Book Excerpt: Face to Face – Trotro Palaver (from Tales from Different Tails) – by Nana A Damoah
The engineer who designed the bus would have surely been surprised to find that one of his handiworks was still on the road, so many years after the assembly plant had been decommissioned. There was the likelihood that he might not even recognize it as one of those that left his factory. A new guy at Kokompe had left his mark on the old Morris bus. The troski, as all the locals called their regular passenger vehicles, carried registration number ABC 4037.
“LagosTown, New Town, Circle!LagosTown, New Town, Circle, ready going!” Akwasi shouted, calling out in all directions, his brownish towel on his shoulder, already soaked with sweat in the 30 degree centigrade sun. Intermittently, he would wring it to squeeze out the sweat.
“Yeessssss”, almost singing the drawn-out word. “Ready going. Only two more to go, come, are you going?” Akwasi crossed the street to help a lady who ended up going to another vehicle; she was headed for Maamobi rather.
Even though there were six people seated in the trotro, only one of them was a real passenger. The rest were mates and drivers in the Abedi station. Sitting in the bus was a ploy to encourage commuters to join the bus, thinking that it was almost full.
Abedi station was situated in the Pig Farm area, the area’s name dating back to the days when a nearby joint was the best place in Accrato get domedo, fried and spiced pork. It was a pork factory. Lines of frying pots could be found at the joint, and one could get the domedo hot, spiced, with accompaniment of ringed onions and pepper powder. The station was managed by the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU), an affiliate of the Trades Union Congress. Some called the union Gepretu of Tuk. The executives were usually retired, old drivers. Efo Gayon was the station master.
“Yessssss, Circle, New Town, Kokomlemle,LagosTown, air-conditioned bus, away bus, ready going!” There were twelve people now, and the other mates and drivers gave each other cues to begin getting off strategically as the bus filled up.
The vehicle was actually a lorry which had been converted into a passenger bus. The capacity was written as part of the particulars of the bus on the driver’s door: nineteen, which included the driver. In the lingua of the station, the sitting arrangements were distributed sixteen back, two front. The driver’s seat was not included in the tally.
The driver was separated from the main compartment behind him by a wire mesh. This compartment contained two wooden benches, arranged parallel to each other such that when the passengers sat, they faced each other. Even though the driver’s mate admitted sixteen passengers to occupy the benches, he would insist on sitting as well.
“Master Kojo! Master! The car is almost full, we can go now.”
The driver walked slowly to the bus, a toothpick busy in his mouth; he was using it like a ceiling brush to remove scattered cobwebs of meat stuck in his teeth. He had just completed a meal of fufu and akrantie, a specialty of Daavi Ama, who had been operating her chop bar in the station for decades.
“Mate, we are seven on each bench already. Is it not full? Are you going to sit yourself?”
“No, we are not full. It is one-man-one-seat, eight on each bench.”
“Ah mate yi paa, what one-man-one-seat? Do you understand what that means? Hahaha!”
The other passengers joined in the laughter. Soon, a new passenger joined the bench behind the driver.
“Mate,” the latest passenger, a man dressed in factory overalls, enquired, “there is no more space on this bench. How can I fit?”
Akwasi ignored him and called out for one more passenger.
“Mate, are you not going to answer my question?” The factory guy shouted. “And where are you going to sit, won’t you sit on the last available space on this other bench?”
“Ask and ask again, massa,” the lady who had asked Akwasi the same question earlier on interjected, “I asked him the same question and he told me this rickety bus of his is one-man-one-seat!”
A lady who was clearly in a hurry came running and was grateful when Akwasi asked her to sit on the little space he indicated on the bench.
With the touching of wires, the driver got the engine running. At the cue of ‘Away bus’ from Akwasi, Master Kojo took off and then applied his brakes suddenly, as if on cue! The dilemma of inadequate space on the benches was solved immediately, as each passenger was thrown in the direction of the driver and the packing was completed!
Akwasi squeezed himself by the last lady to join the bus, half sitting, half perching, with the door slightly opened.
“Mate, I will alight at Robert Motors, how much will that be?”
“Madam, that will be the same fare as if you were going to Abavanna Junction.”
“Akwasi, what is the matter back there?”
