I look at the photo again. I am a visual person and her simple tastefully elegant image said a lot. She looked poised with a serene grace and a bob cut that accentuated her finely chiseled profile. She was beautiful.
So, I replied her message:
“How are you?” She shot back again.
“Fine thanks. Is there a purpose for reaching out if I may ask? I do not recall how or if we have met?” I enquired more from irritation than curiosity. Although she was beautiful.
“We have not met before. We can get to know each other. Are you on WhatsApp?” She was straightforward about her interest in me and sent me her number, and so we took it from there. I guess I felt some reassurance because we had 83 mutual LinkedIn connections via my law school, George Washington University.
Jennie described herself as an “expert on binary options and cryptocurrency.” Having been a stockbroker, financial advisor, and banker eons ago, I took it to mean she did not really have a job.
But I did not press the job angle in a pandemic. I was not going to be a snob in these difficult times. While I am optimistic by nature, training and experience have helped me hone a questioning eye: I have degrees in accounting and law and was a banker and an auditor. In addition, I am Nigerian. There are two kinds of Nigerians: the ones who do fraud and the ones who are discerning enough to stay away from people who do fraud.
In any event, I lost interest in Jennie as I grew weary of her roundabout texting on WhatsApp, and consequently cut off contact. However, a female friend of mine who worked for an investment firm tried to reassure me that options were the new rave and crypto traders were not broke. She urged me not to write off Jennie, explaining that her evasiveness meant she had a man, but was trying to move on—to me. I tend to believe women understand each other perfectly, so when Jennie sent me another message on LinkedIn almost two months after I had cut off contact, I cut to the chase.
“How you doing??” Jennie messaged.
“Jennie from the photo I see, you look like a very beautiful woman. Do you like me?” Having been trapped at home for 4 months because I live in New York in the epicenter of the pandemic, I was reasonably economical about releasing quixotic arrows from my romance quiver.
The intended recipient of my amorous thrust replied, “Can we text?”
“Sure,” I responded coolly.
“(765)329-****. Text me,” Jennie gave me another number, different from the one she had given me several weeks before.
I tried to get a clarification on why she seemed to have numbers all over the place, and what was with the new Indiana number. As far as I knew white women in Indiana did not go around looking for Black men to text them…unless they were leading them to the next KKK rally to get lynched. That is as far as I knew.
Thus, Jennie explained that she was originally from Indiana where she grew up but had relocated to New Jersey. I wondered why a good old Indiana young white woman, born and raised, seemed to be pursuing a Black man. Was she used to dating Black men?
And quite bluntly, even sounding almost aspirational Jennie replied, “I have not dated a Black man yet.”
That adverb said it all: Jennie intended to make me the first Black man she dated. She said we should start off getting to know each other and we would see where it leads to. That was fine with me. Her texting etiquette showed someone gentle, graceful, and even somewhat forthright despite her evasiveness. She avoided requests to facetime to really connect the additional still images she sent me with the trail of texts, to reveal a real person I could see talking to me, with the aid of technology.
In any event, the tone of our messaging seemed normal—like two strangers interested in getting to know each other romantically. She asked about my background and told me her parents were Italian Americans. She had never been to Italy and could not speak any Italian. She did not even understand Buongiorno bellissima, which I greeted her with every morning she texted, “Hi dear.”
Despite a few red flags our conversation still seemed like two romantics trying to know as much as possible about each other. She asked me about sex: how many women had I dated? How many of them had I slept with since l came to the United States? If I had ever dated out of my race? She wanted to know how early people started having sex in Nigeria. Whether people had more sex in Nigeria than in America?
I have come to realize that Americans generally believe people living everywhere else in the world are having more sex than Americans. I think they feel it explains why Americans watch more porn than anywhere else in the world. I explained to Jennie that it is a misconception in the West that Africans (at least Nigerians) have more sex. Africans are more conservative regarding sex, compared to the West, I explained.
Consequently, I asked her if she was intending to have sex with me. And she said yes. Then she explained the reason for her evasiveness. She was in a situation which she was trying to get out of. She needed me to give her time. Just 2 weeks. Now she was telling me, she wished she had met me earlier, because she is convinced that I am the one for her.
