Mensah giggles at the sight of a nearby showy, self-obsessed yawn. He is not enthused; it must be coming from a man – full of himself and in his belly – who cares less about the other Accra, the one that shrieks and hops its way through haziness as though it was anything else but a layabout reptile.
He is a broken soul with so much anger at the wholeness around him. In the last one year since he has been at the Nkrumah Circle, he has careened into things he could have avoided; an animated junkie who feeds off palpable hysteria to the delight of his demons.
Mensah does no wrong in front of his terrors; they adore the wrecked man he is. When sober, he tries hard to stay sane in a setting that teaches him to rebel everything. Anything.
It is a Wednesday afternoon. The skies over Accra’s brisk-trading spots are reeling down a scorching heat, acting as if it were an unrepentant venomous viper.
Many things are happening here. Mensah has taken his ego out for lunch. It has so far served him a three-course meal of carelessness, topped by a dessert that has landed him a few altercations: a case of mobile phone theft, a run-in with city police for trespassing on a state property, and a hefty slap on his eczema-soaked cheeks for ‘unknowingly’ stroking a female stranger’s behind.
As he retreats toward a rush hour in sight, he high-kicks stability into the remnants of his rather sordid street life, engineering absolute thoughts that seek to brush off his all-day silliness. It is a tough fight for a man whose body has long moved from an intemperate lurch to a non-functional being spiced at the top by so much decadence. So much.
“I am a damaged man,” he says. “I don’t like this,” referring to his regretful life of four years in and around his Nkrumah Circle playground.
Mensah belongs to an established chaotic scene of fear and tremble that is also a carrier of the mess in the area. On this very Wednesday, he heads north of the precinct to make ends meet. Tattered and with his body giving off a less-graceful odour, he chases down a van to help the driver and conductor offload wares for passengers. It proves unsuccessful as he pants away in a bid to reach the speeding car.
There is a method to the madness Mensah and his colleague lowlifes are used to at the Nkrumah Circle. They go through it daily. Their guests, the thousands who commute in and out, are also actors in what is a beautiful street clutter.
In front of a phone shop, Mensah simpers, as he lowers his chin, gawping at a stolen handset from the previous night. He is in search of a buyer. The merchandize proves a tough sell and Mensah, now incensed by his own lack of trade tact, muses frantically as though he was a period piece that missed its moment. With adjustment pangs the size of his Khaki trousers weighing heavily on his emotions and demeanour, he wears a laundry list of guilt that easily gives him away as a man with little to show for all his daily, fast and furious conspiracies.
Mensah and his likes at the Nkrumah Circle area are spray perfumes in trashcans; they go through life hoping to cross tranquillity off their checklist of to-dos. So far, it is an exercise they continue to live and fight. Life has checked-mate and sang to them many things, odes of cruelty, one of them.
Most here confuse their sorry ways of thievery and crime for survival. It is a quotidian oddity of having a job and yet feeling less fulfilled. The no-way-out tune has also ear-wormed its way into their thoughts, further compounding the obscene dejection with which they get by.
It is a painful admission of rot defined the elasticity of a troubling situation – ground-breaking before, now and for years to come.
Mensah says he is just a scruffy street lord trying to make a living.
“I am not giving up. It is difficult but this is how I survive. Look at the marks on my face…I was beaten by some guys after I stole a phone,” he says, pointing to a visible blemish.
Daily, after successful and unsuccessful attempts to make a living out of thievery, Mensah and his colleagues regroup for a pity party, and to account for a stewardship that is sewn on tatty yards of faded dream.
In nearby drinking spots, they etch their thoughts into a DNA that gets excited at the mention of pilfer and loot.
Like robots, many here at the Nkrumah Circle know no love and continue to engage in daftness that wear no contraceptives. The flow is endless and abide under a shadow of hopelessness brewed from a fountain of youth that knows little peace.
“Sometimes, I just want to find an easy way out but it is difficult,” Mensah says in local Ghanaian pidgin.
Home to heavy commercial activity, the Nkrumah Circle vicinity houses some of Accra’s hardened criminals, who have made temporary and permanent shelter for themselves, delivering on a mandate to steal and, sometimes, cause harm.
“I once got robbed here of a new phone I had bought. I got so terrified I could not use this route to my place of work for more than three months. It is an experience I am still trying to forget,” says insurance broker, Moses Bortey.
The daily scenes at Nkrumah Circle depict despondency but most here say they still hope they can one day call it paradise. For Mensah and co., who have been left out on good behaviour, it is both paradise and a war zone.
9pm, local time. Mensah is joined at his regular hangout by Akua, his girlfriend. Akua has alcohol abuse written all over her face. She lives with Mensah in their make-shift kiosk accommodation, owned during the day by a local barber. Extremely beautiful in looks, she is so Alomo so Swinging Safari, and offers the glow Mensah needs to sparkle his daily dim; her thighs have a talent and life of their own. Around the former Obra Spot end of the vicinity where she trades in sachet water, she is popular for terrorising men with her looks; of particular interest, the giant-size thighs that cause most men here to squirm when she is within a distance as though their genitalia had been stroked. Her coquettish gestures know more than a thing or two about the science of getting attention.
Mensah is a by-product of a national disaster. Despite a recent facelift – an overpass and a water fountain plus an improved major lorry station – the area is still a gloomy den of institutionalized chaos.
Mensah’s short lived thrills wield an architecture of idiocy whose thoroughfare loves misery. In that company, he has found resting places and troughs to accommodate the confusion he is used to. Despite showing regret most times, he boasts that until his good (the bad) is better, he may never rest. Determined to be a road giant, he has little fears he may one day become a road kill and get his wings of deceit chopped.
Until then, he says, he is willing to be top dog and risk life’s price tags and obtain them at a bargain, the kind his demented ego can – at least – control, as reminder and celebration of the mathematics of living on the outside but influencing the inside.
Both Mensah and Akua have been around for so long they know they are not delusional to think that civil war of man vs. demon is akin to that of Batman vs, Spiderman. Who wins – eventually – gets bruised. They are, however, willing to give it a further try.
Thursday, 6am. Mensah is back to the streets while Akua slumbers on, recovering from a previous night’s alcohol knock off.
The grind is on for a survival of making ends meet. But in these streets, the ends never meet.