Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
Wedding planning means very different things to different people, and it all depends on your bank balance. The last time around, wedding planning meant tying blue plastic ribbons on packets of homemade sweets to give out as favours.
When you have many issues — but money is not one of them — you can get custom-made perspex boxes engraved with your name and filled with imported gourmet chocolates as wedding favours.
It’s a whole new world!
Between Ayesha, her mother, my mother and Ma, a wedding is planned in just over a week.
My brief is simple: I need to get as much content from it as possible. I still have a blog and social media to sustain, and nothing gets people talking as much as a wedding.
I couldn’t care less about the details. What I care about is not having a potty-training two-and-a-half-year-old pee on me at night. The feeling of warm liquid creeping down my leg in the middle of the night has traumatised me!
Hana has a new thing where she won’t sleep without me in her bed. No matter how much we have tried, she refuses to sleep alone.
If I leave and Adil replaces me, she cries nonstop. We had our first easy night when I caved and slept in her room and in her bed.
Then, when we took Hana to the pediatrician, she recommended we start potty training. Never in a million years did I think I would be so happy that a child peed in a toilet and not on the couch. With a toddler in the house, my dreams of a crisp white couch vanish into thin air.
I am happy to do everything for Hana but I refuse to clean up after Hana makes a mistake. That’s Adil’s job. We have a good system figured out, though, with much better communication.
The best decision I could have made is outsourcing the planning of the wedding to Adil’s sister and mother, with help from my mother.
We have a lot to figure out. Do we go on a honeymoon? Do we get Hana used to staying with Ayesha and Ma? Is my mother moving in with us?
Then we have to figure out how to move all my things to Adil’s house and get everything packed and unpacked. Setting up my work space in our third bedroom upstairs is also a mission.
My only contribution to the wedding was sorting out my wedding dress which was sponsored by a company that I worked with before that specialises in ready-to-wear gowns.
At first I couldn’t make up my mind but as I put on my wedding dress this morning, it feels right. I wanted something understated and simple. Overdone gowns can go wrong and if you can’t afford Elie Saab, sit down!
I can’t believe I am getting married. Again.
In a few hours Adil and I will be married Islamically and host a lunch reception for 400 people.
It baffles me that they even know 400 people! Of the list of people, 20 people are my friends and family. Twenty people are random people my mother knows, like the friends she has made in the complex and a few bloggers. The other 360 people are Adil’s friends and family! In one week they were able to find that many people to attend a wedding on December 29th!
But that’s not my business. It is my job to just show up.
It feels weird to relinquish so much control when I had such a distinct idea of what I wanted my wedding to look like. But at this stage, it doesn’t even matter whether there’s embossed name cards at every table or not.
Molly is doing my wedding makeup, and I couldn’t think of a better person. Maariah Means didn’t only take me out of the handbag department at Icon but made her a celebrity makeup artist of sorts. We reminisce about the many times we almost got fired at Icon for doing photoshoots in the fitting rooms instead of serving customers. Once she had to lie to the bosses that I was sick when I popped out for one of the first brand events I was invited to.
Molly does classical makeup with soft pink lips and rosy cheeks. I am down for Instagram baddie makeup of too much contour and heavy lashes, but not on my wedding day.
I want to look back at my pictures and it must be timeless and beautiful. Meghan Markle on her wedding day is my new style inspiration. I am over the Priyanka Chopra-Jonas vibe. ,
And it worked out well when I found out that LaShanta had a ready-to-wear dress that was so similar to the one the Duchess wore on her wedding day, although with shorter sleeves. I preferred the gown more fitted so they altered it to fit my waist in two days.
At first, Ayesha and my mum convinced me to do an elaborate headpiece to juxtapose the simple dress but I was really inspired by the elegance of having very natural makeup and a simple bun. Diamond studs borrowed from Adil’s mother with a matching diamond bracelet finishes the outfit.
“You look heavenly,” Molly says to me as she zips up the dress.
This is it.
