It was a fine Tuesday morning in March. Few minutes past ten. The tropical sun accentuated a true meaning of the humid climate that morning. It was a more painful and stressful rush hour because the Ho town roads had not yet been asphalted and Central Market Road had yet not been designated to one-way traffic. It was a market day: every taxi driver’s payday. Agbeko was elated and in high spirits because he, after months of sitting at the lorry station, had thrust himself on favour to be a spare driver that day: the last market day of the month, co-incidentally monthly workers’ payday!
He began counting how he was going to spend the extra-money to be made that day. He would fill the tall gas cylinder in his kitchen. Then, he would buy a new set of panties for Akuvi, the new girl he’d been trying to woo. It would work. And for the lady with whom he had been in a consensual relationship for the past eight months, he would buy three kilos of beef, boneless beef and that was enough to kill her. She had been to her farm in the village to collect enough foodstuff so the only things they would need on a daily basis for now were protein contents and condiments.
Edzenunye, since Agbeko had last lost his job, was fending for the house. She was one brilliant girl who got over-pampered and thus dropped out of school and got herself a husband with no parental consent. All attempts to get her back on track nearly had her commit suicide, so she’d been allowed to live, lie, love and linger… as she was left to fate and her devices.
The last time her uncle, the police officer sent her money, she used it to help Agbeko renew his driver license and that got the old man on peace-keeping abroad fuming. The Deputy Commissioner of Police said he would never spend his hard earned dollars on a niece who would end up giving it to a street boy. That insult pained Agbeko at heart because Edzenunye out of love had told him. He now was determined, with this car that he was going to make the best. He started dreaming that he would soon buy his own car. He was lost in his musing behind the steering wheels and thus nearly hit a motorcyclist whom, it seemed, had just bought the bike and was experimenting with it on a market day in the Volta Regional capital’s market street. This nearly got Agbeko involved with the police. He hated them like the hair in his armpit.
Agbeko was stuck in traffic for nearly forty minutes on this stretch of the road spanning NDC Park and OSA Bus Terminal. That was news in Ho. Traffic used to be light, very light. What went wrong that day? He kept wondering. His attention went to the radio because his favorite Lucky Dube track was playing so he wanted to increase the volume and sing along, when all of a sudden he perceived a silhouette flash; a man waved him to a stop out of the blue. He was happy because the cab was empty and could be hired. It was the estate car cab, the most preferred on market days because it could convey every kind of goods: from light goods like baskets to fridges and all that. But the man had a different look on his face.
“Yes, master where?”
“Where is Taller?”
“The original driver?”
“Won’t you answer my question?”
“Who are you?”
“Are you that rude?”
“Do you know who you are talking to?” that was Agbeko.
Agbeko shifted into first gear, honked and drove away, totally ignoring the man. The man could have pursued Agbeko but he ignored him. He was just about to warn him; he was the one who handed the car to Taller, the original driver. He was the caretaker and had every authority over the car. So, Agbeko deserved whatever he got at the end of the day.
Traffic was slow, so he was able to nose into the flow, crossing a lady driver at a chancy point but he cared less. They too do it sometimes, Agbeko propitiated himself.
Agbeko wondered what the man wanted, a man in his late 40s traditionally dressed. He looked like a traditional ruler and Agbeko thought right. He was. Fair in completion and neatly shaven. He must have been one of those men Taller chauffeured for free and he was no Taller. Case closed. Later, he thought he should have at least answered the man’s questions, but no time to waste. He had not had even a fifth of his daily target and a certain man wanted either a free ride or a chat. That was no business of his.
Much later he thought the man must have been the owner of the taxi but easily dismissed that idea, given that the owner was abroad and was not yet expected in town. His phone rang; it was Taller. He wanted to pick the call when another juicy-looking prospective passenger flagged him to a stop. A jolly handsome man. The third good-natured handsome man in a row for a day. Good luck. He stopped.
“Regional Coordinating Council yard.”
“Taxi not allowed.”
“Ok, drop me for Regional Education Office.”
“I beg, I go pay for four so make you no wey anybro.”
Agbeko was now at Kuffour bus stop. He inched forward and took left, heading to the OLA traffic intersection. What a lucky day? A third dropping in a day. This one promises to be the best, and another, and another…..
“Good morning, sorry I no greet.”
“Good morning sir.”
The rest of the journey was in silence. Agbeko realized that the man wanted to chat him but he was calculating how much he had already made. Also he, these days, would not want to chat with strangers; some of them turn out to be BNI operatives, the most dreaded undercover investigators, or even the ubiquitous Anas himself. The man began by seeking his opinion on the economy. Agbeko just told him “Master, me I no go school-ooo. I no know economics or economy. But when I’m hungry, I know some demand come wey supply mon go. Dat be all.” He declined to answer any further questions. He rather busied himself humming the Lucky Dube tracks playing on the radio.
