Things fall apart

There was a spring in my step as I walked briskly towards the Kwame Nkrumah Circle station. The cool evening air in my face was soothing. I was lost in random thought, making me forget that I wore the weight of the world on my back at that moment. Maybe it’s time to get a slimmer laptop. The rush hour traffic had long gone about the time I got to Calvary Baptist. My throat was parched. I needed a drink. Perhaps seeing Mr. Bigg’s only heightened my bodily urges. The power of advertising. Just at the entrance of the restaurant, my thoughts were broken by a long and loud grating sound.

You’d expect the security man to have been angry with me, holding the door open while I stretched my neck in the direction of the sound. Not so. He was just as inquisitive as me. I took a few daring steps towards the road and there, to my shock and amazement, lay an exhaust pipe and muffler right in the middle of the outer lane. The car from which it had been attached only a minute ago – a white Nissan Urvan – had stopped a few metres ahead.

I got there just in time to see the mate running back to pick up the dropped part. He firmly grabbed it while shouting back at the driver. Naturally, he yanked his hand away immediately. Didn’t anyone tell him exhaust pipes are blazing hot? On the other hand, this condition must’ve been nothing new to the driver. He just held one small part and dragged the offending piece away. A smile spontaneously stretched across my face as I walked towards the open door of Mr. Bigg’s.

It was only as I stood behind the counter that I kicked myself. I should’ve stayed to see the outcome of this drama. It struck me that I had no idea that a car can move without an exhaust pipe. By the time I got out to continue my walk, the trotro was gone.

On my commute, I’ve seen exhaust pipes drop and drag. They’re usually instantly held up by the duster and off they go. But to drop off completely?

Trotros. A good number are patchwork projects. Mechanical miracles plying our streets. We entrust our lives to these assembled hunks of metal, not even wanting to know what problems – and dangers – could exist somewhere beneath the car.

Take for instance one evening at Circle. Though the America House-bound Benz 207 wasn’t full yet, the driver was sitting and waiting, his mind far away from the muddy station. I settled into the ripped front seat. A minute or two later, I heard the driver respond to a call from two men about two trotros away. They were laughing quite hard. I wondered what the joke was.

The driver interrupted my texting. He asked me to step on the brake for him while he went to his buddies. The impatience on his face told me he wasn’t joking. No hand brake? No chock either? In stunned disbelief, I stretched over and stepped hard on the brake, hoping that it would be enough to keep us from sliding away to a painful death.

In my time in the front seats of trotros, I’ve seen a few amazing things. Over the years, I’ve become accustomed to rusted interiors, dislocating sliding gates, and ungreased gears that require the strength of Samson (accompanied by the harsh sound of metal scraping metal). One morning, as I checked all my worldly belongings on me before getting off at Ridge, I happened to catch sight of the trotro’s accelerator. It was nothing more than a bar. I wondered how come the driver’s leg wasn’t slipping off it. On second thought, it probably was, but we would just dismiss it as typically reckless trotro driving. I guess so long as the car moved, we can thank God for small mercies and go our way.

But then, I can’t seem to shake my fascination with their steering wheels. A trotro driver was once so skinny, I wondered how he could turn the rigid wheel. That he was wearing a sleeveless shirt didn’t help his cause too much. His tiny muscles were all flexed, and the veins in his biceps popped underneath his skin like roots. He was gripping the knob riveted to the steering wheel and turning with all his might. As we got back onto the road from the Airport Police Station bus stop, my heart was in my mouth as he all but leaned on his door while turning the wheel.

Most trotros are a bucket of bolts, from what I hear. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Ignorance is bliss. Just thank God that you got to your destination safely.


About Kwaku Dankwa

By day, I'm an advertising copywriter. That's what I've done all my working life (National Service doesn't count). Husband of Esther, father of Jesse and twin boys Mark and Andrew, and servant of Christ. I previously wrote a blog on the dramatic side of public transport in Accra, "The Daily Commute: From Bridge to Ridge." Enjoy.
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28 Responses to Things fall apart

  1. Raj says:

    Ok so this is the most cracker piece for me in awhile now. I have been laughing all through my lectures and my mates are wondering what is wrong with me. And the best part for me is “ungreased gears that require the strength of Samson”. good one man. You just made my day brighter

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Well, you know how those brakes sound with that grating sound. When the drivers are changing too, they always go from free to second before shifting to first. I find myself doing that sometimes as a result. Hehehehe…

  2. Abby says:

    True true, really true. It’s only God who takes us to and fro in these mechanical miracles.
    Another good one Kuks. I just hope that the next time I sit in a troski my legs won’t turn into jelly just thinking about all these things, lol.

