Those Awkward Moments (Episode 20)

Those Awkward Moments (Episode 20)

Previously on THOSE AWKWARD MOMENTS: So you know how Kevin was arrested by the police for Jude’s intended murder? Well, it turns out that that was not the reason they needed him. Apparently, Josh Bassey is some kind of fraudster, and they need something less circumstantial on him. That’s where Kevin comes in; he’s going to be their inside man at Highland Records. That is if he doesn’t want the whole world to find out that he and coma-Jude love dick.

I know! NOT COOL!

*

I stood before the Highland building, my mind roiling with questions, doubt and guilt.

“Just go about your normal business for now,” the words of Detective Abayomi echoed through my mind. “We’ll call you when we have something for you to go on.” It had been three days since I was yanked into the police station and told that the man who gave me my first job might be a criminal, and every moment of that day, every word said, every scene played out, was fresh in my mind.

“Make sure you don’t tell anybody about this operation,” Detective Elohor had said.

Who could I tell? Who would believe me?

“Not so fast, detective,” Timothy had cut in. “This is not some CIA operation –”

“It’s still very much a sensitive investigation,” Elohor shot back.

Timothy paused, and then said, “Well, I’m his lawyer. So he should be able to tell me everything, naturally.”

“Naturally,” Elohor concurred tersely.

And so, the moment Tim and I stepped out of the interrogation room, he pulled me to one side, planted a stern look on me and said simply, “Tell me everything.”

I told him everything. I started from that dreadful day Jude was shot, the actual circumstance surrounding the shooting, Jude’s coma and subsequent memory loss, the lie I had to tell Jude’s sister, Janet (who just happened to be his ex-wife), and the ensuing contention between me and the woman. I even threw in the bit about my assignment as Demoniker’s songwriter and the discovery I made of her affair with Chief Bassey, my blackmailing stint, and then I rounded up with my arrest.

As I told my story, I observed Tim’s face become a slide view of varying emotions that ranged from open-mouthed shock to wide-eyed incredulity. In different circumstances, I was sure he’d have thought I was messing with him, or that this was some elaborate movie script I was testing out on him.

Some days, I realized, I’d wondered the same things myself.

***

“Are you just going to stand there all day?”

“You do realize the work to be done is inside, not out here, right?”

The boisterous laughter of my colleagues following their ribbing cut through my preoccupation, and I roused myself with a small shake in time to watch a gaggle of jeans-and-T-shirt-wearing men walk past me toward the Highland building.

I took a deep breath and followed after them, feeling like I was heading for the guillotine. The place that used to feel like a haven for me, this cocoon of like minds, suddenly seemed fraught with lurking dangers and hidden mines. A psychiatrist would probably tell me it was my guilt messing up my psyche, and that’d probably be true. But I couldn’t help the feeling that the day those police detectives told me Joshua Bassey was an alleged criminal and prevailed on me to spy on him was the day everything changed.

My headphones were already on, so I pressed Play, threw my hoodie over my head, shoved my hands into my pockets, and with my head down and sunglasses on, I walked towards the elevator. I got in, thumbed the button for my floor, and watched the doors begin to close.

“Hold it please!” someone called.

I didn’t bother to move.

The person however was fast, and jammed a hand in, stopping the doors from closing. They glided open again, and I was looking at Josh wearing a blue suit and an irritated expression. At once, I pulled the headphones from my ears.

“You were supposed to hold it,” he said as he stepped in.

My heart began to pound as I shuffled to one corner of the lift away from him. My mouth was instantly dry, and the desiccation made it impossible for me to form any form of verbal response. I ended up grunting.

He turned and gave me a quizzical look, before giving a slight smile. “You okay there?”

This was not the smile of a criminal, I thought. And this guy had been so good to me. He cared – actually cared for me, when he was not being the quintessential boss. Those policemen had to be wrong.

“Hello?” he said again, waving a hand before my face. “Earth to Kevin.”

I feigned a chuckle. “Yea, I am. I just slept really late last night.”

“What were you up doing?”

Going through some last minute details with the police on ways to incriminate you, I thought. Aloud, I said, “Writing…you know, the usual.”

Josh shook his head. “You disappoint me, Kevin.”

My heart did a quick jump in my rib cage, and took off in a speedy race the moment it landed. Oh my God, did he already know? Was I busted even before actually going undercover?

“Wh-what do you mean?” I croaked.

