Every day is the same. I wake up in the darkness. I debate whether I truly want to be at work today. I then go to the underground tank in the middle of the compound house where I live and draw water. Sometimes it took longer than normal because the rope was too frayed to hold up the bucket we used to draw the water. It meant fetching a big napkin to use as a makeshift rope. Woe betide whoever’s bucket fell inside the underground tank. It would take forever to get it back. When I finally make it to the shared bathhouse I like to take my time, continuing my mental argument. Even in the shower, I am lost in thought as the cold water rains down my belly, puckering up every pore. I’m developing a pot belly. Weird considering how I barely eat these days. I throw on whatever clothes my hands touch first then I sling my bag over my shoulder and head out.
Sometimes I lope to the railway which is a few hundred metres away. When I’m late I take my time to walk to the bus stop, if you can even call it that. The taxis have taken over the place and forced the tro-tro drivers to park in the middle of the road. I like to call them troskies after the parlance of us millennial pidgin speakers. The police who come there sometimes sack them, most other times they just look on; their pallid reflective shirts making them look awkward in the fray. It was a different prospect getting a trosky. I work at Circle, and the troskies going there were regularly irregular. It didn’t matter how early you rose; there is no telling when one would show up or if it was full or not. We’d line up at the roadside, peering expectantly for any sign of a trosky with the swivelling arm of a mate.
I try to keep to myself a lot. Most of the time, I listen to music. Anything to distract me from the gnawing pain in my heart. It’s like an unsettling itch. Like something has moved from its rightful position. Yeah something has. My girlfriend just left me for another guy. A photographer who had promised to make her famous. “You’ve become so distant lately. You don’t even do the stuff you used to anymore.” She had wailed over the phone. The stuff she referred to was “gifts”; little wads of cash every other week for her to do her nails and look pretty and stuff. That was the last time we spoke. I could barely tell her anything at all. If I wasn’t talking about her in our conversations she wasn’t interested. I even wonder how we met. I think it was at a party when we were still in school. It was one of those nights where I had had a little too much to drink. She is a looker though. Five foot two, pear shaped with boobs like wild mangoes and a behind like wobbled like water balloons. She was smart, but wasn’t interested in anything intellectual. She’d rather talk about the latest fashion trends and whatever. After a couple of one night stands we hooked up and that was it.
I love her. Or I think I do. Over time she became more and more about the glam and less about us. I think she saw me as a rich kid who had so much money to blow. That was hard to deny. I mean I did live the good life on campus; always stepping everywhere in style, hitting club after club and sorting out any money issues that came with it. I think I was just scared to let her know it wasn’t like that. In making it all about the money, I suppose I had this coming. The sex barely made up for anything. If anything it became less and less till she finally dumped me. I’d miss her rump though. A memory of me stabbing away as she bounced up and down in my dingy room when she came over flitted through my mind. I switched playlists. I’ve developed a taste for loud electronic music. The more tingly the sound, the better.
I probably have the worst of luck. I hardly ever get a good enough trosky to work. Between being perched on the spare tyre or cramped up in the back seat while a stout old lady or cantankerous man spread themselves in the desired edge seat. In the trains, I’d most often stand throughout the journey to my stop. I shouldn’t complain about that but it gets to me every time. I loathe it when the trosky drivers decide to take the untarred shortcuts in a bid to outrace other troskies for more passengers. They jarred my bones and made my cramped plight even more pitiful. I’d dream of owning a car but I don’t even know how to drive. All the potential driving license money going down one frizzy haired drain. Or used to.
The morning traffic on the ride to work could be interesting. Coupled with the music banging on my ear drums I’d see things and imagine them as pictures or poems in my mind’s eye. Even when my eyes watered from the pain from the metal frames pressing against my shins or kneecaps I’d look out the window. I try to keep as much change as possible because the thieving mates never lost an opportunity to increase the fare or withhold small change any chance they got. Never mind the unwashed bodies and smelly armpits, I needed those coins. Their unpredictability was the one thing predictable about them. Looking out sometimes gave away the newest trends in town. Big shiny billboards with all sorts of nonsense scrawled on them; the religious ones anyway. The new buildings with their colourful alucobond frames looking like something out of a Lego movie were particularly interesting. Most of them had the ubiquitous “Space to let” sign draped over their sides. Space which I’d have to sell my kidney to rent for a couple of months.
