At the time I considered myself a pretty generous guy. I flipped a coin to the occasional homeless man who had the good fortune to extend his hand in my direction. When asked at a cash register if I wanted to donate one dollar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, I usually said yes (unless, of course, I'd already donated at that particular location). I even, from time to time, took a carload of my broken or obsolete electronics to the Goodwill, which I'm sure made some poor immigrant family very happy. I imagined they'd make a fort out of my hollowed out TV, or they'd let their kids use my defunct microwave as a pretend Easy Bake Oven. These thoughts made my heart smile. I had a soft spot for the needy, and I made it my mission to help out whenever it was convenient.
My heart no longer smiles.
I am a despicable coward. I ignored a dying man's wish, and in the process sealed my own fate. I am racked with guilt, depressed and with no outlet to expose the heinous nature of my deed. This shall serve as my confession:
How and why was I being drawn into an international crisis, and why was I responsible for the life of a man whom I've never met?I arrived home from the grocery store in a foul mood. Not only did I wait in a much-longer-than-necessary line, but the checker gave me a dirty look when I said I would not like to donate one dollar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation (I tried to explain to her that I had already donated at that particular Ralphs location, but then I realized she probably didn't go to college and it might be insensitive of me to think she was capable of processing that information). To make matters worse, the Salvation Army Santa Claus diligently ringing his bell near the entrance gave me a splitting headache. That kind of "in your face" solicitation really gets to me.
As I prepared myself a cocktail of bottled water and ibuprofen, I thumbed through my mail. As I skimmed past the standard assortment of bills and credit card offers, I came across some delightful address labels that had been prepared and personalized just for me. If I liked the address labels, I was free to keep them, but in return they requested a small donation be made to the American Cancer Society. I'd heard of these kinds of scams before, and there was really no way to guarantee the money would ever make its way near the intended destination. I decided that it would be a shame to waste the truly charming address labels, so I considered it a victory for victims of scam artists everywhere.
I fired up my laptop, cruised over to freerice.com (very generous), and played word games until I was convinced I'd filled several small villages with rice. When I got bored of increasing my vocabulary I loaded up my Hotmail, eager to peruse my various social networking notifications and check the status of the Energy Star rebate I'd sent in like three months ago (sometimes it's like, "That's what I get for trying to help the environment!"). Sandwiched between the series of emails inviting me to join a sustainable food initiative (what, so you can send me more emails?) and the emails reminding me that my Peace Corps application from two years ago was still 25% complete, I saw this:
Dear Mr. Charels,
It is with good fortunes that my message reaches you. My name is President Yusef Saraki of Nigeria. The Nigerian government has been overturned. I am presently under house arrest and my assets have been frozen by the new regime. I fear they will soon kill me, and I cannot bear the thought of my childrens' future being taken by the wicked dogs who feast at the coyote's teat. I need to transfer a total sum of US$60M to an offshore non-resident bank account.
In order for me to do so, I need you to sign a document as "next to kin" and pay $200 a day to ensure my safety until the funds can be wire-transferred to your account. To avoid any interruption, dear Charels, I must require a small advancement fee (approximately 30 days worth) until the wire transfer is completed.
Upon completion of the wire transfer to you, I will find a way to escape Nigeria and move to Korea with my family, at which time you will be entitled to 10%, or $6 million, for your troubles. As this is a life or death matter the entire transaction must be completed within two weeks. You must never tell anyone of this transaction, as it is a matter of national security. I have attached a copy of the Bilateral Agreement between myself and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is with great distress that I ask for your salvation! May God guide us in our transaction.
Your faithful friend,
President of Nigeria
My heart sank. How and why was I being drawn into an international crisis, and why was I responsible for the life of a man far important than I, whom I've never met? I initially approached the email with skepticism, but once I was sure that the attachment was definitely not a computer virus (that was the LAST thing I needed), I looked over his document. It checked out. It contained the information he said it would, and who was I to doubt the legitimacy of international protocol!
My mind began to race. Six million dollars! I imagined myself six million dollars richer, attending fancy parties and never again needing to reuse the plastic bottles that housed my Crystal Light. But at what cost?! For weeks I would be responsible for the life of a man whom I might never meet, and my only contribution to his survival would be in monetary form. Was I ready for that kind of responsibility?
