Hailing a taxi

Wilson Orhiunu

First Gentleman with Wilson Orhiunu

Email: babawill2000@gmail.com Twitter: @Babawilly

What is greater than hailing Caesar but lesser than hailing God the Divine? The answer is easy; hailing a bright yellow taxi. Before the advent of the fingertip hailing of taxis via digital oracles of Taxify and Uber, you walked into the streets, took in a deep breath and bellowed “Taxi!”

And when they screeched to halt you strolled majestically to negotiate the fee. The taxi driver would have no prior knowledge of your destination and you enjoyed that air of importance of a person with exclusive knowledge.

Hailing taxis is what the world does. We need to move from place to place. That is God’s plan.

In the 60s you could get labelled a witch in Lagos if you summoned a vehicle from the privacy of your bedroom and the car turned up a few minutes later. Many men who lived in the UK refusing to “go back home” had been known to wake up and start packing a suitcase and then head for the airport in response to a juju App deployed in the darkest of tropical villages. The preferred laptop usually being a calabash equipped with a water screen.

So here I was in Masha Surulere ready to go to my Okota base and I hailed a taxi. I should have known. In broad daylight, the inside of the cab was in pitch black. A total eclipse of engineering sanity best described this moving machine that sounded like an engine being strangled by Satan. I was too tired to be choosy so I stepped into the ‘Surulere phantom’ I had hailed. Whatever was under the back seat squeaked as I sat down and gave my destination to the driver. We settled on a fee and off we went. I felt every bump in the road as if my bum was being dragged on streets rich in potholes. My body was the shock absorber. The way the car wobbled along, you just had a feeling you were being carried on a stretcher by four paramedics of vastly variable heights. Each wheel must have been made on a different continent and only just met a few hours ago. At some point, I feared the wheels would all fall off and leave me stranded on the road. The car groaned as it took turns to avoid potholes. At a point, I thought the car said something untoward about the country’s president or perhaps the heat was affecting my brain.

At the first sight of any traffic build up, the driver who looked underweight and underpaid. And he took shortcuts. It is always the case. The creakiest cars know the best shortcuts and the best sort cuts had roads with lakes, valleys and hills. Off the beaten track, some might call it but it was more post-atomic bomb explosion track. The heat was on, in more ways than one. This car had no air conditioner. As we bumped up and down I felt like I was in a cement mixer in the company of gravel, impure water and Dangote cement.

I looked out the window and we were in Mushin. Not knowing where I was I made plans of how I will go for the driver’s neck and turn it a quick 360 degrees if this turns out to be a recruiting drive for ritual killers. “Kill him and scream for help,” I told myself. From my backseat position, I noticed that the driver’s seat and front passenger seat could at best be called non-identical twins. They were of a different race, a different species if I should be honest. They were set at different heights and rather than face forward they were slightly rotated. I looked at what I was sitting on. It was a kind of Siamese twin back seat. Both parts threatened to gain independence from each other with every pothole we went into. I instinctively looked behind me at the boot of the cab and found a cesspit which was home to empty bottles, bags and an assortment of dirt. It looked like the kind of place a snake could live in. I held onto my bag of money tightly.

When the papa changed gears, he did so with all his might. He should have retired 15 years ago but I guess he would say “moni yab man”. When he brought out a rag to mop the perspiration from his brow I was tempted to say he was better off being soaked with sweat then massaging bacteria and fungi into his skin but I didn’t think he was in the mood for unsolicited medical advice.

He had no radio. He muttered under his breath whenever we took a turn and came into even more traffic. Perhaps the boredom took over. He called a street vendor and asked him to change the left windscreen wiper. But not before they haggled over the price for five whole minutes. I began to wonder why he didn’t change both windscreen wipers.

His was a state registered taxi and judging by his age, he would be respected in the union meetings. There was no chance I thought of anyone telling papa that his car was not roadworthy.

Not so with the new boys in town. Uber and Taxify drivers usually come to pick you with cars that the drivers are older than. They also arrive at your gate and they know exactly where you are going to. Uber was founded in 2009 in California while Taxify (which I had never heard of before and assumed it to be a Nigerian start-up) was founded in Estonia in 2013 by the then 19-year-old Markus Villig.

There are indigenous Taxi apps such as Oga Taxi founded in 2014 and Smart Cab founded in February 2017.

I have only had experience with Uber and Taxify and I was very happy with their service.

Now back to papa. I must say he knew every road in Lagos. Unfortunately, Google Map means he has lost his competitive advantage. I do not see him using a smartphone so as more customers are drawn to ordering taxis on their phones he might have to retire. His car was a cross between a shrine and the evil forest mentioned in Things Fall Apart. That car indeed was falling apart and its centre barely held things together. Papa must have dropped out of medical school for he made no less than four psychiatric diagnoses on different fellow road users who offended him. He threw in a bit of genetics for good measure. It was a wonder how he could tell what chromosomes peoples’ mothers had just by observing their driving styles.

At my destination, I asked for the light to be switched on and up went his hands in an “inner light” manoeuvre. It looked like he suddenly remembered he has had no light since 1985 and brought down his hand only to fish out a torchlight. I counted out the fee and handed it over. Next, I was trapped in the back as the door would not open.

“Na child lock?” I asked.

He laughed and came out of the car and limped over to the door to wrestle for a while and finally let me out.