It felt like a dream. Through the blur, I could make out a sea of people rushing towards me in slow motion. My eyes slowly closed, leaving me powerless to do anything to repel the relentless attack. Then the bang. My eyes flew open and my senses went on high alert as the hoard hit the side of the gate. This was no dream. Wide awake, I could see the struggle before me as commuters of all ages charged. Never mind that it was 8pm. Social status was a long forgotten concept as the great pile up at the License Office bus-stop clawed for single spaces in trotros headed towards the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange and beyond. Despite the rush, the traffic was at its slothful slowest.
It appears countless others, like me, leave their shopping till the Christmas deadline. In December 2009 I concluded that the strain of last minute shopping wasn’t worth it. Unsurprisingly, I found myself roaming through shops with nothing but a fair idea in my head of what to buy, and a wad of cash in my pocket. All over Accra, the likeminded were going up and down, doing brisk business, and making the traffic situation more maddening than we are used to.
On December 23rd, I had to go to High Street. It was a thoroughly frustrating experience. Stepping up to a taxi in traffic opposite the Holy Spirit Cathedral, I opened the door and sat down. With the airs that come with sitting in an air-conditioned office, I muttered to the bored driver, “Barclays Bank”. He looked at me, almost pitifully, and shook his head. Was I the only stranger in Accra? Slowly, I got down in search of another. It would be an hour before anybody was mad enough to venture near that side of town.
When we got near Tudu I saw why. It was so choked with traders weaving through the gridlocked cars that you could almost hear the streets creaking. Women had wares on their heads, and the sound of honking and bells mixed into a cacophonous din that would send anyone rushing for a dose of Largactil. Around the law courts, the pot-bellied gentleman with an American accent – who I had allowed to join my taxi – dropped a fifty pesewa coin into my hand, slurred, “Cheers, man” behind him and was gone. Too tired to get angry at his miserly contribution, I just stewed in the traffic.
What is it about Christmas that sends the masses out into the streets like it was Armageddon, causing the traffic to swell so horribly? It could get so slow that around Fan Milk people could negotiate the prices of bearded billy-goats from the seats of their cars, watch the hapless bleating creature bundled up and put in the boot of the car for its last ride alive.
One evening in the run up to Christmas, I attempted to go to Korle-Bu going from Accra. It was an exercise in futility. I impatiently rapped my fingers against the seat until the tips went numb. Every five minutes we would travel the length of my shoe before the engine was turned off. Taxi drivers would get out and clean their cars so much, I was scared the paint job would wear off. Mates would go to friends in other cars and play fight right there in the middle of the road. They didn’t even bother to get back in when the engines revved and the next bout of jostling for position started. We were going nowhere. One woman was on such ready alert to move that she looked like she had been glued to her steering wheel, while the car in front of us was jerking worse than a druggie needing a fix. I was imagining it was a learner. And then, out of the blue, a loud bang broke the monotony of silence. The inevitable had happened and he had rammed into the back of the trotro in front of him. That was my cue. I had had it. Korle-Bu could wait. I hopped out and meandered my way back to East Legon.
And yet, after Christmas Day, the streets are so deserted, you wonder where all the crowds evaporated to. As I zoomed away from Bridge, no hint of a struggle and headed into town on the Monday after Christmas, I asked myself how there could be such a great disparity. The thrill of the last minute was gone. Perhaps it’s just the period of hibernation before the rush of normal life starts again in January, and I know I’m not looking forward to that.
P.S I’d like to thank you for making my commute in 2010 richer. Here’s to an even more interesting 2011.