Short story selected for the 2014 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
I’m Roshan. After my third break-up, I was bitter and alone. As a working professional, I didn’t have much time to invest in clubs, discos or other places where you can meet members of the opposite sex. So I was surprised and delighted when, one fine day, I received an email from Chiku.
I am Chiku from Libya and am 19 years old. I think there is a lot we can do together, though we have really not met before. I want you to know that this will surely be a good beginning of a long and lasting relationship between us. The only thing I will want from you from this beginning is to keep this transaction strictly between me and you, because I will not be ready to gamble with everything I ever worked for. My life so much depends on this fund, and I will not be happy to make any mistake. Fund of this magnitude is very tempting, and I want to trust in you alone.
Before we get started, I want to further proceed without hesitating in regards to making you handle this project personally on my behalf for reasons which I will explain further to you as you read through this mail. I think it is better and wiser to move the fund for this project to you through an international certified bank draft as we were already with the fear that the location of our fund might be known. That is why we used this means to relocate the fund out of Libya. Our quest to invest in your country through your assistant has become an urgent matter due to my present predicament with the authorities here.
I think I can trust you as a partner and confidant over there in your country. My need to relocate and transfer all my funds is urgent. According to my plans in transferring the funds to you, I have already arranged with the vault company over here whom will stand as a join business between you and me so that the funds won’t be question in your country. I feel this is safe and most secure way I can transfer the fund to you so that you can, on my behalf, purchase the property before I can make my journey to your country after receiving information from you that the fund is safe with you. Then we can progress further from there with the business proper, when I arrive. I am ready to marry you and live happily with you as your wife.
The reason why I have decided to use this means to send the fund to you is due to my position here in Libya and my predicament at the moment. I have already had so much problems with the authorities, and they are already aware that I have withdrawn all my fund from their banks for more than a year now, but do not know the whereabouts. I do not intend to live any trace before my departure from the Libya. I had problems managing my business here, facing problems with the authorities. All these have to do with my father having political enemies here and there.
When my father was in detention and before he died, all our properties were confiscated, and I was fast enough to quickly withdraw all our fund from our accounts and was able to lodge it in a private vault and finance company account. Since my release from detention, I have been placed on probation and closely followed where ever I go. After all these frustrations and for the fact that I cannot travel out of Libya for now, I have decided to take the chance to quickly look for a foreign associate who could assist me in claiming this fund. This is the reason I contacted you, and I know God who delivered me from detention after that heavy allegation will also lead me to the right person.
This is what I plan to do as soon as I receive a reply from you. I will forward your name and contact information for an international draft to be issued in your name. As soon as this is done, I will arrange with an insurance courier delivery service to get the draft and document delivered to your given address.
The total amount is US$3.5 million. But the draft is going to be issued in pounds – £2,290,400. I am willing to let you have 15 percent of the total money as a compensation for your trustworthy services. The rest will remain in my name, but even that will be yours since we will be husband and wife. But before then, I will need you to prepare an invitation letter for me and that will be when I receive a confirmation from you that the draft is safe in your custody and it has been deposited in your account.
Please, I am counting on you for the success of this transaction and my life depends on it. I pray that you don’t let me down as I put all my trust and confidentiality in you. Remember, two cannot work together unless they agree and trust one another.
I write to inform you as I am in a real bad place right now and moving from one place to another for shelter. My parents are dead and have none else to call my own.
You only be my lover and live with me.
Please help me. I am counting on you.
The poor grammar did not deter me. I was aware that very few actually learn English as their first language in Africa, so I was okay with it. Also a JPEG file was attached with the email. Since I make use of the computer for my work-related needs, am fairly acquainted with these email scams, but I would not call myself an expert. I do know that these attachments bring with them the viruses that could corrupt the system. But I wasn’t worried because my laptop had an advanced antivirus software installed. If it couldn’t protect me from a teeny-weeny email virus, then what’s the use of paying so much money for something I couldn’t even see? So I decided to open it.
The image was of a young African girl labelled ‘Chiku’. It had been self-clicked in front of the mirror. She was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and she was petite and had curly hair in a bun. She could be called sexy. I had never had sex, and my only pleasure till date had been jerking off to voyeuristic pictures that I frequently found on the Net. As a teenager, I had been a porn addict, and it was only with great difficulty and with the help of my family that I had overcome it. But then, she was an African. Was a relationship possible? Who was I kidding?
I was already 33 and well past my youth. My hair had thinned and I sported a potbelly. Except for a well-paid job as a financial analyst with a leading brokerage firm, I had very little to offer a woman. Love at this age did not appeal to me as almost all my female colleagues had had relationships or were currently in relationships. Falling in love at 33 meant you were going to marry someone else’s girlfriend. My job profile meant that my parents, Shalini Sinha and Ankit Sinha, had to sift through a lot of potential matrimonial offers. They were having trouble deciding the best in terms of dowry. It was only a matter of time before I would get hitched. This seemed like a good adventure. Maybe I will make her my girlfriend and then dump her after a while, I thought. The idea sounded funny.
