“The Ride” by Tsiate Totimeh.

When the man stepped into the car, I knew there was something wrong. It was not his dressing, he looked decent, but there was something wrong; I just could not put my finger on what it was.

I looked out the window as the colourful scenery whizzed by, seeing what everyone in a speeding Accra car sees. A market-woman here, oranges there, delectable salmonella-riddled sugarcane chunks all neatly wrapped up and packaged; a road side industry. The “manufacturers” stood guard by their products, fabricating new packages right before my eyes.

I leaned back in my seat, wondering how and when I was going to tell daddy the bad news. The driver took a sharp turn, and my stomach did a little fillip as he levelled out nonchalantly – oblivious to whatever discomfort his driving exploits were causing his poor passengers

Then the man sitting next to me spoke – just a phrase – and filled the car. The pungency was fierce; I could touch stench.

The entire cabin became suffused with one gallon of strong akpeteshie.

“Drivers of today…”

I realised my stomach muscles had knotted seriously. Suddenly, I found myself hoping frantically that at least for the rest of the journey he would keep his mouth shut.

“Em…could you roll the window down for me?”

Oh, oh, oh. I held my breath and rolled down the windows dutifully, only after suffocating minutes of finding out what connection the metal rod lying on the floor, had with the glass window.

After labouring to get some air into the car, I released my breath and gulped in what I thought was supposed to be fresh air. It was not. Now I really understood what mosquitoes go through when Raid comes into the picture.

The air-alcohol mixture was not reducing in potency.

“But you how you fit booze like that?”

That was from the back. I turned, and looked full indignation in the face. The poor man’s eyes were watering and popping as he stared furiously at Mr. Akpeteshie gallon.

“Who told you I was drunk?”

Oh dear me, and he spoke good English too…

“You think I am like those drunkards who drink in the chop bars and cannot walk home?”

By now, everybody was reaching for a handkerchief. My nose had started running. I breathed through my handkerchief and realised it was useless. Nobody dared question him on why he had had gotten so drunk. Nobody could risk an increase in the potency of the gaseous alcohol. It was all I could do to keep my head in the air and not to thrust my nose out for some sweet air.

“Driver, next stop eh…”

Oh thank God, oh. I felt like clapping for joy. He reached into his pocket and took some money out.

“We are two”, he said.

The driver gave him his change. Who could be the one walking with this distillery? I had to stop myself from looking behind. I knew there were three passengers behind me. Who could it be? I knew it was definitely not the short man in the middle with red eyes.

The car stopped, the driver having stomped on his brakes in his usual uncaring way. I had to get down so he could come out. He tottered unsteadily.

I have seen quite a few beautiful women, but the one who got out, well, I do not know how to say this, but once in a while you see a beauty that makes you blind and yet not blind at the same time. She held the man’s left arm, putting her right arm around his waist and they stood there, a strange pair, waiting for our car to move.

As the car left them, I looked back. They were walking slowly. The woman was almost carrying the man. A sigh seemed to thread its way right from the back of the 7-seater Peugeot estate to the front.

I got down at the next stop. My father was on the veranda. His face lit up when he saw me walk up.

“Hey I have been waiting for you”, he said

I gave him a half-hearted smile.

“How did the results go?”

I looked up at him and shook my head.

“Daddy I failed the exam.”

He was shocked for an instant. Then he hugged me, let go, held me in his arms and looked in my eyes with love.

“But son, you should not have gone drinking akpeteshie because you failed this exam! I am surprised at you!”

I hugged him back. I did not know how to tell the story.

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