Most trotro rides follow the same script. On my route I scramble in at Bridge, the mate waits for everyone to catch their breath while he shouts for a few more commuters (sells his seat when he can) and at the same spot every day, he organizes his coins, arranges and folds his notes longitudinally, counts a few for good measure, raises his head and says rather matter-of-factly, “Yee-eesss”. Time to pay up.
Usually, it’s without hassle, but every now and then, a few disagreements ensue over the little matter of change. More often than not the passenger shouts a bit, but backs down, shaking her head and muttering that these mates are all cheats. In the end, the mate wins. Most of the time. Nothing, I repeat, nothing, could prepare one mate for his date with destiny.
This trotro’s shock absorbers were dead. It felt like falling down a never-ending flight of stairs. But that’s nothing in comparison to what was to come. Two elderly ladies hopped in at Tetteh Quarshie, happily chatting. Not too long after, the familiar cry went out, “Yee-eesss”. Money changed hands peacefully. Soon, I heard one of them shout from behind in Twi, “Mate, our balance.” Without even glancing at them he replied that he owed them nothing. Apparently, they were expecting 5 Pesewas each. That wasn’t going to happen. He was adamant about it too. Talks quickly broke down. I could hear loud war drums in the distance.
(Now, this mate was rude and coarse-mannered. That had been established earlier. He was ready to descend into the gutter with anyone anywhere, damn the consequences.)
Without warning, the onslaught started. One of the elderly ladies shot back in Twi that he was a cheat, would go to hell when he died, and was young enough to be her grandson. The mate wasn’t amused. He’d heard it millions of times. He said he wasn’t her grandson and that if she didn’t have money, she should just say so. This touched a raw nerve. Her friend let the venom flow in torrents. It was bloody. I don’t speak Ga, but I could understand the crude references to sensitive sections of the mate’s mother’s anatomy. The rest was mercifully left to my imagination. The first lady poured out insults of her own. It was a ruthless two-pronged attack of Twi and Ga. The mate couldn’t utter a word. Neither was the driver going to get involved. He knew as much as we all did that his loud-mouthed understudy had picked his battle and would have to fight it.
At first, it was funny. People were trying to calm down the two terrorists to no avail. It seemed to just spur them on. The mate – and by now I felt sorry for him – just sat there, telling those closest to him that he wouldn’t mind them. His squeezed face told a different story (picture the look on someone’s face on a biting cold and dry harmattan morning). These were bitter village insults. Those people who sit in palaces across Ghana and speak heavy Twi which nobody understands would cringe, I tell you. The mate must’ve been regretting picking this tag-team, or even the day he decided to become a mate. Heck, he was probably regretting leaving the safe confines of his half-acre pepper farm in his hometown to seek greener pastures in Accra. I knew they’d go on till the last stop.
But then, I’ve seen enough trotro fights to know that they’re not about the money. One day, a mate decided to swindle me of my 5 Pesewas too. I flared up. How dare he cheat me? Despite my shirt and tie, I lowered myself to tell the mate that he better give me my change, or else… Someone else would just punch him in the teeth. The thought of being cheated. That’s what turns gentlemen into uncivilized barbarians in trotros.
People reserve their worst for mates. Some don’t even wait for him to finish collecting all the money, and they’re threatening him. “Heh, mate! Where’s my change? You think you can cheat me, eh?” And this is just as soon as he has collected a GH¢20 note. At 6:15 am.
By the time I alighted at Ridge, each insult was cruder than the last. I remembered what this was all about: 5 Pesewas apiece. 5 Pesewas. And wounded pride. That earned the mate enough abuse to last him a lifetime or three. Anyone would feel sorry for him. Especially when he was right and the women were wrong.
This fellow didn’t learn his lesson. The next day, I scrambled into the same dude’s trotro. He had on the same singlet, same scowl and same attitude. Some people never learn.