I had Android news app, so I did know about Arab Spring, but except that there had been some sort of civil war, I did not know much about. Anyhow, I downloaded Chiku’s picture onto my phone and made it my wallpaper. At night, away from prying eyes, I studied her in detail. Fuck! Was I a voyeur? I thought.
I wrote the following mail to her.
Hello. I am ready to help you but need to know more about your situation. Also, send me some more pictures. Where are you currently? Are you safe? Can I contact some humanitarian groups that can help you out in your country?
Two days later, I received a reply with another picture (of a different girl).
Thank you for your quick reply to my email. Actually I will really appreciate your concern and effort in helping me in my quest to marry you and live in your country through your humble assistance. I assure you that you will always have course to rejoice living with me.
Further to my first letter how it is been done in your country. I have contacted you for this reason.
I would prefer that you select a home that can accommodate two people, should have two bathrooms, two toilets, one kitchen and two sitting rooms, and it should have a swimming pool at the back of the house and a garage for three vehicles. I would also prefer that this property be a sea view or probably in a cool area with less population.
Like I did mention to you in my first email about my reputation here in the Libya, I have had so much problems with the Libyan authorities, so in all things I do now, I try my best to do it with utmost care. The government is too inquisitive with political enemies here and there. The pressure is now becoming unbearable. That is why I just have to move out of the country.
My dear, I had to let you know all that is befalling me because I am a principled woman and I like being straightforward with whoever I am dealing with. I hope and expect that you will sincerely assist me in this regard.
I am also planning on moving the funds to you, but it would be until I am fully assured by you that you would indeed assist and do everything humanly possible to help me.
To begin, you are required to send your personal details as requested below.
1. Your full name and address
2. Your direct telephone and fax numbers
3. Your date of birth
4. Your present place of work
5. Your residential address
6. Your alternate mobile number (if available)
7. Your bank name and account number
8. Bank account holder’s name and bank address.
Scan copy of your ID (any of the following: working ID, driver’s license or international passport).
As soon as I get all this, I will start working on the draft and it will take 12 hours for me to get it. Please like you have told me that you will be of help to me, I am counting on you for the success of this transaction, and my life depends on it. I pray that you don’t let me down as I put all my trust and confidentiality in you. Remember, two cannot work together unless they agree and trust one another.
I wait for your quick and prompt reply so that we can proceed further.
God bless you and your family.
Now this email set me thinking. I was sure that it was a trap. If I send her all this information, I would see all money from my account being stolen. Whatever faint hope I had of Chiku being a real girl had vanished, and I just wanted to have some laugh. So I replied to her mail.
Namaste and Jheengilala Hurr Hurr. (I simply added Jheengilala Hurr Hurr to see if she actually read my letter. If she didn’t get it, then it meant an automated program was responding to my mails).
But isn’t this information sensitive? If someone steals it, then I will be in trouble. Why don’t you let me meet some person in Libya or any other African country from whom I can collect the money and take it back home to my country with me. I will then establish two accounts, one for me and one for you. You can then safely move to my country, seek asylum and live with me.
After four days, I received a reply.
Why are you not trusting me and making fun of me? I think you wished to help me, and now you want to change plans. I have already planned it with great difficulty and it is a full proof plan. Only, you can rescue me. Nobody will get access to the information. Please reply earliest.
Kisses for you, Roshan.
A total of 14 pics were attached with the mail, of the same African girl in various stages of undress. Maybe she sent them to convince me to mail my personal information, but I was too sceptical by now. I wrote back again to her.
I did some research, and by now am fairly well acquainted with the Nigerian 419 scams, so I am having difficulty trusting you. Why can’t you agree to a personal meeting with me or with your representative?
I am ready to come and meet you, but if you can’t agree to it, then I am sorry.
For some days, I did not receive a reply, and I thought that was the end of it, but after a fortnight, there was another mail.
This is very bad of you. I invested so many time and energy in pursuing a relationship with you and you were only trying to pass time. How can you take advantage of someone who is in such a bad position herself? God will not forgive you for this and you must feel bad. Kindly delete my pictures and don’t talk again.
Why had she asked me to delete the pictures? Perhaps so I wouldn’t write a blog post and warn others of her. Or maybe she had, in a desperate attempt to win me over, risked sending her real pictures. I will never know. But after this adventure, my laptop was infected and I had to send it for repairs. So I no longer open such mails and mark them as spam immediately.
Namaste- An Indian greeting, equivalent to Hello.
Jheengilala Hurr Hurr- Nonsensical jargon
Author’s Bio: Rahul Sharma is an engineer working in a software firm in Mumbai. He studied at St. Xavier’s College and writes as a hobby.
Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)