Early 2011, one of my aunts (not so much aunt, as friend of an aunt but everyone is an aunt) called me to find out how I was doing and what my romantic prospects looked like. At the time, said prospects were zero. I was 22, right smack in the middle of youth service and obsessing with what my future would be. I was neck-deep in applications for Masters programs, scholarships, writing residencies. I had a crush or two and the feeling might’ve been mutual but I was more concerned with becoming an independent adult. To Auntie, however, I simply remarked, “No.”
She’d found someone for me, she said. A relative of her husband. Let’s call him Julius because I can’t remember his name. He was “eligible”, meaning he had a job and she thought we’d be a good fit. She suggested I attend a wedding the following weekend so she could introduce us.
“I can’t come, I have other plans with my Dad.”
Okay, she said. Why didn’t I come over to her house the Friday after that and spend the night. She could arrange some alone time with the relative so we could get to know each other.
I remember wondering if she thought my case so hopeless. I asked her to give the fellow my number. He could call me and then we’d set up a date like normal young people. This whole business of sleeping over and having alone time in her sitting room with a stranger didn’t seem kosher and I wasn’t sure my father would approve.
“Ah, you don’t have to tell him. And besides, Julius isn’t interested in all this small boy/small girl love you people do these days. He’s looking for marriage.”
I pointed out that I was only 22.
“Ehen? When did I get married?”
She was quite insistent on introducing us and so I agreed to meet her later in the week in Lagos Island where she would take me to his office.
On the appointed day, I carried myself from Surulere to Apongbon. We met, my aunt and I, at an eatery and then navigated the serpentine tracks through the market. As we walked, she gave me relationship advice.
“You must be respectful…you can’t trust these small boys these days…it’s important to marry early…I wish someone would set my daughter up like this…if she wasn’t related to Julius…you can do the traditional marriage this August before your Masters and then do the white wedding when you return…he has a good job, he’ll be a good provider…”
Julius worked in a bank. We were directed to his “office”, a cordoned off cubicle in the far corner of the banking hall. He smiled when he saw us.
How do I describe him? The only word that comes to mind is “old”. Not grey-haired old. No, not that. That might’ve been at least, interesting. He’d have had the distinguished, silver-haired, bespectacled thing going on and if I was one for those kind of fantasies, there might’ve been a chance. But no. This was a middle-aged man. Portly. With the greasy look of a heavy sweater and the shaving bumps of a Bic razor user. He had kind eyes, though. And when Auntie introduced him as “Mr. Julius”, he laughed and said, “No. Just Julius.”
I was still dumbfounded. It sounds cliché but it’s true. I couldn’t believe this was who Auntie was setting me up with. For the second time, I wondered if my case seemed that pitiful, whether my future seemed so dim that this marriage was in a way, an act of mercy, I wondered what part of my life so far had given Auntie this vibe. I was unemployed but I had just finished school anyways.
“How old are you, Julius?”
They both laughed. “I’m 37,” he said.
“I’m 22. Don’t you think I’m too young for you?”
“Ah, no. Age is nothing but a number.”
“But why aren’t you married yet?”
“I haven’t found the right person.”
Auntie, bless her soul, seemed encouraged by this line of conversation. After a few minutes, she left us to continue with her shopping. She reminded me to call her when I got home. I sat in silence after her departure, sipping my Maltina. To be fair, he seemed shy and uncertain. I, however, could not muster the customary coyness of meeting a “potential suitor” for the first time.
“This won’t work, Julius. And I’m sorry if she got your hopes up. I had no idea you were so old.”
He talked for a bit about his hopes and dreams for a family but all I could see was my future as a baby-bearing machine, serving his favorite dishes “respectfully” and staring out the window every morning as he drove to work. Not a bad life for some but definitely not the life for me.
“It won’t work, abi?” He asked.
“No.” I stood up. “But thanks for the malt. And I hope you find a wife soon.”
“Thank you. Can I get your number?”
I shook my head. I shook his hand. And I stepped out of that banking hall.
A few days later, Auntie calls me that she’s thinking of coming with her husband to discuss the potential nuptials with my Dad. Half of me was tempted to just let her do it, so she could face the blistering fury with which my father would greet the idea. The sensible part of me dissuaded her. I could tell she felt sorry for me as I hung up. These girls of today. So ungrateful. So full of romantic dreams. Such easy prey for young boys of today...
Have you been set up on a blind date? How did that work out?