“Taller, why, you want to sleep here, eh?” How irritating. I can’t stand being called “Taller”. It’s probably as bad as when the generic name back in primary school was “Small”. Just as quickly as he came, this man was gone, rushing towards the next fight to get into a trotro. The crowd pushed towards the narrow gate, as the mate scrambled away from what would be certain injury. Two men travelling together made for the back window, and had soon heaved themselves through. I had calculated my run to make it for the front door handle, but aborted the mission before the trotro got close. I realized there was no way I’d make it in one clean action. Shoving my way through at Bridge is one thing. Getting rough and dirty at Shiashie, however, is a hurdle too high for me. I groaned a prayer that someone I knew would drive by, and even more miraculously, spot me in the crowd and have mercy on me.
Earlier that morning, an area boy had showed me a new ploy he had devised. In order to swerve the East Legon traffic, he would take a taxi to Emmanuel Eye Clinic, using a back route that had been blocked off to the main road, and then take a short walk to the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange. Like a sheep to the slaughter, I followed him. How hadn’t I thought of this myself? I was already kissing my days of struggle good riddance. We got there, only for him to hop into a La Paz trotro, usually waiting patiently for passengers. Away he went, leaving me to fend for myself against the pack of wolves clawing their way to the single spaces that remained on the Accra-bound trotros. What was supposed to be a glorious new way to outsmart the traffic had turned into a half-hour-long roasting in the blazing sun with no sign of salvation, divine or human.
Minutes later, however, I was sitting in the backseat of my friend Kofi’s SUV. Air-conditioning had never felt so good. I looked back to see the mob I had left behind, knowing very well that I would be there a while if help had not been sent. One has to be a regular on the trotro circuit to know how handy a lift can come sometimes. It makes you feel like you’ve cheated the system. You’ve won, and everyone else has lost.
Sometimes, rush hour can be so maddening. Nothing seems to work, and since there is no queue-forming culture here, it’s survival-of-the-fittest to the bitter end. The mere sight of anyone you even remotely know is a relief, from a long lost friend to some notoriously heartless senior from secondary school – the one you vowed to knock down with your car if you ever saw anywhere. On one occasion I met a lady I hadn’t seen in years honking as she came by. In my cranky state, I fumed at this disturbance of the peace. It wasn’t till she stopped dead in front of me that I recognized her. Talk about heaven-sent.
What happened next was as expected as a kick in the teeth. A man who I had been with in the battle trenches a few times at Bridge, yet had never spoken to, walked up and asked for a lift to 37. I stared at him, mouth half-open, neither in disgust nor in shock, but in sheer awe. What bravado. What guts. My hostess was equally stunned. She nodded as if hypnotized. Daring had won the day. Not in a hundred years would I imagine myself doing that, no matter how insanely desperate I was to escape from the chaos of chasing trotros like headless chickens. But then again, maybe I’ve never been stretched to the point of screaming, “to hell with decorum and gentility!” and walked up to a total stranger.
There are those who give passengers lifts, like over the Tema Motorway, for a fee. Still, getting any lift beats the rigours of public transport any day. I’ve seen passengers literally tell the trotro driver to stop the car at the most inappropriate place just because they’ve seen a potential free ride. As proved to me by a group of three men who all but flew out of the Urvan we were sitting in and went to join a bunch of builders hanging on for dear life in the back of a truck, the alternative need not be any more comfortable.
Most people I know would rather have a lift than slug it out with unyielding commuters in possible clear view of friends and colleagues. But then, most people I know would rather have their own cars, never mind the obscene traffic. One day.