Late one cold Tuesday, instead of taking us straight home, the trotro driver swerved right at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, past the Ghana Commercial Bank building. Was he beating traffic? I’d never seen anyone do it like this before. With a sharp turn of the steering wheel, he zoomed into the Goil filling station opposite Vienna City. The speed roughly tossed a few of us about, but I guess everyone was too tired to seriously complain. I certainly couldn’t be bothered. We hadn’t even reached Busy Internet and I was already half-asleep. Just the way I like it. Thoughts of my bed flooded my mind. I’d missed most of the Champions League game on telly, anyway.
The skinny mate in the trotro finishing up right ahead of us was vigorously shaking his trotro with all his might. Filling the tank before calling it a night, presumably? But does this shaking really make a difference? Too tired to think, I drifted off to sleep, until sudden commotion woke me up.
The driver of another trotro was having a go at the pump attendant. Of all things, the driver accused the attendant of cheating. At least, that’s what I gathered. My mind was clearing up too slowly for my liking. A good quarrel was brewing. The driver got down, waving his fingers in the air, pointing first at the attendant, and then at the pump. His argument? The man finished too quickly, to which he responded “Ah, so do you want to be here for eight hours?” Tempers were boiling.
Our driver voluntarily became the peace-broker. He sufficiently calmed both factions down to listen to each side of the story. Then he asked the question I thought was obvious: “How much did you buy?” With anger burning in his eyes, the aggrieved driver spat out, “Five Cedis.” My eyes flew open in amazement. The faces of the jury around me confirmed I wasn’t dreaming. The accused flashed a grin as he saw us all react in jaw-dropping shock. How much?
In a filling station, fighting over such a paltry sum is nothing short of a joke. Why, that’s less than a gallon of diesel! The judge had his verdict. The whole trotro laughed the case out of court. Revelling in his victory, the victor went on to throw biting sarcasm at the vanquished. My sleep was ruined. The absurdity of the whole disagreement tickled me. How long did he expect to stay at the pump for five Cedis? Surely, even today’s taxi drivers have stopped buying one gallon of petrol!
Not quite. There was an occasion where I had to go to the National Theatre area and rush back before work closed. In desperation, I picked the first taxi I could find. It wasn’t in the shape of its life. Like rings through the tree trunks, each layer of rusted metal could give a clue of the car’s advanced years. Its driver was just as scruffy. Yet, I had no time to waste. Off we went, zipping by the tortoises in our way. Bliss.
Suddenly, there was a cough and a sputter. I could tell the engine had slipped into a coma. Disaster was gleefully staring me to the face. What on earth could’ve gone wrong? I sank in my seat. The embarrassment of crawling out of this relic of a taxi would’ve been great, should anyone I knew wave at me from their Toyota Corolla. I knew what was next. I’d be asked to push the car out of the way. How humiliating.
Without even a wince, the driver flatly told me that his petrol was finished. What! Just like that? Beads of sweat popped up on my forehead like termites out of the ground on a rainy night. My driver pulled a hanging wire somewhere around his door. The boot popped open. Without a hint of urgency, he grabbed a full gallon of petrol and proceeded to pour it into his thirsty car through a dirty Voltic bottle with the bottom cut off, which served as his funnel. All the while he was explaining to me why it was better for him to operate this way, rather than keep the tank at least half-filled. He might as well have spoken Hindi. Ignoring the honking cars that had to squeeze past him, he lazily walked back into his seat, and in the tangled mess underneath the steering wheel he connected the right wires, stepped on the accelerator a few times and we were gunning towards Adabraka like nothing had happened.
One gallon or not, I was just glad to be on my way, for it brought bitter memories of one other cold night, where I shamefully begged complete strangers for money … just for one gallon of petrol.