My coffee is too hot to drink. Across from me, Nadia unloads the contents of another sugar packet into her tea before tossing the wrapper onto the table, adding to a growing pile. She stirs her drink too fast and the spoon clanks against the edge of the glass in a way that makes my teeth hurt. Liquid slops out of the glass but she says nothing. I blow on my coffee.
‘We need to talk about what happened.’ I say.
She nods. Silence is unusual for her, a woman who’s made a living with her voice. She can’t meet my gaze and her eyes are cast down onto the table. She stops stirring her tea and grabs one of many sugar packet wrappers off the table and begins shredding it. Her nails are bitten down to stumps, all traces of expensive nail polish nibbled away. She looks smaller than she does on stage, curled up in the café booth, dressed in a plain grey tracksuit. Her signature vintage furs and platform boots are nowhere to be seen. She looks up at me quickly, her hard brown eyes unprotected from her usual swathes of makeup. Dark circles are prominent beneath her eyes and a bloom of acne adorns her forehead. She looks awful, and I can tell she hasn’t slept. Her time in the police station has not served her well.
‘How is she?’ Nadia asks in a tiny voice, and it's the most I’ve heard her say all morning. She greeted me with a grunt and ordered her drink with a single word. It’s like she’s been shrunk in the wash, a giant personality reduced to sentence fragments and a grey hoodie.
‘Tasha’s fine, she’s on a lot of pain medicine at the minute. They were worried about her eye but luckily her nose took the brunt of it, so she’s got a lot of swelling and a gash on her eyebrow, but other than that she’s okay. No concussion and her teeth are all still there. You took a fair chunk out of her lip though.’ Nadia looks more and more sheepish the further I get into my account, wincing at the mention of Tasha’s broken nose.
The sound it had made was awful, a sick crack that was picked up by a microphone and resonated throughout the venue. It was followed by a moment of stunned silence before the crowd erupted, hurling abuse at Nadia and yelling for someone to help Tasha, who was crumpled on the stage, groaning and clutching her face, her hands slick with her own blood.
‘Has she said anything?’ Nadia asks, speaking a little louder this time. She uncurls herself and places both feet on the floor, though her eyes remain fixed to the table.
‘About you, or-’
‘No not about me. Just in general.’ Nadia snaps at me. I raise my hands in defence. I think about my response. I don’t want to lay it on too thick, but the sound of Tasha in pain last night will stay with me for a long time. My hand still hurts from how hard she gripped it in the hospital, and her blood was difficult to wash off. Nadia was spared the sight of her broken face, having been carted off in a police van minutes after the incident. Fans and news sites alike have been having a field day with those photos.
‘Well, she cried a lot. You really hurt her.’ I say, driving the point home but remaining calm.
‘I fucking know that Lindsey, do you think I don’t fucking know that? God, I feel like shit.’ Nadia is borderline shouting, waving her hands about wildly as she speaks, turning the heads of a few old dears sat by us. I shoot them an apologetic smile, an art I’ve perfected since meeting Nadia.
It takes all my strength not to stoop down to cheap retorts: well, maybe you should have thought about that before you hit your bandmate in the face with a guitar. But I'm the band manager, and the only thing keeping the girls together, so I compose myself.
Before I can speak, Nadia gets up and storms past me, grumbling that she needs a cigarette. Knowing neither of us are going to finish our drinks, I plop a tenner on the table, grab my bag and follow her outside.
I’m greeted by a cool breeze and the sound of frantic clicking. Whether it’s sleep deprivation or a busted lighter, Nadia is simply unable to light her cigarette.
‘Come on!’ she growls through gritted teeth, growing more and more desperate with every failed spark. I reach into my bag and rummage until I find one of many spare lighters I keep in there. I’ve never been a smoker, but when you manage a band like Aspasia, it helps to keep a few lighters handy. This one is red and glittery, and is promptly snatched from my hand without so much as a thank you. In the three years I’ve known her, Nadia has never thanked me once.
My lighter works the first time and the relief on Nadia’s face is instant. She takes a long drag and looks up to the sky to exhale. A single tear slides down her face.
‘I could go to prison.’
You’re not going to go to prison. The most you’ll get is a fine.’ I say, attempting to disguise the disbelief in my voice that this is what she’s worried about, rather than her bandmate currently lying in hospital.
