Petrina woke up to a lot of noise and laughter in the bus. She looked around and realized the bus was already in motion. She however did not recognize any of the buildings she saw outside the window. She wondered if she was already out of Accra. She now turned her attention to whatever was causing so much noise in the bus. In the aisle stood a man who seemed to be either selling something or preaching. The truth was anyone who ever stood in the aisle in that manner in any bus was sure to performing one of those actions. She strained to catch his words. At that very moment he began walking towards the back rows of the bus, where she was seated.
“….and so this medicine solves all problems that you can ever have in your life. Whether physical or emotional, psychological or social, a tablet a day would take it away. It is full of vitamins, protein, carbohydrate, phosphorous; every mineral a human being needs is in it! A packet goes for only five Ghana cedis. Who wants one?”
All these were said with such a hilarious and convincing tone that she could not help but join in the laughter of the other passengers.
A young boy of about 7 years put up his hand “Sir, so can the medicine help me make high marks in class?”
“Yes! Yes!” came the reply. “Like I said, it solves every single problem!”
The boy continued, “So how does it help me make high marks?”
“It does, son, it does.”
“You said it does. But how?”
“Young man, you don’t understand life much yet. Convince your mum to buy the medicine and see the magic it would perform!”
“No, no, sir. I want to know how. How does it do it?”
Suddenly, the man began to look very confused. The whole bus realized that this young boy had trapped the man. The laughter began all over again.
For a moment, all the laughter and intelligent questions from the young boy caused Petrina to forget about her life. She laughed her heart out.
“These men who sell these medicines can never be trusted!” This came from a young man sitting next to Petrina.
“Yes oh!” she smiled.
He laughed. “Anyway, I noticed how much you were looking out of the window when you woke up. Is this your first time on this journey?”
“Er…yes.” This young man was causing her to get back to thoughts about her life.
“I see. Let me guess, National Service?” he gave a smile.
That sounds like a nice idea. Petrina thought. “Er…yes. National Service.” She hoped her voice was not too shaky.
“I’m a genius, aren’t I?” he gave a very broad smile. “What community exactly? Can you imagine in the community I belong, the last time we had a service personnel was four years ago? That person was me, by the way. You see, Soma is one of those rural communities in the Tuna-Sawla Kabla District. I am quite sure you have not even heard the name of the district ever in your life. When people get posted there, they never come. I was so touched by the plight of the people in the community that after my national service, I decided to stay there to continue teaching the brilliant but disadvantaged children. This is my third year of doing this additional service.” He paused. “I talk a lot, don’t I? Do forgive me”
“Don’t worry.” Petrina forced a smile. She was glad he was doing all the talking. She really hadn’t planned how she would talk about herself to anyone she met.
Really, did I have any other plan apart from the bit about running away?
“I asked about your community? Where exactly would you be?”
“My community? Er…”
“Yes, your community. What you saw on your national service posting form.”
Petrina had to think up something fast. Just in the nick of time, she managed to say, “Can you imagine I lost my stuff? I initially boarded a wrong bus and had to get off along the way. The driver was in so much of a hurry that his ‘mate’ gave me a wrong bag. So I’ve lost everything! I never committed the name of my community to memory because, well, I believed the sheet would always be there for me to refer to.”
“Oh! That’s so awful! I guess we can go online when we get to Tamale so we could check it.”
Uh-oh. Now what?
“What did you say the name of your community is again?”
“Ah! That’s it! It was actually somewhere in my memory. Yes, I am to be at Soma.”
“Well…o…kay.” He sounded so unconvinced that Petrina had to add some flesh to the story to make it more believable.
“That is it! Soma. I was saying it repeatedly all over the house so my mum would think I’m saying ‘So, ma’. It was so hilarious!” she laughed. A fake one of course.
He laughed too. “Wow! Aren’t I glad? It’s not been easy managing the secondary school at Soma alone. It would really be great to have you there too. Well, I’m Jacob. Jacob Gaisie.”
“I’m Susan Van-Lare.” They smiled at each other, a sudden silence taking over the moment. But this gave Petrina time to think about the life she was about to start.
Yesterday, I was Petrina Bannerman, third year student at University of Ghana, Legon. Today, I’m Susan Van-Lare, National Service personnel at Soma. What a difference just a day has made in my life! In fact, just a night. A few minutes. Oh Gerald. I wonder what he is thinking about.
*Mate: A driver’s aide. He is in charge of collecting bus fares and loading and off-loading goods.
Wondering what Gerald is thinking about too? Learn more about Gerald and the story continues in the next post.