Mammy lorries carry people, packed together like sardines, along with all the necessities of village life. Cocoa, plantains, okro, yams, palm-wine and domestic animals fill any vacant space between the rows of passengers.
But no two mammy lorries are alike, for each has its own individual horn signal and painted slogan to help it be recognised at the lorry park or at roadside halts. Just as a child often takes on the character of the person he is named after, so the slogan of a lorry reflects the personality of its driver. The open- sided wooden framed Bedford lorry that Owusu drove, was fitted with slatted seats and had a licence to carry 23 passengers. Obtaining the lorry and its licence had transformed Owusu's life and made him one of the important men of his village. So he had given very careful thought to the choice of a name for the lorry.
Most drivers on neighbouring routes used pidgin English slogans. "Sweet Not Always", "Men Suffer Woman Don't Know", "Sea Never Dry", "One Man No Chop" and "Fear Woman and Leave Snake" all made regular runs to the central lorry park in Kumasi.
Following the same tradition, Owusu named his lorry Beware of Friends because bitter experience had made him suspicious of people. Bad debts were a constant worry, and the most difficult cases were those involving friends, when it was unpleasant to go to the Chief's court. The name was now so well known that people in the village would call him "Beware " more often than his proper name.
There were many ways in which fate had been kind to Owusu. He had three sons attending school and a prosperous business with his mammy lorry. He was also pleased with the large market garden at the back of the house that his wife managed for him. This was now making good money, particularly as having his own lorry made sure that his wife's crops were always amongst the first to reach the town markets.
Normally as the lorry approached his house, sounding its horn, the children would come to the roadside cheerfully shouting: "Beware! Beware!" The only strangers would have been the two or three people waiting to discuss loads they wanted carrying. This time it was quite different, and Owusu felt a pang of fear when he noticed that many excited people were standing round his house. What was wrong Had there been a death in the family
The brakes squealed as the lorry stopped with a jerk. Owusu jumped out and rushed to his house to find the cause of the commotion, shouting:
"Hey! Who is dead?"
For a few moments the crowd was silent until one of the little boys called out:
"Beware, the goats have eaten all your crops."
"Which goats" shouted Owusu running to the back of the house to see for himself.
The devastation was complete. Every coco-yam leaf and plantain shoot had been eaten and none of the other plants were left intact. From the hoof marks and the tattered remains the damage was obviously the work of straying goats. The trail lead towards the house of the only neighbour who kept goats: his old friend Kwaku Gyamfi, the palm-wine tapper. Kwaku spent so much of his time in the forest that he was unable to keep proper control over his animals. He did not realise that good fences make good neighbours when you live close to a market garden.
Owusu's fear was now replaced by anger, as he swore revenge on the owner of the goats. His friends tried to restrain him saying:
"You can't throw a stone at a lizard lying on an earthen pot"
But he would not listen to reason and went storming off to the Chief's house to report the damage and to demand immediate justice.
Nana Bonsu, a respected Elder in the village, was sitting in an easy chair in the Chief's courtyard, contentedly smoking his pipe, when the driver burst in with his complaint. The old man also tried to restrain him, addressing him by his popular name.
"Beware - take time - take time. Be calm and patient. If you punish your friend now you never can tell what the consequences will be. No one likes to sleep on a mat with a bully. So think well before you act. It is not wise for you to ignore the advice of your friends."
But Owusu was too angry to listen to advice and insisted that his case should be heard. So Kwaku Gyamfi was summoned to the Chief's house. The evidence was clear and undeniable, and because of the extensive damage to the crops, the palm-wine tapper was ordered to pay Owusu ten pounds in compensation.
It was a bitter disappointment to Kwaku that his friend had not come in person to him with his complaint, so that there could have been a private settlement without having to go to the Chief's court. The trouble was that when Owusu was angry he would not listen to reason. Kwaku thought of the slogan that Owusu had painted with pride on the back and front of his mammy lorry. The advice "Beware of Friends" seemed to be fitting for anyone having dealings with Owusu.
The work of the palm-wine tapper is arduous and lonely as he searches the forest for mature oil-palm trees. The tree is felled by exposing and cutting through the roots with a mattock, and the branches are trimmed so that the wine tapper's collecting pots can be placed under the upper part of the tree. A tapered hole is cut through the branches to be tapped, from the bottom of which a bamboo straw leads to the wine tapper's pot. In the course of a day, a good tapping will produce several pints of wine.
