bassey backward to drop into a sofa, the back of his head slamming the headrest so hard, his body bounded forward a bit before dropping back into the sofa.
The man stared up at his son with stupefaction for a moment as he raised a hand to his bruised cheek. Then the shock dissolved as he began chuckling.
“Don’t you ever speak of my artist like that!” Joshua heaved as he jabbed a finger trembling with rage at his father.
“Stop deceiving yourself,” Chief Bassey spat. “You have no artist, no clients. They’re all mine. Do you even think you’ll have that job if not for me? You’re a joke, a weakling – just like your mother!”
For several moments, silence pulsed between the two men, tightened with undercurrents of tension and animosities threatening to burst through the filmy surface of restraint.
And then Josh inhaled slowly, before saying with quiet force, “Well, if that’s really how you feel, then this will be good news to you.” He turned and started for the door. “I quit.”
Written by The Reverend