I thought again of the six million dollars. That was a lot of money. With that kind of money, I wouldn't have a reason to say no to the Make-A-Wish Foundation (though I could imagine burning through my dollars pretty quickly, so maybe it was best to stick to the original plan). I thought of the Nigerian president, furiously typing a message on his iPhone, beaming it out into cyberspace and hoping desperately that someone found his message in the bottle. Why me? I had so many questions. The six million dollars would be in one lump sum, right? To distract myself, I began looking at flat screen TVs on BestBuy.com (oh man, I'd even be able to pop for the extended warranty) and imagined how my apartment would look with a wall-sized fish tank in the area that once divided the kitchen and living room.
I couldn't imagine myself feeling financially secure with only five million dollars, while Saraki and his ungrateful kids would be living it up in Korea.As my mind danced around various scenarios for spending my six million dollars, I thought about the process that would lead to my eventual windfall. Honestly, the whole thing sounded like a lot of work. Assuming Saraki was still alive (the email was a couple days old), would he be able to get to a bank and deposit a check into my account without a hitch? Would he also reimburse my $200 a day in addition to the six million dollars? Was I supposed to write him a thank you note? Was I getting a good deal? I mean 90/10 didn't exactly seem like a fair trade when I could TECHNICALLY keep all of it (once it was in my account, it was MY money). I wouldn't do that, because I'm a pretty generous guy, but something along the lines of 60/40 would definitely sweeten the deal. Would I have to make any international phone calls? Those can get pretty expensive. Once I had the six (or twenty-four, depending on whether or not Saraki was a cheapskate) million dollars I guess it really wouldn't matter, but my head began to swirl when I thought about how inconvenient several steps in this process would probably be.
I began to resent Saraki for his imposition. Wasn't the UN supposed to handle things like this? Though I'd always heard they were pretty corrupt, I figured there were professionals who were far more equipped to deal with international crises than I. But then they'd get their greedy paws on my six million dollars, and that didn't sit well with me at all. Besides, I'd already added the flat screen (with that sweet extended warranty) to my cart, so it was as good as a done deal. Or did I want TWO flat screens? I couldn't wait to talk about those at all my fancy parties.
Still, I wasn't sure that it was worth the trouble. If Saraki decided to low-ball me and stick with the six million dollar figure, I'm assuming a transfer of that kind would come with some pretty hefty taxes, so we were probably talking more like five million dollars. I couldn't imagine myself feeling financially secure with only five million dollars. Saraki and his ungrateful kids would be living it up in Korea while I'd be sitting at home watching my ONE flat screen TV (without the extended warranty, thanks to the deposed miser), and in a sense he'd also be doing a disservice to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, because I certainly wouldn't be willing to part with too many dollar bills with only five million dollars to my name.
I decided to sleep on it.
The next morning I awoke and my decision was made. I deleted the President of Nigeria's email. "God speed, Yusef Saraki," I thought to myself. Still wanting to feel as though I'd done something worthwhile, I headed back to freerice.com (I even have it bookmarked) and played until I got bored.
For the next several days, I checked my email often, hoping to receive word from Yusef that he'd found a suitable intermediary with which to secure his escape, and I wondered if maybe he'd attach some pictures of his trip to Korea. I'd never been to Asia, but I assumed it would be nice.
That email never came.
I can only assume that Saraki and his entire family were killed by the rebels, and that the new government of Nigeria had sixty million dollars with which to re-establish the rule of law in the war torn country. I thought about looking up Saraki to see if there was some word regarding his status, but the thought of what I might discover made me feel icky. Anytime these thoughts crept into my brain, I loaded up freerice.com and immediately felt better. Africa must just be rolling in the rice.
Every once in a while I thought about the Saraki's and felt a brief pang of sadness when I imagined their fates. I also sometimes wondered if they had actually made it to Korea (which usually made me sub-wonder whether or not Korean BBQ was better in Korea than it was here, but I knew that was a ridiculous question. Of course it was), but I considered that unlikely. Rebels tend to be relentless. Mostly, as I stared at the blank, flat screen-less walls and my nonexistent giant fish tank, I thought about how much I would have liked to have six million dollars. I'll always regret passing that up.