It was the kind of trotro you wished wouldn’t be involved in an accident, simply because you wouldn’t want to be caught dead or alive in this patchwork Mercedes Benz 207. Every few metres, the gate would pop open, and the mate would have to slam it shut with all his might a few times before it would remain in place. The body, which had seen the inside of a welder’s workshop a few times too many, was rusted. Each time we braked, it was like being caught in a storm. And yet, on this day, the deplorable state of the vehicle was not my concern.
It was the post-Christmas period of 2011. I’d woken up to the news that fuel prices had increased. Again. This was trotro drivers’ chance to close the books in a profit. Surprisingly, fares remained unchanged that first day. Strange. At Ridge, the taxi driver who would drop me at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital said with shifty eyes, “50 pesewas.” My mouth opened in amazement. “But it’s always been 40!” I shot back. He glared at me. I tried to read his next move, but before it got to the point of argument, he dipped among his coins and gave me my change. That went smoothly, I thought.
However, by afternoon, it was different. Any driver who had listened to too much music that morning and missed out on the fuel hike windfall had definitely caught up with the rest of the country now. At the Kwame Nkrumah Circle station, passengers were refused aboard unless they’d paid. Nobody wanted any trouble. Fuming passengers were arguing that they were being treated unfairly. “But the GPRTU hasn’t brought any new fares! Have you gone for a meeting?” a woman with a child on her back was spitting at the mate. The scruffy boy didn’t even look like he’d feel comfortable in any meeting, let alone have any meaningful contribution. “Madam, they said I should collect the new fare, that’s all,” he responded in Twi. Case closed. Very few had seen this blow coming.
The next morning, I got into a trotro at Bridge, expecting on-going fights over the new rates. The first thing I saw managed to squeeze a chuckle out of me. The approved rates had been pasted up. The photocopied sheet was fluttering in the wind, but it was pinned firmly enough for all to see the new fares. Forget percentages. It looked like 10 pesewas had been added to each stop. I quickly did a mental calculation of how much my expenditure would rise in the next twelve months. All we could do was whine. And whine we did.
Throughout the journey, one commuter after another had an opinion. Drivers were being talked about with words usually reserved for armed robbers and thieving politicians. Fortunately for our driver, his hearing was suspect. The whole load of us had to yell at each bus-stop he was supposed to stop at. One frustrated guy sitting shouted in Twi, “Hey mate, next time put a mic and speaker in the car! You’ve increased the fares, and now you can’t hear.”
At the 37 Military Hospital a woman who boarded had a scowl on her face that might as well have screamed “I bite”. I had on headphones, yet, I heard loudly, “It’s 45!” Ah! How can you do that?” This woman was embroiled in a heated argument with the mate, who insisted her fare was now 50 pesewas. She was adamant. Unfortunately, she had given the mate a 50 pesewa coin. He was done with her. I feared for her blood pressure. An old man sitting beside her was consoling her. “They do what they want,” he complained bitterly. He was resigned to this fate. Not this woman. She could go on forever.
But it was the man in overalls who caught my attention. He was enraged and used a lot of unprintable language. Not to the driver, but the government. “Me, my kokromoti power will talk next year. Hm!” No doubt he was going to exercise his franchise and vote against the government in the December 2012 elections. He was lamenting to nobody in particular that he didn’t enjoy the Christmas at all. He went on, “And now, just after, they’ve increased petrol prices. Kai! When Akuffo-Addo comes, we will …”
A heavy-set man at the back who had been lambasting the transport authorities only a few minutes ago stopped him in his tracks. “What will Akuffo-Addo do? You think we …” I knew where this was going and frankly, I wasn’t interested. I’m through with politicians. At the risk of my ears, I amped up the volume and was lost in Rick Warren’s podcast.
Happy New Year.