FIRST THINGS FIRST

I was 18 when I met them. This lovely couple. They were probably in their late thirties or early forties. I worked for them as a sales girl and over time, I noticed that they had some keen interest in my wellbeing. I didn’t mind the attention I got because I admired both of them, especially the woman.

On my 19th birthday, she baked a 12-inch cake, bought a red t-shirt and dropped them off for me at 11pm. I lived with my parents at that time. Few months later, she asked me to be part of a commercial for the business. I didn’t think there was anything to lose. I also felt it was my little way of appreciating a kind boss so I accepted.

I decided to quit after I had worked for them for over a year because I wanted to concentrate on studying for JAMB – an examination that high school graduates in Nigeria had to write if they were interested in going to a university. One day, after I quit, I got a message from the woman. She wanted to see me in her office. I showed up.

“Have you ever thought of travelling abroad to study?”
“No Ma.”
If you have the opportunity, will you take it?”
“Ma?”
“I said if you have the opportunity to study abroad, will you accept it?”

My heart skipped! Excitement! I covered up quickly, smiled and responded calmly.

“Yes Ma.”
“Okay. My brother, who is a trained professional in the medical field, is looking for a wife. He lives abroad but he has asked us to help him find a good one here. I thought about you and so I sent the video of that commercial to him. He saw and liked you immediately. He is coming home this Christmas and would love to meet you.”

I looked at her.

“How old is he, Ma?”
“38.”

My heart skipped! Anger! I covered up quickly, smiled and responded calmly.

“Ma, if you multiply my age by 2, the total is 38. That means he is currently twice my age, Ma.”
“Ooooh that’s not an issue. By the time you are 30, he will be 49. Look at it that way. I think he likes you. We have introduced a few ladies to him but he has never shown this level of interest in any phone number or picture we have sent to him so far. I really want you to think about this and let me know.”

I stood up, said a calm thank you and left her office to join a bus back to my parents’ house. I was upset! Why did she do that? Was it because I worked for them and so she felt my parents lacked the resources to pay my fees, hence the need to suggest an ‘abroad marriage’ option to me? Was it because her brother was involved? Would she accept a proposal like that if the tables were turned?

I hissed. A big one.

I got home and my mother noticed I was upset. She inquired and I told her everything. She laughed. Long and hard! If you knew my mother, you will remember her laughter was infectious so I didn’t have a choice. My angry face disappeared and I joined in the laughter.

“Now I understand why she went through all that trouble on your birthday. I knew it wasn’t ordinary. Nwa m, iwe e wela gi (my child, don’t be angry). It shows that you behaved well while you worked for them. I gbalia la (you have done well) but don’t mind them. Focus on your goal for now which is to get into the university. Marriage is not your business at this time.”

That was all she said. No further questions asked. She took responsibility, made that decision on my behalf and I never went back to the woman’s office again.

Anytime I remember this incidence, I smile.

You see, marriage is a beautiful thing from heaven, designed by God; however, it can be hell on earth if it happens at the wrong time with the wrong person or at the wrong time with the right person. Timing is key. There are men and women who are currently frustrated in their relationships because at the beginning, they were naïve, vulnerable and pressurized and the people they depended on for guidance failed them, either due to lack of knowledge or for their selfish gains.

One would say that a 19-year difference between a man and a woman is not extreme. Fair enough; however, we need to learn to put this in context and understand where these kind of age differences can be accepted.  

We should allow our young men and women grow, mature and be properly informed about the demands and expectations of marriage. We should give them space to be emotionally ready for this marathon.

We should also remember that the saying, “age is just a number”, also implies that though a person is old, it does not mean he/she is ‘old’ enough to take that step. No one is adequately prepared for marriage before getting into it but if the heart is right and the mind is ripe, the union will thrive, against all odds.

May God help us all.