I am not cargo, I am a passenger

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by Kwaku Dankwa

Not a cloud was in sight. On another day and in another country, this would’ve been described as a perfect day. The sky was gloriously clear, yet the masses sweating at Bridge had no time to admire the lovely blue expanse above us. Day had broken early. No wonder trotro after trotro was already full. Frustration was building as the sun bore down on us from on high in all its cruel majesty.

In the distance a Nissan Urvan approached. Desperate commuters readied themselves to charge at the gate. The trotro never stopped. Every seat was already occupied by plastic containers tied in large polythene bags. Those around me spat out stinging words in contempt. How dare they deem chamber pots and inferior plastic bowls more important than human bums?

Frankly, I don’t think the driver cared. Neither did his mate, who sat in the front seat with his elbow stuck firmly on the lowered window. Surely, he cherished the wind in his face without having to advertise to the whole world where he was going. Cheap plastic goods didn’t demand change, didn’t insult and weren’t obnoxious. He was bent on enjoying his ride, while we the distressed waited for the next trotro to arrive for hostilities to resume.

Sometimes, it’s as if in Accra, public transport includes anything from food to bales of second-hand clothing. One morning, I tried to charter a taxi to work, seeing how futile it would’ve been to wait for non-existent trotros. I don’t exactly know where he was coming from, but the driver wasn’t in the best of moods as he walked back towards his car. “Adabraka,” I said, with a face so expressionless I almost burst into laughter at the thought of what I must’ve looked like. He glared at me like a fool and just walked to his opened boot. One look inside and I pieced together the messy story of what could’ve happened. The boiled beans he was carrying had spilled all over the floor of his boot. His duster was full of the stuff, and there remained more to be cleaned up. I slipped into the crowd before he made an example of me for trying to disturb him. It goes without saying that the beans seller wasn’t a happy lady either.

Occasionally, merchandise is priority. For instance, I’ve seen a Mercedes Benz 207 with all its seats removed, replaced by bunches of unripe plantain. The engine groaned and the tyres wobbled underneath the needless load, but then, why worry about the car when money’s to be made? Without doubt, the driver would be dodging all the known points where the police would be positioned.

Rarely do I get to Bridge too early in the morning. It’s as if no matter how much I try, I always get there after everyone else has decided to arrive. One morning, though, I made it a point to be there first, so sleepy-eyed, I staggered to the roadside. Now, in the small hours, the drivers zoom a lot faster than at any other time of the day. Perhaps, I only noticed one taxi because it was allowing every car to pass it. Strange. It was only when it was slowly becoming a speck in the distance that the full import of its merchandise actually hit me. The back seat had two containers of hausa koko firmly secured. Somehow. Usually, truck pushers deliver them, but a taxi? No way did I want to be anywhere near that taxi on its return journey. What if some of the load spilled? What if the seat got wet and slippery with porridge and the smell of millet wafted slowly into my trousers?

It quickly reminded me of a time a trotro I was in smelled so badly of fish. Apparently, they had transported some fish-monger and her wares to Makola or some other market. The mate was jokingly apologizing to all of us, obviously not meaning a word of it. He kept on talking about “nu-nu scent” and giggled to himself like a primary school child sitting in his first class on reproduction. By the time we reached Emmanuel Eye Centre, the wave of nausea had overpowered me and I was begging to get out. The mate insisted on keeping the change. I didn’t mind. The air of Accra had never smelled so good in the seconds after making my exit.

Whether it’s a terrified goat tied to the top of a trotro, or a trader buying out the last two rows of seats to transport her sacks of maize countless times, trotros have been turned into haulage vehicles. Just pray that you don’t take the next trip after certain hazardous stuff is given its princely ride through Accra in that trotro instead of you.

About the author,in his own words : By day I’m a copywriter at Origin8 Saatchi & Saatchi, which just happens to be Ghana’s most awarded advertising agency. Before and after that, I’m just your regular man on the public transport system of Accra, battling it out to get where I need to be with as little drama as possible … which is hardly ever the case.

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