26 Days to the Wedding

It was Michael Koranteng’s first day in his new job at CuRated when “The List” dropped online. He hated that those were the terms in which people discussed it, like it was a sneaker release or a Marvel movie trailer.

That morning, he had woken up before his alarm, first day jitters rousing him at 7:17 a.m. Michael was alert despite the late night—he hadn’t gone anywhere near as hard as Ola, who he’d had to fireman-carry into an Uber home. When they arrived back, he managed to change her into an old shirt and get her into her bed, but it was another twenty minutes before she fell asleep. His battery had died so he couldn’t order himself a cab and when he asked for Ola’s pass-word, she wouldn’t give it to him unless he danced with her to their wedding song, Bracket’s “Yori Yori,” and referred to her as “Mrs. Koranteng.” Thankfully, he managed to get the passcode from her right before she passed out, drool pooling on her pillow.

They had celebrated his new job by wandering through Soho, private members’ club hopping, as they wondered aloud “Who the fuck are we?” Michael could feel himself smiling at the thought of his soon-to-be wife. Ola was exceptionally pretty – wide brown eyes, high cheekbones, with the wholesome, dimpled African beauty Afrobeats musicians dedicated entire discographies to. At five foot eleven she was tall and slender, in a way that she said hadn’t served her well during her teenage years in Streatham, where her flat chest and slim hips had her at the bottom rung of “fanciability.” By the time she arrived at university, what had once been deemed “lankiness” was perceived as “legginess” and had her mistaken for a model on occasion, as did her high forehead. Trademark waist-length braids that regularly changed color made her all the more striking, as did a silver hoop in her button nose.

But she was not just a pretty face, oh no. Ola was smart and ambitious and supportive of him. She was also deeply principled and caring. Out of the few billion potential soulmates on the planet, he knew his could only be Ola Olajide. In twenty-seven days they’d declare this in front of all the people they loved almost as much as each other. Almost. They had been through a lot, him and Ola, but to-day, Michael hoped, would be the first day of proving he deserved her – as much to himself as to anyone else.

As he opened his wardrobe, Michael reached for one of the few fitted, collared shirts he owned and a pair of smart black trousers, instead of his usual self-im-posed uniform of a dark sweater, matching joggers, and sneakers. He knew he’d be a touch overdressed for the notoriously laid-back start-up but he couldn’t shake the scornful voice of his mother, sarcastically inquiring why he wanted to give off the impression of unemployment on his first day. He was about to make his way down to the kitchen for some breakfast when he decided to check his phone. It had been left charging overnight, but the moment the screen lit up, he knew something was wrong. 21 missed calls. 59 WhatsApps. His stomach churned. Who had died? Michael thought of his grandmother, who he didn’t call anywhere near enough. The last time they had spoken, over a week and a half ago, she was just getting over minor surgery. He’d made sure to text her every other day since the procedure and it had seemed like all was well, but she was eighty-one years old. And patients often died unexpectedly in Ghanaian hospitals, after less invasive operations.

No messages from his mum, but several from miscellaneous names he struggled to find a common connection between. The first was from a man named Ryan, whose face he couldn’t conjure without looking at the contact picture and who he vaguely remembered meeting at a podcast workshop a few months be-fore. Their last correspondence, a friendly exchange about the date of the next event, couldn’t have been more different from his most recent message:

Is this shit true????

Was what “shit” true? Michael wasn’t sure he appreciated Ryan’s tone. He opened a second message then, this time from Ola’s best friend Celie, who had simply posted six question marks followed by a link. Michael tapped it, launching his Twitter app, which opened to an account with a grayed-out avatar: “@_the_list.” He frowned as he read the bio. “Exposing the UK media’s most prolific abusers,” the text read. “Live for 24 hours only.” Michael’s mood shifted from anxiety to confusion. What did this have to do with him? The page was following no one, had 786 followers, and had posted only two tweets. The first was pinned to the top of the profile and captioned “Our response,” with a screenshot of text attached:

Thank you to all who submitted. We created this account as official channels continue to fail survivors of abuse in the media and entertainment industries. We have no choice but to do something ourselves.

In order to protect the safety and identities of those who submitted, we are not going to be responding to DMs about #TheList. This account will be deactivated after 24 hours.

