This originally appeared on misteragyeman.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.