Mike’s room was next door to mine. I knocked on his door. There was no answer, yet I knew he was in there, as I’d heard him move about and I knew he hadn’t exited the room. I knocked louder this time; then, when there was still no response, I shouted his name. Nothing.
‘Mike!’ I yelled again at the top of my voice.
‘Will you quit shouting!’ Tom’s voice could be heard from down the hall.
‘Mike!’ I was getting impatient.
‘For God’s sake,’ Tom’s voice was getting nearer. Then I heard footsteps.
Not wanting to cause a scene, I tried the door handle – it was open. I let myself in before Tom reached the door.
Inside, the first thing I noticed was the huge pan-African flag hanging on the wall above the bed, which was covered in a duvet featuring a map of Nigeria. On the bedside table I noticed a framed photo of a beautiful African woman. I guessed that this must have been Mike’s mother, as I had never met her in person. Once I had spoken to her on the phone, briefly. By my reckoning I must have talked to her not long before she had left. I could understand why she’d want to walk away from Tom, but I wondered how she could have abandoned her only son. And yet he still kept her photo by his bed. This I couldn’t fathom at all. Not only had I not kept any photos of Tom after he’d left us, but had I come across any, I was sure I would have smashed the frame and ripped the picture into smithereens.
I briefly glanced at all the posters of hip-hop, rap and R&B musicians dotting the remaining walls. I recognised only one of them – Professor Green, and that was just because Christian had pointed him out to me once when we had all been out in a bar in Soho. All of a sudden I felt much older than my 21 years, as though I were from a very distant generation to Mike’s. In fact, Tom must have felt the same kind of bafflement while looking at his son’s walls, a thought that didn’t particularly appeal to me. I didn’t like thinking that I could have anything in common with Tom.
My eyes finally settled on Mike. With headphones on, he was engrossed in his DJ equipment, which consisted of a mixing table and a vinyl player. He still hadn’t heard me or sensed me come in. I observed him for a moment. I could see absolutely no similarities between the two of us. No one would ever have thought us to be related. And since my arrival, Mike had made no effort to be courteous, never mind getting to know me. It was as if he was walking around with a great big sign on his forehead saying ‘keep away’. If he had to say something to me, he always addressed me as ‘Mozart’ and never my real name. The way he said it was with an unmistakable sneer in his voice. I could sympathise up to a point, as it couldn’t have been thrilling to be suddenly told a complete stranger was coming to live under the same roof; but I had little time for that teenage sullenness, as I had never felt the need to act out such behaviour in my own teenage years.
I tapped his shoulder and he nearly jumped from fright. I noticed his first impulse was to quickly cover the equipment, which should have sent alarm bells ringing. Perhaps if I had acted as a concerned sister right then and there, I could have prevented the trouble Mike was heading for; but then again, had I done that, I may never have experienced the adventure that was about to unfold for me. I do regret, though, not trying to connect with him in those early days. I know I was too raw from grief, but in my sadness I had forgotten that he, too, had lost his mother, even though she hadn’t died.
‘Whoa, you can’t just walk into people’s rooms like that, man! It ain’t cool.’
Looking at his indignant face, I wondered whether I had ever been such an angry adolescent. Try as I might, I couldn’t recall a single episode of teenage misbehaviour. But then again, had I lived with Tom, who knows how I’d have turned out.
‘Sorry. I knocked and shouted…’ We faced each other in what felt like a stand-off. ‘So what you got hidden under there?’ I tried deflecting the situation by showing an interest in what he was doing. Wrong move.
He looked at me nervously. ‘Nothing.’
I walked up to get a closer look. ‘That looks impressive. Where did you get it?’
‘Where d’you get off acting like you’re my mother or something?’ replied Mike, getting worked up. ‘You just got here, you’re no one to me, you hear? I don’t owe you nothing, no explanation.’
It was then that I realised the provenance of the DJ deck was probably suspect, but to make sure I was on the right track, I tried a scare tactic. ‘Maybe your dad knows where you got it from then?’
It worked. ‘Okay, okay, take it easy. I borrowed it. That’s all there is to it,’ Mike anxiously explained.
‘Borrowed? Who from?’ I kept at him, though I really didn’t care where the decks came from.
‘From a mate, alright? I’m trying to learn.’
‘Really? You want to be a DJ?’ My interest was piqued.
‘Yeah, but the old man doesn’t know anything. You know how stressed he gets about anything to do with music,’ Mike complained, unwittingly opening up to me for the first time.
He certainly had my sympathies on that count. Getting stressed over music was putting it mildly, though. Tom had been so intolerant of music that it was a huge part of the reason why he had left Mum. She had once told me about the day Tom had left us. He had asked her to choose between him and music. He claimed that he couldn’t go on sharing his wife with something that took up more of her attention and time than her own family. Mum had then told him that she couldn’t be with someone who would deprive her of her passion in life. It would have been akin to cutting off her oxygen supply.
Tom apparently took that answer as her choosing music over him, even though that’s not what she had said. Mum believed that he wanted to then punish her by refusing to see me. By keeping away, she thought Tom was trying one last desperate attempt to blackmail her into giving up music so that I could have my father back in my life. Not only did the tactic not work, it backfired, because it revealed to Mum just how heartless he was. As a result, she, in turn, wanted nothing more to do with him. I wondered how Mike would react if I told him about that. He’d probably freak out even more and barricade himself in his bedroom for fear of his decks being discovered.
Mike stood watching me expectantly. ‘So, you gonna keep a secret, Mozart?’
‘Sure, I got your back,’ I said. I had no interest in any secrets Mike may have been keeping from Tom. The last thing I wanted was to get in the middle of the two of them in some domestic dispute. It was none of my business, I reasoned, but I had been wrong. For it would soon become very much my business.
At the doorway I turned around. ‘Just quit calling me Mozart, will you?’
Mike grinned back at me, nodding. ‘No worries, Beethoven.’
That had been the first joke we had shared. I realised then that I had been far too harsh in my judgement of Mike. Underneath the sullenness there was just a kid, still hurting no doubt from being abandoned by his mother so young. It couldn’t be easy being in his shoes.
Read about Mike’s Shoplifting this Friday on Movellas.