Paskan Jake Baby: A short story on valentine by Kayode Ani
Paskan Jake was a low willowy shop where Nina Simone played from loud stereo systems without end. It was a stop for yellow buses with words of street wisdom tattooed on their bodies; it was a warehouse from where Onyinye heard the silent crowing of a thousand hens.
It was many things for her. Here she first tasted the ashy smoke of a cigarette. Here she danced against a boy she saw always in her dreams. Here she kissed him. Here she loved him. Here she picked the broken pieces of her heart from the streets. She called him Harrison and he called her Baby.
Baby come close. Baby, smile for me baby. Baby I need you.
It was always the warehouse, with crates and crates of eggs pilled each on the other, with smoky shadows of hens and their lovers forming on the crates. It was there that she saw her name saved on his phone with Paskan Jake Baby. And her heart shattered, into several million pieces. First, it swelled— perhaps with pain—and then it exploded into white specks of glass that tinkled to the floor.
It, of course, had not always been that way. Their love had begun fresh, like green banana leaves in months of rain. He had followed her around, called her Onyinyem; my gift, my precious. He had hugged her from behind and blown air against the tiny soft hairs on the back of her neck. He had traced the stretch marks on her thighs, and called her beautiful and she had imagined strands of bougainvillea sprouting along the lines his hand ran on her body.
She had felt like a flower, blossoming towards the sun. It was not like she didn’t know he would hurt her. The singers sang it, the writers wrote it, and Aunty Felicia always told her; Boys are bad.
A man had hurt Aunty Felicia. A man had left her own mother with a girl she could not raise because he already had daughters and was looking for a son.
“Was it not heartbreak that killed my sister?” Aunty Felicia would say and Onyinye had imagined how a heart could shatter so irrevocably, so completely that it killed, until she felt it. She told herself, you should know better. He smokes cigarettes; he smokes Ganga; he sags his pants and walks with a swag and you’re an honour student at IMT. But would it be love if she did not sleep with fear each night thinking of him, and of tiny questions her mind gave her heart.
He started calling her Onyii-Baby after she took a swig of cigarette and bent over, hands clutched to knees, coughing and coughing. His right hand was stroking her back and the other was holding the cigarette to his mouth. When she finally stood to lean against him she saw chickens, red, yellow, white, brown-every colour really- perched on the crates. Real life chickens.
Harrison’s mother swept the floor, each morning before she went to deliver eggs to her customers. There wasn’t even so much as a stray feather so why did she see chickens? They danced to Nina Simone. He loved dancing, she loved dancing, and so their bodies moved in harmony, their hearts in sync. His love consumed her, it squeezed her into and out of herself, it dismembered her organ by organ till she felt empty and it filled her to the brim.
And then slowly, without her knowing it, he lapsed into calling her baby. It signified something that was just beyond the grasp of her understanding. Something she could see but could not touch, like she was hearing loud clear voices and yet could not make out words.
On the day, he misplaced his phone and she dialed his number to help find the phone, she saw Paskan-Jake baby where there had once been my precious, my gift.
“What is this,” she asked, “Harrison what is this?”
“Baby calm down,” he smiled. “Its not a big deal. Is it not just name?”
Onyinye had wanted to point out that Onyinye was shorter than Paskan Jake Baby. And that they no longer danced to Nina Simone; that she wanted to go back to that era when they would lie in their matted sweat and he would trace her ugly stretch marks and call her beautiful, when he would pull her on top of him and they would just lay there in the salty sweet crush of bodies. But the chickens were squawking and screaming and flapping their wings. She picked up her handbag, smoothened invisible creases in her skirt and left.
And she cried. She cried because she saw it now, the cataclysmic end they were heading to and she did not know how she would find her life again without him.
Aunty Felicia came home and found her crying.
“Ogini?” She asked. “What is it?”
Onyinye kept silent. What was she to say? How was she to tell Aunty Felicia that she had placed too much–all even–of herself on a pillar she knew would one-day collapse?
“Is it a boy?” Aunty Felicia asked. Onyinye nodded. Aunty Felicia sat beside her and cradled her crying head.
“You fool,” she said. “Did I not tell you that they were like this? Why would you give someone so much power over you?” There was no why.
“Forget him,” she said. But Onyinye was sure that she never would.
