As a child, my mother always advised me to study hard because there are limited types of job a woman can do to survive in this world. I guess what she meant was, if I don’t study, I won’t get a good white collar job and if I don’t get a good white collar job, I will turn to business or a menial job for survival and while a man can engage in any type of business and menial work, a woman is limited to just a few. In summary, Men always have an upper hand. I can say she was not far from the truth because if you look around today, the men are taking over the formerly known ‘feminine jobs’ like hairdressers, tailors, and cooks.
While in Port Harcourt, I encountered several salons which were owned and run by men. Out of maybe 8 stylists, only 1 would be a lady and unfortunately, the guys will even out do her in the skill. There was a time when I trusted male hairdressers than the female ones because the male ones just so happened to be excellent at what they did and they didn’t pry much into your personal life, unlike the females. Same goes for Tailoring. While at the University, my tailor was a man and he sewed so many admirable gowns for me (Oshey, Mr. Thomas). Now, a woman who isn’t fortunate enough is left to compete with these men in what’s suppose to be her niche.
Despite this recent uneven distribution of trade practice, there are few women who are ready to thrive outside their sphere and I happened to have encountered one a few days ago.
I had just been dropped off by my mum at a park where I was to pick a cab to a certain health centre at Wuse II. I had never been to this health centre so it was important I sought a driver who not only knew Wuse II but also knew the exact location of the health centre. As I stepped out of my mum’s car, I noticed the gatherings of several cab drivers in mini groups at the park. Some leaning on cars discussing and others blatantly arguing. In the middle of one of the groups arguing, I noticed a light skinned lady in a baggy shirt over a three-quarters baggy short, she also wore a face cap over her trimmed hair. She was hitting the top of a car and making threats to the men who surrounded her. I assumed she was an angry customer so I wittingly dodged the group and approached a lone cab driver who was picking his teeth
“Excuse me, I need a drop to Wuse II” I said in a relaxed tone so he would not think I am a novice. The man quickly threw away his toothpick and rushed to my side
“Where for Wuse II?” He asked briskly. I brought out a letter which contained the address of the health center I was looking for. Without waiting for me to confirm, he quickly grabbed it with me and began to scan the ink filled page for where the address was written. Next thing I knew, there were over seven new grubby fingers tracing the paper and I looked up to see new faces surrounding me and promising to deliver me to my destination if I could just be clearer with my description. Obviously, these people did not know the address and I did not want to waste any more time with them as I was running late but getting my letter back was a problem. They kept scrambling over it as I tried to yank it out of their grip one after the other, it took the grace of God for that paper not to have torn. While I was still struggling, the fair lady I had noticed earlier tapped me on the shoulder and said,
“You wan go take that test abi?” I looked at her shocked but interested “I know the place, enter motor make we dey go” she added with her left hand in the pocket of her baggy short. Oh, she’s also a driver, I thought to myself. I didn’t make a move because I wasn’t sure if she was being truthful or it was just her own way of getting me into her car then halfway into the trip, she would announce to me that she wasn’t sure of the address. I had encountered this so many times so I wasn’t quick to trust her. She seemed to have read my mind so she went further to describe the address “I say I know the place. No be off that Amino Crescent road before you reach Barnex?” I nodded and started to follow her to her cab. Now that I was sure she knew the place, it was time to bargain for the price. She started at ₦400 and I opted for ₦300. Even though I felt ₦400 was a fair price, in this part of the world, I have grown to know that the first price isn’t always the real price. So it was normal I rejected it and opted for ₦300. She fell back to ₦350 but I still dragged for ₦300. She explained to me how far the place was and I replied that it wasn’t that far (I obviously did not know this place but I didn’t want to be seen as a JJC -novice). While we were bargaining, behold, another driver came out from nowhere and dragged the letter which was still in my hand. Thankfully, I had held it firmly so he didn’t yank it out completely.
“What is it?” I thundered at the rude stranger who was now trying to read the address on the letter not minding that I was still holding it.
“I want to save you” came his ridiculous answer without even looking up at me. I tried to drag the paper out of his hand but his grip was stronger than that of 6 men put together. By now, my fair lady was out of her car again and she immediately shoved the man in his chest with her hand.
“Paulo mind ya self o, free my customer jor.” she wrestled the paper out of his hand and handed it back to me. “I don tell you say, that thing wey you dey drink don they affect your brain. Commot here”, she added. I immediately slotted the letter into my bag and without much ado, I entered the cab not minding the ₦350 price again and we zoomed off with Paulo screaming at me
“Heeeyyynnn, I want to save you o.”
I must say, I was impressed with my fair lady. I admired the fact that she was a taxi driver and the way she associated with her arrogant colleagues. This was not my first encounter with a female taxi driver, I had encountered one last year in Jos while I was doing my youth service. The only difference was that the former was quiet and was often a subject of ridicule among her colleagues. They made a jest of her and threw side comments like “Abeg go fry akara make we chop” while snatching away her customers, literally. I had still somehow managed to enter her taxi despite all these just because she was a fellow woman and I wanted to encourage her.
My fair lady, on the other hand, was a no-nonsense woman. She did not allow her colleagues talk down to her and she stood for her right. I noticed all this in less than 15 minutes.
“Sister, so how you dey?” my fair lady driver asked peeping at me from the rear-view mirror.
“I’m fine. Good morning I answered”. She wished me a good morning too and noticed that I was still visibly shaken from the experience. I was double checking everything in my bag to be sure no one had taken advantage of the catastrophe.
“Sorry sister, No mind that man,” she said, referring to Paulo, “His head no correct. This morning alone he don shack like 4 bottles.” I did not say anything but nodded as a sign of appreciation for her apology.
“Na so all of them they do… craze people. Just dey harass customers anyhow” She added, I just grunted to prove I had heard her and I proceeded to scroll through my phone searching for nothing but silently hoped she would get the sign that I wasn’t in the mood for a driver-passenger chit chat.
I finally got to my destination and paid my fare. On seeing my driver, the security guard at the gate to the health centre tugged at his colleague who was reading a newspaper and said teasingly with reference to my fair lady,
“Nawa oo, see wetin woman dey do, you dey here dey guard gate”.
My fair lady ignored them and asked me where I was headed after the test and when I told her, she gave me a brief description of where I could get a taxi there and even went ahead to tell me how much I will be expected to pay. I said thank you and asked for her number. She gladly called out the numbers and when she was done, I asked what her name was and she said proudly;
“My name is Stella but my contact ID is Madame Taxi Driver“, I smiled at this and she returned a knowing smile too and added “Bye dear” before zooming off.