A mature woman takes a trip to Nigeria to surprise her boyfriend who she met online dating
“My dear sweet Rose, we will be together soon”
“I can hardly wait”
“Yes my love, I will be booking my flight A.S.A.P, can you transfer the £900 for my flight?”
“But of course, I shall deposit the money first thing tomorrow”
“Tanks; well my unit is running low so I’d better goes.....”
“Oh, ok Femi, well, I love........”
The line went dead, Rose placed the telephone back on the receiver and smiled. A year ago she didn't know her Google from her Microsoft. But after a library course, the purchase of a fuchsia Apple Mac and the discovery of online dating, she was now in an international, long distance relationship.
She could hardly believe at first that someone as humble and intelligent as Olufemi could be interested in her, a 55 year old, retired dinner lady from Hull. But after months of emails, talking and good old fashion traditional letters, she knew they were kindred souls and she cherished each message exchange.
She gazed at the black and white picture of Femi which sat on her bedside table. He was posing on a peddle bike. He had big eyes, a dimple in his left check and a smile on his lips. Femi told her it was an old photograph taken some seven years before their romance, but it was the only one he had and he had given it to her.
She picked up the laminated versions of their correspondence, which lay next to the photograph, and she let the feelings of love flood through her as she traced each word with her lips.
Femi drained the last drop of ‘Stella’ down his throat, looked up at the Nigerian Sun and smiled. Life wasn’t good, he thought, Life was great. He was richer now than anyone in his family had ever been and he was on course to be the chosen suitor of the chief’s daughter.
Femi remembered the day that Franklin had taken him to the internet cafe. Franklin had logged on, typed in ‘Matching. Com’ and within a few minutes his future lay before his eyes. Within a few short moments he met Gemma from Stoke and within two months he had made 146,752.54 naira.
He met and hustled many other girls: there was Debbie from Hounslow, Madge from Nottingham, Jane from Birmingham, Alice from Reading....... So many and yet none of them lasted long and he had no regular income.
Then he had done some research and cornered a market that Franklin and the others had decided against; the older lady market. The others called him terrible for hustling someone who could be his mother but they were jealous of him once he had money coming in regularly from Rose. And now, he was not only in the running to marry the Chief’s daughter, he was a major contender.
Femi signalled for the bartender to get him another drink. ‘Life is truly great’ he thought.
Internet connection established
MY UNMARRIED SISTER ARRIVED JUST AS I WAS ABOUT TO LEAVE FOR THE AIRPORT AND ANNOUNCED SHE WAS PREGNANT. I HAD TO STAY TO COMFORT HER WHILST MY AUNTS AND MOTHER SHOUTED AT HER AND I THEREFORE MISSED THE FLIGHT. I WAS VERY ANGRY WITH EVERYONE AS I REALLY WANTED US TO MEET ROSE.
I HAVE PHONED THE AIRLINE TO SEE IF THEY COULD RE FUND THE TICKET BUT THEY SAY IT IS UNREFUNDABLE, EVEN WHEN I EXPLAINED THE SITUATION. NOT TO WORRY, I WILL SAVE WHAT I CAN AND BUY ANOTHER TICKET, IT WILL ONLY TAKE ME THE SHORT TIME OF THREE YEARS AND THEN WE WILL BE TOGETHER
FIRSTLY: I DO HOPE THAT YOUR SISTER IS ALRIGHT, TELL HER THAT SHE IS IN MY PRAYERS. SECONDLY, I DON'T THINK I COULD WAIT THREE YEARS UNTIL WE HAVE TO MEET, I WILL SEND SOME MORE MONEY TO GET YOU ONTO THE NEXT AVAILABLE FLIGHT
YES MY BEAUTIFUL SWEET DARLING ROSE, SEND ME THE MONEY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, THE SOONER I BOOK THE TICKET, THE SOONER WE CAN MEET.
OK FEMI, LOVE YOU
Rose sighed and re read the message again, she felt old, tired and angry.
‘Why is the whole world conspiring to spoil our relationship?’