I ask her how she could be so sure considering she had only seen photos of me, and only knew me from the text messages I sent her. It could all be a front. She had never looked into my eyes to see if I was honest; she had never experienced how I treated her—how could she tell if I’d be a gentleman?
Besides, I am expected to put my best foot forward at the initial stage. She can’t expect it to be so hard for me to appear to be a dateable guy from just texting.
But I cannot be sold until she gives me a call and I can see her via facetime. She promises to as soon as she can “hear” again. She says she got into a little situation and lost most of her hearing from a recent swimming accident. Jennie says she is avoiding noisy environments. I have had enough. I have had a couple of real romance relationships that started from social media. But we had a connection through the same circle of friends, and we were alumni of the same school in those situations. They initiated communication.
Women have said dating through social media and using dating apps like Tinder provides convenience and broader options, with opportunities to filter prospects. I was surprised to find that colleagues in law school hooked up and pursued serious relationships through dating apps, as opposed to the good old tradition of going out with the person you go to school with—someone you know and belongs in your circles. However, as my millennial friends inform me, the whole point of dating for the younger generation is to buck convention and explore new horizons and embrace new ideas with dates.
I suppose it is why Jennie was keen on finally dating a Black man.
Having been a banker for years, and being accustomed to meeting new people and talking with strangers on the train, and in public generally, I still prefer the conventional way of meeting people I see and interact with physically; I value that I can immediately read their body language and cues.
However, a female friend posits that meeting new people in public can be terrifying for introverts. She also complains of the time it takes to prepare and go on a pub crawl just to meet new people they can date. She argues it is taxing and American professionals simply cannot find the time. Additionally, traditional meetings limit women’s dating options to only those men that are bold or crazy enough to approach them.
Thus, social media and online dating apps to the rescue; and for those who still refrain from swiping left or right on Tinder, Facebook and even LinkedIn remain viable options, I hear. I guess it made sense that Jennie would want our texting to gather more moss before the transition to facetime and the meeting.
Then Jennie finally let the cat out of the bag…another one. She is staying at her boyfriend’s place. She tells me they started dating 3 months ago, but now she wishes she had met me earlier, because she wants to be with me instead.
“I will feel guilty if I let you touch me. I need to be done with him first. I won’t date two men and one won’t be aware…I will have to end thing[s] with him so I can be with you…am glad and soo happy I will be with you soon enough,” Jennie reassures me.
She realizes that I have been skeptical and doubt that she is real so she promises to call me soon. Then one day she texts me, asking me what I was doing in the afternoon. She says she will call me.
“I see you beginning to doubt me. But but [sic] you know it will be very quick, just so you would see me, you know am not at my place.”
I’ve become blasé about her finally calling and I am just waiting to hear the next excuse she conjures up for not calling. But then my phone rings. I can see her. It’s Jennie finally calling and it’s a video call. I really can see the caller, whom I recognize fits the photos Jennie had sent me earlier. I answer without checking my appearance, and there is Jennie. It is the same person in the photos and now she is in another flower patterned, orange and beige sun dress that looks elegant enough for the office. I can see the furniture and some of the set up behind her. It is tasteful, with a touch of blue and lots of lighting in what seems to be an elegant lounge or living room. Now I finally look into Jennie’s smiling eyes, as her wide sensual mouth mimics a hi. Then she cuts off.
The call lasted just over 2 seconds. I try calling her back thinking it is a technical glitch, but she does not pick up. She texts me saying she cannot talk because there are people with her, and her boyfriend is there. She apologizes and asks me to be patient, since she plans to leave her boyfriend over the weekend.
In any case, I finally saw her beyond the still photographs and she was smiling at me. Now I feel I can allow myself to love the woman who says she wants to be with me, and even called me handsome and said she knew I was the man for her. I settle into the routine of sweet nothings lovers indulge in without pressing to see her anymore.
I no longer see a red flag when she asks me about what I do, or her daily question: “What are you doing now?”
I figure she is ascertaining that she is not getting into a relationship with a bum or dude on welfare.
Soon she confirms our relationship. “We are together,” Jennie wrote me one day.
“How can you be so sure you like me and that I am the right person for you?” I asked.
“The way you respond to things, your attitude, your way of life. I think we have a connection. I do think about you almost all the time,” Jennie reassured me.