When this passenger got off, Agbeko entered the Volta Regional Education Office yard to make a U-turn. He was in the process when he was hissed at, the usual practice of drawing a taxi driver’s attention, and he stopped. The man came over. He was well fed, executively attired and very costly perfumed. A rich teacher, he told himself.
“Master where? “
“Go to station.”
“I’m running late.”
“No big school dey there. E be Gbogame wey the secondary school dey-oo”
“I want you to sleep there.”
“A joke. My hometown. I need a dropping.”
“Sorry. Today is market day.”
“I’m well aware of that. I’ll make you fine.”
“Will you take me there?”
“Sure. Sit in and let’s talk.”
“Hope you go offer good price.”
“Sure. Well, I’ll get a few things at OLA gate before we go.”
“Make we talk the price now eh?”
“Let’s do that after OLA gate”
The passenger was a lucky man finding his pin in a huge stack of hay by coincidence. When he saw the cab, he thought he recognized it. Then he scanned the faded stud on the license plate and took it in, processed the result and reacted with a chuckle and contorted smirk. Then he smiled. Now he’s sat in. What a lucky day!
The rest of the journey continued in silence. When they were approaching the Lume-Matse barrier, Agbeko remembered that the owner of the taxi was said to have hailed from that area but was not too sure where. He only prayed that Dzolo Kpuita was not the owner’s hometown. That was when he began to regret not giving audience to the man he suspected to be a chief. What if the passenger, on their way back, decided to… no it won’t happen?
“Master, make we talk price matters-erh.”
“How much do you want to charge?”
“Eighty Ghana cedis.”
“Why? You bore?”
“Why I mon bore?”
“You dey talk like you wan sell de car give me.”
“Then come down-erh.”
“How much you you wan bia?”
“Master, spare parts dey cost-ooo.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
And there was silence. The man found that comment so irksome but kept his tactical calm. He gave a wry smile. Looking at the man’s clothes, his wristwatch and shoes, Agbeko knew he must be rich. He carried two mobile phones and a tablet. Agbeko should be able to bilk as much as possible from this one. In their taxi-driver parlance, this was the kind of passenger they called a “big fish”.
“Master so how much you wan bia?”
“Twenty be my last.”
“Master, why? You no like my matter or something?”
“That be all I get la.”
“Master, plus all the time we waste for OLA gate den tings?”
“You see, I go join ten give you.”
“Still e no catch la.”
They fell silent again. They were now in Dzolo Gbogame. He intentionally slowed down so they could finish negotiation before reaching Dzolo Kpodzi. He turned on the radio. The first sound that came blasting though the speakers was “…and a lovely one to you, Deputy Commissioner of Police Mr. Guillaume Klutse. Man of integrity. People, do you know Guillaume simply means William? A French name there for you. Monsieur, welcome back to Ghana.” Agbeko changed the dial on impulse. He would then get himself into trouble.
“These police people, them all be thieves.”
“How many of them do you know?”
“Massa, me I be taxi-driver, I sabi weytin I dey talk.”
“Still you no answer my question-oo.”
“But you, you no be one. You, you no be teacher?”
“So, a thief bought a car and you are driving it behind his back.”
“How do you know?”
“Do you want me to answer that question?”
They were just passed Sena Lodge in Dzolo Kpodzi and in a matter of minutes, they would be in Kpuita. Agbeko’s mind was beginning to prompt him with an ominous sense of foreboding. Something told him he was in some trouble. He sensed it. It was within reach but he could not figure it out. He was sweating. Fact is he sensed some pugnaciousness in the man’s voice when he asked “How many of them do you know?”
“Master, we are here-ooo, Dzolo Kpuita. Massa, how much be your last?”
“Take me to the police station.”
“No, I can’t report you for this. Driver den passenger no get case for police station.”
“That’s where I’m going.”
He drove him to the police station. The passenger asked him to park and follow him. He persuaded him that they were going to collect something from the station. And he obliged.
As soon as they got out of the car, the passenger fulfilled the promise he had made.
“Boss, here too we go cher small?”
“Yeah. Me I go leave before you. You, you go cher for here small.”
“Then you go pay more-oo, sir.”
“I may give you another fifty. ‘May’ underlined.”
“But boss I no understand wey you say you go leave before me.”
They came to a narrow passage. The man intentionally tarried, tactically forcing Agbeko to go in front. In a quick swoon, Agbeko sensed some nippy simultaneous touch on both hands, and a click! That’s it! He’d been handcuffed.
“You are under arrest.”
“I’m not under arrest biarra. Weytin I do you?”