This was not the first time that a crisis had kept them apart. He had missed his flight, his village had been flooded and he had developed a twenty four hour bug.
She felt depressed. He was the only person who cared and understood her. She had no family and very few friends. Her room was devoid of anything special apart from two goldfish, a picture of her late mother and the photograph of Femi. She felt so lonely.
Then a smile form on her lips and her spirit lifted.
‘No family, no responsibility, no one holding me back’.
She laughed out loud and booted up the computer. Her fingers flew across the keyboard, as she typed in the Google search bar ‘LAST MINUTE FLIGHTS TO LAGOS’
Femi looked at the one picture of his late father and nodded sombrely,
“You looked down your nose at anyone who didn't slave from morning to night to earn their coins. You told me that nothing good ever came out of cheating. You told me I would amount to nothing if I didn't learn how to be a good farmer. Yet it is me, who has already made more money than you made in a lifetime. And it is me, who is the major contender to marry the chief’s daughter.”
Femi wiped the dust from the corner of the picture
“Don’t worry old man, I will make our family name one that is remember forever and not just as a peasant farmer; I am the smart one now Father “
Walking into the hot acrid air of the Nigerian Airport, Rose felt like she had stepped into a parallel universe where everything was the same but much different. Throwing caution to the wind, she went happily along with the first man who offered her a taxi and followed him, a childlike skip in her step. Luckily for Rose, Obi treated her no different to any other driver. Unfortunately for Rose, this meant that her reddening skin meant that any price for the ride had now been tripled three times the price that the average Nigerian would have had to pay. Rose didn’t mind; she didn't calculate the price of naira to the pound as she often found herself doing when she entered a different country; instead she let herself be enveloped in the love she felt for Femi and dreamed of their future together now she had arrived. She stretched this love to the boundaries of its existence as she ignored the shouts of funfun Nwanyi ( white woman) and the slam of hands at the window asking for money as the taxi crawled through the traffic. She kept imaging the look of surprise and happiness when Femi finally saw her, it made everything worth it
Femi stood with the long line of suitors. The chief stood in front of him; examining him in silence. Then the chief nodded. Femi smiled in relief. He was one step closer to being the chief’s daughter’s suitor.
As the chief moved down the line, he took a peak at his best friend KC, who stood slightly apart from the growing crowd. He had been friends with KC since childhood, their fathers’ working the land next to one another and each of them promised from birth, the same life that had greeted their ancestors.
Both of them had been told of the internet scam at the same time. But whilst KC saw it as wrong and turned down Franklin’s offer, Femi jumped at the chance, seeing it as his ticket to get ahead. KC begged him to stop as it would bring nothing but disaster but, no matter how hard KC tried to warn him, Femi would not listen. He just couldn’t see how he could fail. He knew how KC felt, but with Rose’s money coming in regularly and the money from a few other marks he had acquired, he was on a roll. So he dismissed KC’s predications of downfall and stood in line proudly.
Obi tapped on the wheel of the car impatiently. They had had already had to move the car three times, as hurricanes of homeless people, drawn by Rose’s skin, battered the windows to ask for money
Rose sat with her index finger to her temple. She could not remember the name of Femi’s village. Obi had already gone through a number of villages that began with an I, which were near a western union and none of them had sounded familiar.
“I just cannot remember the name Obi” Tears filled up her eyes
“But you know it?” Obi asked
“Yes most definitely, it must be one near an internet cafe”
Obi shrugged “There are plenty of villages near an internet cafe.”
Rose looked out of the window and hot tears rained down her cheek. Obi’s heart softened, he felt bad for being so angry, after all, the vulnerable woman was about the same age as his late wife and deserved the same respect.
“Ok, ok don‘t cry now” Obi picked up his box of Kleenex and handed it to Rose “I will drive you to hotel and leave you my card, tomorrow we will resume the search.”
Rose looked at Obi and nodded gratefully
Femi felt as if he was the happiest man in the world. His whole life finally made sense, now his name had been announced as the chosen suitor. Never again would he have to pick up a shovel, or stand at a till counting his nairas’, or have to borrow from the loan man. The slight tweak of guilt he felt for the way he had obtained the money vanished, in the face of a life without any financial worries. He was getting out, getting married and becoming rich and powerful.