In troskis, it was usual for the driver to communicate through his mate, like a chief via his linguist.
“Master, it is this madam here who doesn’t want to pay the fare!”
“Hey mate, did I say I won’t pay? I just questioned the fare from Pig Farm to Robert Motors. Just a stone throw, I could even have walked!”
“Akwasi, charge her the fare for Abavanna Junction!”
It wasn’t a happy lady who alighted at Robert Motors, a mechanical shop. And so when Akwasi told her he didn’t have exact change for her, she blew her top. Another passenger, a mechanic, also alighted at the same spot, so Akwasi gave them a combined change to divide between them.
“Hey, small boy, where do I know this man from? Is he my brother or husband? If you don’t give me my change now, you will smell pepper!”
“Why do people chew garlic at all?”
“Adɛn, Auntie, why do you ask that question?”
The lady who asked the initial question tried hard not to look straight ahead, and the gentleman who sat directly opposite her on the other bench also avoided her gaze, electing to concentrate on the front of the bus.
“My brother, poverty is expensive o. Otherwise, why would one have to endure all sorts of smells in this enclosure of a bus?”
“Baaaaaaas stop! Abavanna!”
When the ‘garlic’ man got down, everyone exhaled audibly. Apparently, everyone knew why the lady asked the question about garlic. Typical of Ghanaians, everybody knew what was on everybody’s mind, yet when the question was posed, a question was asked to clarify.
At Abavanna, Master Kojo realized that most of his colleague drivers were joining the Nkansa-Djan-Pig Farm road from the road coming from the Maamobi Polyclinic, instead of the usual route from the Kotobabi Police Station. He got suspicious, and guessed that the police were at it again at the Catholic church junction.
He took off and turned right, towards Abavanna down, via Waist and Power junction.
“Yes, front…froooont, please.”
There were two passengers sitting in the front cabin and one of them, a lady, passed her fare through the wire mesh. The note was passed along to the mate. The second passenger turned to look at the driver, who kept his eyes dogged on the road ahead.
“Massa…yes, you in front, your fare please!”
“Mate, my change, before I forget it.” That was the lady in front.
Her change was exactly the amount the man in front needed to pay. Driver’s mates were experts at what was termed Kweku Ananse mathematics, substitution by shifting around.
“Madam, please collect your change from the man sitting by you, it is exactly the amount I need to give you.”
The driver still didn’t turn to the passengers’ direction at all. The male passenger in front started fidgeting – that was not how things were to happen: the driver was his neighbour at Kotobabi Down and he expected him to exempt him from paying the trotro fare.
Immediately after the male passenger gave his fare to the lady, the trotro went past the SWAG park and turned right towards the K1 and 2 schools and, for the first time, the driver acknowledged his neighbour’s presence in the car.
“Ei, Opia, is that you? I didn’t notice you had joined koraa o.”
Apuuu, wicked man, thought Opia. See his face like a goat! Azaa man!
The troski went past Honesty, so named because the owner of Honesty Transport used to live at that junction, his articulated trucks marked ‘Honesty’. Whether or not it reflected his personal philosophy was another matter.
Past theProvidenceSchoolsignpost, Master Kojo stopped at K1&2 for a passenger to alight. At Prempeh hotel, a new passenger joined the troski. Whilst waiting for the passenger to settle, Massa Kojo flagged one of his colleague drivers.
“Dovlo, are they there?” It was obvious to the other driver who ‘they’ referred to.
“Yes o, ma broda. At the Catholic church junction, just around the corner from Agbajena. They dey there. Today, they are collecting twice the normal rate. Atta Papa just got charged for not having a torchlight in his bus, this hot afternoon!”
“Ewurade medaase! I could smell them from Abavanna!”
“Please, can you pass your money from the left? Please don’t give me big notes.”
“Why shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t you have coins for change?”
“Madam, I think it is just a polite request from the boy. Please allow small.”
“Mate, I will drop at the Catholic church junction.” It was a sleepy voice; the passenger, an elderly man, had gone to sleep as soon as he boarded the troski at Abedi station.
“Oh Papa, we didn’t pass there o. We are now at Nkansa-Djan.”
“Ah, why didn’t you pass there?”
“Papa, I asked at Abavanna whether anyone would get down at Roman, but there was no response.”