She tried though. Her ND exams were approaching and she should graduate with a strong result. She would no longer be a fool. Soon she would have to sit for the direct entry to UNN. She could be a barrister one day. She owed that much to Aunty Felicia, to be something. Yet at night, she cried because she missed him and she missed Paskan Jake and she missed what he made her feel.
One Thursday, he sent her a text.
Baby we should talk
And she got on a bus and hurried to Paskan Jake. When Harrison saw her, he smiled a crooked smile that was nevertheless dear. They did not speak. He simply led her inside. He kissed her, fondled the fabric of her bra, nibbled on the flesh of her neck and held her tightly to himself.
“Baby I’m sorry about last time,” he said. He pressed his lips against her. God she loved him. She told him about the birds she could see perched on the crates, screaming, jumping, and squawking. She did not tell him that they had started doing that only after she saw his phone. Because there, in that moment, all she wanted was for them to stay locked in their embrace, forever.
For a while, it was all good. Then Harrison said he had to be out of town for a week. It was all good. It was the same week of her direct entry exams. She did not ask where exactly ‘out of town’ was or what he was going to do there.
On the day of her exams, she saw him at the Garriki Park. It was not like the stories others told. She did not find him in the arms of another woman, which she knew there was anyway, another woman. She knew. Nevertheless, she was not with him that morning. Perhaps it would have been better if she were.
He stopped in his tracks when he saw her and Onyinye stopped in hers. Then she quickened her steps, walking right past him. When he made to take her arm, she spun around and pointed at him.
“I have exams o. Don’t touch me,” she said and he watched her helplessly as she walked away.
She was bright, as a star, a rare sight in her class, according to her lecturers. Girls with her brains ended up at UNN and Ibadan and Zaria. How did she end up in a polytechnic? And now she really was on her way to UNN. She could not be distracted. She pushed the questions inwards, to the part of her subconscious stilled by happy memories.
They stayed there even after her exams. She could not keep expecting that this their love, this sweet tingly love that made her toes curly and made her heart lurch and made her stomach full would be any different. He kept texting her.
Baby I can explain, let’s talk. Baby common, common baby. Baby I need you, please.
And she knew that if she saw him again, if she saw him smile, that smile that belonged to her and her alone, if she saw it, it would melt her, she knew that If he called her Onyinyem, she would stay. And so she read his text, gorged with longing before deleting them.
Until she saw her results. Straight results. It came out on the same day as her semester results. She passed her semester exams; perhaps she would receive a distinction. And she passed the entry exams too. She sat at the cyber cafe for long minutes wondering how she had scored so high.
It was a sign, it had to be a sign. She would give Harrison one more chance and if it did not work out, she was going to UNN anyway.
On my way to Paskan Jake, her text read. It wasn’t wise but she was human.
He was sitting on the cement block by the door and only started to go inside when he saw her.
“Stop,” she said.
“Baby,” he said and took her hand. “Let me just show you what I bought you. Lowering her resolves, she followed him inside.
It was a necklace.
“I bought it since, for Valentine but you would not talk to me.”
“For Valentine?” She asked
“Yes Baby.” He put it around her neck.
“See how beautiful you are.” He said. He kissed her neck once, twice and again till her breathing quickened.
“Baby I need you,” he said and she heard his zipper open. She clenched her eyes. They did not make an effort to roll out the mattress, now old and worn with use. He held her against the wall, thumped against her and the birds fluttered and screamed.
Onyinye remembered that he had not called her by name. Perhaps he had forgotten her name, perhaps he had not, yet even as she pushed back on him, it dawned on her that this really was the last time. It did not matter if her heart washed against his. She started to cry.
“Stop,” she said.
“My name is not baby. My name is Onyinye,” Onyinye shouted with a force that surprised her, she had not meant for her voice to be so laden with accusation. Harrison stepped away from her as though he knew that it was not just, about his calling her baby.
“What’s my name?” She shouted hitting his bare chest. “What is my name?” She repeated hitting him again. She did not understand why he simply let her hit him. She hit him and hit him until her arms ached and then she fell to her knees on the floor and wept.
He stood just watching her, not knowing what to do.
“Why can’t you call me by my name?” She cried looking up at him, her gaze urging him to say something, anything.
The flock had grown silent. Harrison was silent. Paskan Jake was silent.
And it was this silence, a silence so loud it defeated her, that broke her heart all over again. She stood, wiped her tears, smoothened her skirt, picked her bag and left.
Outside, a low gentle breeze was blowing. It felt cold against her tear stained face.