“I can’t believe it’s actually happening,” I say to Molly and she laughs, but she doesn’t know how many nightmares I’ve had about the wedding being called off at the eleventh hour. My fears and insecurities have been in overdrive. I feel calmer today though. You would think that I’d be nervous on my wedding day, but I have overthought everything so much that I have now reached my zen space.
I am so zen I don’t even want to see the venue beforehand. Adil managed to get Hana to sleep last night without me and booked a hotel room for me and my mum, which is where I’m getting ready now.
Molly and Firdaus are helping me get done while my mother rushed to the venue for final checks.
“Are you not scared that you haven’t seen the venue beforehand?” Molly asks me as she applies perfume to my dress.
“No, I am relaxed. I feel like I am going to someone else’s wedding,” I say and they both start laughing.
“Umar says Adil is not half as relaxed as you. The man is freaking out,” Firdaus says, and I believe her.
The last I spoke to him last night he was stressed about leaving Hana with Ayesha for two nights, even though it was his idea that we go away for two nights. I said it’s not necessary but he was either feeling guilty that I am not getting a honeymoon, or he really wants alone time with me.
We’ve been de facto housemates for the last three weeks, he has seen me with unbrushed hair and teeth and I have seen him with hardened drool on the side of his cheek; surely it can only get better?
I chose not to be present at the mosque for the Islamic nuptials because I needed the time to take good portraits before Adil joins us for couple photos before the reception. We decided to use the hotel lobby for the wedding photoshoot and to avoid the cliché garden shots at all costs.
I pose for a few shots and Dylan the photographer shows me what he has taken so far.
“The simplicity of the gown is so perfectly juxtaposed against this ornate wallpaper,” he says as Molly fixes my hair. Fancy.
“Oh, Maariah. You are married, by the way,” Firdaus says, looking up from her phone.
The nikaah is done. Adil and I are married while I am posing for the perfect mirror shot.
There is no going back now. Well, technically, it would cost R1-million to go back.
When Adil arrives from the mosque and meets me in the hotel lobby, I am reduced to a puddle of tears. He hugs me and I hold tightly onto his shoulders.
He cries and I cry.
I think about how I did not have enough money for an Uber home on the night I met Adil for the first time. And the time I fell off the treadmill while laughing at him for almost falling off. I remember how he prayed from the Quraan at Zayn’s funeral.
I remember the first time he said he loved me, how he casually put our engagement ring on my finger with no fanfare, and how he affectionately flicks my ears whenever I pass him.
Then I remember the night he told me about Hana, and the fights since then, and the nights we wanted to pull our hair out because she just wouldn’t sleep.
All my fears and hopes descend on me equally in this embrace.
“I love you,” he whispers in my ear as his family stare at us. If only they knew the half of it!
“Mar, all my hard work is ruined,” Molly jokes as I wipe my tears away.
I greet Adil’s mother, who is wearing a dress that looks like she was dipped in Swarovski crystals, and his dad who wipes a tear away too. My mother and my aunty are sobbing at this point. Ma is sitting on a chair, tears streaming down her cheeks.
The hotel staff look at us baffled. “Hayibo! They are crying like it’s a funeral,” one of them says in Zulu and those of us who understand start laughing between the tears.
Soon, our family goes to the venue and only Molly stays to fix up my make up while Adil changes from his kurta to a suit.
“See this naughty one,” Adil comes to show me a video of Hana while Molly adds more powder to my face. Hana went earlier with Ayesha and Percy to the venue and was stealing all the sweets from the entrance table.
When Molly is done, she leaves and Adil and I leave for our wedding reception.
Any apprehension I had that I may hate the decor disappears the moment I walk in. It is like my Pinterest vision board has been brought to life in ways I could never imagine! It is the perfect mix of romantic elegance with a modern touch.
The spectacular attention to detail is the best surprise. There’s a seating chart of my dreams printed on a mirror and a photo booth that is a floral dream. Thank God it’s not tacky!
