Slowly, it dawned on me how stupid I must have looked to anybody who had followed my fruitless chase. Pulling my phone out of my pocket and fiddling aimlessly with it with a pretentious look of seriousness, I watched from the corner of my eye – fuming – as the trotro sputtered away … with my change of five pesewas.
It started after the traffic crush on the dirt path adjacent to L’Ecole Francaise, where countless other impatient drivers were swerving East Legon’s numbing traffic. The mate had given me five pesewas less change, but I trusted him not to stiff me. How naïve. Around Opeibea I reminded him. Nothing. The standstill at the 37 mini-station forced my decision to chance it on foot to get an Accra-bound car after the bottleneck. However, as soon as I touched solid ground I remembered that the mate was yet to fulfill his contractual obligation. Unfortunately, the car started to move, so he asked me to come forward with him. I sensed what was going on. No way was I going to be a mate’s fool. Blinded by pride, I pursued, all the way from the Total station to the end of the mini-station. I suppose he was surprised to see me appear in front of him. After two lame attempts at finding change, he quickly responded to his master’s honking as they gunned towards the green light. With one leg hanging out, he beckoned me to come. Come where?
I learnt my lesson the hard way: never trust a mate. Inasmuch as this amounts to unfairly painting a whole profession with the same tar brush, many a mate has confirmed over again that it’s okay to unleash the wild beast within when it comes to change. After all, how many times has a mate not left commuters stranded and confused at a station, while he pretends to go looking for change?
Once when I was a much younger player in the trotro game, having pestered the mate for my change all the way from Airport to Circle, I received the same reply, which in effect was, “Small, stop bothering me!” Under the overhead bridge a few people disembarked. The mate, still indebted to three of us, threw a note into my hand and asked us to go and divide it among ourselves. Away they sped, a cloud of dust in their wake, and utter confusion on my face, leaving us to figure out how to get our due. With a shrug, they asked me to keep it. Thank God. Without my change, I would have been left marooned.
Today, I still bear scars to prove my change encounters. Soon after the currency redenomination of 2007 – having returned from my National Service teaching in a rural high school – I handed a mate a crisp GH¢5 note. Unsurprisingly, it had been quite a struggle getting a trotro. Squashed at the back with the sun baking my long neck, I gave up the fight for change and succumbed to my slumbers, only waking up metres before my stop. Seeing my blood had given up all hope of reaching my legs, even the crowded sidewalk looked inviting, itself groaning under the unbearable strain of human traffic. Out I hopped, observing the mates advertising their destination: “Serk, Serk, Circle!” As it grew smaller in the distance, it struck me like a boot to the jaw that the rusty and slightly misaligned trotro from which I had escaped was the most expensive trotro ride I would ever take. In my haste to stretch my cramping limbs I had left my change behind. The mate, of course, had conveniently forgotten.
Over time, though, passengers have developed their own clever ways of balancing the equation. Some choose to throw such tantrums that in the name of peace, the drivers call a truce by giving in to the trouble-makers’ demands. Last week, a mate rudely told a woman she was short by ten pesewas. She slowly produced a GH¢20 note with a look of pure innocence. The pouting mate conceded defeat.
What experiences have you also got with mates trying to cheat you out of a few coins? What underhand methods have you suffered under, or have you caught them before they could play you for a dope?
It was never about the princely sum the mate owed me, but I was still kicking myself for having been swindled by the time I got to Ridge that morning. Imagine me, chasing a trotro for five pesewas, all in the name of proving a point, never mind how lame. I was fed up with this whole trotro business, fraught with discomfort and dishonesty. A taxi to the office it would be, and it had never felt so sweet.