But before he could, he needed one last surge of money to take him through to the wedding day. His days of internet scamming were coming to an end. After all, he thought that the internet income was now beneath him.
He jumped into a waiting taxi, to take him to the Azikiwe internet cafe. It was time to get his last monies from Rose and then he would never contact her again
Nigeria was tough and yet beautiful. Rose had been in Nigeria for a month and a half. She had tried but had failed to remember the name of Femi’s village. At first this worried her but, as the days became weeks she fell in love with Nigeria and could only imagine that a life here with Femi would be great.
Every day she was greeted by the African sun, the singing birds and the buzzing bees before her eyes would fully opened and she saw the exhausting sun beating down on the poor man’s back, the singing birds mixed in with the groaning frogs and the buzzing bees contending with the disease filled mosquitoes. Either way she loved it completely, the highs and the lows and she didn't miss home one bit.
But she did miss Femi. Every evening Obi would come to the hotel and they would drive to a Western Union which was close to a town beginning with I. Rose would ask the tellers if they knew of Olufemi and show them his photo, but they would just shake their heads and turn away. Sometimes she would go to an internet cafe, log on and wait to see if Femi was online. But he never was.
After her fruitless search, Obi would take her to dinner. He opened her palette up to many different foods. There was the gari, which looked like sticky rice rolled up in a ball but tasted starchy, jellof rice, which was a beautiful orange colour and very spicy and fried plantain which looked like a banana but tasted completely different. Rose enjoyed them all.
During dinner they talked about everything and anything ranging from the films they had seen, to the different people they had met during their lives. On some evenings, when the restaurant had a live band, Obi would ask Rose to dance. Rose surprised herself by shaking off her self-conscious shackles and really enjoying dancing to the Afrobeat songs, which Obi explained was a mix of jazz, funk and old school high life.
One weekend Obi insisted that Rose take a break from the search so he could take her to harbour. During the day, Obi gave Rose the history of the port, which fascinated her and made her ask many questions, which pleased Obi. In the evening, as the sun went down, they both sat watching the sea’s gentle rhythm, as Obi regaled her with parables of evil sea creatures and the tricky sea, which made Rose shiver with horror and laugh in delight.
Sometimes, when she went back to the hotel she found herself thinking of Obi, but then she would remind herself that it was Femi she loved.
Thinking of Femi, Rose dialled Obi’s number
“Hi Obi ..... really good...........I was wondering if you could just drive me to a place with a fast internet connection....you know just the one.....is that far.... no that is fine...yes, alright I’ll see you in ten”
She was going to get in contact with Femi, if it was the last thing she ever did
Femi smiled as he logged out of the computer, it had been fun, joking and laughing with Franklin and the others for the last time but now that life was over. He got up and tucked the chair in
“See you guys”
They each murmured a goodbye in response and no one noticed the small white woman, dressed in a purple dress and darkening transition glasses, who followed seconds behind him.
Obi parked the car opposite the internet cafe, which was brimming with local people. It was a large building, with crumbling cement walls, a door, hanging off its hinges and a faded sign that read ‘Azikiwe IC’.
“This is the one then?” Rose asked
“Yes, it may not be the most fancy but, it is the fasted connection in town”
Rose stared at the cafe, apprehensively.
“Are you sure that one of those, nicer looking internet cafes doesn’t have a faster internet connection?”
Obi looked at Rose; annoyed.
“Everything isn’t always as it seems” he said, buckling back his seat belt “But if this cafe is not nice looking enough for you, I can drop you to another internet place”
Rose shook her head “I’m sorry, I didn't mean to be rude” she opened the car door
“Would you mind waiting, I shouldn’t be more than half an hour”
“You don’t even have to ask”
Rose walked in, sat in the far corner and logged on. She clicked on the blue E, as she had done at home and waited for internet explorer to load.
As the Google home page appeared on the screen, a rumble of noise drew her attention to the centre of the shop. A tall man, with a low cut afro, dressed in a blue t shirt and brown trousers, stood in the centre of the crowd, laughing, joking and slapping hands with a host of men.