New wine is very sweet but it soon ferments to form palm-wine, the most common alcoholic drink of the forested regions of West Africa. The tapper must collect wine daily from all his pots; otherwise it ferments too much and becomes sour and undrinkable. The storage pot is carried as a head load to the local market or palm-wine bar, or to the nearest road from where it can be taken by mammy lorry to far away towns.
But it is not only humans who drink palm-wine. Even the deepest forest is populated by spirit-like dwarfs who are fond of a drink. If a tapper finds that a pot at a good tree is empty he may well believe that the little people have refreshed themselves at his tapping. But it is not unknown for a hunter who comes across a wine tapper's pot to be tempted to help himself, knowing that the loss will be blamed on the dwarfs. Kwaku Gyamfi had suffered in the past from empty pots but he accepted his lot, for who was he to challenge the little people if they were thirsty.
A few weeks after the incident with the goats, Owusu was carrying a load of yams from a farm near his village to the central market in Kumasi. It was mid-day by the time the loading was finished, and as the lorry had been parked in the sun, the rim of the driving wheel was almost too hot to hold.
Loading the yams had been hard work and Owusu felt thirsty. He knew that Kwaku Gyamfi tapped palm trees along the Kumasi road, and had in the past often helped himself to a drink on the way to town. So he kept his eyes open as the lorry jolted along the twisting red laterite road and it was not long before he spotted a newly uprooted palm tree.
Stopping the lorry, he told the passengers he was going to relieve himself, but instead went straight to the palm tree, found the pot and drank thirstily. Then in the distance, he heard the crack of a twig. Someone was coming - it might be the palm-wine tapper. In his haste to replace the pot under the branch he did not notice that his wallet had fallen out of his shirt pocket. He escaped unseen just as the wine tapper arrived.
After a few more miles, the lorry, "Beware of Friends", approached the police check-point at the outskirts of Kumasi. For once Owusu was not worried about being overloaded as he had far less than the maximum permitted number of passengers. What was more, the lorry had recently been serviced and was in good working order.
The two policemen on duty walked round the lorry, looking for faults, and one shouted:
"Hey, driver, bring your licence."
Owusu's hand went to his shirt pocket, but he found to his horror that the wallet was missing. The policemen were officious and needed a "dash" of six shillings before they would let him carry on. He was told to find his licence and report with it the next day at the Kumasi police station.
Back in the forest, Kwaku Gyamfi lowered the large storage pot from his head-pad onto the ground near the newly felled palm tree. On picking up the collecting pot, he noticed that it was almost empty. Had the dwarfs been drinking his palm-wine yet again Replacing the pot in position, he saw something unusual on the ground, and reaching down, found a wallet containing a driving licence and ten pounds. The photograph of the driver in the licence was that of his former friend Owusu. Now he knew who had been stealing his palm- wine.
If anything of value is found, it must be taken to the Chief to be returned to its rightful owner. Failure to do so could result in a terrible curse being placed on the finder. Kwaku was an honest man, but he decided to keep the ten pounds in the wallet as compensation for the money he had been forced to give to Owusu and for the lost palm-wine. So on returning to the village, he took the wallet to the Chief's house, saying that he had found it by his palm-wine pot in the forest.
Later that evening, Owusu returned from Kumasi and went straight to the Chief's house to report the loss of his wallet. On hearing that a wallet had been handed in he was overjoyed. Ownership could be proved from the photograph in the licence, but he noticed at once that the ten pounds was missing.
Owusu became very angry and shouted:
"The man who found this wallet is a thief. He should be punished. There must be no mercy for thieves. Who is the rogue? Tell me his name so that I can have him cursed."
The wise Nana Bonsu was, as usual, in the courtyard contentedly smoking his pipe. After hearing the furious outburst he sat upright in his easy chair, and spoke firmly to the angry driver.
"Be calm, Owusu, and bow your head in shame. If nothing touches the dry palm branch it does not make a noise. When a lorry driver's licence is lost, he must by all means search for it. Search at home. Search at the road side. Search at the lorry park. But ask yourself: how could a driving licence be found by the wine tapper's pot?"