“Banana Inn! Mamprobi! Dansoman Last Stop!” The mate of the trotro in which I sat said these words in not more than a second. We had got to Korle- Bu and when some passengers alighted, he was determined to get replacements. The driver was also determined to overtake another minibus, which was going to the same destination, so he sped off as soon as the passengers alighted. Then, just as the vehicle turned, I caught a glimpse of this girl whose picture had become the screen saver to my mind’s eyes for the past two months or so. I ought to see her; no such opportunity would ever come my way again.
I told the mate that would alight. He and the driver became mad at me, hissing and cursing bitterly. I was not bothered. I only pleaded but they would not stop until we had done about hundred metres from where she stood. I had to act fast. I was walking and running at the same time, but I still couldn’t get there before I saw her board a taxi, which joined the queue of cars inching slowly like wounded snails in the suffocating Friday evening traffic. I thought of following her and perhaps asking her stop so we could talk, but no sooner had I conceived that idea than a second thought came brushing that one aside. Bandits and tricky thugs had invaded the city and how sure was I that I might not be mistaken for one? What is more, it would only take someone to shout “Juloeee!” and a precious life would be lost. No, I would not make such a silly mistake. Even if I had nothing to gain for living, that pretty angel in the taxi was worth living for.
So I stood there, helpless, confused and stupefied, watching on anxiously and restlessly. Watching the taxi in whose bowels sat the girl, who, for some time now, had taken more than two-thirds of all my thoughts. What could I do? Should I miss that opportunity, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to set eyes on that jewel again. Then I had a brilliant idea. Why not chase her in another taxi and when she alighted, I could talk to her.
I beckoned a taxi driver and he gave a rough turn, which attracted a half a dozen insults from fellow drivers. Drivers in the city of Accra are very good at venting their spleen with their uncultured mouths. It is something they have rehearsed over the years and when they are at it, one would think that is their gift of the Evil Spirit. The womanhood is usually the casualty in such situations. I sometimes wonder the kind of moral training such parents give to their children at home. In areas such as James Town, Mamprobi, Korle-Bu and its environs where the drivers are most likely to be Ga, the commonest insult is often “Onyaeee S…!”
“Where you dey go?” the driver asked me, ignoring the other drivers who were still hurling unprintable words at him.
“I don’t know exactly where I’m going but you let’s go; I will show you,” I answered throwing myself into the front seat.
“Weitin you want talk me? You dey stop taxi wey you no sabi where you dey go?” he said, surprised. “Comot for the car inside make I go do my work.”
It took a little time to convince him to move the car, but that was not until I had told him the whole truth about my mission. In an attempt to get nearer the taxi I was desperate to catch, the driver had to do a bit of reckless driving. He dangerously overtook a private car and this nearly resulted in an accident. Again, insults were hurled from all directions. The next moment we heard someone bang the car hard. Before we turned to see who it was, a tall, lanky uniformed policeman was already seated in the car and shouting, “You they craze or weitin? Or you think say ebi you alone wey dey for the road top? Turn for the next junction make we go station.”
The driver said nothing and kept on driving as though nothing was happening. The policeman sat panting like a threatened rat that had escaped death narrowly. He must have covered a good distance before getting to us.
I was nervous? Already the taxi in which that girl sat was three cars away from ours and that was a fairly long distance. Was I, for the second time, going to miss the opportunity to talk to her?
After our first encounter at library, I later went there for a number of days just to see her again, but I later had to abandon the daily fruitless visits because it seemed there was no way I could meet her again. There came a time when I wished I hadn’t met her at all. But that day was unforgettable.
I had gone to the library one Sunday afternoon to get some information for my project work, without which I wouldn’t graduate. The Balme Library was a place I usually went any time I wanted to have serious studies. Quite apart from the fact that it contained books on almost every identifiable subject under the sun, the serenity of the atmosphere there is very conducive for learning. But on this very afternoon, I couldn’t learn anything.
I had put the few books had I carried to the library on table at one of the quietest parts of the library and had gone to fetch the books I had listed for the references. When I returned, there was this lady seated at the opposite side of my table. To say that she was beautiful is an understatement; her beauty was indescribable. As I sat, she raised her head and since the place was too quiet for any noise, I raised my hand in greetings and she responded with a genial smile that shook my soul. She settled to read a very fat book that lay in front of her but I was never able to recognize anything sensible in all the books I had brought.
I pretended to be serious with the reading but, in fact, my mind, my soul and my heart were on the girl seated next to me. I kept stealing glances at her and was very careful she did not find me watching her. At one time, my eyes fell on her neatly braided cornrows. The dark bright hair neatly contrasting with the fair skin of the well-shaped head threw my mind back to the ridges I used to raise for the planting of groundnuts. It used to be a very spectacular sight after getting up with a tired and painful waste to look at the ridges that beautifully distinguished themselves from the bushes around.
Those were the days when Friday was the most terrible day in my life. The thought of getting soaked with the early Saturday morning’s dew on my way to the farm always saddened me. At times my father would ask permission from the school authorities so that my brothers and I would miss school on Friday. This happened when there was lot of work on the farm. On Fridays we usually went to the school farm or those of our teachers, and my father knew this. Besides, he commanded so much respect among the school authorities that his permission was almost never rejected.
