The Passenger, Lorry fare and the Mate
It was eight in the morning. The sun was up and hot! Bensah Mensah, who was dashing to town to get a few items, could feel his skin burning under his shirt. There was no shade at the bus stop. So he stood by the road waiting for vehicle to commute him. Vehicles gushed dust into his face in their slow pace. He tried desperately to wad it off with his bare hand.
“The traffic is too much today!” he lamented.
A moment later, a mini bus pulled to a stop with a handful of passengers on board. He did not bother to wipe the seat before sitting down. He thought the seat might not be dirty after all because some passenger might have sat on it before him. The seat was not even comfortable due to wear and tear but who was he to complain. The seat swung him back and forth as the driver applied released the brake intermittently. It’s been like that for God knows how long.
About fifty metres away from where Mensah boarded the vehicle, the mate demanded the fares from the passengers.
“Yes…,” the mate demanded.
Bensah Mensah is an energetic young man who was not highly educated and not gainfully employed. But he tried to learn from others who were more enlightened than him. He was well aware of the recent announcement by the government to reduce prices of fuel. Subsequent reduction in lorry fares by the national transport union did not escape him either. Well informed, he did not hesitate asking the mate:
The mate mentioned the old fare and everybody started complaining. “Look, mate, you are supposed to reduce the fares. We are all aware about that,” Mensah demanded.
“Oh! That one there…we are still taking the old one o... We have not yet received the list for the new fare from the national office,” the mate said.
His statement did receive good audience. All the passengers on board started agitating. Every one of them was talking. Nobody appeared to be listening to the other. Then Mensah managed to break through the cacophony when he sought explanation from the mate as to why they were not obeying the directive to reduce their fares.
“This announcement was made few weeks ago. If an increment were announced to take effect a day after today, you people would have been in a rush to start charging the new fares. But as this one appears to be in your favour, you seemed adamant!”
“Don’t mind them! These drivers…that’s how they are!” another passenger shouted from the back.
“Driver, do you have radio in your car at all?” a passenger asked and everybody broke into laughter.
“Aaaa…they don’t listen to news o… they only play loud music from their radio sets. Sometimes the music is loud that you hardly hear the sound of the engine of their moving vehicle,” another passenger chipped in to add more laughter.
There is this popularly acclaimed truth about Ghanaians: they are peace-loving, faa ma Nyame people or enye hwe people. They easily glossed over serious issues no matter how long they dragged it. But it is everyone who accepts this philosophy. These cross-section of people believed such a philosophy only served as a panacea for perpetual perpetration of wrong.
So, as it were, some of the passengers have started paying their fares as they were very much sure no amount of argument would change the minds of these drivers and their mates. After all, this had always been the practice. Nobody checks their activities so they get away with it all the time. And if you want to insist on the right things being done, you’re considered a threat.
‘It is not as if we can’t pay…after all we have been paying it. But let’s do the right thing for once.” He continued, even we passengers do not have a common voice otherwise we can decide not to pay this illegal fare,” a passenger said almost to himself but it was loud enough for others to hear.
When it got to Mensah’s turn, he paid the new fare with an explanation that the mate could go ahead and cause his arrest if he liked. The mate, unenthused, only looked at him scornfully.
While the heated argument eventually simmered down, two young passengers and a middle-age-man took to a debate after Mensah passed a comment. These young men, who appeared to be in the same age bracket with Mensah, sounded the least educated. The debate deviated from the lorry fare saga to which type of government is good for us – military or democracy…whether government was to blame for the problems facing us including the choking gutters, poor portable water supply or non-availability of power…just politics.
“The lawlessness in this country is becoming too much. Everyone gets up and does what he likes. That is why we are still where we are as a country,” Mensah said.
“That is why I like military government,” said a young man. “It is,” he continued, “do before you complain. Like before you see, soldiers will come and seize this car.”
“See the gutters…they are choked with rubbish. People just get up and throw rubbish into the gutter,” the other young man also tried to make a point.
The middle-age-man, who was wearing blue long sleeves over a black pair of trousers and a protruding forehead as a result of receding hair which was neatly dyed, got shot by the statements made by these two young men. He did not take lightly to the statements. He positioned his small brief case on his lap well and adjusted himself so that he could have good eye contact with these two young men who were seated around the middle of the bus.
But he did not speak much. He made just a statement,“Blame your government for the problems!” he said.
“Hey…mate, give me my change lest I forget it for you to pocket. All these fares you are taking from us is not even enough for you. Look, I will alight at the next junction o. So let me have my change!” a female passenger said.
He fumbled through his jeans pocket for coins. The bus dribbled through potholes to a halt for two passengers to alight. He handed the change to the passenger.
“We are individually responsible for keeping our environment clean. So you want the government to come and tell you not to dump refuse into the gutter before you obey?” one of the young men asked rather angrily. He continued, “You have sense. I have sense. So why do want government to come and tell you this is good, do it; this is bad, don’t do it?”
“Don’t mind him!” the other young man said. He continued, “That man does not know what he is talking about. Let’s forget him, my brother.”
“Look at them…you people are small boys. You don’t know what is coup d’état that is why you are talking about military rule.” the middle-age-man intoned.
Mensah, just like other passengers, was observing proceedings unfold around him. When the argument was heating up among these three people as the debate was brewing with political undertones and tempers were flaring up, some of the passengers, particularly the women were calling for calm.
It became clear that these two young men were coming from the same area. They both recounted how an army of soldiers were able to stop drinking bar operator around their hood from making incessant noise with the music blurring from huge speakers in that bar.
“Oh! Ghanaians…you want to politicize everything!”said, a male passenger who did not utter a word all this while, from the front seat.
Yet the argument ensued and degenerated into personal attacks and as to whether the previous administration did better in providing electricity and water or the current administration is responsible for the woes of this country.
Another passenger alighted…
“All these problems have been with us all these years. It did not start yesterday and it will not end tomorrow. So stop blaming government. Let’s blame ourselves for allowing the politicians to manipulate us,” one of the young men said.
“Driver, let me alight here,” said the middle-age-man.
Just about this time, the young men started hooting at him, calling him names. But he wouldn’t allow these boys to cow him into submission as to make him look ignorant like them. He mumbled inaudibly as he walked past the bus onto the main road. All the passengers were thrown into laughter once more.
“Mate, why didn’t you tell us you won’t go straight?” a passenger sought to know.
The mate did not say a word. He only looked in the direction of that passenger. The bus started off.
“Mate, tell the driver I’ll alight just in front...the next stop,” a female passenger instructed.
The driver, very angry, shouted back, “Tell that passenger I won’t stop there! I can’t stop here…and there! If you know you’ll alight how come you did not alight there?”
The passenger, equally angry, shot back, “If it were a passenger standing there you’ll stop and pick! Anyway, why didn’t you tell me you won’t stop at every stop and particularly so, my bus stop before I boarded your car?”
The driver did not say any more words. He did not stop at where exactly the passenger wanted to alight either. He stopped way away from there for the passenger to alight. The passenger alighted, cursing the driver for prolonging her distance.
The bus finally pulled to a halt behind other ones in a queue on a single lane road leading to the main station, forcing passengers to alight to complete the rest of the journey to their various destinations on foot.
stand by for the next episode...