“It was because he was busily snoring and hitting people’s shoulders with his head!” The lady who sat on the old man’s right didn’t sound amused. The other passengers laughed.
“Driver, please turn the car, I have to get down at Roman. Driver!”
“Wetin again? Asem ben?”
“Master, is it not this man? He has been sleeping aah, now that we have passed his stop, he wants us to take him back.”
“Opanyin,” Massa Kojo tried to be polite “you know we can’t take you back, not in this traffic, even if I want to do it. I will let you get down right here. Akwasi, open the door for him. Papa, next time, please stay alert.”
“Ah, but I need some balance to take a new troski back to the Catholic church junction.”
“But you have not even paid me!”
“I paid you!”
“Ei, you this man, you have been sleeping throughout this trip, when did you pay me?”
It quickly became obvious that the old man didn’t have money on him. A good Samaritan paid for him. When he insisted that he be given money to take a bus back to his original destination, all the passengers broke down in mirth and called him Papa Oliver. The good Samaritan had to come to his aid, again.
“Mate, why should I pay the full fare to Circle? I am using only half of my allocated space on this bench!”
The speaker was seated by a plump lady; she looked like a Makola Market woman who was on her way to the market. Her load of dried fish in a basket was placed under one of the benches.
“Owula, are you referring to me?”
“Mate, I say I will not pay the full fare! Take the balance from wherever you deem fit!”
“My view is that some people should pay double the fare, for the space they actually occupy, otherwise they cheat some of us.” That was Opia, who had recovered from his anger to contribute to the discussion in the troski.
“True. It is supposed to be one-man-one-seat, but for some, it is one-man-two seats!”
The Makola woman kept her cool; only a foolish dog will run after a flying bird and this was a topic she wouldn’t win.
“LagosTown wo mu o, mate!”
AtLagosTown, Massa Kojo got down to open the bonnet of the Morris troski. A steam of vapor exuded from the engine, and the driver had to step back, almost jumping. Akwasi knew what to do, retrieving a 5 liter gallon from under his bench and crossing the road to get some water.
“Driver, what is wrong? We are in a hurry o!”
“Oh, nothing is wrong!”
“How can it be ‘nothing’ when we have been here for almost five minutes?”
“It is small ‘overheating’, we have to let the engine cool down, it is normal.”
“Mate! Please give me my balance, I can’t wait, I have an appointment I can’t miss.”
“Oh bra, wait small, we will finish noor, and we will be going.”
Soon it was obvious that the problem was more than engine overheating. Massa Kojo took a mat from under his seat and spread it under the car, vanishing under the car. The passengers could hear some hammering.
“Ei Driver! If the car cannot move again, give us our money la!”
Massa Kojo didn’t respond. He went back to the front of the car, poured in some more water, and climbed back into his seat. After the third attempt, the troski came to life, and the journey could continue.
“Hey, buddy”, shouted another passenger. “Keep your dir-rry hands off ma suit! You gat me?” All in something resembling an American twang. It’s what everyone has now come to call LAFA – locally acquired foreign accent.
“Massa, watch how you talk to me! Who do you think you are?”
“Who do I think I am? Do you know who I am? You fitters just get out of your workshop and come and sit in cars, can’t you change your overalls if you are going out?”
“I agree with you, boss. Hey fitter, see how dirty your coat is. Do you want to soil the man’s nice attire?”
“Did I not pay the same fare?” That was the mechanic. “If he thinks he is a big man, he should buy his own car and ride in it!”
“Baaaasssss stop! Mate, I will drop at Malata!”
When the man in suit got down, Akwasi spoke what was on his mind. “Eish, these myself people! Nsem piii!”
From Malata through Kokomlemle to Circle, the journey was smooth. Almost. The fitter’s attire was the main discussion point, and he agreed that indeed he needed to have a spare attire to wear when leaving the workshop to buy spare parts. He was on his way to Abossey Okai.
Just before the station at Circle, around Odo Rise, the Morris troski came to an abrupt halt. Aponkye brake.
Reason? The fuel had run out. Finito.
With one voice, the passengers chorused “One gallon!”
Fortunately, the last stop, theKwame Nkrumah Circlestation, was a walking distance and as they alighted, Akwasi retrieved another gallon, he knew what to do.