Most days that I end up closing late from work, there’s nothing more I look forward to than sitting at the back corner of a trotro at Circle, and falling asleep before we hit the roundabout. Somehow, I almost always wake up about five minutes away from Bridge.
The next best place to fall asleep, however, is in the front seat. There’s little chance of being repeatedly woken up in the middle of the journey. On one occasion, though, I got to know very early on that sleep was going to be impossible.
Perhaps I should’ve told the gentleman next to me in the front that I didn’t feel like talking. Perhaps I should’ve feigned sleep and a gentle snore the moment there was a lull in conversation. Perhaps I should’ve opened my book in the near darkness and put on my best look of deep concentration.
Soon after I sat down, he called for the pure water seller, quickly offering to buy me some. I wasn’t thirsty. He was a middle-aged man with an afro that gave indications of a lush past. He had an accent that I couldn’t quite place initially. It was confirmed he wasn’t from around here when he started asking me about business opportunities in Ghana. I mentioned oil, hoping that by talking about something so seemingly out of reach to the average trotro passenger, he’d back down. Unfortunately, he had his own businesses of interest and went full throttle asking about them. I talked freely. For some reason, I didn’t find him irritating at all.
“Yes, front!” The mate interrupted our conversation. I was ready to give my GH¢1 note. My new friend added his five pesewas – the change from the water he bought – to my money and passed it to the mate (at the time, the fare was fifty-five pesewas, and water still cost five pesewas). I was stunned speechless. Expecting that he was just making it easy to get his change, the mate called out to me, “One front!”
He turned to the mate and told him that he had paid for two, and even then, told the mate that that was all we had, short by five pesewas. My jaw was locked open. Yet, I was more tickled than annoyed at this stranger’s bold unspoken request for me to pay his fare. I wondered if I’d ever have the guts to pull a stunt like that. He went on talking like nothing had happened. Just two friends on a journey.
It turns out Philip left Ghana in the eighties, and while in Germany, received the Lord’s calling. He was a preacher in a German town I can’t remember. At Shangri-La, he got down, thanked me for my generosity, and with a promise that we’d meet again, he was out of my life as quickly as he had come into it.
However, being coerced to pay for someone comes in different shades. One morning, after an epic struggle to get into a trotro, the man in the row before mine was just about to pay up, when we heard a voice from the back, “Braa Kojo!” I had joined the trotro from the other side of the road and was the only one inside with this polished Legon girl by the time we turned to face the pack of waiting wolves.
I imagined she was this Kojo’s next door neighbour’s daughter, who never even looked in his direction in the area, because with a confused look, he mumbled, “Oh, errr, how’s your father?” Her gold-digging intentions were pretty obvious. He grudgingly added a few more coins. “Two,” he muttered. I’ll bet he wasn’t pleased. Thank God it wasn’t me. She’d probably be shocked to receive a wave back from me. From then on, I’d no doubt be branded the cheapest penny-pinching miser on the block.
I recall overhearing two public school children arguing in hushed tones about whose turn it was to pay. It just brought a smile to my face. I let them argue for a while before just mercifully paying for them. Another time, I was in the same taxi at Circle as some senior high school students. In my bid to invest in the next generation, I decided to pay for all of them.
Unfortunately, my maths couldn’t have failed me at a worse time. The look of humble satisfaction on my face as they thanked me, having done my good deed for the day, evaporated as the driver remorselessly blurted out with a smug look, “It’s not enough.” I heard a snicker from the back. Ungrateful wretches! My shame was complete when before I could dole out the difference, the only girl among them stretched out her hand and paid off the rest. Disaster.