“You’re funny. You’re handcuffed and being led to a place station and you say what?”
Agbeko now took a second look at the man. Apart from his shirt, everything about him was Ghana Police but he did not watch. His pair of khaki trousers, shoes and moustache. How could he have…..?
At the police station, all men and women in uniform stood attention and saluted this passenger who sat sheepishly in his car. He handed Agbeko to the lady constable who could no way be older than twenty-one years.
“Constable, book him”.
“Driving without a valid driver license.”
“And without valid documentation on vehicle.”
She now turned to him and reminded him “You can remain silent or say anything but be advised that whatever you say before you are asked to put in your statement may be used against you.”
What a co-incidence! Taller promised to renew his license for him the previous day and when he went for the car that morning, he did not check if the license was ready. He did not fear driving in Ho without a license because he knew he could have his way with the men in black. It, however, happened that his expired license found its way into the man’s hand. He should have waited for Taller before taking the car away.
Agbeko was held behind the counter at Dzolo Kpuita. He was doomed. He felt his pockets for his phone but realized he left it in the car. He told the constable he had left his phone in the car and he needed to call home for help. The male constable was going to take the car key from DCOP Klutse but the man was in a meeting with the traditional rulers.
You see, that was his station before he went abroad for peace-keeping. He had come home because there was a heist in the community and he was the only one who knew how to crack the case. The meeting was not going to end anytime soon.
When Agbeko was asked to write a statement, he said he could not say anything without first talking to Taller. It was four minutes to 5pm before the passenger edged out of the meeting. He was in his uniform and Agbeko could see the name boldly on the name tag affixed above the officer’s breast pocket: DCOP GUILLAUME AGBEKO KLUTSE. And the epaulet read : Ghana Police.
Later, the DCOP brought out those documents: Agbeko’s driver license which had expired five weeks earlier; it was showed to him, and he consented that it indeed was his license. He agreed it was expired. Then the documents of the car which were left with the DCOP’s wife for renewal: the road worthy certificate and motor vehicle insurance certificate. Hmmm. DCOP was looking and smiling at him now.
Agreement is agreement. Take your fifty Ghana cedis for driving me here, an ordinary taxi ride could cost me no more than five cedis. But here you are.
“Boss , I beg, make e dey.”
“I’m giving you allowances for changing your sleeping place.”
“You remember I said I wanted you to sleep here?”
In a moment, a bowl of fufu was set before him, but he was too dazed to eat. The constable who brought the food was made to taste of it, an assurance that the food was not poisoned. He still could not eat.
DCOP Klutse now told him that the white and cream Opel Cadet Caravan cab with registration number GR 2778 N was registered in his name and thus showed him the documents of the car. He also explained to Agbeko how the driver license accidentally found its way into his (the DCOP’s) hands by God’s divine plan. He reminded him how he, Agbeko foul-mouthed him when he complained of Edzenunye misusing the hard earned dollars he had sent her. After this, he asked the young man to enter a statement in his defense but Agbeko was too troubled and traumatized to speak. He felt like using the toilet. He pleaded that he be allowed to speak after seeing Taller. By the time Taller heard of Agbeko’s arrest, it was past 10 pm.
When in the morning DCOP arrived in the office, he was confused. His favorite niece had wept her eyes red, pleading with her uncle to free her boyfriend. Then Togbe also got to know that the man his daughter had been sleeping with was the same driver who was so rude to him. Then Edzenunye would find out that the money she gave to Agbeko was not used for the intended purpose. Taller, the original driver of the taxi would also come in with a lot of stories to cover himself up. For one thing, DCOP listened to every character in the whole story: Agbeko, Taller, Togbe and Edzenunye. He listened to all of them individually and was yet to determine what to do. Each of them was waiting for him outside. Later when the Regional Commander drove in, the DCOP had to dismiss all of them saying he’d see them later. And those who knew him well understood what he meant whenever he used that expression.
The whole story was a simple one with many protagonists, an intertwined and intricately woven story of love and fate. But one thing was clear, Taller did not hand the car keys over to Agbeko; he only promised him. When Togbe went to the house and could not find the car, he questioned Taller who told him the car was securely parked with the mechanic, and that had always been the excuse so that whatever money they made that day belonged to Taller and his spare driver. Still, Taller hoped against all hope that he could extricate himself from this quagmire: he arranged and reshuffled his axiomatic alibi, relying heavily on Togbe’s evidence and that of Agbeko to exonerate himself. He was lost in a land of reveries inside the noisy silence of the lobby.
Until the DCOP called for them, Agbeko was still in the cells. The DCOP smiled in the meeting, remembering Agbeko for telling him to the face: “These police people, them all be thieves”. They would soon see who the thief was.