  3. christiana says:

    Oh, u forgot to talk of the pigeou cars at circle. They are nothing but old boxes of metal.Thank God we always arrive to Circle and Korle-Bu safely.

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Those things should’ve been retired to the scrap heap long ago. I always laugh when I sit in one of them, y’know. It’s a wonder they still work … and pass annual road worthiness tests!

  4. moshi says:

    this is a good read. How come you have the chance to go through all of the exciting trotro experiences. Kwe, this is not fair. We need to change destinies for some Just wanted to say good read. Couldn’t keep silent.. Nice

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Moshi, if you look out for them, you’ll see them. Not all of them are in your face. You may never get to step on the brake, but someone else may, and since the driver won’t announce it, you could very well miss it. As for the exhaust dropping, I promise, even I was shell-shocked. I’ve never even heard it happen before! I should’ve taken a picture.

  5. roshnani says:

    I had tears in my eyes as i read this and laughed out loud. This is a great piece. You ever picked two trotros in a day and have all break down along the way before?? It’s as if fate is hanging above you that day wickedly and mischievously playing you the pawn on its chess board. You know the bit about the skinny driver (tickled me crazy
    ) reminded me of one such incident. this driver was not skinny but boy was the wheel wound tight. He was negotiating a turn and i still swear i saw the front seat passenger join him turn the wheel. now that is an “ungreased gears that require the strength of Samson”. Well done!

    • Ama says:

      LOL at the thought of the front seat passenger helping the driver turn the wheel! I can just see it happening too – TSOOBOI!

      • Raj says:

        yes indeed Tsoooooooobooooiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii…..i can´t stop laughing at these comments!!!

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      WHAT! I’d be getting down at the next stop. Let him keep the change. If the driver’s wheel requires four arms, then even I would be spooked.

      • Raj says:

        Omg why all these funny comments after the main read…..i have had a good laugh..seriously four hands on a wheel thats some scary scene and i would the same “get down” at the next stop period.

    • Raj says:

      I could not help but laugh out so loud at your comment….the passenger helping the driver turn the steer? seriously? lol

    • Sis says:

      Yeah, the skinny driver part really had me tickled as well!

  6. dannie says:

    I remember one time sitting in the most rickety loading taxi going from Circle to N. Kaneshie when the trotro in front of us suddenly caught fire. It was scary and funny at the same time to see the mate and driver hope out the vehicle with their dusters trying to put out the flame.

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      You don’t mean it. Nobody went to help them? I’ve been in a car that started smoking from under the bonnet once. Heart in my mouth and with trembling hands, I sprayed that fire for all its worth. Phew!

    • Raj says:

      OMG what is all this…..the stories that are coming after the main meal is twice as funny and interesting. eh duster in place of a fire extinguisher? and they always have some old ones hanging in their cars just to display to the police.

  7. Eudora says:

    ever notice the alignment, they twist the wheel to go staight, as for the ones that have chia the less said the better. As a rule, my mom doesnt sit anywhere near the driver. Her life flashes before her eyes everytime.

  8. Da_fly says:

    Man, these articles always makes my day and brings back such vivid memories of personal experiences.
    However, I was floored by “He asked me to step on the brake for him while he went to his buddies. The impatience on his face told me he wasn’t joking. No hand brake? No chock either?”

  9. lyz says:

    i just love this article..Kweku seriously do these things happen to u…coz i used to be a trotro trekker and i never had any such experience….the part that got me was there was he asked me to step on the break…(if i was seeing patients at that time i’m sure they would have thought that the doctor seeing them had gone stark raving mad)… u dey form

  10. Jess says:

    Mechanical miracles indeed! A great piece!

  11. Jess says:

    Next time you are asked to step on the brake of a trotro again, make sure you know where the driver is going and why he asks you to. You could be a perfect sacrificial lamb. Just perfect for dinner for a “single spine” Koti .

  12. Nana Asaase says:

    Bozntic conglomeration of mechanical junk-Trotro! Asomasi, I hope this helps.

  13. Medoafia says:

    I have had “a step on the break for me” experience before, our trotro developed a fault and both the driver and mate had to go check it and as fate would have it, i was on the front seat so had the honors to do the job

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