Whether I am on my way in the morning, strolling towards the taxi’s assembly point or I worm my way through the flood of people in the Johannesburg CBD on my way back home, I have one thought in mind. It is whether or not I will get a seat somewhere at the back of the taxi, lest I find myself having to crane my neck backwards and forwards, accepting and then counting the driver’s money.
For a few reasons, I dislike sitting in the front seat. Well, a car with me on the steering wheel, that’s a different ball game. That you can bring on any day. So, this sees me avoiding the front at all costs, unless of course there’s one taxi left or I am late or some other catastrophic reason, then I will concede defeat and play bookkeeper for the driver.
I board a cab at the famous Bree Taxi Rank on my way to Cresta, and it is for the first time traveling there. My mind races with a myriad questions. OK, now I will have to look out for the directions engraved in my mind by a friend whose voice rings in my head: “After you go past University of Johannesburg, the Auckland Park campus, you’re near. Ask the driver then”.
I have to count people’s money, some of whom are traveling within spitting distance; this is a problem, they get off too soon, frequently and by the truckload. And I haven’t sorted out all their change. What then follows is complete pandemonium!
‘Wendoda, abantu bafuna imali yabo. Nika abantu ushintshi wabo! People want their change, give people their money!’ the driver instructs me with an irritable tone. After this, almost the entire cab titters. ‘Why was he sitting in front if he knows that he’s slow?’ The audacity! These buggers avoided the front seat like the plague and it befell me. ‘And some of us are late at work’, an attractive young looking lady whines. I scramble about with haste now and finally have everybody sorted. I blurt out proudly . . . with a trace of arrogance: ‘Ukhona oshoda ngoshintshi?! Is there anyone who’s short of their change?!’ Silence. I then give the rude driver his income. Some of this money is going to pay for a huge lunch later today, if his bulging tummy is anything to go by.
These people are brave I tell you! Then again, in this instance, deprivation is the mother of courage. I’ve witnessed a few heated exchanges in a moving cab about a person who has not paid their fare. One time, the driver threatened to turn back and go take a new load — an honest and fully paying load. This was met by fervent screams and protests by the women on board, who outnumbered men. The solution? You ask. Money had to be returned to every seat as it was brought forward and the “misunderstanding” occurred and was resolved.
I never want to be the accountant when this happens. Often, this has passengers hurling insults and sending panic to the person(s) counting the money.
Money landing in the wrong hands
A taxi is very much a communal place where you trust the next person not to short-change others. On this wobbly trust you rely for as long as you commute. When you pass back change for a certain seat, and it lands on the wrong hands—by mistake or purposefully, immaterial—other people end up not having monies due to them. And this gives them the power to verbally abuse you demanding their cash. Now, resolution lies with the person who’s wrongfully pocketed the money. Sometimes the fear of appearing as if they were stealing bears too much pressure that they keep mum. The driver will protest that money due to him is accurate, and rightly so. You can forget about him playing mediator. How this is ironed out sometimes hinges on other passengers’ generosity—they’ll replace the money that miraculously disappeared. Without this generosity, this can drag on to no end.
R11.50, R13.50 and these other types of fares irk me to no end. This is exacerbated by the people who never bother to seek change the night before and then pay with crisp one hundred and two hundred rands notes. Voetsek! I often feel like shouting at the fellow passengers.
No, thank you! This is a headache I’d rather do without.
Over and above my fear of the drama I’ve related that unfolds in the 16 and when we’re lucky, 22—seater buses, I really do not want to spend a large chunk of my traveling time solving petty crimes by non-payers and those too proud to admit they wrongfully slid change that’s not theirs into their bags. The reason is simply this: my precious time spent reading a good book is time spent sharpening my mind and thus my writing and storytelling abilities.
And I just cannot pass on that.