The commute back home is very different from the one to work. First of all, orderly lines that stretch out into the horizon replace the morning survival of the fittest. Secondly, the route is different. Instead of the easy stroll through my bush path I have to grapple with the rush hour human traffic leading to the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Station. If the hawkers on the streets of Accra make up the real Accra Mall, then the tabletops and stalls along all the major footpaths into the station must be warehouses.
It was early evening, just a few minutes before the last rays of sunlight disappeared , and just a few minutes after all hell had broken loose on the path from the Ghana Commercial Bank towards the Pedestrian Mall. A lanky husky-voiced man swiping his wares with a duster shouted to all who would listen, “Ghana one Cedi! Ghana one Cedi!” I could not make out what he was selling over the heads of rushing commuters. Disinterested, I pushed ahead through the sea of people. A barrel-chested man was hissing at passers-by within a foot of his stand of pirated DVDs – anything from Pastor Chris to unconcealed adult entertainment. His wooden structure looked like the next stiff wind would carry the whole company to lands afar. The aroma of fresh popcorn, the distinctly sharp whiff of burning incense and the stench from a piled heap of garbage near the road competed for attention too.
On one occasion I was rushing along at breakneck speeds, trying to beat the queues that were no doubt forming within the station. I pressed on, ignoring the sights and sounds of the path – and the skinny fair-skinned beggar with a clear bag who has been soliciting funds for his education for the past decade. In the distance I could hear a booming shout every few seconds. I thought it was an overzealous seller drawing attention to himself. My eyes were rooted to the ground, being careful not to step into the pothole that had tripped me too many times. Suddenly, this shout was in my face, rattling me to my core. Right before me was a man pushing along a wheelbarrow piled high with boxes of only God knows what. It certainly was not light. Reacting in a split second, I stepped out of the way and onto a trader’s toes. The man behind me wasn’t so lucky. Diving out of the way in an attempt to save his life, he went straight into the used clothing draped on the handrails separating the pavement from the main road. A barrage of verbal abuse followed the load carrier. Why he chose to use the pedestrian walk instead of the road bowls me over completely.
Actually, the question has always been in my mind why in Accra the roads and walkways have been taken over by sellers doing brisk business. During one of the Accra Mayor’s short-lived decongestion exercises, I was amazed at how much space was available for walkers. Within days they were back like spreading gangrene, hanging up shirts and khakis along the walls, arranging food processors, kettles, irons and gas stoves on large plastic sheets. Who needs Max Mart or Melcom when you can get even electric appliances on the way home? Somehow, I was not too surprised when I saw the seller pull a socket from nowhere and test a blender right before a potential buyer.
I have seen people accidentally kick shoes on sale into the path. Ladies’ bags the size of sacks have suffered the same fate. One trip home, I was absent-mindedly ambling along, Hillsong United blasting away in through my earphones. In an instance, I almost succeeded in knocking over a trio of ladies trying on pairs of gladiator sandals among the many dozens of shoes on exhibit. My profuse apologies went unheeded. Mercifully, the noise drowned out the insults that were carelessly flung my way. I was able to stifle a laugh as I saw the shoe seller – grit in his face – forcing another woman’s foot into a pair of flat shoes; reminiscent of Cinderella’s sisters.
Certainly, you have seen a few marketplaces spring up on your own path, or have seen strange things being sold on a street overtaken by trade. Maybe you could share them with us.
Only recently, my eyes nearly popped out of my head as I saw a man, perhaps in his late thirties to early forties, slowly turning around a pair of thongs on a hanger among the assorted lingerie of varying size on display. Amusing. My lips curled into a wry smile as I found myself wondering whether they were his wife’s or daughter’s. I just picked up my pace and hurried towards the station.