Alfred particularly hated cocktail parties. The plastic smiles and what he called the stench of aristocracy made him feel sickly. He wasn’t exactly poor or even middle-class, but in this particular room, the poorest man was probably at least ten times his worth. He took comfort in his youth. The youngest man here could probably pass for his father. He had time to get rich enough to sicken himself. As one would expect from a gathering of Nigerian politicians to entertain foreign interests, the wealth in the room was all illegal, in fact, criminal. It never failed to baffle Alfred how men of such notorious criminality could run a country. Of course, there was no country without its corruption problems. But not like this. In Nigeria it was endemic.
‘So what brings you here?’ she asked.
Before he could respond she grabbed him by the arm and handed him a glass of white wine. Instinctively his eyes searched for her wedding finger. Not that it ever really stopped him if he was determined. A regrettable weakness in character. She wore a few rings but none on her wedding finger. He was relieved to know that at the very least there was no chance he was ending up with a black eye unless of course she decided to punch him, which wasn’t entirely impossible given his past record.
‘Is this how you charm men? How do I know you haven’t put something inside this glass?’
‘I don’t need a love potion for you. I can handle you just fine on my own. I know who you are, Alfred Okonkwo. I think your novels are terrible, but my daughter wouldn’t put them down.’
Her revelation took him aback.
‘I worry for older women that like my books. They are actually written for young girls in love with the idea of romantic love.’
‘So you don’t believe in romantic love, how ironic for a romance novelist? I had a whole bunch of romantic lines planned out for you. My daughter would be let down. I actually promised her I’d bring you home when I came across your name on the guest-list.’
‘You’re doing well so far and you don’t even seem to be trying.’ He took his first sip of wine. ‘This isn’t half bad. Thank you.’ He raised his glass to her.
‘So you aren’t completely without appreciation for life. You have been looking around this room like there is something poisonous is in the air or you are constipated. That’s why I asked what brought you here in the first place.’
‘One of these clowns is sponsoring my new book. Some literacy scheme thing they are planning and my book will be picked to be part of the required reading. So I’m here to show face and kiss the occasional ass. What brings you? I didn’t know interesting people got invites to this borefest.’
She chuckled at his carefully placed compliment.
‘Some women go to churches to pray for husbands, I prefer a more proactive approach.’
‘Are you always this upfront in your approach?’
‘You want to act like the first thing you did was not to check out my finger for a wedding ring. You’re not slick mister, I caught your eyes’.
Felicia was not under any illusion about what the Nigerian society thought of a woman in her position. It didn’t matter that she was a stellar student with two PhDs, it didn’t matter that she was the founder of the country’s largest media network, her charity work, her support for so many good causes, none of it mattered. She was 35 and unmarried. As far as the society was concerned she was a failed experiment of a woman. She had a child too, out of wedlock! Whatever she had to offer was considered damaged goods. And to top it all off, she was financially successful and notoriously intelligent, a combination that intimidated men across the world but even more so in Nigeria where compliance with gender roles still meant that for every breadwinning woman, there was a failed man somewhere.
‘Wait a minute, you’re Felicia Adebayo! The owner of WWG media group. I should talk to you with more respect. Your boys are loyal.’ He bowed in playful mockery.
‘I preferred it when you hadn’t recognized me’, she said.
‘Of course, you would, you had the upper hand with mystery. Now you think I have a preconceived idea of who you are that might be completely false.’ He said.
‘Are you always this neurotic? Get out of my head.’ She shook her head vigorously.
‘I am well aware what ideas you might think I would have. Success can quickly turn into kryptonite for women when it comes to marriage in this society. Then there is the daughter to consider. Even if the man was okay with it, his family would probably kick up a storm. And at 35 or is it 37, you’re getting dangerously close to 40 where marriages have an occurrence rate equitable to solar eclipses. I wonder what the fact that I am turned on by your status says about me. Probably a reflection of all that dominatrix MILF porn I watched as a child.’ To his relief, she found his intended humor with ease.
‘You should consider writing literary fiction. I think you will do well.’
‘Your intellectual flattery has been noted. Now if you would hold this while I go use the loo, unless you’d like to come and help me hold my willy.’ She laughed as he handed her the glass.
As she waited for him, she thought about the constant battle between living a life caught between one’s own identity and the identity imposed by society. Something clearly had to be done to change the way we think. But tonight she did not want to save the world or the country. She just wanted to be happy in it.