By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
Wait, have you ever participated in online pick-ups: like a picker or a pickee – maybe it should be ‘a picked’; how did it start?
I would think: a random text, perhaps. A ‘hi’ which you contemplate hard on whether to respond to, ignore, or just report the number and block – end of story. Because, a ‘hi’ is an aggressive text, on WhatsApp, when you are not sure that the other person has your number.
This one did not come with that aggression. It was a complete text, like a three-course meal. It started with greeting – the appetiser; then subject – the main meal; and closed with a request – a dessert or, maybe, another appetiser for another meal.
He was responding to her comment in a WhatsApp group, privately – that was the message, aka main course. She did not need to ask him why he had to do it privately. He said it himself in the main meal: he had been observing her comments and was certainly awed by her deep sense of thoughtfulness and humour. “Would she mind being friends, if that was not intruding and asking too much?” he finished, the dessert.
She saw the message but did not respond. At least, not immediately. Because, for online pick-ups, just like in physical pick-ups, one should not show that they are not very desperate. It never works.
She responded in the evening. Briefly.
“Thank you for your kind remarks,” her appetiser I would think. “There is no problem being friends with me. I hope you are fine,” this, I would say, was her dessert. There was no main meal in her response. She was responding, not initiating a conversation.
Minutes later, he replied. This time, with an uncertainty well punctuated by emojis each time he texted. Somehow, that had earned her trust. He was human.
In slow calculated steps, they started falling into a pattern. He would glance and comment on his statuses, she would do the same on his – that stuff normal people do on WhatsApp when they have each other’s numbers.
Someday, he asked if he could call her. She obliged, wondering if that even needed asking considering the familiarity they had cultivated which had now seen those emojis that were accompanying his earlier texts take a back seat.
“Just call me around 8 at night, I will have rested well,” she did not want to sound over available. Yet, as the day wore on, she kept looking forward to the night. There was that feeling people feel when they are about to fall – long and hard – into the cesspool of emotions.
It was at that call that they got to know each other well – or so, she thought. He was not Malawian, but he had been in Malawi and had been awed by the kindness of the people, their ‘warm heartedness’ – you know that tagline that attempts to guilt trip you into patriotism? He used it on her.
“I just need a life partner, now, enough of this running around…”
“You must have run a marathon then…”
“No, no marathon. But even little walks can accumulate into runs with miles accumulated…”
They laughed that off and started dating in some grey unchartered territory for her. He also said it was new for him to have such a long-distance phone-based relationship.
But distance is not something that love fails to conquer. It was conquered, like that your claustrophobia when you find yourself locked up in a Police cell with no other option. She fell, long and hard, that when he got mad, her day got sour.
Then, he popped the question – or, more aptly, raised the issue. Marriage. Would she relocate, leave her family and join him in Europe?
She did not say ‘yes’ right there. She asked for time to think because, she said: “it is a huge decision. It needs proper thinking.” Would he let him sleep over it? Of course, he would.
Behind the scenes, she texted her bestie: I am getting married, leaving Malawi, he has popped the question – never mind that it was not the popping of that question per se.
The next day, they discussed the logistics of the trip. Passport? Yes. Visa? Yes, that too. Air ticket? He had a story: he could not buy online, there was something asinine about his bank that would not let him do that but – as a man – he had a plan. He would send her the money. Cash. She should buy with it.
It was settled.
He sent a parcel, he claimed, and it was a phone call from a local number that alerted her to the parcel. At the airport. Could she go and claim it in 30 minutes or less?
It was not possible, 30 minutes was too little a time, maybe an hour or two – you know Lilongwe traffic.
“I am sorry, the plane will have departed by then…”
And, the voice from the airport concluded, the parcel can only be handed over to a person. The person, of course, had to pay the K200,000 fee for clearing. A daunting demanding task.
She contemplated then asked if he could get the parcel for her.
“I can, except I do not have the money. K200,000 is not easy change,” he breathed, “I could have gotten it for you had I had it and you could pay me when here. If you can, send me K150,000 and I will use my own K50,000 which you will pay when here…”
It sounded feasible. They exchanged numbers. In between catching breaths and seeing herself in a European Capital, she wired the money to a phone number he gave. Then, she rushed to pick bestie for the airport.
It was at the airport she learnt the truth. She had been scammed. She had joined a long list of other women who had been taken up by the same scam.
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