Story: The Fruit of the Commute

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on February 26, 2016.

He approached the trotro at a brisk walk, at the pace of a man who knows he is at least thirty min­utes late and noth­ing can save him. He fairly jumped into the bus. As he made his way to a seat at the back, there were at least three eyes on him — this puff­ing, sweaty young man with the heavy tread.

She did not look at him. She was WhatsApping. Her work hours started at 8, so she had a good hour to get there. We all read about the kind of person who plans for delays; she wasn’t one of those. It just so hap­pened that she was sched­uled for Dum* that morn­ing, so she had ironed early for once. With the extra time she had eaten a real break­fast — the first in a while — so she didn’t even mind the puff­ing, sweaty young man whose elbow kept dig­ging into her side as he tried to make his laptop bag comfortable.

It turned out that his boss had to get his dog treated for fleas, and came in two hours late. She made the pleas­ant dis­cov­ery that the accoun­tant always brought koose* for the early birds.

Two days later when she boarded a troski head­ing home, she glimpsed a vaguely famil­iar face in the back as she perched beside a lovely old lady in the front row. She didn’t think about the face again, because she was busy pray­ing that the lady would either stop using her shoul­der as a pillow, or get off the bus. He didn’t see her because he was check­ing his Instagram Feed.

A week later it hap­pened again, and she was just behind him. She had had a tough day, and she dozed off — just a little bit. Her neigh­bour had to nudge her awake to pay her fare. She thought she saw the young man in front sti­fling a smirk, and she man­aged a feeble spurt of resent­ment before her eye­lids closed again.

And so on, in the great pul­sat­ing carousel of Accra.

He got pro­moted, so he started waking a bit later. She found a new job, so she felt she had to punch in with the recep­tion­ist. One fine morn­ing, the troski brought them together again. His new cologne was making him feel rather perky. Her phone rang, and the tone was his favourite song. He may have smiled a little; she thought he did, at least. So she averted her eyes as she picked the call, because who wants that drama.

One time she held up the side-seat for him when his hands were full. Another time he called a phone-credit hawker for her. It is always the little things.

Then she bought her uncle’s old car, and the troski sta­tion lost a reg­u­lar. He noticed when a month went by. He won­dered when it stretched to two. He tried to con­vince him­self that he minded, but in month three his office moved to the city center and his route changed, and the whimsy passed.

Six months later, he was sit­ting in heavy traf­fic when she pulled up beside his car. The face took a while to reg­is­ter, but the traf­fic was the patient kind. It gave him ample time. Every time they drew level, he attached a bit more sig­nif­i­cance to the coin­ci­dence. Why, he could — he should honk the horn; he would — just a friendly, jokey honk. Just to say hey, look at us dri­ving. But then a gap appeared, and you don’t take those for granted in Accra traf­fic. He let it go.

She smiled. It was two weeks later, and it was in his direc­tion. True, she was on the phone, but she also sort of nodded at him. He nodded back, just a friendly nod — he would­n’t commit him­self with a smile. She tilted her head, her eyes nar­rowed for a second… and then she nodded again. Did that mean that he had nodded first? He slid down in his seat. Luckily they were in oppo­site lanes, and hers got moving.

He found him­self blush­ing every time he saw that lime-green colour on a Hyundai. He had an almost-girl­friend, for God’s sake. If it wasn’t her, he would drop his painful pose of indif­fer­ence. But occa­sion­ally it would be her. And she would nod. Once or twice the nod was as good as a wave. Once he let her through when she had to cut lanes to make a turn, and she smiled at him — for real this time.

Ah, young love.

But too often comes the span­ner in the works. Or in this case, the lack thereof. It was now in the middle of the rainy season. Clouds were hold­ing sus­pi­cious meet­ings on the hori­zon as she headed home from work. And then on the high­way, the car coughed politely. She stared hard at the dash­board; all was normal. Five min­utes went by, and then another cough. And then the car made a rude sound. She snapped her head around to the origin of the noise, and when she turned back… kaput.