Whoever did the flowers managed to get the perfect combinations of hues of blush pink with white roses! I love it. Every plate even has a customised napkin with our wedding emblem printed on it.
I have no idea how Ayesha and her mum pulled this in such a short time. Every moment is Insta-worthy!
This is my dream come true. Right? Right.
But... Why am I not feeling it? I sit on the stage in front of so many people I don’t know and I am not bursting out of happiness. I smile for hundreds of photographs but I find myself involuntarily clenching my jaw in vexation.
This is a perfect wedding. It really is. There is nothing I would change. But I don’t have butterflies fluttering in my stomach. If anything, I feel sick.
The sight of Adil’s mother grates me. She clearly wanted to outshine me with all that sparkle and train. Who wears a tiara to their son’s wedding?!
I smile at Adil’s father but I can’t help but despise him for Adil’s dysfunction.
I look at my mother and I am angry at her for not teaching me how to have a sense of self-worth.
I see a family member of Zayn’s and I want to pull her badly-dyed hair out of her head for being part of a family that made me feel guilty for existing.
I see tables and tables of politicians who I have only ever seen on TV and I want to puke. How can Adil’s family use a wedding to maintain corrupt relationships? These men probably don’t even know my name but this is about the big housing project. The fact that Simmi is using my wedding to schmooze with politicians is getting on my last nerve.
Every time I turn to the table of blogger ‘friends’ I invited, I grit my teeth. They know nothing about me but they are posting pictures of Adil and I as ‘couple goals’. Bunch of superficial asses!
Be happy, Maariah. This is the best day of your life.
Breathe girl, breathe.
Why did I think that once this wedding happens everything is going to be okay?
This is all I ever wanted. But I didn’t want to feel like this. Scared. Anxious. Angry at myself, and all these other people.
It’s a perfect day. I am happy. I have to be happy! This costs so much! I have to be happy.
“Are you okay?” Adil smiles at me, and I nod.
I am certain this is what a panic attack feels like but I cannot crack in front of 400 wedding guests, most of whom I have never met before in my life.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I say to Adil who signals Firdaus to help me down the stage.
Everyone is watching me as I try to keep my composure. I don’t need to use the toilet. I just need a minute away from all the eyes.
I stand in the toilet for five minutes just trying to catch my breath. “Are you okay?” Firdaus asks when she hears my heavy breathing.
I am okay. I wanted this. I love Adil. Yes, life is not going to be perfect but whose life is perfect anyway?
Firdaus doesn’t say anything to me as we leave the bathroom and we take a detour to the furthest table, where Ayesha seated Hana with Percy and the other invited staff.
“Come with Mari,” I extend my hand to Hana and she leaps into my arms. I can see Adil’s mother trying to suppress a meltdown at the corner of my eye as I carry Hana with me to the stage.
Having Hana sit with a table of domestic workers avoided embarrassing questions for Adil’s family. Now she is sitting on my lap with the whole room watching — with obvious questions.
I am tired of pretences. I am tired of acting. I am tired of not being my authentic self.
“Are you okay?” Adil asks me unsure of why I brought Hana to sit with us.
“No. We start therapy next week,” I smile for the cameras.
Nobody gets married thinking of divorce.
Unless you were married before, then all you can think about is divorce. Kevin Hart jokes in his Netflix special that if your second marriage fails, you are definitely the problem.
I think the lived experience of divorce makes you smarter. You even get a little disillusioned in the fantasy of ‘happily ever after’ and more invested in the practicalities of marriage. I need a contingency. I don’t want to ever have to use that contingency but I need to know that if I ever have to crash land, there is a parachute ready.
Adil doesn’t get it. Obviously. He has never been divorced.
He believes the very notion of a prenuptial agreement is centred around mistrust and suspicion. For him, it plans for the end of a marriage even before it has begun.
I think he feels like I am unfairly throwing the baggage of my first marriage at him. So what? I would be an idiot not to have learned from that experience.
