After standing at Bridge for a half hour in the dryness of harmattan, this was no time to be fussy. The moment I decided any car would do, the next one was among the most beat-up scrapheap-ready trotros I had seen years. Surely, a test of humility. The gate looked like it would pop out like a dodgy shoulder with the next stiff wind. The car looked unstable, the right side higher than the left. Everything about it screamed ancient, from squealing brakes to the machine-gun rhythm of its engine. I was not the only one ready to force his way in like it was pre-historic warfare, though. Before I could swing my backpack forward to barge my way through, the woman behind me had pulled up her skirt a few inches, not minding the extra flesh on display for ogling eyes of dirty old men.
In we got I had no idea where this car was even headed. The mild-mannered mate confirmed it: Circle. He started collecting his money with little fuss. His coins were in a blackened pure water sachet, and every few minutes, he would carelessly wipe his brow with a stained duster. His heel had dug a crater into his well-worn slippers that went perfectly with his frayed singlet. From the impolitely contorted face of the lady squeezed against his bare sweaty shoulder, I suspect certain winds of change were blowing in her direction. This mate was your typical hustler. By Shangri-La, he was nodding in sleep. No doubt, the driver had a few unkind words for his assistant when he saw him sleeping on the job, as he tried to negotiate a quick change of lanes, followed by a symphony of honking. Poor mate. He seemed confused and probably more suited to a less stressful job environment.
I was glad to change over at 37 into an Accra-bound trotro. The contrasts in mates couldn’t be more stark. The first thing I noticed was my new mate’s limp. I would get to know that this was no disability, but the effect of watching too many hood movies. He wore a wool cap and a huge Michael Vick Atlanta Falcons jersey. He had a large diamond – more than likely fake – in his ear, and his faded jeans were a distance from his waist. While collecting the fares, he sang to himself, track after track, like it was a continuous playlist of Top 40 hits. Put this boy in New York City and he’d probably be a hype man on stage with some rapper, and drinking champagne between studio sessions while shouting the occasional, “Yeah!” every few seconds.
Last week, I was at Circle during the evening rush hour. Uncomfortable commuters clutched their bags a little tighter, aware of the evening crooks ready to rob us all blind. A loud roar of laughter instinctively turned my head to the direction it came from. Against a trotro leaned three mates, two of them with their hair carved in mohawks. The last one, resembling Sulley Muntari, had on a tight camouflaged vest. One flex of his chest muscles and that thing would rip to shreds. The one who had laughed had what looked like a Samsung Corby pressed against his cheek and was inviting the whole world to eavesdrop on his conversation. As if the chain around his neck and the studs in his ears weren’t calling enough attention to him. They were loving the spotlight. But for the filth of Circle, this could be the Accra Mall with youths standing around making fashion statements.
Maybe I should’ve learned my lesson to keep my eyes to myself. As I was gunning towards the ever-growing queue, I was all but stopped in my tracks by what I saw. A mate I’d seen a few times, wearing baggy jeans and a cap twisted slightly to one side had both hands resting comfortably on some girl’s backside, cuddling in the semi-darkness against the rusted bumper of a Benz 507. I quickly scooped my jaw off the ground and went my way when he gave me the look that said, “Walk on, homeboy.”
A faint smile swept across my face. It was a paradigm-shift. These were no village riff-raffs trying to survive in the big city. These boys have swagger, doing everything to look trendy and street-savvy, ready to banish the stereotype of the scruffy kid with no hope.
But then, as I neared my queue, I gazed at the mate loading the car. He wore an unbuttoned torn shirt with darkened armpits, and the zipper of his dirty trousers was spoilt. He was beckoning passengers over, “Yesss, Amelika! Amelika House! No visa! Amelika!” So much for the new image. A faint smile swept across my face.