“A guy your age should be out drinking and partying with friends on a good night. Or at the very least, getting it on with your girlfriend. For chrissakes, you’ve all but tidied up Demoniker’s album, and instead of loosening up and enjoying life, you’re losing sleep over what – some more writing?” He heaved a sigh.

I heaved one of my own too, a sigh of immense relief. My cover was still intact, it would seem.

Just then, the elevator stopped and the doors dinged open. Josh stepped out, and I followed after him. As he walked, he turned to his side to say something. When he saw that I wasn’t there, he looked behind him. His brows creased when he saw me lagging behind.

“What are you doing back there? Come on up.” He waved me forward.

I hastened my steps, quite reluctantly, and caught up to him, making sure to put more than a modicum of distance between us.

“So, you’ll be working with someone else,” he announced.

“Someone else?” I muttered.

“Yea, you start work today.”

“Today?” I echoed again.

He paused and gave me another quizzical look. “Are you sure it was only writing you were up late doing last night? Because you’re not very bright this morning.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled. Get yourself together, man! I berated before attempting a bright smile at Josh. “I’m good. So, a new assignment, huh?”

“Yes,” he said, apparently reassured that I wasn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “Demoniker is still at the South African concert with her people. So you’re free until she returns. My father thinks you should hang with Mike’s team for a while.”

“Mike as in Mula Mike?”

“No, Kevin, Magic Mike! Are you sure you’re on your game today?”

“Yes! Yes, I am,” I hastened to reassure him again. “I’m just surprised, is all. I’m not much into rap lyrics.”

Josh stopped walking and turned to face me squarely. “You don’t have to be. This assignment is not about you adapting to a different music genre. You know, your songs on Demoniker’s album made such an impression on my father that he wants you to keep working with the big leagues.”

I’m sure he does. More assignments with the big stars is apparently what he grants those who have his balls in a vice, I thought sardonically.

“Besides,” Josh was still talking, “we’re not asking you to write for Mike. He writes his own lyrics. We just want him to have someone with a different perspective of things – someone like you.” Josh paused for a short moment, and then added, “Trust me, this could be your shot at senior songwriter. Plus you get to work with a familiar face.”

He gave a loud laugh, one I was forced to join in, even if it wasn’t sincere. He sauntered off in the direction of his office, tossing a “Have fun” over his shoulder before disappearing down a bend.

“I don’t think I can,” I muttered to myself, suddenly feeling wracked with another wave of guilt. This man had just spoken to me the way no boss was obligated to, encouraging me, even stopping short of mentoring me. And here I was, an accomplice to a network of betrayal. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like this at all.

Right then, I wanted to follow after him, to his office, and tell him everything. And get him to show me that he was not the person those detectives presumed he was, that he was an innocent and hard-working man, a friend suspected of a crime he wasn’t committing.

But I couldn’t follow through with my intention. I remained standing where I was, drowning in my silent guilt.

***

“Congrats,” Ngozi hailed me, as she led me to Mula Mike’s studio on Josh’s instruction. “I heard Chief Bassey approved of all your songs for Demoniker’s album. You must be psyched!”

Wait, is she making conversation with me? As in, actually speaking to me like I’m a human being out on this earth to co-exist with her? I stared at her for a moment, too stupefied to respond, before rallying my wits around enough o say, “Yea, I am. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” she said with a sunny smile.

My incomprehension deepened. First, Josh was a criminal, and now, Ngozi was friendly? What was this world turning into?

“Well, here we are,” she announced.

We were standing in front of a door that was marked with the words ‘Studio X’. I could hear the muted but nonetheless loud sounds of beats coming through the door. I fancied myself perceiving the smell of testosterone coming from in there as well.

Ngozi stepped back.

“Aren’t you coming in?” I asked.

“Nah,” she answered as she turned to face the full-length mirror on the wall opposite the studio. She pirouetted slightly as she examined her outfit and flicked her hair back. “I don’t exactly look my best today.”

“Right,” I said simply, for a lack of a better response.

“Well, good luck!” she exclaimed, gave me a little wave and sashayed off.

I took a deep inhalation, placed my hand on the studio door and pushed it open.

The studio looked like another place entirely from every other room I’d been inside in the Highland building. There was none of the spit and polish that was characteristic of Highland. The interior had a ghetto feel, like the inhabitants had strived to recreate some African-American street side atmosphere. And the equipment wasn’t first grade. It was almost like Mula Mike had brought his own stuff to the studio from when he was still a struggling rapper.

I knew the rapper was mega successful and a prized Highland client, but I had no idea he had enough pull around here to get the management to let him have his way with one of their studios.