It was not until he came closer that Rose could see and hear him properly. The face was older but still attractive. And the deep voice, even in its natural tongue, was spoken in a melodic rhythm. It was a sound that was as familiar to her as the 45 bus. Her spirits lifted; there was no doubt; she had finally found Femi.
She wanted to get up and say something to him, but nothing she thought of seemed right to mark the momentous occasion. In the end, Rose decided the best way, was to surprise him in their internet chat. She smiled as she faintly heard Femi’s key’s tapping out the message that appeared on her screen.
ROSE, MY SWEETIE DARLING ARE YOU THERE?
HELLO FEMI, HOW HAVE YOU BEEN? HOW IS YOUR POOR SISTER?. I LOVE YOU AND I HAVE MISSED YOU. DID YOU MISS ME? I AM REALLY SAD THAT YOU COULD NOT MAKE THE FLIGHT BUT I KNOW WE WILL BE TOGETHER VERY SOON
She heard chorus of laugher just after she had pressed send and looked up. Femi was pointing at the screen and saying something to a shorter guy . Rose felt her body temperature rise. ‘Are they laughing at me? No I’m probably imagining things’ she thought
I HAVE MISSED YOU MY ROSE. I AM SORRY I COULD NOT MAKE THE FLIGHT. MY SUITCASE IS SITTING PACKED IN MY HOUSE. EVERY MINUTE IS AGONY WITHOUT YOU
BE AS STRONG AS OUR LOVE FEMI. I AM SURE IT WILL NOT BE LONG NOW.
I AM SICK IN THE WAYS OF LOVE WAITING FOR THAT TIME BUT YOU ARE RIGHT MY DEAR ROSE, NOTHING CAN HOLD US BACK WHEN WE ARE SO DETERMINED.
YES I WOULD GIVE EVERYTHING AND GIVE UP EVERYING TO BE WITH YOU.
There was pause after her message had been sent and then a burst of laughter. Rose lifted her head and saw Femi and the men gathered around him, laughing and pointing at the screen. She felt the red rise in her face, as she lowered herself back into her seat. Things were beginning to click into place and she was starting to realise what a fool she had been.
ARE YOU SURE OLUFEMI THAT YOU ARE SICK IN THE WAYS OF LOVE? BECAUSE IT NOW DAWNS ON ME THAT YOU DO EVERYTHING TO AVOID IT. HAVE YOU EVEN ATTEMPTED TO BUY ANOTHER TICKET SINCE THE LAST TIME? HOW MANY TIMES MUST I SEND YOU TRAVEL FARE BEFORE YOU ACTUALLY GET ON A PLANE? I HAVE BEEN A FOOL!
She heard the clacking of his board almost as soon as she had sent the message
ROSE, WHY WOULD YOU SAY SUCH THINGS, I LOVE YOU LIKE A FOX LOVES A CHICKEN, LIKE CHILDREN LOVE ICE CREAM, LIKE THE LION LOVES THE ANTELOPE. I BASK IN YOUR LOVE EACH DAY OF MY LIFE AND I THANK THE GODS IN THE SKY THAT WE MET.
IF I HAD AS MUCH MONEY AS I DO FAMILY PROBLEMS, I WOULD ALREADY BE WITH YOU IN THE UK SIPPING CHAMPAGNE IN THE CRISP COLD AIR AND WALKING HAND IN HAND IN THE STREET BUT, I AM NOT A RICH MAN. EACH TIME I HAVE HAD TO ASK YOU FOR MONEY I HAVE FELT ASHAMED AND YET I HAVE ASKED BECAUSE IT IS BETTER TO BE ASHAMED THAN TO IGNORE OUR LOVE.
SAYING THIS, I WILL NOT PUT YOU UNDER ANY FURTHER STRAIN. SEND ME THE MONEY THIS ONE FINAL TIME AND IF MY FAMILY INTERVENES IN MY PLANS AND I AM UNABLE TO CATCH THE FLIGHT, I WILL NEVER CONTACT YOU AGAIN. AFTER ALL I LOVE YOU TOO MUCH TO KEEP YOU GOING THROUGH THIS DISTRESS.