Then I shot back, “Wow! I think we do too. Then how do you manage to keep away from me all day? U must have tremendous discipline. Of course, I do not know much about you yet. But I know the way you look has a strong effect on me. And from your texts, I also feel we have a connection. And you’re lady.”
But as always, Jennie has an excuse for why we do not talk regularly like lovers do. I have dated someone through social media before and we got into a relationship. But we talked all the time. She went to bed talking to me. I was the first person she would text, then call when she got up in the morning. Why was Jennie different?
“Am soo dedicated to work. I do have little or less time for my self, it’s part of the discipline anyway,” Jennie supplies another ready excuse. Thus, Jennie starts to show me photos of what she did, texting me captured images of her daily trade confirmations on her terminal. I noticed she had about 5,000 dollars in position.
“But I like you a lot […] It’s difficult for me. I really want you,” said my newfound love. I start to study everything about the messages and what I had of Jennie. I start to scrutinize her use of language and writing. When I ask her where she went to school, since she did not have any education highlighted in her LinkedIn profile, she said she would tell me later but was busy. It was one of the things I decided I would not ask a second time, since I did not wish to appear snobbish, and held back to see if she would tell me herself without future reminders from me. I kept waiting for more clues, more red flags. I kept waiting for her to ask me for money.
Then one day, she told me she had a bad day of trading. She lost a lot of money, she said. I sympathize with her, but I was relieved she did not ask me for money.
Instead she asks me if I have friends that have cryptocurrencies.
“You know any friend who sells crypto. Like bitcoin? Or do you? I need to buy.”
“No sorry I do not…”
“Ah what you doing?” She asks me.
As I study Jennie’s use of language in her texts, I am positive she did not graduate from an Ivy League or any elite American school. I do not even think Jennie is American. I have been in America almost 25 years, and I have lived and worked closely with people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I had to study cues and clues of diverse people as a banker. Americans of European descent do not typically ask you as a matter of custom: “Have you eaten today?”
There are ethnic groups whose staple greeting includes an inquiry into your diet. Such as the Chinese and people from Nigeria.
I wait for more red flags to signal that my virtual lover is a fraud. I notice she only calls me within a certain time: working hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. I wonder why, since she said she was self-employed as an options trader. She already left her boyfriend and moved back to her own place, and she had promised she would talk to me on the phone when she was now at her place. After her ear healed. But she dispels my fear when she sends me a text:
“You once said I should visit you. So when that happen, [sic] you can take me out. Ttyl.”
But the mysterious Jennie would suffer some misfortune. On August 16, I received a text message from her.
“Everything is not nice.”
“What is wrong?” I asked from genuine concern.
“Currently at [sic] Indiana…Lost my dad.”
“So sorry to hear that. May his soul rest in peace.”
“We still trying to know if it was covid.”
“So sorry,” I reply feeling gutted. How could I have doubts that the affectionate and courteous young woman texting me was not real? How could I have doubted her sincerity or suspected she was a fraudster trying to scam me? She had not even asked me for money, and she was spending her money coming to see me—soon. Before this tragedy occurred. Briefly, I wondered why she seemed too courteous to be American.
“He kept telling me he was not fine, but I thought it was a minor thing. Let me talk to you later. Busy now,” Jennie texted.
Jennie asked me if I could come over to Indiana to be with her. I said sure. My dad had died just two years ago, when I was in school in Italy. It can be a moment one feels so alone. The gesture moved her.
“Woow. I can’t stress you that way. And you said ceremonies is not your thing. Please don’t stress yourself for me. Once am done here and everything goes back to normal. Am going to come visit you. Promise.” Jennie’s promise to visit was good enough for me.
I started to scour the internet for obituaries and announcements; I searched for notices of a Mr. William who died in Indiana at the age of 66 like she told me. But I could not find anything. I only found stories of Larry King’s son, Andy King, who died at 65 of a heart attack in late July; he did not live in Indiana.
I wondered why an Italian man had William for a last name. Then she told me her dad was not Italian.
“I told you only my mum is Italian,” Jennie texted.
It was not the appropriate time to nit-pick over peccadilloes. She may have texted it in error because she was working and multitasking at the same time. I went back to the text though, and I could see that she clearly told me her dad was Italian. And I asked her later about her mom too, and she said she too was Italian. No big deal.