I gave a quick glance over the room, taking note of the occupants. There were three other men besides Mike; a stringy-looking guy who looked like he was hopped up on some drug, a junkie, another beefier man in his thirties who was moving his body to the beat, and –

Of course, Isaac!

Oh great! Just great! It’s the gift that keeps on giving, I thought caustically.

“Hey, mister, you want something?” barked the stringy man at me.

His question drew the attention of the room to me.

I waved a hand at them.

“Oh, it’s you!” Mike called. He got up from the chair he’d been sitting on and walked over to me. Then, he threw out a hand, a proffered handshake coming at me like a missile. I caught it, the grip firmed and he pulled me in for a half-hug, slapping my back, before pulling back from me. It was all so very man-to-man.

We faced the room, and he said, “Everybody, meet Kevin.” He turned to me. “It’s Kevin, right?”

I nodded, feeling a little surprised that the rapper had even remembered who I was, let alone my name, considering we’d only met twice…briefly.

“Okay,” he continued. “Kevin, this is my manager, Kunle.” He was pointing at the man who’d been moving to the beat. He was casually dressed in a suit, no ties, open-necked, jacket hanging open.  “And that one over there with the big mouth” – he was chuckling as he pointed at the stringy guy – “is my bro, Tokunbo. And you know Beatz already, right?”

“Right,” I said, not looking at Isaac, even though I could feel his gaze on me.

“Good!” Tokunbo exclaimed. “Now that we’re all properly introduced, how about we get back to this shit!”

And by ‘shit’, I assumed he meant recording music. I sighed. This was going to be a long day!

***

Observing Mula Mike and his team make music actually turned out to be more interesting than I’d thought it would be. Not only was the process entertaining, but I felt illuminated by aspects of rap music I had no idea about.

Every once in a while, they requested for my creative opinion, and every so often, I favoured them with terrible answers.

“You no well!” Mike hollered at his manager. “Who tell you say rapper no fit write love song?” He had just performed a verse of a rap song he was writing, which I loved by the way. But Kunle didn’t seem impressed by it.

As Mike stormed at him, I discretely turned on the video recorder on my phone and turned it to them. Just in case drama unfolded, I wanted something titillating to show my friends.

“I didn’t say you can’t,” Kunle objected. “I’m just saying that it’s not your brand.”

“And what is my brand?”

“You know,” Kunle said with a smile, “money, booze and the ladies!”

Isaac and Tokunbo burst out into hearty laughter.

Mike hissed. “Abeg why am I even listening to you guys?” He turned to me. “Kevin, what do you think?”

“Huh?” I said, as my phone fell off my suddenly nerveless fingers. You can’t even secretly record a studio drama without losing your aplomb, and you’re agreeing to be part of an undercover investigation?! I berated myself.

“These guys are saying I shouldn’t write a love song, because it’s not my brand.” He made finger quotes around the last word. “What do you think about that?”

It would simply be safer to concur with everyone else, stay below the radar in this production process. But then –

What would Jude do?

“I disagree with them,” I said promptly.

“Figures that a songwriter would say that,” Tokunbo said, adding a sneering stress on the word ‘songwriter’.

Kunle chuckled at his remark.

Smiling, I said, “Writing rap music is songwriting, not so?”

The other three men burst out with exuberant ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs’, cackling at the guy who I’d just burned. Isaac smiled appreciatively at me as well, and feeling warmed by the caper, I smiled back.

“I like this kid!” Mike declared, patting me on the back.

Just then, the studio door swung open, and in came Ngozi with a tray filled with two wine bottles and some glasses. I lifted my brows when I took in the fact that she looked way different than she’d been a mere two hours earlier: her hair was let down from the bun, her lips were positively a-glimmer with red lipstick, and the hemline of her skirt had ascended a few inches above her knees.

Well, somebody had worked wonders to finally look her best, I thought.

There were appreciative whistles from Mike, Kunle and Tokunbo as she hip-swayed her way to the centre table.

“Hi, guys!” she said brightly. “Here’s a little something for you, courtesy of Josh, for all your hard work.” She set the tray down on the table.

“Well,” Kunle said, “tell Josh we appreciate his offering. And I don’t mean the wine.”

Everyone laughed, including Ngozi. I sat where I was with a wooden expression.

“Oh, stop it. You guys are so bad,” Ngozi protested with a coy smile, as she headed back to the door. “Bye, guys.”