Rose stared at the words, needing them to be true. She couldn’t understand. Meeting Femi was supposed to have been the climax of the holiday, she was supposed to be in love with him and now she didn’t quite understand how she felt. She needed to speak to him in person.
She was about to stand up and reveal herself, when a tall, dark skinned man came in the shop. He walked with a slight limp in his left leg and headed directly to Femi. He stood behind him, reading the words on his screen.
“This is a sin Femi” he said in heavily accented English
“What are you doing here?” Femi asked
“The Chief requires you to go to his house and I lied that you were running an errand on my behalf”
“Oh” Femi said shocked “then he will think I am no higher than a lowly errand boy”
The other man shook his head angrily “It is better than a person who cons older ladies on the internet”
“What can I say KC, if I hadn’t got money this way the Chief’s daughter wouldn't even look at me!”
“Maybe, but at least you would be able to hold your head high”
“And what, live the rest of my life rearing goats, with nothing but my pride? Femi shook his head
“It is wrong”
“It is not my fault, that some old haggard white lady gives me money and thinks that she has a chance with a fine, good looking man like me. And anyway it is the final time”
KC looked at the screen again and kissed his teeth “I should to go”
Femi nodded “me too; my beautiful fiancé is waiting”
KC left and Femi turned back to his computer
OK SWEETIE ROSE, I HAVE TO GO NOW, SEND THE MONEY TO THE USUAL PLACE.
Rose couldn’t reply, unable to move a muscle in her body as she stared, ashen faced at her computer. After five minutes, he seemed to get bored of waiting and logged off. When he left, Rose followed behind him.
She jumped into the passenger’s seat of Obi’s taxi, her eyes full of tears. Through chocked back sobs, she told him what had happened.
“I am sorry Rose” he said
“I have been such a fool Obi, why would a young man like him have been interested in an old lady like me?”
Obi put his hand under her chin, lifted her head and looked her in the eye
“Because you are beautiful, intelligent and funny”
Rose felt a tingling in her belly “Do you really think so?”
“I have thought so for some time now”
Rose smiled through her tears. All the times she had searched for Femi, she had felt love pounding in her heart and now she knew it was not because she was looking for Femi but because she was with Obi.
However, she knew she still needed to end the chapter of Femi before she could finally be free of him
“Obi, could you follow that yellow and blue taxi, there is something I need to do”
Femi was surprised to see the chief dressed in the green and gold traditional cloth, waiting for him as he came out of the cab. Smiling from ear to ear, he went to him, half skipping as he walked. He couldn't believe it was only two weeks before the big day.
“Ah Olufemi, I have been looking for you”
The Chief cut him off “It is alright your good friend KC has filled me in”
Femi looked at the chief worried for a few moments that his secret had been exposed but the Chief looked back at him evenly and he relaxed
“Now the engagement party is tomo......”
The Chief stopped and smiled at someone over Femi’s shoulder. Femi turned around and his heart almost thudded to a stop as he saw his worst nightmare coming true; Rose. Rose was walking towards them very spritely and by the look on her face he didn't know how she knew but he knew that she knew about the scam he had playing on her.
The indecision of whether to divert her away from the chief before she came closer or to dismiss her as crazy before she could speak, kept his feet rooted to the ground. He watched, opened mouth with a sinking horror as Rose stood in front them and said in her clear crisp English accent.
“My name is Rose and I have many things to tell you about Olufemi before, you allow this con artist to marry your daughter”
Rose smiled to herself. She felt a tingle of satisfaction as she got into passengers seat of Obi’s cab. Femi was stuck trying to worm his way out of his mess, he definitely was not marrying the chief’s daughter and she was finally free of him.
“Shall we go?” Obi asked
Rose nodded “But how about we go to dinner tonight, on a proper date; without having to look for western unions first?” she asked shyly
“I would like that” Obi said, a big smile plastered on his face
Rose gigged like she was half her age “I would like that too.