It was an uncharacteristically chilly summer morning in Orange Farm when Gugu, a full figured beauty, was about to climb into a Quantum on her way to Jozi Maboneng. At this time of the morning most of her fellow passengers were familiar to her, except for the two gents who rudely pushed past her to occupy the front seats next to the driver.

Having travelled by taxi all her life, Gugu was well aware of the unspoken politics that govern a taxi’s seating. Being seated next to the driver in the middle front seat, for example, meant you automatically became minister of finance for that trip. You are not only responsible for monies received from the rows behind you, but you have to ensure that the money received is correct, and then send back the correct change to the right row.

The last row of seats at the back, for example, are generally for the slenders. Should you be curvaceous and insist on making your way to that last row, you will either be met with groans from the back benchers or, worst case scenario, you may be told outright to go back because there’s not enough space to accommodate your ample rump.

Annoyed, Gugu climbed in and sat on the folding chair, just behind the front passenger’s seat. It was a seat she tried to avoid, because those who occupy it get lots of exercise getting off and on for those getting in or out of the taxi at almost any given moment along the trip. Often, it also means having to endure that nasty little morning draft that sneaks in as a result of a sliding door that refuses to close properly and threatens to open involuntarily along the way.

This was not a good start to the morning, but Gugu couldn’t exactly protest or refuse to get on the taxi because of the unfavourable seating arrangements. She had a job to get to and was already running ten minutes late. One of the many challenges with Johannesburg’s spacial planning and public transport, even nearly 30 years into democracy, is that living in a township often means catching more than one taxi to work, thus spending a significant portion of your meagre salary on transport costs.

Trying to realign her thoughts, Gugu opened her data to check if there was another annoying morning team meeting scheduled for 7am. She never understood any of these meetings because first of all they were outside her working hours, and secondly their outcomes was often to simply schedule yet another team meeting. Gugu had long held the view that a simple email would suffice.

She was about to pop in her earphones when she heard one of the two gents that had practically pushed her out of the way to occupy the front seats say, “Hai, driver se kuyashisa. Sicela ucishe i-heater.” (Shoo, driver it’s really hot in here. Can you please turn off the heater?)

The taxi driver, approaching middle age and known by the regulars for clashing with passengers, shot the two men a look that oozed annoyance. “Yazi ama-passenger niya dina,” (You know you passengers can be really annoying) he muttered without taking his eyes off the road. “Uma kubanda, niya complaina, uma kushisa niya complaina na kona.” (When it’s cold, you complain; when it is hot, you also complain.)

By now the passengers had all lost interest in whatever they were doing, and were now tuned into the potential drama unfolding. How would this end? Did these unsuspecting passengers even know just how difficult this driver could become?

As the twenty-one questions filtered through the minds of the full load, the driver, without indicating, on a road that barely had space to overtake let alone pull over, slowed down and stopped on the other side of the yellow line. With his right elbow relaxing on the half-open driver’s window, the steering wheel positioned in the groove between his left thumb and index finger, he turned to look straight at the two gents next to him and said, “Entlek yehlani, niyohlala emuva.” (Actually, both of you can get off and go and sit in the back.)

Realising that their uber tendencies would not be tolerated, and now thoroughly embarrassed, the two passengers sheepishly apologized and said, “Hai driver, ayikho inkinga, singahamba.” (No driver, that’s fine, we can proceed.)

The driver, however, was not done putting them in their place, and with a raised eyebrow, now half slumped against his door so that he could take a proper look at these fools, he said, “Ni-sho? Ningaya emuva uma nifuna.” (Are you guys sure? You can go sit in the back if you prefer. –said with loads of sarcasm)

“Hai Driver, siyaxolisa. Singahamba,” the one closest to the door mumbled. (We are so sorry about that driver. It’s fine. Let’s continue on our trip.)

“Ni sho? Pela mina angjahile, kodwa abanye bafuna ukufika emsebezini ngesikhati,” he added. (Are you sure? I’m in no hurry, but the other passengers may want to get to work on time.)

“Siyaxolisa,” (we apologise) the man repeated without a hole in sight to crawl into to hide his utter embarrassment.

“Nxa!” the driver clicked his tongue to highlight his annoyance as he engaged the first gear and checked the coast before rejoining the road.

Serves them right, Gugu thought. If they had just shown a little respect and allowed me to sit in the front, they would not have had to endure the wrath of the notoriously confrontational driver. The fact that the driver knew they were not one of his regulars only made matters worse.

NOTE: This story was inspired by Lucia Khobotlo, my sister, a regular taxi commuter. Thank you!

Tell us: what are some funny experiences you’ve had in a taxi?