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Spyglass: Kings Of The Road 

By Azore Opio

On Wednesday, March 25, I set out to take a look-see of Mondoni village off the Tiko-Douala highway, where some disgruntled farmers armed with machetes stopped gendarme bullets and one of them died. The day in Likomba was beautifully bright but glutinous hot; the heat rapidly warming your outer layers and then the inner layers to a melting point.

The jalopy to Mondoni looked more like an artifact from a scrap yard, its bodywork a pathetic shade of broken white, the finish worn down to a dirty brown. A quick visual inspection of the interior revealed threadbare seats, crumpled and sagging foam partially shredded, and there was a strong smell of rotten bananas and petrol fumes. The windscreen was splintered into a spider web; half of the side view mirror was missing with the surviving piece of glass a miserable jagged reminder of the mirror.

The off-side view mirror was missing completely and the rearview mirror angled wrong, gleamed dully like the back of an old Chinese mobile phone. The dashboard was a heap of maimed bundles of wires and a defaced CD player. The speedometre needle was stuck at 100 kmph and all the gauges mottled with grey as if mildewed. The driver, a young man in his early twenties, cranked the engine. It coughed a couple of times then fired with a rattle in the exhaust system.

With three passengers compressed in front and six others jammed in the back, we set off for Moquo Junction, but hardly a few metres after the former toll gate, we pulled over the grassy shoulder of the road and our pilot leapt out, flung open the bonnet and fingered the lidless radiator. I was expecting the worst, but then our driver just took it easy on the pedal. I was surprised he was not speeding. I think he was aware that if he gave the rattletrap full throttle the sewn-up old noisy car would fall apart.

The first "Njangi Post" we encountered was commanded by a gang of fierce looking "road safety" men rendered more menacing by dark wrap-around glasses and green reflective jackets. Our driver slowed down behind a truck and they waved him through with a wide, warm smile. Once he was past the mini-lorry, he nipped back on to his lane. Curiosity tickled me, but I gave it a respectable two minutes before I asked the driver.
"They didn’t stop you?"
"I settled them already."

"How much?"
"500. They are trying to solve the country’s road accident crisis by collecting contributions along the highway."
"Yeah, their elbows are well greased they make little noise."
"You are right."

The next "njangi" stop would have been the routier comfortably installed in the cool shade of the rubber trees that flank the highway, but our driver whipped right along as if the gendarmes were not there. He lowered the dark glasses hitherto clamped on his forehead to cover his eyes. He turned on the CD player and started whistling a cheerful tune: "I di feeling you, est c’est que you di feeling me? That is what he was whistling and tapping along with his fingers on the steering

wheel. I gave him a glance.
"1000."
"For the day?"
"For the day, yes."

"They are just the tip of an even more comprehensive and far-reaching framework of legalised robbers," someone snapped. "No, they are like tethered goats," wisecracked another one. "It is not a crime for a man to eat where he works, so the Bible says. If that be the case, then all the goats that eat where they are tied are candidates for the penitentiary," said a woman who was sweating profusely.

"The state receives a mite from those collections?" I asked in the manner of contributing to the general conversation. The girl sandwiched between the driver and I interrupted an angry reply that was coming from the back of the car. Her leg astride the joy stick, left foot under the accelerator pedal, she wiggled her backside wincing with pain as she tried to adjust her weight from one leg to another. "You fit lift your leg now," the driver told her when a passenger dropped off before Missellele. "When I di open my leg, yi di hot me; yi di pain me." "How you make am yi di pain you?" asked the driver with a smirk on his face. "Weeh! Jost take me to Missellele."

The bendskin ride from Moquo Junction to Mondoni was cool; lush vegetation, fresh air and plenty of mangoes. The villagers welcomed me with a cup of palm wine even though they were mourning one of theirs who had stopped the bullet. Going back to Buea, I boarded another wreck from Moquo Junction. On the bodywork above the door was inscribed: "Please Do Talk to the Driver When the Car Is Moving." As luck would have it, nobody was talking. Everyone, why not the driver, was dozing.

The "njangi" stop at the rubber plantation after Missellele was more dramatic. The driver pulled the junk over, cut the engine and lifted one of his buttocks an inch from the seat, fidgeted inside his hind pocket and carefully removed 1000, rummaged around, found a frayed receipt and wrapped the banknote in it. Across the road, he dashed, stopped stiffly in front of the "njangi" collector, saluted and shook the patron’s left hand. A little argument seemed to ensue with the driver swearing, tapping the toe of the jungle boot, giving his finger a lick and pointing to the sky.
"Everyone eats where they work," he said as he started the engine and rolled the limping bus towards Tiko.
 

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