I’ve become an agony aunt of sorts. The agony aunt in newspapers receives letters of complaints—usually of a romantic nature. The agony aunt delivers sage advice so that the sufferer may be rid of his or her agony. It is an old profession, though not the oldest, and continues to earn crusts of bread in today’s newspapers.
It is not my chosen profession, but every day my email junk box, my agony aunt address, is inundated with emails begging for my help. The emails begin with “Hi Dear,” or “Hello My Dear,” “Dear Friend,” “Beloved,” and once, “Please can you help me rescue my daughter?”
Moving stories of widowhood and cancer, abuse of orphans, and abandoned bank accounts weighing heavily on the bank managers’ hands besiege me. The writers only have weeks to live and are hiding from murderous brothers-in-law. One offered romantic entanglement and delight.
Before the Internet, I infrequently received paper letters—blue aerograms— of this nature. The postage was expensive, the gamble that it would pay off great. The agony aunt emails emerged with the dawn of emailing, but their frequency was lower and they seemed to originate in Nigeria. Now they arrive in the tens and daily, and Burkina Faso is the hot spot. The writers sometimes have Anglo-Saxon names, more often African. The banks involved are always in Africa, although the writers rarely confess to African origins. Instead they are Swiss, American, or from the UK. The English in the emails is often fine, but understandably overwrought and with a hint of the exotic.
Their offers are various. Sometimes the writer is cagey and wants an answer from the agony aunt before details are made explicit. More often I am offered millions just to help hide a vast fortune from thieving brothers-in-law: $5.5M outright, 40% of $8.7M, 35% of $12.5M (plus 10% for my expenses). The writers want me to know that they are not appealing to a possible greedy side to my nature. Instead, the instructions are to donate a large portion of my cut to various charities for the orphans, the elderly. Clearly I am not the dupe and they are not crooks.
The writer, the hunted one (by cancer, authorities, brothers-in-law), sometimes simply wants me to answer the email. Mostly the writer asks for my bank account number, my photograph, or my passport. I am tempted to answer, to offer my passport, to request a physical address, and see what happens next.
As her agony aunt, I would ask my dear friend what hope she has for success in these jabs at fortunes through the Ethernet? What led her to writing these emails? Does the hope, springing eternal, help her after a long day in the employ of her brother-in-law? Would she answer as herself? No, and it seems a dangerous tease, so I will continue to mark her imaginative efforts “junk,” and delete them.