My brow creased in frustration as I looked at my wrist again. Only the movement of the second hand confirmed that my watch was still working. Standing in line at Tema Station for over thirty minutes, it didn’t look like salvation was coming from anywhere. A truck-pusher was noisily sucking an orange, squeezing every pesewa’s worth of juice from it. My legs ached. My mood was foul – just like my surroundings. An old lady tossed a half-drank sachet of water into the filth that was building up all around us in heaps. I felt my skin crawl as a drop landed on my arm. Lines as far as the eye could see and rubbish everywhere. Three weeks in Cape Town were already a distant memory. Welcome (back) to the bus terminal – the trotro station.
Cars would come and go for the lines next to mine, and the mob would surge towards them like the line never existed. We had queued for one full hour before an old Benz 207 with rocking seats sputtered towards us. By this time, my face had long contorted in an ugly mass of rage. I could feel it. Uncharacteristically, I had already lashed out at the mate guiding incoming trotros to the respective lines, for he seemed powerless to stop the next line from hijacking what was our rightful trotro.
I longed for the suffocating smell of burning tobacco puffed out by Capetonians on sidewalks. I longed for the confusion of cars driving on the left side of the road. The worst Cape Town had thrown at me was better than standing in the wilting heat of Tema Station. I missed the clean streets as well. But most of all, at that very moment, I missed knowing that there was always a mini-bus taxi – basically a trotro – on Long Street with a man, usually of East African origin, booming, “Boooy!” (It took me a while to figure out that he was shouting for passengers going to “Sea Point”.)
A harsh blast of exhaust fumes wrestled my mind back to Accra. I sighed – both out of relief that we would finally be on our way, and out of irritation at this stark difference in stations. We went along, meandering through the traffic but going nowhere. I wore a scowl tighter than an ill-fitting bodysuit, unable to take my mind off all the things that made Accra’s stations so … unique.
Rain is always a good place to start. Just as there’s nowhere to shelter from the slicing rays of the midday Ghanaian sun in the open spaces that are our stations, there’s also no escaping a downpour. It’s every man for himself, damn the poor person who has no plastic bag to cover his head. Within minutes, you’re soaked to the underpants, looking to the skies, offering desperate prayers for respite. At that time, the last words you want to hear are the unwelcome philosophical offerings of the man behind you that our farmers need rain for a good harvest.
Where you are lucky enough to have missed the rain, you have the overpowering smell of a drenched station to contend with. It’s beyond description. One must keep eyes firmly on the ground to dodge the many lakes of varying depths. I learnt that lesson the hard way when I had to go home with a wet and squidgy shoe after stepping into an ankle-deep puddle.
Almost anything can be bought from the station. The Kaneshie Station, after all, is smack in the middle of the famous Kaneshie Market. At Circle, you may even chance upon your mobile phone that was nicked from you last night. The sad reality is that under the cover of darkness, stations are perfect breeding grounds for future robbers. There is so little light that even finding the right line as it snakes to the left and to the right is a task. A mild-mannered man once asked me if I was the last person in the line. I could still see, through the dimness, utter dismay strike his face as I pointed to the end of the line disappearing into the distance.
From my rude welcome back into the grind of public transport in Accra at Tema Station, we came to a halt at Bridge. I was grateful that my last stop was not another choked station. I walked through my familiar bush path, already missing the view of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean-looking apartment blocks that had graced my path in the cool evenings at Sea Point. That was in another life. One day soon, however, I’ll find myself headed once again towards the starting point of the journey of a thousand dramas on my daily commute – the trotro station.