Wars in the past involved both armies charging at each other, there would be a massive clang of blades and a cloud of dust would be kicked up. When all settled, there would be many lying on the ground wounded. Or dead. Of all the things in the world, that’s what a fight for one seat reminds me of. It’s survival of the fittest, where only the strong remain. Last man standing is first man sitting. Everyone else departs holding or rubbing one part of their body, awaiting the next battle.
That’s exactly the way things turned out one evening. We peacefully inched towards home, commuters nodding off in various stages of sleep. We stopped at the License Office bus-stop. The only thing missing was popcorn to go with my front row seats. It was like a war in the Dark Ages all over again. Or the California Gold Rush of 1849.
I lazily looked outside to see the last two survivors neck-and-neck at our gate. One of them stopped with a hurt look in his eyes, staring at his contender. The other brother couldn’t be bothered. He was a man on a mission, and nobody would stop him from winning the prize: that last tattered seat with no back rest. In his attempt to get ahead he had either slammed the other man against the gate, trampled on his toes, or elbowed his throat. I couldn’t be sure. What I did know, though, was that there was a winner through more foul means than fair, and he didn’t care.
With a wide grin of victory on his face our champion gloated to the injured passenger outside, “Sorry, eh.” What cheek. However, just as we began to move away, he had a touch of conscience. There was rejoicing in heaven as another soul came to repentance. “Driver, stop!” This man now got down and did the honourable thing, giving up his seat to compensate his fellow struggler. What sacrifice.
When it comes to securing a seat there are all sorts of tactics to adopt. After all, man must get around, by any means necessary. In A Luta Continua, I wrote on the physical strategies of entry.
However, there are gentler ways which require more brain than brawn. Once, I made it first to the front seat, leaving
the fighting mob to scratch their eyes out for the remaining seats. You could’ve heard my bubble pop a mile away when, without even looking at my relieved face, the driver blurted out emotionlessly that the front seats have been taken. I shamefully got down, dragging what was left of my dignity away from the seat and watched in disbelief as the car drove off with the front seats empty. I later got to know that people in the car can pay in advance for their friends standing at bus-stops on the way. A lesson learnt.
Now, anybody who knows where the mate sits shouldn’t have a hard time getting the right seat without being embarrassed. Unfortunately, on one rather cold night at Circle, one man learnt his lesson too … I hope. The line had collapsed just at the gate of the Benz 207. In his haste, this man got into the mate’s seat – the second row – as the woman behind him got into the correct seat, on the first row. The mate asked him to get down. The car was full.
Our gentleman kindly asked the woman to vacate the first row seat, since he had been in front of her. With a look of utter disgust, she refused! No amount of explanation would make the “usurper” move. With a resigned look of “Fama Nyame” (Give it to God), he gave up his rights to the seat, bitterly stolen from him by one dishonest – or smart – customer, depending on how you look at it.
Genius always triumphs. Take one morning at Bridge. I waited to cross the street to my usual stop. An empty trotro appeared in front of me, offloading its last passenger. Not wanting to join the crowd forming across the street I asked if they were headed for Accra. They were! What luck. I still remember the jealous stares from across the street as the car sped off to turn around at America House. When we got back I wickedly smiled at the strain on adult’s and children’s faces as they busted and wriggled their way through. They bounced off a macho man like mosquitoes hitting a windscreen. A woman and her watch were parted. A man’s white shirt got smudged by a greasy mechanic. By design or destiny, I had dodged the struggle of a lifetime.