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.