Michael’s mouth was dry. His phone was still buzzing with messages but they were barely registering now. Surely, he couldn’t be . . . The second tweet showed a screenshot of a spreadsheet, with two text-filled columns. He took a deep breath before clicking on it and recognized his name immediately. There he was, number 42, wedged between a TV producer accused of date rape and a journalist who preyed on teenage girls. His first name was misspelt as “Micheal,” then “CuRated” was next to the words “Harassment and threatening behavior/Physical assault at office Christmas party.” This was followed by “Restraining order” in brackets. Under any other circumstances, he would have been thrilled at the idea of being recognizable by his first name alone, like he was a proper public figure. For a moment, he wondered if he was panicking prematurely, since he only officially started his new job today. Perhaps there was some kind of mix-up; another Michael in production maybe, or in accounts. It was one of the most common names going. This train of thought lasted mere seconds, as he recalled the highly retweeted announcement of his hiring last week. He exited The List and looked at the tweet. 34 retweets. 203 likes. Posted at 6:30 a.m. He felt light-headed and began to pace.

I’m going to lose my job, was his first thought. I’m going to lose the first job I’ve wanted, before I even start it. With quivering hands, he clicked the small flag icon below the tweet, next to the words “Report an issue.” As he did, a menu popped up with options. “It’s spam,” “It expresses intention of suicide,” “T’m not interested in it.” No “It’s accusing me of assault” option, then. He chose “It’s abusive or harmful” and found himself even more frustrated at the next page. “How is this tweet abusive or harmful?” Though he felt “It encourages suicide or self-harm” was the closest, he opted for “Includes targeted harassment” and pressed send.

He looked at the growing responses to the post, searching for names and faces he recognized among the likes. It was hard to keep track, the jurymen multiplying with each scroll. Each double tap felt to him like a conviction. There were now 217 likes; the last ever live show he’d done with the podcast had an audience of 210. He felt wobbly at the thought of what that number of people looked like in a room. And, those were just the accounts that had publicly interacted with the tweet – how many posts did he see, share, and discuss without visibly engaging at all? He recalled Ryan’s message from earlier: overfamiliar, accusatory. Is this shit true???? Michael hardly knew the guy, and he had the confidence to message him like they were boys, throwing around allegations before 9 a.m. Nausea washed over him as he imagined the other messages piling up on his phone, from near strangers, from those he assumed should know him better.

He had woken up less than an hour ago as the newest presenter of Tasted, on the first day of the rest of his life. He was now going to work as a named industry abuser. The labels “harasser,” “assaulter,” “abuser” hadn’t been his long, yet he already felt permanently marked by them. He didn’t know what to do. Everything he had worked to build for the past six years was disintegrating around him. Michael wanted to disappear, for the ground to swallow him up. How on earth was he going to face his new colleagues? If they hadn’t already seen it, it was surely only a matter of time. He was done for: he was in much more famous company on that list so, before long, it would go from being a thread on Twitter, to the gossip pages, to an article in the papers, to . . .

Ola. He needed to speak to Ola. He tapped her name in his contacts, knowing she probably wouldn’t be able to answer till later because of the blocking app she had installed a few weeks back. He had warned her it was a stupid idea in case of an emergency, though he’d thought more along the lines of lost keys, not being anonymously accused of assault. After one ring, it disconnected. He tried once more; a few rings then this time voicemail. “Yo, Ola, it’s me,” he said, unsure what to say next. “Can you call me as soon as you get this?” Ignoring the other messages, he began typing a reply to Celie.

This is not true. I need to talk to Ola ASAP

Celie’s “online” status changed to “typing” instantly. He watched as her typing stopped and started repeatedly, before her avatar changed to the default stick man silhouette. She had blocked him.

The thumping in his chest was beginning to affect his breathing. He and Ola were getting married in a month. At least, they were supposed to be. He couldn’t be sure what this meant for the wedding. Or for them, full stop. This list of abusers would turn any woman’s stomach but Ola? This was the kind of thing she had spent her career documenting. The kind of thing that made her feel the world she was so desperately trying to change was simply beyond repair. Men like this. What did “men like this” mean now his name was involved? Now he was the type of man she wrote about? He scoured The List again, trying to make sense of his place on it in the context of the others mentioned. I can’t believe this is happening to me, Michael thought. But, deep down he had always wondered if something like this might, one day. Karma, perhaps. He held the power button on the side of his phone until the screen turned to black.

He sat on the edge of his bed to steady himself, his fingers on his temples.
They were throbbing. After some time had passed, he slowly got to his feet, feeling his knees buckle as he did. He took another deep breath and ran to the bathroom where he was sick in the basin. Then he brushed his teeth a second time, buttoned up his shirt, and left for work.


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Excerpt from THE LIST published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Yomi Adegoke.