PaaJoe died on a late Sunday afternoon. When the call came through, I was seven houses away in my girlfriend’s uncle’s house, humping her on a teal colored mat that was unapologetic to my already scarred knees. The phone rang at 3:24pm. It was Junior. Junior never called unless PaaJoe was roasting his ass for something he’d done or screaming from the base of his testicles.
God made a mistake blessing PaaJoe with a timbre quality to his voice. It must have surely been in his favour when he was a young man; for when Nna, my grandmother was alive, she used to bore us to drooled sleep about how she fell for the skinny boy at the back of the Methodist church choir, with thirsty looking shoes and a beautiful voice. But not in this time, and certainly not at all hours. You’d think in his old age, he would at least be too frail to raise his voice, but PaaJoe’s angry scream could wake three generations of the dead.
I was instantly reminded of the dawn a starving thief stumbled into our house and headed for the kitchen. A kitchen that announced its hunger, the fading blue linoleum carpet, with gaping burnt holes spread across each corner of the room; as if to say even they too were dying of thirst, water stained bowls hugging each other for comfort, and the aroma of a day old palm nut soup fighting the gentle breeze of dawn for dominance. To this day, I am unsure as to what really scared the thief away; whether it was the shocking image of an old shrivelled skinny man with sunken eyes standing naked in the doorway or his jarring scream.
The phone rang a second time. I couldn’t risk picking up the call, my girlfriend was going through a phase; she called it revolutionary. I called it stupid; but only in my head. She had cut her long soft hair to a nappy, coarsely texturized pulp and insisted on everybody calling her Ewuradwoa instead of Janice. Every week there was a new craze to her ‘going back to her roots’ phase. Yesterday, it was no more watching of international news, supposedly because the international media were full of bullshit and only published what they wanted the people to see, today it was making-out on a mat instead of the comfortable quilted bed in the corner of her uncle’s room.
But I didn’t complain, the phase hadn’t affected our sex life, if anything, it had boosted it. And I wasn’t about to spoil that with a phone call in the middle of a hot round; Especially after seeing her with a book which had “Black love” boldly written on its spine, with an image of a full-figured woman on the cover, lying on her lap two days ago.
I called Junior back at 4:45pm. Expecting his strident voice to tell me what it was this time that PaaJoe was complaining about. But it was a flat, barely audible voice that echoed through the connection. Clear enough for him to tell me PaaJoe was dead, and to get home fast.
“Junior! Chale dis better be joke!” I said into the phone even after he had hanged up, as though if I was aggressive enough, the news would somehow be untrue. I walked out of the room in long strides, my subconscious self muting Ewuradwoa’s disturbed voice out.
On his 80th birthday PaaJoe spent the better part of his day nursing a cut above his left eye. Adzo, our neighbour’s wife had caught him peeping at her as she bathed, through the open cracks of the wooden bathroom door we shared in the compound, and had thrown a pail full of water at his head. After that day I accepted that my grandfather was not dying anytime soon. He was too full of life, too full of mischief and nonchalance, and lived his life as though he were 50 years younger.
I found Junior sitting on the floor, looking at PaaJoe as he lay in his hammock.
He did not look dead. He looked like he was sleeping. I nudged him gently, a big part of me expecting him to laugh till he choked, glad that he could still freak us out of our minds at his age.
But his empty eyes just stared back at me.
Music suddenly started blaring from the radio in the hall. It stopped a year ago, but neither of us had had the heart to throw it out. Nna used to clean it out every Saturday as if it were a child that needed bathing. And now, in PaaJoe’s death, it had started working again, as though it had decided to come alive to pay tribute to the dead man.