The door was shut behind her, and the next topic in the studio instantly became Ngozi. If her intention was to get noticed, I thought, she most certainly had succeeded. I wondered fleetingly who would put the moves on her – Mike, Kunle, Tokunbo or Isaac. Chief Bassey was already sleeping with one of his artistes; there was clearly enough sex to go around.

“Speaking of bitches,” Kunle said then, “how the hell did you guys manage with working with that Demoniker woman? I hear say she too dey demanding!” He looked from Isaac to me and back to Isaac.

“She’s actually not that bad if you don’t count her sneaking off to God-knows-where half of the time,” Isaac said.

“She sneaks off her album making process, huh?” Mike said thoughtfully. “Any idea where to?”

Yea, to the broom closet, I said.

“Not a clue,” Isaac replied.

“Probably to meet her secret lovaaahhh!” Tokunbo crowed.

Kunle, Tokunbo and Isaac laughed at that. Mike remained thoughtful. I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. What exactly was the scope of his interest in Demoniker, I wondered.

Eventually, focus returned to the music-making process, and I returned to my phone. I was startled to see that I had eleven missed calls. I immediately remembered that I’d turned on the silent mode when I settled into Mula Mike’s production. I checked the call record; Samuel had called me once, and the remaining ten calls had come from Kuddus. I sighed and threw the phone back into my bag.

***

Two hours passed, and Mike finally suggested we all take a break.

“Coming?” he tossed at me, as he left the room with the others.

“Be right out,” I answered. “I just want to do something real quick.”

Alone in the studio, I sat there, my phone in my hand, feeling a different kind of guilt scorch my insides. It had been three days since I ditched my date with Kuddus, thanks to the police and the news they upset my entire day with. I’d sent him a cryptic message, cancelling our outing, and that was it. I refused to answer his calls or reply his messages since then.

And today, he had called me ten times. I wasn’t that much of a monster to leave him out there in the cold, not speaking to him about why I withdrew from him.

Taking in a deep breath, I called him. The phone rang for a protracted amount of time before the connection was made.

“Hello?” he said.

“Kuddus, it’s me, Kevin.”

“Yes?” There was no warmth in his voice, just the words falling out with staccato flatness.

“I’m really sorry I haven’t been answering your calls,” I dived into my excuse. “I’ve just been really swamped at work lately –”

“I understand,” he interrupted.

“You do? Oh thank God… Because I thought you’d be mad –”

“Why would I be mad?” he interrupted again. “Would that be perhaps because you planned a date with me, and then bailed out last minute, and then didn’t bother to explain anything to me about your cancellation, not that day and not for three days? No, I can’t be mad about that.”

I sighed. “Okay. Clearly, you are mad. And I’m deeply sorry about these past few days. I promise I’ll make it up to you. We can go see a movie. I’m free this Sat–”

“Thanks, but no thanks, Kevin,” he cut across my words yet again. “Look, I think you were right that first time. This isn’t going to work out. Maybe you losing my number was a sign and I shouldn’t have pushed so hard.”

“It’s not like that…” I protested. Even to my ears, it sounded weak.

“Oh really?” Kuddus’ voice had iced over. “It’s not? Say it then. Say you actually wanted to go out with me.”

I didn’t. I couldn’t.

“Yeah, I thought so,” he said. “Look, Kevin, it’s my fault. I should have listened to you, really listened when you said things were complicated. You are complicated, and I’m not sure I need complicated in my life right now. So…” – he paused before continuing – “Goodbye Kevin.”

I was about to answer him when he disconnected the call.

I dropped my hand and the phone down to my side, and felt my shoulders sag with self deprecation. Way to go, Kevin. Here’s another something you’ve managed to ruin.

Realizing that I couldn’t stay here alone with my thoughts, I sighed, got to my feet and started for the door.

Written by Reverend Hot

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6 Comments

  1. Mandy
    November 18, 07:06 Reply

    This Kevin can be exasperating sometimes. How can you be pining away for someone in a coma who didn’t even remember you the first time he woke, and throw away the possibility of something good with another!

  2. Dubem
    November 18, 10:07 Reply

    Loool dude can’t even be a proper undercover snitch if his life depended on it.

  3. Nightwing
    November 18, 11:55 Reply

    Mike and Kevin are so getting down together. #JustSaying.

    • Pink Panther
      November 18, 12:22 Reply

      I know, right?! I sniffed that out too in their little bromance.

  4. Kaytee
    November 18, 13:46 Reply

    Finally…. another episode. …. I’m so loving this

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