Romance for the Nigerian woman I think is more a matter that depends on who the woman is and what her antecedents are. There are the atypical Nigerian women who have never left Nigeria and who do not have the sort of pedigree normally associated with Western panache, nor has the outlook of the university undergrad. There are equally some Nigerian girls who expect you to kiss their hand or forehead, open car doors for them, and present them a big bouquet of flowers. But in most cases, if you do apply any of these continental romantic etiquettes you may just have made a big fool of yourself. Give the average Nigerian girl a bouquet and she’ll want to know if it is your intention to feed her on flowers.
Take for instance an experience I had recently. It was supposed to be my one special occasion to make that one special and lasting impression on this lady’s birthday. The experience I had when I was in UniBen, as an undergrad was such that we saw our girls as special people who were to be treated as specially as possible. They liked ice cream, they loved perfumed teddy bears and they loved their hair. A lot of them may go hungry for days or refuse to buy their books just so that they could sport that spaghetti hairdo or whatever it is that is trendy and in vogue. We were comfortable with all of these. After all, they were our women and were supposed to be fine for us.
With this sort of orientation, I set out to get my lady, who was an undergraduate, some things for her birthday. Of course there had to be a card. Let me talk about this card a little. It was supposed to be for a twenty-five year old but it had on it, ‘Congratulations on your 70th Birthday’. I hope you understand why I did it this way? I made it that way because it was my way of saying that I wanted her to live very long, up to 70 or more years. But the response from the other end thought it was an insult; that I thought she was a 70-year old bunny.
Apart from that there was what I could consider an expensive bottle of perfume and a sweet looking teddy bear doused with my favourite perfume, probably for her to recognize or have me in mind whenever she cuddled her teddy, in other words me. All of these did not send any romantic metaphor and I began to be very careful how I conducted myself with milady. The packet of sweets too: they were supposed to mean that her life should be a packet of sweetness but that did not get a very appreciable romantic reception. Much later, I tried to apply the ladies-first thing when we were both directed to see a certain official. Playing the gentleman, I opened the door for my lady but she was cross. ‘No be you dem direct go that place? Why you dey ask me to go in first? I thought it was a joke but blimey it was not, my romantic broders. Very, very much later, on the morrow, I needed to arrange akara balls for breakfast. I got there first and was still thinking of the previous day’s gaffe with milady when this pretty lady sidled and meandered her way through. It was obvious that she was in a hurry and wanted to take my place. I didn’t budge. ‘What’s the matter with you bro?’ she queried ‘Never heard we always come first?’
On this other occasion, the muse took strong hold of me and I felt a correspondingly strong desire to write my baby a love poem. As usual I had ‘romantic problems’. The two-line poem carried my deepest wish for us and it went thus:
To love and cherish you,
To live up to ninety and die in your arms.
Before it got sent, I thought about it long and very hard. I knew it was going to somebody I cared deeply about and whom I would love to get married to. My curious younger brother, a married man espied my poem and said, ‘My!’ That was just the fillip I needed to get it sent over to my baby. Big mistake. The woman thought I meant she was going to be responsible for my death and it made her very upset. I had to work very, very hard to convince her otherwise. Most times too if you are involved with a lady, the number of times you called her daily to talk to her could be a big factor in determining how much you care about her. But need I still tell you that that was the final straw that broke my romantic back? Milady said she was getting sick and tired of those entire how-far, how far calls. Well, she surely helped in blocking the hole she created in my pockets from recharging my phone daily from that day.
Let me conclude by saying that from the little I what I have seen so far, what may be romantic for one may be ‘rheumatic’ for the other. In those naïve days of mine, how could I have been able to understand what this other lady meant when she always complained of ‘rheumatism’ whenever she was with me? By the time I realized what she was really saying to me, it was too late. She was fed up with me the numbskull and left. I think it is up to us to study the strength of our lady’s vocabulary and literary impetus and apply the kind of romantic language they understand. My methods above may have been odd or weird. Nevertheless, the unexpected negative reaction to a bouquet of flowers, a door opened for a lady and the ladies-first etiquette can be comparable to that reaction of mine when a certain lady gave me four large oranges right in the deserts of Borno state, Nigeria. She it was too who taught me to say, ‘143 square!’Wakobiruo!