Admit it. Sometimes, you love it when the car you’re in is tearing through neighbourhoods and rumbling over pothole-riddled off-the-map dust paths that even 4×4 drivers may wince at. Of course, you don’t like the jolting, and you show your displeasure with some self-righteous grumbling at the driver, but when you see in the distance all the traffic you’d have been baking in, and you reach your destination in record time, deep down within, you acknowledge that the driver has saved the day. To satisfy your conscience you deflect the blame for such indiscipline to the government’s poor handling of the traffic situation on the Spintex Road, the Kasoa Road, or at Jamestown – usually caused by an unannounced road block for yet another outdooring or funeral. When it comes to the ins and outs of the city, look no further than Accra’s taxi drivers.
Every once in a long while I treat myself to the relative luxury of the backseat of a taxi to work, though it has more to do with oversleeping than with an upgrade of social standing. The thought of scraping a layer of accumulated dirt with my knees did not excite me one morning, so off I went, avoiding the mass of humanity waiting to attack the gate of the next approaching trotro. Soon, we were faced with the first traffic jam.
Muttering to himself, the driver swung the steering wheel right, then left, veering onto the road adjacent to Emmanuel Eye Clinic, the very same one that has been blocked with short pillars. With nothing but road in front of us, he floored the accelerator. I was certain he was a stranger in the area and was already regretting this whole episode. My pleas for us to return to the main road fell on stubborn ears. O, me of little faith. The next thing I knew, he had squeezed round the last pillar on the right, rolling over a mound of sand that had collected at the edge of the gutter. He made it. Needless to say, he held bragging rights the rest of the journey.
Not every brazen attempt at outwitting the system, however, ends in glory. One cocky taxi driver tried to dodge the snaking traffic, moving off the Mensvic Hotel road and attempting to go through the Shiashie village. More traffic. Further into the village he took me, towards the station, past squatters in uncompleted houses and two scruffy dogs fighting on the road. A man was ambling into the bush, an edition of The Daily Graphic tucked loosely in his unbelted trousers. I reasoned that he had no intention of reading about bomb blasts in Iraq. Or even if he did, the paper had further use.
I had no idea where this route would end us up. Within seconds, we were in another hold up, facing Legon and going nowhere. It would be a painful wait before we would make the U-turn to join the slow flow heading towards the Tetteh Quarshie Overpass. The traffic lights were green for us for all of ten seconds before the fresh three minute standstill. In that time, I saw coming to pass many cars that we were in front of on the conventional route. This adventure was officially a fiasco. I was fuming. In the next lane, an elderly lady was dishing out an earful to the driver of the trotro she was in. We had gambled and lost.
No wonder I never follow taxi drivers. I once heard of how a normally disciplined driver took off behind the taxi speeding past the maddening jam. Off they went, through a sprinkling of compound houses and children, unashamed of their nakedness, bathing outside. The pair went over the bumpy road, sending chickens scattering out of the way and loosening a few screws for good measure. Without warning, the taxi driver just parked in front of his house and went in. A dead end, with nobody to blame.
I’ll bet I’m not alone in experiencing the highs and lows of taxi or trotro drivers cutting corners to swerve traffic jams. How about you tell us about them? Is the bush path’s dust transferred onto your white shirt worth the trouble?
Perhaps it’s a man’s thing. Or maybe it’s just human nature to want to prove that we are smarter than the rest who have chosen the path of suffering, when it could so easily be avoided. No doubt, I was late for work, and in the process threw away some good money on an unprofitable venture. Sometimes, we just have to learn the hard way.
P.S Next Monday’s edition will be our first by a Guest Commuter.