It was nearly 9pm. The line hadn’t moved in a long while. The route home may be different, but it’s the same story in principle. Where crowds are ready to claw each other’s eyes out in the mornings, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Station at dusk is more civil. In the stark darkness, all you see are faceless frustrated commuters in bending queues.
Luckily for me, three trotros came in quick succession. It was the front seat for me, just next to the driver. I held the exact fare, for it was my aim to be asleep no more than sixty seconds after paying my fare.
All was going well. Not that I’d know what happened while I slumbered, but soon after we passed the Licensing Office bus-stop we stopped. The seat felt rather hot. Being an Urvan, the front seat had to be lifted for us to gain access to the engine. My phone’s torch was quickly employed while the driver turned a few nuts and bolts in there before downing two sachets of iced water into the radiator. I simply couldn’t wait to fall asleep again. A few passengers were muttering in disgust. They would’ve changed trotros in a heartbeat, if only there were some available going our way.
A good ten minutes later we were on our way. Sleep graciously overpowered me before I could finish my half-hearted prayer that we would get home with no more hitches.
Somewhere around Mensvic Hotel my eyes flew open. I was sweating. It was getting hotter in there. In the dimness I could see steam. “Driver,” I managed to say, while pointing at the space between the two of us that was letting out a small gust of steam. He nodded like I’d said it was a beautiful evening. After the Bawalashie traffic lights it appeared to be getting worse. My bum was on fire. Panic replaced sleep.
Suddenly, hot water started spitting out onto the driver’s leg like a fountain. He swiftly all but pushed us off the front seat, while screaming at his mate for the gallon of water. Enough! We poured out, gone forever, each with a parting word of contempt for the driver.
Who knows how many times this story plays out on the streets of Accra daily? Poor commuters are forced to take their respective fates into their own hands when these banged up trotros leave everyone stranded, embarrassingly in full glare of the unsympathetic public, with no lifeline available.
Just the other day we rumbled out of the station again, after a fight among the drivers about whose turn it was to go. Somehow, I’d managed to fall asleep even before we’d exited the station. Five minutes later, I was woken up by the straining sound of the engine. It sounded like gear problems. I doubted this thing could take us home.
“Yesss,” the mate hissed. I was foolishly the first to pay up. In my drowsiness, I noticed many hesitated to follow. After all, what were the chances we’d not be dumped on a dark patch of road somewhere?
Every strain of the engine produced grumbling from the occupants, all the way towards East Legon. Somewhere on the journey I felt confident enough to catch some sleep, firmly clasping my phone in both hands. Then, another jolt.
It took me a while to figure out where we were. Banku Junction. At least, should it come to the worst, I’d be able to make my way home from there. It did. With that heavy thud, the trotro had stopped dead. “Last stop!” one of the passengers shouted in mockery. The laughter lightened our anger as we trooped out. This time we were down for the count.
Indeed, it proved to be the knockout punch. A stream of fluid from the engine flowed onto the freshly asphalted road beneath us into the gutter. The driver was looking for only-God-knows-what in the bowels of the engine, and the mate had this confused look on his face. Perhaps he was reconsidering his chosen career path?
With no hope in this hunk of junk, we demanded our change from the mate. It was just 20p, but I felt like justice was served as I walked off. One unscrupulous fellow insisted he was with the lady who was standing somewhere minding her own business. He would later say the mate deserved it for leaving us in the middle of nowhere.
Burst tyres, blown gaskets, broken sumps. Just a few of the horrors drivers have subjected weary travelers to. How some of these get their road worthiness certificates, I have no idea. Strike two. The next time I’m left stranded, I know I’ll be walking away from a trotro … for good.