I patted both pockets hysterically, probably expecting a miracle with each tap. While getting aboard my phone had ‘slipped’ out of my pocket, never to be seen again. Frantically, I pleaded with the man to my right to dial my number. Closing my eyes tightly, I willed the phone to ring somewhere around my feet. The mobile subscriber was switched off. My worst fears were realized. I could visualize my discarded chip lying in the mud, being trampled upon by all sorts. The elderly lady sitting to my left exclaimed in anger, “They’ve stolen your phone, eh? As for this station, that’s how they are oo…” Her gaze was fixed on some far off time and place as she went on, “I remember last year they stole my phone here …” I sighed, anticipating another wave of “sometime ago” narratives about to begin.
I was angry with myself for my careless loss, but now I had to endure almost everyone in the bus tell me about the crooks who gather at the station each evening. “You should be careful when you come here,” they warned. I was sick of all this unsolicited advice. Then, one by one, like rats scurrying out of a smoke-filled drainpipe, the stories started. Just the other day a thief had been caught stealing a phone, or someone was slapped and had his phone snatched from him as he tried to scatter the stars that had appeared in front of him. My plight had created an avenue for conversation, some amusement for a few bored individuals to guide them through traffic.
The stories always start with “Just the other day” or something similar. Perhaps in Accra we have a need to share our lives with others, from total strangers to friends we’ve traded sordid gossip with for years. No matter the situation, no matter where you are, there’s always someone who’s experienced something very similar and is willing to pour his side of the story for free. After all, at the end of the day, we’re all one.
Late one night, there happened to be a man walking along the side of the road who was suspected to have had a drink too many. It sparked off a recounting of predictable episodes. A man who looked like he had stepped off a plane from Hamburg in the eighties readily surrendered information about how hopelessly drunk he got one Christmas, and all he was reported to have done in his stupor. Another person had a neighbour who would go on a drinking spree by himself. He would stagger to the compound house, announcing his presence from a mile away, stinking of cheap alcohol and slurring old Presbyterian hymns.
On the way to work one bright morning, our driver was bargaining for a new duster. The hawker wouldn’t budge. The driver lost his cool and exclaimed that he wouldn’t buy from a cheat. We sped off, but that wasn’t the end. One woman, who I guessed was an expert bargainer, said she’d never allow herself to be swindled. She went on to narrate to us all how some woman at Mallam Atta market tried. I forget what exactly she was buying. This solicited a reply from another woman about how she knows the most discreet holes at Makola to get stuff on the cheap. What started as a driver buying a duster turned into a women’s club meeting as they swapped shopping secrets. One woman even held us up a little, squeezing the last bit of her story out as she slowly got down. I wish I had the guts to shout at her to hurry it up, as I was already late for work.
Let a lady walk by in a short skirt, some men will have diverse stories to tell about how someone walked into an office and rendered the rest of the working day unproductive. If a dare-devil cyclist crosses a car in traffic, it’s enough to start the morning discussion about how some nincompoop almost threw his life away in a similar bone-headed stunt on the Kanda Highway.
However, the one thing that gets people talking is a crushed car at the side of the road holding up traffic. Everyone seems to have witnessed at least one serious accident in their lives, because they all want to speak at once. The bloodier the details, the more relish with which they spill them.
Maybe we’re all guilty of looking for stories with which to enrich someone’s life, with laughter, advice, or just anything to give interested commuters a touch of morning entertainment. After all, just the other day on my way to work, I too saw something in a trotro…