Though an illiterate, he was the PTA chairman for both the primary and JSS as it was then known. This was not only because he had more children than anyone else in the school, but because he was so responsible that anytime there was a fee to be paid he did it as if it was a pleasure. Besides, my siblings and I did well at school so he was the most popular parent among the school authorities. His words weighed several pounds and were hardly refuted.
Sunday was our happiest day because we would be free for sometime till another weekend came. My mind revisited these events chronologically as I sat there pretending to be reading.
The vibration of her mobile phone reawakened me. She went out to receive the call after which she came to apologize to me. I wasn’t disturbed. In fact, I found it a pleasure to have been offended by her. I even wished the offence were more severe. Her voice made my heart melt and that charming look cut pleasantly deep into my inner being. I sat there close to three hours but what I had gone there to do was in vain. What else could I have done when every available space in my mind was filled with one thought – the thought of a girl who so much stole my attention?
After sheepishly flipping through the pages of a good number of books without making meaning of anything, I decided to go for one book I thought I needed to borrow. She had started looking at her watch and the expression on her face suggested that she was about leaving the library. I wanted to talk to her outside.
I could not join the many students queuing to submit or borrow books so I hurried back to my place for the fear that she might leave. I was fast, but too late to meet her. I gathered my books and rushed after her but I didn’t see any traces of her. Since then, thoughts of her had enslaved me. I could not learn, eat or even pray without thinking about her. And my heart would pound with pleasure at the prospects of ever meeting here. I did not understand it at all. It is normal to be so infatuated with a girl at a first encounter and it usually lasts for about a day or two, and in extreme cases that unusual feeling would linger on for about a week or two.
But my encounter with this lady was something beyond my wildest imagination. The worst moments were when I got to bed. I would lie restless in bed, praying in vain for sleep to take me. When I closed my eyes it was her charming face I saw. There was something more than the beauty she was so much endowed with. It was that power over which man has no control. I was determined to see her and tell her something. Just anything. That might relieve me.
“Driver, drop the passenger for here and turn for this junction make we go!” the policeman commanded the taxi driver in a tone that showed that he really meant what he was saying.
“Aban, make we kill this matter for here. Driver then police be like say cripple den ground. My master warm me already say if this car go police station for the second time, he go look for another driver. Make we settle um for here, I dey beg,” the driver spoke for the first time. The policeman allowed this to sink. This was the moment he very much awaited and the driver seemed to have set a perfect tone for a drama that was about to unfold in my subconscious mind and presence. I was thinking and watching the cab carrying the lady to ensure that it did not get out of sight
“Then make um fast. I no wan go far,” said the policeman in an imploring tone.
“How much?” asked the driver.
“You no sabi? Why? You no dey for this country? Some of you drivers dey behave like dem born you for moon wey you come land for Ghana this morning. Ebi twenty Ghana, if you say you no sabi.”
“Ei! Aban, you want make I die? You no want my children put hand for mouth?”
“Ebi so you dey talk? The tin be say we wan help you people. See, if I carry you go the Motor Traffic Court, you go fit pay pass thousand Ghana Cedis so I just dey wan help you. You see, the democracy we they practice no bi ‘talk make I also talk.’ Ebi chop make I chop. If you chop then me too chop, then no war, no wahala. Last I carry one driver go office wey him master come see the chief officer. Ask me the thing wey e give me. Notin! So make we help wanaselfs here.”
“Aban, eno be say I wan prolong matters. Sake of the fuel price dem increase, people dey fear taxi pass snake so I no make sales wey this journalist say make I help um cos the story wey he come cover for Korle-Bu for go this evening. You see, that be why I want help um wey I do that overtaking.”
The mention of “journalist” instilled some sense in the policeman and he readily accepted the one Ghana Cedi note the driver offered him and got out of the car.
“Dog im pikin,” the driver insulted him, smiling at me. “If you fool, I go teach you say I wise pass your inspector sef. Fool! He wan make I carry all my sales give um make my wife den children go chop stone? Who born dog? ”
I was amused at his trick. It worked perfectly for him. But he was lucky that idiot of a policeman didn’t ask which media house I was working for. I was not a journalist and, in fact, I did not have the least idea about that job. I was so much engrossed in my business of watching the taxi ahead that I wouldn’t have remembered the name of any media house easily.
Two of the cars, which separated us from the one we were pursuing, eventually went their ways and we were now next to it. The thought of meeting her made my heart pound. Where lay the courage with which to confront her boldly and put my message across? How was I going to start it? I remembered her, but what if she said she hadn’t seen me before? Wouldn’t I be made to look like one of those tricksters in the city? Or what if she simply refused to speak to me? These thoughts flooded my mind. They paralyzed me.
We were now driving in a residential area and I had already started bargaining with the driver. The taxi in front of us was stopping. I was counting the money and handing it over to the driver, who also stopped. I alighted and moved forward. Faster! My feet became very heavy. My limbs went numb. But I plodded on. My heart palpitated more violently than before. It was so loud that I feared she would hear it.
She was just about entering the mansion in front of which her taxi stopped when I called out.
“Me?” she asked.
“Ye-yes!” I stammered.
“Talk to me?” she asked again.
“Yes, please!” I replied, fighting hard to mask the nervousness that had rendered all my limbs, and now my lips numb.
Note: This is an original piece written by Manasseh Azure Awuni
Continue to Part Two