I’ve had it with motorcycles not stopping at traffic lights, even in the full glare of the police. Take one morning when a smallish man zoomed through red at the Airport traffic lights after stopping less than five seconds. His shirt was at least two sizes too big, and it flapped in the wind like a parachute behind his shiny new Haojin motorbike. What made me pay attention to it was the sound it made. No, not the purr of his engine. It talked. Yes, the engine spoke when he came to a halt. Clear sentences that made sense … if you spoke Korean. Or Chinese? It reminded me of my National Service days – and rather unsuccessful attempts at riding – in Brewaniase.
I could go on about how much motorcyclists rub me the wrong way, but at least, they happen to be licensed. Truck-pushers and the like are the real menace on the roads, as if trotro drivers aren’t enough of a nuisance.
One cloudy weekend morning, not far from the General Post Office, my eyes were drawn to the sight of an old man right in the middle of the traffic. His shirt was open, exposing a weary body hardened by years of manual labour. He was pushing long planks of wood on a two-wheeled trolley against the flow of the one-way traffic. Nobody seemed to take notice. Just another day in the Central Business District. Unconcerned with the danger he posed to himself or to other road users he struggled to steady his merchandise while pushing and directing the cart with both hands. What strength. What coordination. I imagined him whistling an old Wulomei classic as he went about his normal daily business.
All sorts harass the road users of Accra. There are the garbage-collectors. Anyone who’s passed along the Nima-Kanda Highway in the mornings has no doubt heard the monotonous high-pitched discord that fills the air from the light three-wheeled engine-powered garbage collector usually parked by the Nima side of the road. Then there are the more commonplace man-powered ones. These men walk miles each day, dragging along a large basket full of the waste from people’s homes. It’s not strange for them to leave a small trail behind, either of a handful of pure water sachets, vegetable waste, or of some other form of household filth. No way is he going to stop every few steps to pick up after himself. Especially if he’s hauling the whole heap behind him uphill.
On a back road about a year ago, I was intrigued to see one of these guys almost on his knees begging for mercy from a lady whose car he had managed to scratch. It wasn’t deep, but it was noticeable. She didn’t look amused, naturally. My curiosity made me wish I could’ve got down from the trotro to see how that episode ended.
Maybe over the years, we’ve become so used to seeing all sorts of wheeled contraptions. Take truck-pushers, for instance. From busy roads to dusty paths, I’ve seen them either walking along with their cargo as they push themselves around town. One morning, seeing that I would be late for work after oversleeping, I desperately flagged the first taxi I found. Two truck-pushers looked to be having the time of their lives. Cool wind whipped their faces as they let out manly squeals of delight and sped along the side of the road with amazing dexterity. I mentally tried it. In my mind’s eye my eyes were as wide as saucers and fear paralyzed me, ending me up in a gutter. Strangely enough, upon coming back to the present, pangs of jealousy shot through me. While I was in turmoil, here were these lads, joy-riding in the morning. Wicked thoughts filled my head concerning them. What would happen if their crude brakes failed?
There’s no weight or size limit to the things these four-wheelers can carry. One Sunday morning, there was an unusual amount of traffic. I suddenly regretted my decision, which had seemed so clever, to allow myself an extra half-hour’s sleep, thus cutting away any slack time I’d need in case of emergencies. I’d expected none. As we inched closer to the cause of this Sunday jam, anger burned within me. A gang of men were wheeling a whole kiosk on the thing. I wondered where to. They chatted happily as they tried to steady their load. What did they care that I was late for church?
From hunks of scrap metal to a burnt car frame, I’ve seen it all. Each time, they regard themselves as part of the traffic, slowing down any serious road users as they trek with neither a worry nor a thought. Indeed, they even stop at traffic lights.