He leaned close to me and stretched out his phone. I looked at it. It was a picture of a young man wearing only tight pants flexing huge biceps and flashing a smile.
“My boy… the one wey dey Florida.”
He said it with so much pride. He scrolled through the pictures showing me. There was one with the man carrying a trophy; probably for some body building competition.
“Abi you don see am for Facebook?”
I know that the world is now small with the internet but not that small. I shook my head.
“E dey whatsapp… for inside am.”
I wanted to explain but I did not know where to start from. So I just didn’t.
“E try o! E dey send una pictures plenty be dat.”
His smile faltered.
“No, na for inside facebook we dey get am. If you check am, you go see am.”
It seemed he wanted me to check. So I got out my phone and asked for the man’s name. I searched and eventually I saw him.
There he was. Standing and staring into the camera with what I think is his signature smile and an arm around the woman cuddled up to him.
She was a brunette. She also looked at least 30 years older than him. And this is me being conservative.
His profile was locked quite tight. You could not even send him a friend request. I went through the profile pictures it was always him and her.
I saw one. It was a selfie and it was just him alone. I clicked on the comment and there was a name with his last name.
“So that is the picture you put up?”
It was her. I clicked just to check.
The next picture was both of them in a car smiling into the camera.
She commented on it.
“That is much better.”
And then he replied
“You like that one, huh?”
I did not say anything to the man. We sat in silence for a while.
“We dey pray make she release am. Anything we e do, na under her. Na her get everything. Even this one wey e dey chop iron, na her dey pay.”
Three years earlier, the discussion had been different.
“My son don go America o!”
We had congratulated him and dreamt together of things finally changing for him.
But I had been curious.
Going to America no be beans.
He reluctantly showed me a blurry picture. But it was obvious. It was one of those ‘escape Nigeria’ marriages.
This man had lost a grip on his kids years ago. First, their mother had been struck down with a ‘spiritual’ ailment. She hallucinated and soon lived in a world created in her head. She was sent to the village for care.
He had worked as a housekeeper for some expatriate family. And from then had gotten a civil service job. But because he was uneducated, he had not risen beyond a certain level. Seven years from retirement, he was earning less than 35k.
He could not meet up with the schooling of the kids beyond secondary school. He remarried and the kids became unstable. They did not feel at home with him.
So he lost them.
He had nothing to give them. No plan for them to pursue. No money to pave a path. So he had no right to ask them where they were going and what they were doing.
This son became a ‘café’ boy. A cyber café. And then one day, no one knew where he was.
After a few years, he contacted them from Ghana.
And then after two years from America with his wife.
I have a tendency like most kids raised in middle class homes to be judgemental. To speak like Buhari about how people are lazy and should work hard to escape their situations.
But I paused here.
A boy had watched his father struggle through life and still live in a room and parlour with no hope for earning enough to build a house. He had watched his father struggle to provide basic food.
Was that the path destined for him?
Unskilled labour to end up scraping together a means of livelihood and not even being able to offer a better life for his offspring.
He did not even write WAEC. All these things cost money that no one in his immediate or extended family could give him.
And he was a big thinker.
He did not want the life his father had. It was even enviable in comparison to other people. He had a pensionable job. What were the chances of the son in this present day Nigeria getting a job in civil service?
So the son had escaped. He had built his body and warmed his way into the heart of older lady.
At this point, I want to feel sorry for the old lady that he was using as a passport to a life his father could never have given him.
But she was using him too.
These lonely women know exactly what they are into. Sometimes, they do not tell themselves the truth. Looking for love across the seas in developing countries from young men raised in destitution has some selfishness in it. And the boys were using them for citizenship, they were using the boys to fill their emptiness.
“She no dey allow him at all at all. E even try talk to one woman but she go tell this woman. And the woman talk say she go report am. But thank God dem don settle. He dey drive trailer for there.”
“Ah, that is good. Truckers dey get money for there.”
“But e say she dey control everything and because dey no like black for there e no dey too get anything. E never even send anything come back since e waka.”
I wondered at this. And I felt sorry for the man for several reasons.
He had been in civil service for over 2 decades and was unable to educate his children.
His lifeline is his truant son who had done ‘yahoo yahoo’.
And even this lifeline that we had celebrated in the beginning was turning out to be a dead end.
“God go help. We go pray.”
And then he stared ahead.