Here’s a reason to leave an extra shirt hanging somewhere at work.
The morning traffic wasn’t too bad. I’d recently discovered Freakonomics podcasts and was being enlightened by their discourse on the upside of quitting. A toddler in the row ahead was doing his best to be a distraction with his squeals. I, for one, didn’t find that cute and just turned up the volume, totally disregarding any future damage to my hearing. He was sucking on a piece of bofrot, soaked full of saliva and throwing his arms up and down. I wonder how his mother coped all day. She didn’t seem overly upset either. Good for her. The gentleman next to them was enjoying it. He was making charming faces and looking at the boy with a smile of admiration. I tried hard to shut my eyes to the whole scene, but I was scared the wet doughnut would come flying through the air onto my lap.
My fears came to pass when he tossed up his missile. I was stunned motionless. SPLAT! It landed right on the starched pink shirt of that kind young man. Naturally, he wasn’t amused, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to exchange places with him. Thankfully, there were no more to come.
At some point on our way around Accra, we’ve all had to bear with noisy kids, pampered kids, fidgety kids and downright uncontrollable kids. I’ve forced sleep under my eyelids many times to take me out of my misery, refusing to react for fear of looking like a child-hater.
Then there’s the other group of children: the grown-ups who refuse to mature. We see them, usually engaged in baseless arguments over economic policy and politics. Everyone allows them to have their way. Their views are shockingly off the mark, and any attempt to rescue them from the clutches of ignorance is met with insults and wild boasts, usually nonsense in themselves.
Once, one senior citizen reacted to a news story about a politician. “Ho, but he doesn’t know anything!” What followed was a completely illogical fifteen-minute ramble. Judging from the rate at which people switched off, I wasn’t the one with the problem. He was talking about how he’s from the same village as said politician. He’d supposedly known him from his infancy. Then he switched to name-dropping, talking about how he knew this and that big man and all their flaws. They were all a call away. A few people indulged him by asking questions, and laughing at some of his accusations. I stayed interested just for the absurdity.
Generally, respect is reserved for the old. Unfortunately, every so often, an elderly commuter levels the playing field. For instance, one Saturday morning, we dropped off some passengers at the 37 mini-station. Unfortunately, a taxi had blocked the path, so we couldn’t exit. Our driver released his frustration onto his horn. It was irritatingly loud. The taxi driver turned and shook his finger at our driver, firing obscenities. He was giving old folk all over Ghana a bad name.
Our mate got out to implore him to move. Without warning, the taxi driver grabbed the mate and shook him hard, then delivered two hard slaps to the mate’s shoulders. We were taken aback. I could hear the mate saying, “Opanyin, mebu wo, wae.” Respect? This old guy had lost any such in this live morning comedy. They continued to exchange words, words I was dying to hear. A shove into the mate’s chest, a clinched fist, and, our driver – himself no more than twenty-five in my estimation – got out slowly.
Perhaps the old man expected the other taxi drivers to rush to his aid. Perhaps he expected passers-by to see the mismatch and silence the beating war drums. Or perhaps he had some illusions of super-human strength bound in his non-existent muscles, tough enough to teach a young mate wisdom.
By the time the light of the sun was straight up in his face, he must’ve been regretting his foolish decision. In one swoop the driver had lifted the taxi driver, dangled him in mid-air and body-slammed him on the hard asphalt. I feared he’d never get up again.
A policeman was approaching. Instead of milking the situation for all its worth, the old driver sprang to his feet, pushing away those who were trying to save his shredded reputation from any further battering. He wanted to give a parting shot? Somebody get him some Akobalm to sooth the pain I’m certain was shooting through his fragile back. We drove off, most with a word of ridicule for the poor child who picked the wrong fight on the wrong day.
We’ve all heard that the young shall grow. But when will the old grow too?