She looked around in the way that a person does when fate says some­thing par­tic­u­larly witty. Then she flinched as sev­eral shrill horns began shout­ing at her. She waved her hand out of the window for no reason. The chorus of angry cars grew. Soon they started going around, glar­ing at her at they went. Her head sank lower and lower with every car that passed. And then there was a knock on her pas­sen­ger window. Her heart leapt as she lifted her head. It was him! Her mys­tery com­muter! She felt like gig­gling as she turned to behold…

A beam­ing woman with two scowl­ing teenage boys.

She blinked. The woman pan­tomimed the window-rolling action with that we’re-in-this-together smile still shin­ing. Our lady obeyed while con­fused thoughts buzzed in her head.

“Hello!” The woman reached in and patted her arm in a moth­erly way. “Sorry eh! See these dri­vers, they don’t care. Don’t worry — ” and she retreated and barked com­mands to her embar­rassed troops, who shuf­fled off behind the car. The wom­an’s head popped back in.

“We’ll just get you out of the traf­fic, sweetie, okay? Have you called your fitter*?”

Her uncle’s guy. What was his name again? She thumbed through her con­tacts and found ‘Kabila’. As the phone dialled the number, she felt the small car begin to move. The dri­vers behind were ungra­cious enough to start lean­ing on their horns again. They were soon qui­eted by the ener­get­i­cally flail­ing arms of her portly little sav­iour. The boys rolled her car onto the shoul­der and nodded in response to her grat­i­tude. The woman came back, patted her arm again, sighed with a ges­ture toward the cars behind, and retreated. A few sec­onds later she waved as she drove past, free­ing up the road.

A few dri­vers still glared at our lady as they went past, but she did not notice. She was inspect­ing her feel­ings. Why had she thought it would be that stranger? They hadn’t said three words to each other. Where had that Hollywood non­sense come from? She jerked the door handle and leapt out in a fit of irri­ta­tion. She paced up and down as she spoke to the fitter, who found him­self being bul­lied into aban­don­ing his meal to go and start his tow truck. That matter set­tled, she returned to her self-abuse.

She only knew him from a troski. A troski! And she had been lead­ing him on, string­ing this poor boy along for a joke. He prob­a­bly imag­ined that she liked him; that smile — it was much too for­ward of her. She shook her head firmly, set­ting her mouth in a deter­mined little line. She paced some more, then stood and watched the traf­fic. But — and she set off again — just what did he mean, nod­ding at her in that famil­iar manner? She should­n’t have taken that lane when he offered it to her. Guys have such prim­i­tive think­ing. They do you a favour, they think you owe them. Wasn’t he the beast who had gig­gled when she took a little nap that time? The sim­plest solu­tion would be to cut him. Yes, she nodded con­sci­en­tiously. Cut him dead. She repeated this mantra until the tow truck arrived and the fitter came forth with his cap in his hand. She held it through the tire­some jour­ney back to Accra, then home­ward. It ran through her mind as she col­lapsed into bed, as she woke, as she nudged the repen­tant coupe through traf­fic the next day.

He had a thought in mind too, as he drove to work. He was think­ing: I hope I meet her today. I know I will meet her today. We will meet today, and I will — I’ll wink.

Trotro/troski: Commercial buses. Usually rick­ety and a tad over­crowded. The con­cept of per­sonal space is severely chal­lenged by this sort of vehi­cle. [See ‘On Trotros’.]

Dum: Pronounced ‘doom’. The oppo­site of Sor. Dum is a sched­uled power black­out. Or is it the unsched­uled kind?

Koose: It’s a sort of frit­ter (cita­tion needed) made from bean meal. Onions are also involved some­how. The result is fried and con­sumed with corn­meal or millet porridge.

Fitter: Pronounced ‘feeter’. A mechanic.