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Opinions of Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Columnist: Gyesi-Appiah, Alexander

The Forced Joviality of the Guilty – a journey to Cape Coast

I had been late in getting a ticket at the Government Transport, and as most of the schools in Cape Coast were re-opening on the same day, tickets had been hard to come by. The next best thing, I thought, was to go on a big Neoplan bus. One hoped and prayed, if somebody had invested so much money in purchasing a bus, that they might have invested in getting a good driver. And hopefully, one who would not have taken a quarter bottle of akpeteshie just for the road.

I queued for a ticket at the Neoplan station and shifted uncomfortably from one leg to the other as people who had not joined the queue went by and got their tickets. I felt like protesting, but my multiple multi-coloured suit cases gave me away as a “bugger” and I didn’t want to be accused of being “too-known”.

“Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Cape Coast!!! Fanteland, odokono ke fish! This is your line!!!” Atta Kofi the bookman was at work.

“Oh jejemeje Atta!” the big lady in front of me, who actually smelt of fish, responded. “We are all human beings and yet you take bribes and let people go to get tickets while we remain in the queue”

Atta Kofi turned to the woman and my heart missed a beat. “Oh ahoofe, my beauty queen, you look much “sweeter” when you smile. Cape Coast, Cape Coast!!”

Everybody laughed. It took much more to upset a bookman. Atta Kofi turned and momentarily caught my eyes. He looked down and saw my luggage and possibly dreamt of silver and gold.

“Officer, come with me, let me start packing your luggage. You’ll sit in front”

Not wanting to be used as a pawn in his verbal duel with the other passengers, I refused.

“No I’m alright, let me buy my ticket first” I said

He looked at me in the way that made me feel I was a fool to refuse a good offer. “Some people be “too-known”!” he said “You be Tony Blair?” Everybody laughed. I got no sympathy. I was always going to get a “too-known” tag, whatever I did.

In the bus, I watched the utter confusion as passengers got on the bus only to remember they had not been to the toilet and had to get down. I had to endure the young lady on my left shouting instructions over my head to her relatives outside the bus. There were others munching ravenously at turkey tails and babies crying out in anger at the discomfort of the heat in the stationary bus. Occasionally, the bus would wriggle its waist in protest as the bookmen tried to force even more luggage down its belly.

Outside, within the parking area, pools of muddy water from the rain the previous night meant people had to lift their trousers in a Michael Jackson stance before moon walking over them. There were vendors and more vendors and yet more vendors.

“Ice water!”

“kosua nie!”

“ankaa wo ha!”

I noticed the writing on the various buses and remembered a song by Nana Ampadu I had heard on the radio which said, the writing on a vehicle depended on how new or old it was. I noticed how true that was. The new buses were often ambitiously named, “Road Master, For the Love of a Girl, I love my Car, Good Father and I shall return. The older coaches, however, had more humble inscriptions like Slow but Sure, Mind Your Own Business, We shall Overcome, the Lord is My Shepherd, I shall Never Want.

The cacophony of blaring car horns, shouting vendors, abusive alcohol- reeking bookmen and crying babies all underneath the hot Accra morning sun was as good a welcome as anyone could expect and I was having a good time. I was, till Atta Kofi came on the coach, a stern look on his face. All the previous joviality had drained off his face. He wriggled his finger around in a counting motion and then announced that this coach actually took seven people in a row rather than six, in spite of the fact that there were actually six seats in a row. There were mumblings and insults and curses and more insults but Atta Kofi was unmoved. The reshuffling meant that I was now sitting with one thigh on a seat, but with the other wedged uncomfortably in the gap between two seats.

Finally, the driver got unto the bus, shoved a few crumpled notes into Atta Kofi’s hands and then bowed his head in a solemn personal prayer for the “battle” ahead. The sound of the engine when it came was reassuring and then the coach bobbed and weaved its way through human and vehicular traffic to get out of the station and unto the road to Cape Coast. The little babies, thankful for the refreshing breeze, soon fell asleep

“Let us pray!”

This was a gentleman who had stood near the driver’s seat directing people to their seats and being overly nice to everybody.

“Let us pray and commit this journey to God. ….Lord we come against all principalities and powers in the name of Jesus!! We destroy any plans the devil may have hatched for this journey in the name of Jesus!! Guide us safely to our destination oh Lord and once we get there, help us so we will be successful in whatever our mission may be. Amen! “Amen!!” we all responded in unison.

“I am sure some of you know me” there were a few bows of approval from some of the passengers. “I have been doing the rounds in this station for the past five years. I go and come because people can’t have enough of my medicine.

“I am in demand because there are several men who need my help. If there is anyone here who takes a woman to bed only to admire their beads, then he needs my help.” You could sense the man was warming up.

“In fact, if you are here today and you are the kind of man who takes a woman to bed only to discuss her O’level results, then you need my help. For, let’s face it, you are not the minister for education!

“If you are not careful, women get to know your secret and then they start to make fun of you - Mr Mensah, they would say, I will sleep in your bed tonight, Oh Mr Mensah, may I sit on your lap? Mr Mensah, till death do us part…”

The sale when it started was slow, people not wanting to be seen to be too keen to advertise their erectile dysfunction. Then a gentleman at the back shouted;

“Give me one for a friend of mine. He is really suffering”

There was laughter and with the ice broken, the men started buying more enthusiastically. I gave money to the young gentleman in front of me to buy one for me and then pretended to be asleep to avoid the accusing looks from the young lady sitting on my left.

The coach sped through Winneba, then Mankesim and then arrived at Nyamoransa where we were stopped at a police barrier. The driver angrily picked a few notes, crumpled them up into his left hand and then let his left arm dangle loosely on the side of the bus through the window. The policeman stole up the driver’s side and with military precision took the money from him. Normally, that would have been all the police checks done for the day, except that this time the policeman had counted the money and being dissatisfied with the amount, had come back to the driver before he could move.

“Driver, get down!! Get down immediately!

“Master, I beg, rain de fall but the ground dey hard. I beg next time” the driver begged

“I say get down immediately!” The policeman was determined.

The delay annoyed the passengers who started, almost in unison to abuse the policeman.

Papa Police, let us go! We haven’t got the whole day”. One passenger said “You have been collecting bribes the whole day. Sure you must have enough” another passenger said

I was expecting a reaction from the policeman but he just smiled “You go, I’ll get you next time!” he said, and then turning to the passengers with a twinkle in his eye, continued “Fante people. What are you in a hurry for? Are you not just going to eat kenkey and sleep?” We soon arrived in Cape Coast and got down only to realize my luggage was already packed into a taxi and a young driver waited to take me to my destination. Before he moved, however, I asked how much he was going to charge. He mentioned a ridiculous amount so I asked to get down. Seeing I was determined, he gave me the right fare and set off.

“Is there some economic crisis in Europe?” He enquired jovially. And this was before the credit crunch.

“Why?” I asked

“Because these days “buggers” are too tight-fisted. Sometime ago they never haggled over fares but now they are worse than the locals.” He was funny but I tried hard not to laugh. First it had been Atta Kofi, then the policeman and then this driver. I was determined not to condone this forced joviality of the guilty.