It was Monday morning at Spanner Junction. Commuters were rushing from one trotro to another. I could identify with whatever frustration they might have been going through. After all, what else could possess an obviously pregnant woman to elbow her way through a fighting crowd to get one seat? I’d once had the unfortunate experience of trying to get a trotro from there, thanks to the policemen controlling the traffic flow stopping my original trotro. Usually, there’s only one space left, so it’s left to the desperate commuters to do battle like gladiators for the last seat.
I cast my eyes to the right, in the general direction of the African Regent Hotel. All was quiet. Four short years ago we could expect to be stopped at any moment as President Kufuor made his way to work. His convoy was too many cars long, and after his near-accident, an ambulance was added to the fray. It was an incredible procession, all the way from Mr. President’s house to his office. The rest of us citizens could – and would – bake in the unkind sun for all they cared. It predictably yielded unnecessary commentary from angry passengers. Noisily they came, noisily they zoomed away.
Too many times, I’ve been in a trotro that was forced to park at the side of the road while some important dignitary came to pass. (The Nigerian president’s convoy had nearly 30 cars!) With no warning, the first dispatch rider comes whizzing by, looking back at the drivers and flailing his arms, asking them to stop and make way. Then the cars fly by, while we, green with envy in the unbearably hot trotro, spit out sarcasm and insults at the fat cats.
But these are fairly acceptable. After all, these people make decisions that will alter national economies, and make policies that could threaten to doom me to the interior of a trotro for the duration of my most productive days.
One dry hot morning, my throat was begging for a drink, while I endured the bare sweaty arm of the sleeping man beside me. His muscles bulged like tree trunks and his veins were like roots. I’d gotten tired of nudging him awake each time his head made contact with my shoulder. Let him slumber away, I thought. He probably had a long day ahead. For five minutes, we’d hardly moved. Then I heard the shrill siren in the distance. I groaned. The middle lane parted like the Red Sea to create an extra lane for the oncoming honourable. At least eighteen heads turned to catch a glimpse of this triumphant entry. The bunch of young Caucasians in the bus that followed the speeding police motorcycle didn’t look like anything more than tourists to me.
“Abufusεm!” one woman behind me shouted, and followed it with some rather politically incorrect comments. She had every right to be angry. This was the cue for a discussion on how insignificant our leaders regard the rest of us. “Who are these people to …”, “So are they more important than us going …” Gentility was chucked farther out of the window with each comment.
It’s not uncommon either to see taxis being transformed into ambulances, whether in the heat of morning traffic or the insanity that is the evening rush hour. Each time, I’ve stolen a cynical glance into the taxi to ensure that someone is really fighting for their life in there. A friend narrated to me how she and her friends got caught in a traffic jam. It was time for some quick thinking. In an instant, the diabolical conspiracy was hatched. She began panting and heaving in her best imitation of labour. The driver of their car sank his wrist into the horn and floored the accelerator. The trick worked.
Another friend was trying to catch a flight. She had procrastinated her departure so badly that the taxi driver, clearly without a prick of conscience, kept his thumb on his horn, parting cars to the right and to the left, all the way to the airport.
But then, perhaps we’ve cried “Wolf” so many times that people are beginning to tire of these sudden emergencies. I once witnessed someone come out of his car and beg the drivers in front of him to make way for him to get his sick mother to the hospital. Thankfully, the grumbling drivers had mercy.
Truly, I’m yet to see anyone stopped and asked why they’re ripping down the highway with sirens blaring, and holding up the rest of us who’ve been waiting and fuming for a few dozen minutes. On the other hand, I feel sorry for any such who may be caught by the police trying to pull a fast one.