There I was, stranded at the side of the road at Golokwati. Mind you, this is a long way from Bridge, or Ridge, for that matter. The bonnet of the old Toyota Land Cruiser I was sitting in only 30 minutes earlier, bringing me home from the Volta Region, was open with frowning mechanics peering in. My clothes were dirty from all the pushing, and my arms and legs were begging me to quit this futile exercise. The car had obviously called it a day.
I slumped next to the luggage, gasping. As I sat, hoping for an Accra-bound trotro to come by, my mind took me to the times I’ve smiled to myself anytime I’d seen frustrated commuters in similar predicaments in Accra.
It starts like this. You get to the bus stop before the early morning rush. Spoiled for choice, you decide to take the nicer trotro. Why settle for the bucket of bolts when you can travel in relative comfort?
Soon, the jerking begins. The driver explains that it’s nothing. The engine’s just a little cold from last night’s rain. Okay. By this time, the mate has already collected his coins. As the jolting gets more violent and the murmuring in the car gets a little bit louder, one lady angrily tells the mate that she’s had enough and wants to get down. Not happening. Sensing a mass walk-out, it looks like the unruly scoundrel will hold out till the engine falls to pieces before surrendering a pesewa.
Five minutes later, it doesn’t get any better, but then, it’s not getting any worse, so everyone is just offering silent prayers, consciously or unconsciously, that we can at least get to a convenient place to make a quick retreat for a more reliable car. Then, without warning, the inevitable happens. Just as soon as the traffic light turns green. Wild horses couldn’t make the car move an inch. The simultaneous honking from behind starts more forcefully than Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. The onlookers’ stares are annoying. The driver is shouting words of assurance he himself doesn’t believe as he yanks his door open. Then the bonnet. The mate steels his face, ready to fight to the bitter end before yielding any of his hard-earned coins to any of us, the ever ungrateful passengers.
As you sit fuming in the car, you cast your gaze to your right, and here comes the trotro you didn’t offer a second glance, rattling along, past you, and into the gentle stream of cars ahead, billows of smoke pouring out from the exhaust pipe. Away. Hurts like a kick in the family jewels.
There are all sorts of scenarios that could come into play here. I saw one group of commuters all getting down at the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange, their Benz 207 parked at the side of the road in slow-moving traffic. Vapour (or was it smoke?) was coming from under the bonnet, while they all stood around looking rather irritated. That, in my opinion, is the worst possible location for a breakdown. There you are, in full view of all the travellers from Adenta, Madina, East Legon and even the Spintex Road. Embarrassing. At least, in a situation like this the mate gives you a hand-out. Downside is, you have to endure the short walk of shame together to the next bus stop.
But the one that carries the cake, is when the trotro has hope of starting again. The mate gets down and disappears behind the car. No passenger steps out, because we’re all too busy grumbling. Suddenly, we feel gentle nudges from the back. The mate is finally able to work up enough momentum till the car begins to move. A strong jolt and we’re running again. How some of these skinny boys are able to push these cars alone until they start baffles me completely. Sometimes, he gets some help from a yoghurt seller or two.
I’ve always wanted to know, though: why don’t the passengers at least get down to lighten the load for the poor guy? I guess it’s his just reward for putting the honourable passengers through the humiliation of breaking down in full glare of passing workmates and potential spouses. No self-respecting passenger has got down, as far as I know, to help to push. Let the mate earn his pay.
So, have you ever been left for dead on the roadside in Accra?
As we left Golokwati behind us with the Land Cruiser at a local mechanic’s for the night, I just prayed against the day that I would meet a similar fate somewhere on my way to work. On that day, I will not push. I’ll just count my losses and walk away, lamenting my judging based on outward appearances and neglecting to jump out the moment I heard the first knocking sound from the engine. After all, anything can happen on any given trip between Bridge and Ridge.