I was at American House, headed to Osu. I had been standing at the bus station for a while. You see, I am one of those individuals who always waits for one of the few nice trotros in Accra. You can’t blame me, if I have to ride in these tin cans I might as well do it with style. I usually go for the front or the seat right behind the driver. The front seat, though not the safest, is one of the few comfortable spots, especially if it’s a Benz 207. The seat behind the driver because, statistically speaking (by statistics I mean hearsay), it’s been proven to be one of the SAFEST spots in a trotro. According to my source, safe because the driver will always try to save himself. Your sitting right behind him gets you saved too. Solid reasoning to me.
So till I get a trotro suited to my specs, I wait. I eventually did get one. The comfort zone was taken but the safe spot was open. I took my seat happily.
If you’ve ever had to use a trotro, then you’ve had to deal with a mate. One thing I have never understood about trotro mates though, the outrageous outfits they wear. They seem bent on trying to look the most outlandish in town. Also, I don’t know if there is a betting pool amongst them to see who can annoy passengers the most. If they are not slapping us with pungent body odors, then they are short-changing us. Worst is when they decide to “overload” and you are the unlucky passenger who decides to voice your disapproval. It can get you thrown off the trotro or subjected to snide remarks until you get to your stop. All these thoughts notwithstanding, I smile at the mate (I am nice like that), whenever I get on a trotro.
If for no reason at all, to commend their courage. Courage? Yes. It takes a lot of it to dress and act the way they do. If you do remember, there was this stunt (“Aplanke”) mates used to pull off some time ago. Whenever they get to a bus stop, instead of getting back in the car before it moves. They had rather wait for the car to gain a little speed. They then ran and grab hold of the car door. Swinging merrily from it and screaming for passengers simultaneously. Impressive though it was, this caused accidents. It’s a miracle all mates did not die off during that era. What with Trotros being like legos, coming apart with the littlest hard use. Thank God the current crop of mates do not pull that stunt. They focus on fashion now.
The trotro I had boarded was headed to the 37 station. That station too, everything about it beats my imagination. I think there is a conspiracy amongst all car owners in Ghana to send the most rundown cars there. How else do you explain the state of the cars in that station? A couple dozen could have been explained away, but almost everything? Something fishy going on… And not just the cars, most of the taxi drivers there are quite old and greying… a first time user of the station might think it’s a home for retired drivers. All peeves aside, I still needed to get to my destination.
So after some asking around, I found an Osu bound trotro (the kind that looks like a pig — really small front and huge passenger side). I did not get to sit in the front with the driver. I was in the row before the last. You know how these trotros have their seats arranged… as many rows as possible crammed inside, with the last seat on each row being adjustable to make way for passengers. These rows usually take four passengers each, I was the third person on that row, meaning, I didn’t get a window seat. Lest I forget to mention, most of the windows didn’t open anyway, so no loss there.
Having sat down, I looked up and saw this really fat woman waddling towards the trotro. This woman wasn’t just huge, she looked like the Michelin tyre logo. Her skin was folded everywhere and the folds cascaded over each other. At the trotro’s entrance, the mate had to heave and shove (being a mate is not all about swinging and being a fashion icon you know) to get her inside. Once in, where does she sit? Right next to me. As a gentleman I flipped over the seat for her (not a word of thanks). Woman had to squeeze, shake and contort herself to fit. She didn’t stop there, she kept up this sideways movement with her bum till we all on that row complained. By then it was too late, we were already being squeezed. But no, she wasn’t done yet. She waited a couple more minutes and started shimmying herself again. You know how trotros are hot and fat people sweat easily. All the while she had been making room for herself, I had also been pulling away to prevent her from getting her sweat on me. She was having none of that, she was consuming the gap between us, as fast as I created it. So when she shimmied some more, I said nothing, just gave her a couple of quick jabs with my elbow. That seemed to work.
But there was a bigger problem now. In order to jab her good, I had moved my shoulder a bit to get the angle right. That had served to put my shoulder underneath her underarm..and from all the consuming and shimmying, she was drenched in sweat . She was wearing a tank top too, no barrier between my shoulder and her underarm. At this point I realized I had lost the battle and conceded defeat. She had put her sweat on me… No matter what I did, it would still be on me. I just gave her a small jab to make me feel good and ignored her.
Finally full, the bus sets off and the mate asks for the fare. Now, in ignoring her (fat lady), I had leaned forward and was holding on to the seat in front of me. There was no way I could reach my wallet, so I asked the lady sitting to my left to reach into my pocket and get it for me. She refused, albeit with some grumbling and nasty glances. No option other than to get up and do it myself. This I did with quite some elbow jerking, scoring a few revenge hits on the fat lady and the nasty lady both (usually I’m not like this, I forgive).
Having gotten the wallet, I sat back down and gave the mate a ten cedi note. ..Then dude gives me change for five cedis. I turned around and politely told him; “mate, its not the right change”. That was said in Twi though, they kind of get riled up when you talk to them in English. In Accra the official language in a trotro is either Twi or Ga. Nothing else gets you the desired results. The mate didn’t deign to reply, not even a nod as acknowledgement. At this point, I was feeling the heat, my arms were hurting, and the fat lady had a peculiar odour. So I kind of shouted (in English — I forgot myself) at the mate, he turns around and asks me: “Hot (that’s what)”. Told him change was short a couple cedis. He told me I was mistaken and that I had given him 5 cedis. I was pretty sure I had given him a 10 cedi note cause all I had in my wallet was two 10 cedi notes. I insisted on my right change. ARGUING THAT I HAD NO FIVE (5) CEDI NOTES IN MY WALLET. We kept exchanging words till it got really heated and some of the passengers got involved. He gave in eventually (looking back I think he didn’t want to draw the driver’s attention, doing that reduces the opportunities for taking “tsobo”. He paid up and I shut up.
First stop was the Danquah Circle, which happened to be the fat lady’s stop. Due to the altercation that had gone on with the mate, I hadn’t had the chance to put my change in my wallet. Getting some space around me, I proceeded to do just that, and what would you believe. I HAD CHEATED THE MATE!!
A QUICK RECAP
*before I got on the trotro I had changed money for a man who wanted higher denominations. I gave him my two ten (10) cedi notes in exchange for four five (5) cedi notes. One of these notes was what I had paid the mate with, not the ten cedi note as I had stated earlier.*
I kept staring into my wallet, contemplating giving back the extra change. I was about to when I remembered this thing that a mate did.
*In a Dodowa bound trotro, a mate returned a passenger’s fare and refused to take any other money from him. Because the money was counterfeit (according to the mate). He insisted he had worked in a bank before and knew fake when he saw it. He wouldn’t listen to any explanations from the man (who insisted he had just withdrawn the money from an ATM). He didn’t stop there, in his bastardized version of the Queen’s language, he kept abusing the man non-stop till we got to the Adenta barrier. There, he shouts bus stop, doesn’t wait for the driver to even park and jumps out of the trotro. He runs to the police station at the barrier and comes back with a policeman (to arrest the counterfeit man supposedly). After some explaining, the policeman realises the mate is an idiot and goes back.*
To show some solidarity with that unfortunate man, I put my wallet back in my pocket. Just as I did that, I heard the nasty lady sitting on my left ask the mate; “How much did he say he gave you? Only five (5) cedi notes are in his wallet oo”… Hearing that I froze, with just one thought running through my head: “BAYIFUOR!”