On this one slightly uphill road, at this one exit, at this one traffic light – I purposefully piss people off. I hear the honking, see them trying to maneuver bigger cars into smaller spaces behind me out of frustration, and I don’t care. If I’m being honest, I inch closer to the edge so they can’t make it past me. I am paying forward my past frustrations. With one foot on the brake I force the lesson I learned the hard way on them in an easier fashion. They just don’t know it yet.
I waste an additional 75 seconds of their time every time I get the opportunity to do so – and to them it probably feels endless. The light is counting down – it says 8 seconds left. They honk and curse, wondering why I won’t JUST DRIVE. I put my car in park and enjoy the wait. Based on their calculations both of us can make it before the light turns red. They accelerate and then brake suddenly, as my car serves as an obstacle stopping them from this final dash. As the car in front of me speeds up, I slow down – deliberately. Then the light changes colour – red – STOP.
For the duration of the wait they didn’t anticipate, time seems frozen on red. I avert my eyes from their condemnation that pierces through my rear view mirror. I turn the volume knob slightly to the right, trying to deafen out their horns and revving engines. I ignore them. I feel satisfied with my good thankless work for the day.
For those who can see around me they realize the car right in front of me – the one they wish they were behind as it that sped up – never actually made it across the road. That car is now frantically trying to reverse, turn right, brave the oncoming traffic – anything. But there is no escape. The car has not made it into the actual road yet and it is not quite obstructing oncoming traffic, but it is still surrounded. Not by cars, but by three men and one woman in black trousers and bright orange button up shirts with various sized sweat patches to show for their day’s work. The traffic wardens have descended on the unsuspecting driver and are screaming bloody murder.
“Oga you have committed an offense.” “Wind down!” “Madam, wind down!” they insist as they violently yank at the doors and try to fit their tired arms down the small window crack.
A colleague joins them – a police officer in a faded black uniform with a shiny black baton. He stands in front of the car with sweat trickling down his furrowed brow. He waves his baton in warning. ‘Let my colleagues in or I will break your windscreen and then your legs’ his stance and posturing says. They mean business.
I have been that “Madam” scared to wind down because I know it will only go downhill from there. I have articulated my case in every way I know how:
“No I haven’t broken a traffic offense because I did not beat the light.”
“The problem is the light is positioned too far from the actual intersection.”
“When I passed the light there was still 10 seconds left.”
“As soon as I saw the oncoming traffic I hit my brakes and did not drive into the road.”
“I did not do it on purpose.”
“I am not even in the road.”
“I am sorry.”
The result was always the same – NOBODY CARED.
They still do not care. The poor infrastructure and confusing city planning works to their advantage. They feign annoyance; act like the driver’s explanation is a direct accusation to their integrity, personhood and professional knowledge. The more the driver talks, the more the driver will pay – literally and figuratively. There is no way around it. Those with experience know to drop their voice a few decibels, immediately cast blame on self, thank the orange and black uniforms for their correction and humbly request if there is any way they can “help them.” This translates to giving them money for imaginary fines for which there is no receipt or record as they grumble and pile out of the car, head back to the post, and wait for the light to turn red again. This is best case scenario.
I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’ve negotiated and I’ve lived through the frustration. And I’m wiser for it. I never accelerate on this one slightly uphill road, at this one exit, at this one traffic light. Those behind me are frustrated and pissed off, but the truth is if they knew what I was saving them from they would be thankful and patient. The 75 seconds would be just that – 75 seconds. It would save them time, money, petrol and frustration spent driving around with four frustrated, sweaty, money hungry strangers who have a quota and a less than honest agenda.
I have had people in life “waste my time.” Parents, friends, colleagues, professors, strangers, unseen forces, God. At the time it feels endless, pointless, wearisome, and wasteful. Yet, when the obstruction has been removed (or I’ve barged through it) and driven straight into a situation I did not budget for, I realize the beauty of being “stuck” behind a vehicle that is saving you from what would otherwise result in nothing good.
I have realized having a foot on the brake, having a 75 second wait, having time to stop and think about the stakes is a blessing in and of itself. I sometimes suffer from road rage: cars weaving like they have no sense and driving nonsense infuriates me. Especially when the weather is too hot and the AC is not cold enough. It takes getting to an intersection that is filled with bystanders instead of cars, and a road is littered with glass shards and car parts to realize that slowing down is not always so bad.
When I find myself waiting without a seemingly good reason I remember this one slightly uphill road, at this one exit, at this one traffic light. There are many who do not and will not ever realize the service to humanity (adjusts halo) that I am providing by blocking them from trying to beat the light. It allows me to appreciate my own waits. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible driver just ahead putting their car in park and stopping me from revving my engine and riding into the sunset of whatever dream or desire lays just ahead. As the frustration builds and I slow down I remember this one slightly uphill road, at this one exit, at this one traffic light. I remind myself that sometimes waits are beneficial, they are time savers, they are blessings in disguise.
Timing is everything and sometimes time is not in our own hands. We have to be patient sometimes, and when it is out of our control we can feel helpless. However, it might be the best thing that ever happened to us. If we have a dream in our hearts that is reflected in our mind’s eye and we are willing to put in the work there is a high probability it will come to pass. However we might not get there as soon as we initially expected and that is also okay. Perhaps a false start, a mad dash, a wild acceleration can land us into ‘wahala’ (aka trouble) we didn’t budget for. Whether we make it before the light turns red, or spend an additional ’75 seconds’ waiting for a less dramatic drive, the destination will still be the same when we arrive.
Turn up the music, tune out the horns (whether internal or external), maybe buy something from a few street hawkers along the way, and take a few deep breaths. The wait does not alter the destination.