You don’t think you need a lifejacket until you start sinking. So why wait until that point?
He. Just. Won’t. Get. It.
Eventually, he sees that any effort to convince me that ‘marriage is nothing without trust’ is pointless and agrees to ask his company lawyers to draft up something for us. He is not convinced but he can see I am not budging. I am not going to start planning our wedding until there’s an agreement inked and signed.
In the meantime, our days are filled with Hana that leaves us both knackered by the end of the day, but with such a sense of fulfilment.
She can be so stubborn and frustrating, and just as we are about to give up she will do something so cute and heartwarming that makes us forget everything else. Adil has swapped his fancy work clothes for shorts and t-shirts as he plays with her outside for hours. I have not done my hair in a week!
By day five of having Hana, we are comfortable enough in taking her out and Adil finally gets down to strapping in the car seat.
I have a list of things we need in my little Hana notebook, listed in order of priority.
I make sure Hana is well fed before we leave the house for the mall and has enough toys for entertainment. If all else fails, she will get my phone to watch cartoons on YouTube.
I’ve seen horrific cases of toddlers throw massive tantrums in the middle of Sandton City mall. I refuse to be that parent. I don’t know what I would do!
“Should we start with her clothes and her food because it’s one store and then move on to toys and toiletries?” I ask Adil as he pushes the pram.
This is the first time we are out as the three of us. It feels normal. Having to focus on Hana is a good distraction from our unresolved issues.
I can see Adil is trying hard and is really appreciating my efforts, but the prenup contract is bothering him.
I am just anxious for the prenup to be signed so I can start realistic wedding planning. I don’t know if a wedding in December is possible to pull off in two weeks but what choice do I have?
As we shop, I am tempted to veer off my list and get random cute outfits that Hana will look adorable in. Like this pink tutu with yellow stars.
I throw it to Adil to make the choice and he totally falls for it.
“Won’t she look so cute in this?” I ask and he gushes.
“Yes! What size is that?”
I love that he is more present during this shopping trip than he was before. Sometimes Adil can be so disengaged and it really annoys me about him. This worried me when he disclosed the whole baby situation. I really don’t want me to be the one who is present and attentive because Adil is so aloof. Thankfully, he is proving me wrong as a parent.
To my relief, Hana falls asleep while we complete the shopping and Adil suggests that we go get a coffee before we leave for home.
“Mar,” he says as we sit down for coffee.
“I really don’t want to argue but to just explain my side of things. Getting married in community of property is impossible because of my father’s... because my father is transferring his business interests, they are currently in my name while we figure stuff out. So legally, it’s mine but technically it’s not. If we get married this way, you would be entitled to half of everything which makes no sense. I know nothing is going to happen and we are going to grow old together but it’s too risky. My lawyers have already advised how risky it would be for the business.”
“Can’t the agreement specify half of your personal assets?” I ask pretending I know a lot about this.
“Mar... if something happens to any of the businesses, you will be held accountable too,” he explains.
“So this doesn’t protect me if the investigation into tender fraud goes ahead?” I ask.
Why do I have such a big mouth sometimes?! Gosh!
“How do you know about this?” he asks, as hushed as possible.
“I don’t know... Ayesha I think,” I lie, and he is not convinced. I am not ratting out Simmi for telling me.
“I’ll tell you what Mar... What if we have an agreement in place that says in the unlikely event that the marriage does not work out, you will be compensated for each year of marriage,” he suggests. That actually sounds doable.
I just don’t want to be left without anything.
It’s tricky. I want our marriage to last. Damn, I am already so attached to Hana I can’t even imagine leaving her.
But... there is a part of me that is worried Adil won’t put in the work needed to sustain a marriage. And that fear alone has convinced me that I need an agreement in place.
“Okay, love,” I smile at him while he picks up his phone to text his lawyer.
“You are such a fierce cookie,” he eventually smiles at me.
Our first trip to the mall couldn’t have gone better. We got everything we need, Hana is well behaved and we even get to spend some quality time together.