Then Jennie asked me to lend her 12,000 dollars for her dad’s funeral expenses since she could not get a loan from the bank. I was surprised he had no life insurance. She said he didn’t. I was a financial advisor and an insurance agent. I have never met white people who did not have life insurance. It just seems like it is the first product they buy: life insurance.
I ask Jennie how she would like me to get the 12,000 dollars over to her.
“I don’t know. Do you know of any means?” Jennie asked. If she were a scam artist, she would have had a ready answer for me, right?
“Hmm, let me think of something. I will see.” It calmed her down. She knew I was in love with her and she complimented me on my kindness.
The next day I got a message from Jennie.
“Did you came up with anything?” I noticed every error, inflection, and nuance in her grammar.
“I think you should come pick it up. It is a lot of money, and it does not make sense for me to send a wire to someone I have not met.” I was being practical. As much, as I wanted that beautiful woman in that photo to be mine, I still could use my brain. There was the possibility she was taking me for a ride.
Jennie texted, “The problem is just to leave with the situation on ground.” I knew Jennie was a Nigerian fraudster. No American would use that phrase. I’d heard it so many times from Nigerians, even educated Nigerians and it was starting to irritate me; just like it irritated me when I heard Nigerians say, “Do the needful.” They had these annoying bizarre sentences, which they all used back home.
The impostor texted me with even more Nigerian colloquialisms, “Hello say something.”
“Hi. I would like to help you, but even my friend that I just told about you thinks I am making a stupid mistake. I know this is a difficult time for you, but pls understand this is the best I can do. I can hand over the money directly to you. Sorry.” I played along.
“I don’t understand? What are you scared about. I won’t meet you or what?” Even though Jennie misuses her preposition, I get the message: Jennie already sees the 12,000 dollars in her hands and cannot wait to close out on her mugu.
“Scared? You are now making me doubt you. How would you not expect that it is reasonable for me to hand deliver 12,000 dollars directly to you? Nobody wires that money to someone they have never met. I am surprised you are saying such things. You know what sorry, I cannot do it. Sorry.” I improvised with a ruse.
But Jennie was not having any of this meeting thing.
“It’s painful for me at this moment. And you of all people should know that, ever since we talked you never trusted me, but I know why, it’s not your fault anyway. But I still don’t understand what you fear really is. The funeral is very fast approaching, and I was left with no options but to trust you, and you have me a little hope. I was almost close to being happy since my dad died. But you did what you do best. Thanks for being there for me. I will look for a way out.”
Do people really fall for this? Was it the two courses in auditing, years of training and working as an accountant, auditor, banker and forensic science law class in law school taught by instructors from the FBI and even former CIA that alerted me to the red flags? Or was Jennie just a bad grifter?
Really, she was not so bad. She could have had me…if I had the money.
I let her know I was on to her.
“Why are you still playing games with me?”
“How do you mean?” replies Jennie, still feinting.
“I know you are a scam artist from Nigeria and part of a fraud ring. You are not who you say you are. You know I run a digital magazine and work with a genius computer scientist. I can track you.”
“Why will you do that? I wanted to introduce you to a business Tradera. Do you know about it?” The ruse is up, and Jennie’s father has been resurrected from the dead.
It has been a few days since the impostor using internet romance in a vulnerable moment—a pandemic—failed to pull the wool over my eyes. I noticed the WhatsApp account she used was a “business account” and she had removed the picture of the beautiful woman who enthralled me for over a month. It is quite possible the mountebank was a man. But the textured conversations tugged at my heartstrings with the subtle delicateness I have only known women to master. Was I hurt that Jennie was not real?
We have just 3 weeks left in Summer. Winter is coming after what looks like will be a cold autumn. You never know. I set new goals: A 6-pack before winter; done. 2 hours aggregate of jump rope. I smile as I walk past the mat, and I notice that the jump rope that I just discarded from exhaustion, dropping the black gripped plastic rope on the wooden floor tiles has formed a conspicuous loop—the heart shaped leaf of a sacred fig recognized as the love symbol. I mention it to a friend on Facebook, who superstitiously interprets it as a portent of true love coming my way today.
“Hurry! Look out your window. What do you see?” My friend posts. I rush to the slider windows without thinking.
And I see a beauty.
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