The new apartment signs rankle me the most. Shiny building blocks with nice views and astronomical prices. Certainly not worth me busting a spleen. I take careful note to see my favourite hated billboard. Hers. Yeah, she modelled for this herbal toothpaste thingy and they loved her for it. For me it was the beginning of the end. Her dimpled smile winked at me, reminding me of how her overnight popularity and need to look the part took her further away. She wasn’t even paid a dime for the billboard; or so she claimed. I sighed heavily and thought of work. Work was in a cramped office space in downtown Accra. I worked as head of outdoor services. It’s just a fancy name for delivery boy. We delivered sanitary items to hotels and corporate offices all over. I’m only the head because I can’t drive. Too smart to let go and too desperate to demand a higher wage, I feel stuck here often. All I did was stamp and verify, stamp and verify.
My boss is an asshole. She was a portly woman in her late forties. Never married and always had a scowl on her face. She strung insults from her thin lips like toothpaste being squeezed dry. Every conversation with her had a dollop of biblical quotes in them. I suspect she really hopes to get married. We break every Wednesday because she goes to midweek service at one of the churches in the neighbourhood. Every third Friday of the month was a half-day because she had to go to Kasoa for a special deliverance session from some new-fangled pastor there. She would be pretty if she smiled. I don’t remember ever seeing her smile. Her attitude bordered on outright hostility though. I always wonder how she kept getting clients. News through the grapevine said she got her best clients from gay people and regularly gave them all sorts of jobs if they came around. All I had to do was listen when the godawful music from the radio in her office went very high. Judging by its frequency when we had female clients visiting, I think it’s true.
The pay stinks. I’ve come close to quitting so many time but my mom tells me to stay “because there are no jobs anymore.” The ex-girlfriend used to take up half the amount every month. I remember having to deal with money launderers because she wanted an iPhone 7 for her birthday. I still haven’t been able to pay off that debt. The scars crisscrossing my potbelly remind me every time it gets cold. Rent and food and transportation take up the rest. I don’t remember the last time I saw my friends or went to the movies or had a drink. It’s virtually impossible to. I subsist every single month. Most of the time I look good so my poverty hardly shows on my face. My mom (bless her soul) brings me new clothes every month from when she goes shopping for things for her boutique. I haven’t been to church in forever. I’m just too tired from working six days a week. I need money. Trouble is I need money to make money
I have a dream. My dream is to be a photographer. Not because of her or the fact that her new boyfriend is one. My friends who are into it are making some serious dough I think. I see the posts on Instagram sometimes. Seeing the smiling pretty girls I’m hardly ever going to talk to was nice sometimes.
Going on social media drains whatever credit I manage to buy on my phone so I keep it to a minimum. It’s also a good check so I don’t see the ex’s smiling visage splattered everywhere. I hate those motivational WhatsApp BCs which circulate round. They remind me of a time when I had tried to be very religious and tried the supposed straight and narrow path. I just turn off my data so I hardly ever see all that BS. I think she’s blocked me on WhatsApp. My messages don’t go through anymore. I miss sexting her and the nudes she used to send me in. Those moments were the only true distraction I had. The nudes always preceded her coming over for a booty call. I’d let go as we drummed away, sweaty palms tracing her curves and tickling her back. I remember the taste of her mouth and the way she wound her waist as we congressed on the wall. She rose pale in the light streaming in from the streetlight as we wordlessly made love over and over again. We never used any protection even when she was cheating on me. Forgive me. It’s the only thing I have any appetite for. I would never eat my toffee in its wrapper. I pushed the door to the office open and set my bag down.
Stamp and verify. Stamp and verify. Ten hours later I picked up my bag and stole out of the office. If you don’t leave quietly my boss would make you stay in and pray with her till she was ready to go home. She usually leaves at nine pm.
Travelling back home is my favourite part of my shitty routine. There’s a tranquil beauty that sets in the city after five pm. The orange hues reflected on the fancy buildings and silhouetted others. Mentally I’d frame them in pictures ready to be shot. I remember I used to take pictures with my phone until I was mugged while doing that. It was funny. I felt a knife between my ribs and a hand pulling the phone away. I didn’t bother to resist. I haven’t attempted taking photos since. Sometimes the beauty is lost on me while I’m waiting in a queue at the station. I wonder what keeps the troskies so long. It gets annoying when people try to cut the queue or when the silly station masters break it up on the premise of double queueing. It never fails to throw me back to secondary school. Another negative collection of memories I would rather not recollect. When the trosky comes in though I try my best to get a window seat.
Perched at the window, I’d listen to my heartbreak music while letting my mind drift in the kilometres being eaten away. I would not have that pleasure this evening. My phone buzzed and I lifted it to my face. In the quasi darkness of the trosky a single text message notification illuminated my face. “I think I’m HIV positive.”
© Sena Frost ‘17
image courtesy google images