This is until we go to validate our parking ticket and we run into Adil’s cousins. Oh man, we were not ready for this!
“Hey bro,” Umar greets Adil and Fatima hugs me, genuinely happy to run into us. I want to just shrivel up and die.
We make small talk until Hana wakes up and starts crying and no effort to pacify her works. Adil, hurry up!
“Can I walk you to the car?” Fatima asks me as Hana is clearly restless in her pram and I agree.
“Ayesha told me the good news! When is the big day?” I am not in the mood to talk about this today.
“We haven’t figured it out yet,” I say to her while I check if Hana’s nappy needs a change. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! I would have never imagined this to be my life.
“She is so beautiful. She looks just like you,” Fatima says and I laugh because Ayesha made the same comment on Sunday.
Eventually, Adil comes to the car and I am ready to escape his cousins. They are really lovely people, it’s just that I am not in the mood for mindless small talk.
“I’m so happy to have met your little one, Maariah,” Fatima says to me as we say goodbye..
What? MY little one?
“Does she think Hana’s my little one?”
Adil doesn’t say anything.
“It’s just so weird for them to draw that conclusion,” I say to him.
“But when we get married she will be your child! So what’s the issue?” He sounds irritated.
“I mean do they know that biologically she is your child with a different woman?”
It is a valid question, right?
“Wow! I didn’t think you would be this person. So these past few days have been an act? She’s just my bastard child then?”
How did he go from 0 to 100 in under five seconds?!
“For the rest of my life, I will be reminded that she is not your child?! Huh? Then why do this with me?”
“Adil, you’re scaring Hana. Please keep it down.”
“What do you care?! She’s not your biological child.”
“What I meant is that I am surprised your cousins don’t know the circumstances around Hana and just assumed...”
“But it’s none of their business. What matters is we are raising Hana together as a unit.”
“I know, but...” I try to explain myself, to no avail.
“There are no buts. You are either in or out!” He is furious at this point and as I turn to Hana I can see she’s about to start howling.
“Adil, enough,” I plead and Hana starts screaming and crying.
All efforts to pacify her don’t help and she screams the entire ride home. This is hell!
Adil parks aggressively and rushes to get her but she screams even louder.
“No daddy! No daddy! I hate you," she shouts and my heart breaks at the sound of fear in her voice.
This child has clearly witnessed so much dysfunction that any raised voice triggers her.
“Hana, let Maariah take you, baby,” I try to pacify her but cries so much her body shakes. As I hold her in my arms trying to stop her piercing cries, I can’t help but let out my own tears.
This baby did not ask to be born under these circumstances. She deserves to be loved. I hope when she’s my age she doesn’t walk around feeling less-than because of the choices of her parents.
My entire life, even though Zayn loved me with all his heart, I carried a level of shame. Even when my rational mind tells me I deserve better, I don’t believe it. I am attracted to men who are emotionally unavailable and consumed with issues because I believe that’s what I deserve.
I can’t be annoyed at how Adil takes me for granted when I barely respect myself. In all the time I have known him, I have felt that any bit of attention he has given him was him doing me a favour. I’ve never felt worthy of him. I still don’t. So we are not equals in this relationship. I don’t think we would ever be and it’s not his fault. It is my own insecurities and feelings of inferiority that would let me just accept his child from another relationship without any expression of my feelings. I sometimes blame my mother for how I am because there was this sense of acceptance of whatever came our way because we didn’t have the social capital to expect otherwise. Does that make sense?
When I married Ozayr it was a clear trade-off that his family would overlook the fact that I had a weird family construct and that we were ‘poor’ in comparison to them because I was a pretty innocent girl. I have grown up, lived life and yet still I walk around with that chip on my shoulder.
I feel like I can’t complain about being thrown in the deep end to look after Adil’s child, or the fact that he is emotionally unavailable, or the fact that he can’t communicate adequately because I have to be grateful that he is just even in my life.
