When someone claiming to belong to royalty pitches you over the Internet and wants access to your bank account so they can dump illicit money into it, how should you respond? Well, here's mine, a bit tongue in cheek as an exile prince from the one-time kingdom of An Nam, offering his humble answer.
Dear Mrs. Nigaga Elsworth,
I am frightfully sorry to hear about the heart attack that felled your husband, the multi-millionaire landowner in Kwekwe Midlands province, Zimbabwe, and must apologize for this belated reply. But you see, you've written me at a most inopportune time. I have been inundated with many electronic missives of late, all from perfect strangers who complimented me on my integrity and honesty then, in the same breath, offered to put their millions into my meager bank account!
Last week, for instance, Dr. Akizi Juma, a senior government official in the department of works and housing of the Republic of South Africa, wrote to explain that he had overshot some $35 million in contract deals overseas with his government's money and wanted to put it in my account for protection. For my generosity I will receive 35 percent of that enormous sum.
The next day, her highness Princess Juliet Atete from the Ogoni Kingdom wrote a heartfelt email. Her father -- you might have heard of him, chief Oti Etete? -- died from a heart attack. Being from an oil-rich province, the king had the wherewithal to deposit several million dollars abroad for his daughter in the form of security bonds. As the daughter of the King's last wife, she won't get a single penny in inheritance in Nigeria.
So, my dear Mrs. Elsworth, it's now up to me to help her convert the bonds to cash and put the cash in my bank account to save the princess from, God forbid, a life of poverty.
I can very well sympathize with her plight and yours, for you see, Mrs. Elsworth, before becoming an average American, I too had an illustrious past. My grandmother was once a princess. I am, and I don't make a big deal out of this, a prince in exile. Her highness Thich Tien of the province Bac Lieu in the Mekong Delta of a kingdom once known as An Nam, daughter of the Crown Prince of Soc Trang, owner of many hectares of rice paddies, was my grandmother. And my grandfather was once a prince of Can Tho, a few miles north of grandmother's province. They had a difficult marriage, or so my great uncle, the grand duke of Ben Thanh once told me, but it ended when the prince Lam Quang Dieu, my grandfather -- you guessed it -- suffered a heart attack.
Oh Mrs. Elsworth, when my family came to America, we lost quite a bit -- our title, our crowns and tiaras, castles, oxen, servants, and a few pets.
Back then there was no e-mail, you see, and we couldn't send for help to friendly people in Africa to convert our fortunes into cash and had to leave all behind. As a result, I am barely middle class these days, a working stiff, and am barely holding onto the middle class life.
Oh, Mrs. Elsworth, financial troubles I, too, have had a few. I must admit the idea of gaining 25 percent of your husband's $10 million -- that would be at least $4 million, wouldn't it? -- in exchange for giving you my account number would help greatly with my mortgage. But converting $10 million worth of jewelry into money is not easy. My grandmother, the queen, tried and was arrested for her trouble. Now we visit her highness in the state pen every other Sunday.
Duchess Hang Nga of the Hai Phong province, my cousin, advised me to open an account in Switzerland. You and Dr. Juma and Princess Atete and the others are all welcome to put your assets in it. Only I will have the code to take any money out. This way it will be fair for all. Let me look into this and get back to you soonest. In the meantime, keep those letters coming. No one in America writes letters like yours any more, and certainly none are as touching and heartfelt, written in a prose that harkens back to a more formal era.
In the meantime, hang in there, Mrs. Elsworth. I should like to visit when things calm down a bit once I get permission from HR to travel at length.
It will be a grand affair, what with so many wealthy acquaintances I've made from the region lately. You should come along, of course, after you deposit your illicit cash in that account where only I will have access to its codes and passwords. Then we'll sail down the Nile together. We'll go on a safari. We'll drink champagne and eat caviar. And we'll start a foundation to help those fabulously wealthy if unfortunate people who all curiously suffer from heart ailments.
The extra cash, if there is any left, we'll just buy gift certificates and toss it out to the poor along the way for good karma.
Andrew Lam is an editor with New America Media and the author of three books, "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora," "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres," and his latest, "Birds of Paradise Lost," a collection of short stories about Vietnamese refugees struggling to rebuild their lives in the Bay Area. It recently won the Josephine Miles Literary Award and is now available on Kindle.