Her voice takes on a panicked tone, and she sucks harder on her cigarette.
‘I’ve done this before though, you should have seen me in school, I was always fighting. My mum-’
‘Listen. The solicitors will handle it. What matters now is Tasha, first and foremost, and then sorting out the tour. Cancellations, ticket refunds-’
‘The tour’s cancelled?’ she turns to me, her eyes wide and filled with tears. I’ve seen her cry before, massive tantrums with snot and mascara tears everywhere, putting on a show as always. This is a quieter sadness, laced with fear and exhaustion. I’ve yet to figure out if remorse factors into it.
‘Use your head, Nadia. You assaulted Tasha on stage. Even if she was up to being in the same room with you, let alone playing with you, you’ve made a name for yourself, and the band, as trouble. This is what I came here to talk about.’
She takes a quicker drag of the cigarette, flicking ash onto the pavement and kicking it about with the toe of her battered trainer. She turns away from me slightly.
‘I don’t feel like talking.’ she says, her voice meek and quiet.
I’ve seen her get like this before. This is the act she puts on when she wants to get out of something: interviews, warmups, photos, you name it. Many have fallen victim to it, but I’m all too familiar with her games and I’ve had three hours sleep, so this particular pantomime is not going to wash.
‘We sort of have to talk about it, Nadia.’ I say firmly.
‘God, you sound like my mum.’
‘I don't understand how to make you see the severity of the situation. This is it for us. Properly it. The band could be finished for good and it’s my job to sort it all out. Tasha-’
‘Can we not talk about Tasha right now?’ she whines.
I’ve put up with a lot of Nadia bullshit over the years but this takes the cake. I’m sick of the mood swings. It’s like being burned at the stake one minute and thrown out in the snow the next.
‘Why? Has the guilt finally caught up to you?’ I bite back.
Her invective comes from the heart but she doesn’t mean it. She reminds me of a snake, spitting venom because I’ve gotten too close. I sigh.
‘I’m doing my best to help you-’
‘I don’t need your help. If the band’s finished then what do I need you for? I could do this on my own.’ She spits the cigarette butt onto the ground and squashes it underfoot. I scoff.
‘Oh yeah, Nadia goes solo?’
I try to imagine Nadia without me and the girls. Turning up late to every show. Pissing off journalists. Drunk and miles away from home because there’s no one there to look after her. We’re all she has, and I know her heart is breaking underneath this stony front she’s putting on. Mine is.
‘Yeah. I’m the only one who fucking does anything. I work ten times harder than them. I write all the good songs. All Tasha does is sit and write her whiny politico-bullshit. You’re making that face at me but you know I'm right.’
‘I cannot believe you.’ I say. I take a deep breath. We’re both hurting. I shouldn’t add fuel to the fire with empty insults. Nadia glares at me, waiting for me to tell her about herself.
‘This isn’t working.’ I say, defeated. ‘Can I call you tonight and talk things through?’
Nadia doesn’t meet my eye.
‘Yeah. Fine.’ she says, picking at her ruined nails.
‘Okay then, I’ve got some stuff to sort out, are you alright getting home?’ I ask. I feel as though half my life has consisted of hauling the girls in and out of cars, buses and planes. I’m worried about her doing something stupid on the way back, considering the amount of pressure she’s under. Fans have turned against her, the press are baying for her blood, and her court date is looming. I’ve downplayed it to her but if they see it as grievous bodily harm, she’s done for. Thrown her life away over a petty argument on stage.
‘Talk to you soon.’ I say, lingering a second too long. I don’t want to leave her.
I fight tears as I turn away. It drained the life out of me, but I loved managing Aspasia. Nadia, Tasha, Paro, and Mae were all amazing. And the music, God the music was incredible. But it looks like that’s all over now. Tasha’s nose will heal but the damage Nadia did last night extends far beyond that. As per usual she saw red and I was left to pick up the pieces.
I’m halfway down the road when I get a text.
Nadia: thank you
I feel like I’m dreaming. Of course she waits until after everything falls apart to say the two words I’ve been waiting years to hear. She can’t be serious. I shake my head and go to put my phone back in my pocket when it pings again.
Nadia: for everything