I keep telling myself it could be worse. And it really could be worse. I could be staying in a backroom, eating tinned tuna every day and stealing WiFi from a coffee shop. So when I feel unhappy or irritated with what Adil does, I am plunged into guilt. It’s a terrible feeling.
I really hope Hana doesn’t grow up feeling this way. I hope she grows up believing that she is worthy. I hope that she doesn’t cringe every time someone calls her beautiful because she has the green eyes of a parent who didn’t want her and has never met. I hope she feels enough when she walks into any room. I hope she never settles on the life she wants because she feels undeserving.
“I wuv you Maari,” Hana says to me as we both calm down from our combined crying session. I kiss her cheek, feeling so much of myself in this little child. I didn’t know that in such a short space of time I could get so attached to this child who I didn’t know existed a month ago.
I carry her straight upstairs to change her nappy before I bring her down for some TV time and a snack.
“Elsa! Hana wants Elsa,” she demands and I sit her down, put a plate full of fruit in front of her and put on Frozen for the hundredth time.
“On Saturday, when she started screaming like that did Mr Adil shout at you or someone else?” I ask Percy in the kitchen.
“Not at me. On the phone. He was shouting someone on the phone,” she says.
That makes sense now.
The hysterical screaming is very different from tired or hungry crying, and it breaks my heart.
I leave Hana with Percy and go upstairs to pack my things. I really need to go back to my apartment and spend time with my mother, even though I also don’t want to leave Hana alone with Adil.
I just want to have our agreement in place so that I can marry him. Yes, there are things that really worry me about Adil but I know he will treat me well and will always look after me.
I do love him. Even with all his dysfunction and chaos.
“Hey,” he says while leaning on the doorframe. I turn and smile at him. I cried out all the anger I felt.
“Read this, love, and tell me what you think,” he hands me a stack of papers. It’s the agreement drafted by his lawyers. My heart drops when I see that the marriage will be out of community of property without accrual.
That’s everything I did not want! Dammit. This doesn’t leave me with anything.
“Read this,” he passes me a second set of documents which details that should the marriage end, Adil will pay me R200 000 for every year of marriage. I take a deep breath, unsure whether I should just scrap the idea of having a prenuptial agreement at all. But I have compromised on so much already.
“I will have to get a lawyer to read over this,” I say to Adil.
“Come on Mar! Seriously. What’s the issue?” he is irritated again.
“I just need to be certain.”
“Would I ever hoodwink you? I have agreed to this ridiculous idea of a contract. I hate that you are planning for our divorce”.
“Adil, I explained this to you over and over and over. I am not going anywhere. This is just a life jacket,” I say, tired of making the same point.
“Okay, how much for each year of marriage will suit you?”
“A million,” I say without thinking.
“What the hell is wrong with you?! This is not the Maariah I fell in love with.”
“The Adil I fell in love with didn’t lie to me!” It’s a screaming match again.
“So that’s the issue? I lied to you by not telling you upfront that I had a child even though there was a chance I wouldn’t get custody of her?”
“Yes! If you love someone you share these things.”
“If you love someone you don’t manipulate them into marriage and then charge for it. What’s next, you want me to weigh you and give you your body’s weight in gold?”
“I appreciate everything you have done for me but I cannot stand how guilty you make me feel,” he says.
“I don’t make you feel guilty. Your guilt about your life choices has nothing to do with me,” I hit back.
“So what was your plan? Make me fall for you and then swindle money from me?”
“You are being ridiculous! Everyone has prenups in place! If you didn’t have a dodgy business you would have done things normally.”
“So what? Are you going to leave me after a year? Two years?”
“That depends on whether or not you bring home another child!”
I instantly regret what I just said.
Adil sits down in an effort to control his anger. His jaw is clenched.
I can never understand his hot and cold behaviour. How he is mostly calm and cool until something triggers him and then he can’t help himself, he just loses it.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I offer, too tired and emotional to fight. It’s okay. Whatever he wants is fine.
