Recently, I’ve regarded these yellow cars that dot our streets from a rather new perspective; as a microcosm of our society. Taxis! Yes, I’m talking about taxis. To the average denizen, they might just be a means of transportation but to a keen observer, almost every taxi ride leaps over the bounds of a business transaction. Each ride is a story, perhaps part of a story, or an adventure which could range from nerve wracking to fulfilling or down right boring.
It’s 7am on a bright Thursday morning in Douala and I’m standing by the roadside trying to hail a taxi for Ndobo. I’m a little anxious about being late for work so I’m waving frantically for an approaching taxi to stop.
“Ndobo?” I ask.
“Deux cent dans mille francs s’il vous plaît”, I propose in the local parlance.
I hop in quickly and smile in relief to find it’s a clean taxi and I’m sharing the back seat with a lady who looks like my mum. But before I get to greet everyone, the taxi driver starts giving me a lesson on politeness.
“Madame ont dit ” s’il vous plaît…deux cent dans mille francs s’il vous plaît.”
I’m taken aback and I calmly tell him that’s exactly what I said. My mummy-look-alike backs me up but the driver is adamant. I consider myself rather very polite and tolerant but on this particular occasion, I realise I’m hulking green with anger (hilarious metaphor given my petite frame).
To everyone’s astonishment, including the driver’s, I ask him to stop his damn car and let me out. The driver complies then lingers to hurl insults at me and ends by telling me to buy a car. I scream back over the loud early morning chaos that characterises our streets, asking him to get lost. It’s actually a comic scene but the Incredible Hulk in me doesn’t care about creating a scene.
The irony of it all — he is teaching me politeness from an altar of callousness, self-righteousness and rudeness. Do I have to kneel or beg to get a ride in his taxi because I need change for a one thousand francs note? Hell no!
When he finally trots off, I chide myself for letting out my little green monster. See what the Chinese have caused. They should stop smuggling our coins out of the country so that drivers will have one less reason to complain.
A honk from another taxi reminds me I’m running late. This time around the taxi looks battered but the driver is an older man in his mid forties or thereabouts. I make a silent prayer as I board. It’s been enough taxi saga for the day. It turns out to be a quiet ride with every passenger minding their business. An attempt from the man in the front seat to start a conversation about the ongoing socio-political crisis in the country gets no response. I get to my destination, pay the driver and get my change.
You never know what to expect when you board a taxi in our pays. It was just one of those taxi saga days. Sigh!