In the past, both recent and way back, I’ve only been posed that question by family and friends. It usually comes in different variations like ‘Nna, what about marriage?’ ‘My son, you’re not getting any younger, you know’, ‘Uche, when you go call us make we come eat your rice?’ ‘Guy, is she the one?’ (This in the case of me putting up the photo of a female friend on my BBM display picture), ‘How far, we are still waiting for you o.’
And every time it’s asked, I reward my questioners with a bland smile and an even blander ‘Very soon.’ Only in the case of loved ones will I get into all that jazz about how I’m not the marrying type, but that’s a story I’ve already told. I’ve only ever had the talk with my father, but this one’s a story for another day.
So, like I said, this question had only ever come at me from family and close friends, the occasional relative, and more recently, a colleague or two.
Some days ago however, for the first time, someone who is basically a stranger to me asked me that.
The man’s name (I soon got to find out) is Peter. He is an infrequent customer of mine. So our acquaintanceship begins and ends across the counter, with five minutes at the most expended during each interaction. The smiles we exchange are always cordial, our pleasantries perfunctory. Our service provider-customer relationship was clearly defined and impersonal.
All that changed when I went to the local airport to receive a friend. I was at the Arrival several minutes early, and was looking at a not-so-long wait. So, as is typical of the world’s population these days, I brought out my phone and began keeping myself busy with my social media interactions.
“MTN!” somebody called.
Automatically, I lifted my head in the direction of the call. I didn’t kid myself that that was someone trying to get the attention of an airtime vendor. No. When I hear someone call ‘MTN’ close to me, I know the call is almost always meant for me. That, and ‘Yellow’ or ‘White man’. People don’t bother these days to learn the actual names of their fellow human beings; they’ll just baptize and christen you with one of their choice. Such rudeness!
But I digress.
I recognized the caller as he walked up to where I was standing. The man is dark-skinned, stocky, with a broad face upon which was a broader smile.
I instantly braced myself for a slew of usual customer enquiry (since mankind nowadays no longer knows the difference between work hours and personal time).
“How far!” he hailed when he stepped up to me. “Is this where you are now working?”
“No, sir. I just came to receive a friend of mine who’s flying in.”
“Oh that’s good. So how was work today?”
“Fine. Thanks for asking.”
And in an absolute non-sequitur I didn’t see coming, he blurted, “So, MTN, when will you marry?”
My mouth dropped open, and I blinked once, twice, as I tried to decide if I’d just heard correctly.
Apparently, he hadn’t expected an answer, because he kept on going. “You’re a fresh young man – what are you waiting for? Abi you want to acquire all the money” – he made an expansive gesture with his hands – “in the world before you decide to get married? My brother, let me tell you, there’s no time o.”
I nodded, ever-so-attentive to his unparalleled wisdom.
“Let me tell you a story,” he said, and before I could give my consent (or dissent), he dived into the story. “In 1990, abi is it 1991, I used to live in Iyana Ipaja. Long, long time ago” – he snapped his fingers in the air, in the universal gesture that signifies a distant past – “and there was this small girl that used to be my neighbour then. Small girl, very small, in fact, her breasts have not even passed this size.” He put his left forefinger and middle finger together, and used the fingers of his right hand to cut them into two halves. The top half was apparently supposed to tell me just how small this small girl’s breasts were.
Got it! I nodded him along.
He continued, “So in 1991, I packed out of there and relocated. Then early this year, me and her somehow reconnected on the phone and we were talking, and agreed to meet up one afternoon. My brother, when I saw her ehn, I could not believe my eyes. I was just looking at her like this.” He widened his eyes and thrust his head forward in a exaggerated disbelief. “This small girl had grown finish. Everywhere was full. I could not believe my eyes. She saw me staring at her and she laughed and said, ‘Oga Peter, this one you’re looking at me like this, don’t you know I already have an eighteen-year-old son.’ I said, ‘What”’”
He paused dramatically, as though expecting a reaction from me. So I widened my eyes as well and gasped, “Wow, you don’t mean it!”
“My brother, ayam telling you o! This small girl of yesterday has already born eighteen-year-old son, whereas my first son is just in SS1 at fourteen years. Atink you can see. So, my brother, ask me why I told you this story. Ask me.”
I obliged him. “Why did you tell me the story, sir?”
“Because I want you to know that there’s no time. This marriage thing is sharp-sharp. You get married, you start raising your family at once, no time. Do you know now that there are some of your mates who you graduated from secondary school with, who are no longer thinking about having any more children? Do you know?”
I nodded my agreement, while one or two names from Federal Government College Okigwe swam through my mind.
“Do you also know that there are some of your mates whose thoughts are now to just raise the children they have and pay their school fees? For them, their family is complete. But you, my brother, you’re still here, no wife, no pikin. Fine boy like you, nawa o. What are you waiting for nah? Abi you want to first buy airport before you will marry?”
Dear Diary, the only reason I hadn’t blistered this man with some scathing retort was because his monologue was entirely without malice. He wasn’t sneering; he genuinely believed he was being a Nigerian version of Dr. Phil, dispensing advice to this poor young man who, in his bachelorhood, was yet to see the error of his ways. So instead of getting irritated, I chuckled, kept on listening, and thought about how he was providing the perfect material for this entry.
“Or is it because you think you’re not ready to take care of your children?” He was still talking. “Look, let me tell you something, in every situation, God will provide. All you have to do is have faith.”
Ah, Religion, I was waiting for you to make an appearance.
“You just have to have faith that in all situations, God will make a way. So my brother, get a wife and have children now that you’re still a dimkpa. And leave all these worries about how to take care of your children in God’s hands. In fact, let me tell you another story.”
By all means, do.
“There was one evening I came back home. Everything I had on me, home and abroad, cash at hand and bank account, was one thousand naira. One thousand! Chei! I was just asking myself what my children will eat the next morning, how one thousand will take care of the next day. After worrying and worrying, I just said, ‘Well, God, na Your hand e dey.’ And I went to bed. Early the next morning, my wife told me that there’s small rice remaining, but we need to prepare it with something for breakfast. I gave her the whole one thousand naira. Shi-shi, I didn’t have again.
“Next thing, around that kain 5.30 am, one of my customers called me and was shouting, ‘Peter, I must not miss the 7am flight. Please, I have to be on a 7am flight. I must not miss it.’ So I went to work. My brother, you won’t believe that by the time it was 10am that morning, I had made up to six thousand naira. Izzit not God?”
“It’s God,” I agreed, returning his smile.
“So leave all these things that are holding you back from marrying…”
For the life of me, I could not remember when I said anything about anything holding me back from marrying. I could not in fact remember saying anything about anything pertaining to this issue. But it would seem that at thirty, once you’re single, ‘all these things’ must be holding you back from starting a family.
“Don’t worry, sir,” I said then, “once my wedding is set, I will invite you to come and do MC for me.”
“That is what I’m talking about!” he burst out, swinging a pudgy hand to slap mine in an exuberant handshake. “You’re doing the right thing, my brother.”
Just then, the mechanical voice of a female began announcing arriving flights through the public address system, and my marriage advisor cum family planning counselor cum potential wedding Master of Ceremonies hustled off to take care of whatever clients he had who’d be disembarking at that time.
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