He takes a deep breath and I prepare myself for the worse. Is it over? It probably is over.
“No, I’m sorry love. We are both just emotional and tired,” he puts his arm around me.
We sit in silence. It has been a hard few days.
“I am going to ask the guys to change the amount to a million per year,” he says quietly. Wow. I literally pulled the number from thin air, I never expected him to agree to it.
Adil is not an unreasonable man. He is level-headed and rational. But it really scares me how he can spiral out of control when he is emotional or angry.
It seems like this was normal in his house. In our home, my mother did not tolerate moods or shouting. It was an unwritten rule in our house that you talk through a problem or keep quiet.
In their house, fights and arguments are normal, but they pretend really well in public. Even their closest cousins don’t know what really happens in their home.
It wouldn’t surprise me if his mother created an impression that Hana is my child from a past divorce just so that they don’t have to explain the situation. It sounds crazy, but I don’t put it past her.
At this point I don’t care.
Right now, I am focused on moving forward. I don’t want history to repeat itself. I finally have the family and home I have always dreamed of. Yes, it didn’t come in the most conventional of ways not is it easy. But it will be worth it.
It has to be. Adil is all I have.
When I lived in Rosebank and was just ’gym buddies’ with Adil, I used to imagine what spending a night together would be like. I would have never guessed that the first time I spent a night with Adil it would be me sleeping on a couch and Adil sleeping on the floor of his baby’s room — both of us still in our clothes from the day.
Hana woke up three times and all three times she needed me to pacify her to sleep. She definitely is not used to a male or is uncomfortable with a male presence.
You know it has been a rough night when a double shot espresso doesn’t do the trick.
“I need another one,” I say to Adil, who is making his coffee.
My back hurts from trying to sleep on a couch even though there was a king-sized bed right there.
I am sticky and sweaty and I need to brush my teeth! Hana, on the other hand, has been up and chirpy since 7am.
At some point, I thought that if she woke up we would rest. Wishful thinking!
Before this coffee, I had to start by changing her nappy while Adil made her breakfast. Then she messed cereal all over herself, so I had to bath and change her.
Only after I put her in front of the TV now do we have a moment for coffee.
“Do you think a newborn is easier than a toddler?” I ask Adil and he grunts in response, barely awake to string together a few words.
After his second coffee, he seems more alive.
“You know, I used to be at the clubs until 5am, still go to McDonalds and get home just before 7am every weekend and I never felt this hungover.”
He’s serious but I can’t help but laugh.
“Well, this is the product of one of those nights at the club,” I try to ease the mood but it comes out totally wrong. I should have just kept my mouth shut. Now Adil feels like I am throwing his past in his face and he is pissed.
I should be the one that is pissed off at his past. It is not normal that I am so okay about this and so readily helping.
Every time I want to quit, I think of Zayn and I push through.
“I am going to go home to shower and rest before lunch,” I say to him and he is not pleased.
“Please pack a bag for tonight,” he says.
“No man Adil. I can’t stay over again at your house. It is not right.”
“What is not right?”
“We are not married...”
“I have barely touched you in the past 24 hours. Don’t come here with that nonsense. I need your help, but if you don’t want to help me just say so.”
We are both exhausted. I have never seen him this snappy ever.
I decide not to respond. Instead, I go to play with Hana for a bit in the lounge before I go back to my apartment.
I find my mother is living her best life filling in sudoku and crossword puzzles while sipping on mint tea.
“Your whole life you worried I’d have a child before marriage. I was such a good girl. I didn’t speak to any boys. Even after my divorce and yet I still ended up with a child before marriage,” I tell my mother and she bends over laughing.
At least we can laugh about this bizarre situation.
“I am going to shower and nap for a bit,” I say to her as she continues with her crossword puzzle from the Sunday paper.
I nap for an hour and it makes a world of a difference. I feel human again. Not nearly human enough to put on a face and entertain Adil’s family while he is super moody because of the lack of sleep.
I am so glad I prepared everything for tea the day before.
So now I just have to get done and pack a bag to stay over. This is totally wrong and, importantly, unsustainable but I don’t know how to enforce boundaries. I have always been a pushover. It’s just how I am.
“Are you going to be okay?” I ask my mother as I gather my stuff to leave.
“Yeah there’s a child’s birthday at the pool at 2pm and I am invited,” she says. She is the epitome of self-sufficient. She doesn’t even need my company, she can sort herself out.
I know absolutely no one in my complex and I probably won’t.
By the time I get back to Adil’s house, I find him passed out on the couch while Hana is playing outside with Percy.
Thankfully, the house is clean and ready to set up for tea with his family. Thank God I didn’t offer lunch. It would have to be leftover pizza!
While Adil sleeps, I sit and read blogs on parenting and toddlers. There’s just so much. From what to feed them to what toys are good for them, I really can’t keep up. There’s a whole community of blogger mums who discourage plastic toys for their kids. Where the heck must I go and source wooden toys from!
Then there’s the difference of opinion about what is the right age to start potty training and there’s raging debates whether co-sleeping is good or bad for children.
I just could not get used to having a child in my bed. I mean, let me have at least that part of the honeymoon phase.
As I go down the rabbit hole of blogs and articles, I find myself reading up on prenuptial contracts. I don’t know much about it but I know enough to know that it is important.
The last time, I was married according to Islamic marital rites. We didn’t get married in court. Because I want to be married in community of property with a strict prenuptial agreement, we would have to get married at home affairs. This way, if something happens I am entitled to half of what he owns.
I am not expecting anything to happen but burn me twice... I am the fool.
Adil wakes up rested and in a better space than when I left him earlier.
“What time is it?” he asks me.
“It’s ten past one. Your parents will be here at two,” I say.
“Did Hana eat?”
“Yeah, she’s fine. She’s taking a nap,” I say to him.
He goes up to shower and I start preparing for tea with his family. This is nerve-wracking. This is the first time his parents are coming to his home with him living here and it’s the first time they are meeting Hana.
It would be a lot easier if we both had a good night’s rest so we would be able to at least fake it with his family.
I gobble two slices of pizza in between setting up and, even though I planned to shoot my confectionery for content, I could not be bothered at this point.
I decide to go into Adil’s office to get a book and pen and make logical lists around Hana. Wedding planning needs its own book.
Adil needs a team of three helpers on a rotational basis. Percy would look after the cleaning of the house on a full-time basis. He needs someone from 9am-6pm dedicated to looking after Hana. I suppose this will be my job once we get married. Then he needs another helper/nanny for weekends and emergencies.
We need to find a nursery school to enroll her in for the new year but it’s December and everything is already closed. I can make inquiries in the meantime, I guess.
I need to audit her clothes and shoes to make a list of what she needs. While I am at it, she needs a few more toys and activities to keep her occupied.
“What are you doing?” Adil asks as he comes to sit next to me on the dining table.
“Just making lists for Hana... We have to find a nursery for her,” I say to him.
“You are so good at this! Are you sure you don’t have a secret child I don’t know about?” He jokes and I fall over laughing at the hilarity of it.
It’s a good time for his parents to walk in because they are fascinated by what we’re laughing so hard about. Talk about dark humour!
Uncle Moosa carries in boxes and boxes of things he thought Adil may need, which includes random things like screwdrivers. Ayesha brings a little gift bag with a gift for Hana which Adil instantly appreciates. Ma walks in with a packet of frozen food for her beloved grandson who, in her mind, has been starving without her cooking. Zeenat just shows up, dressed for high tea on London’s high street and not just a casual Sunday afternoon at her son’s house.
“This place is much nicer than I expected,” she says and that’s probably the best compliment she could give.
“It’s a good starter house,” Adil’s father says, and I die a little on the inside because this house is literally my dream home. It is the perfect balance between comfort and luxury and probably cost a few million. Obviously, compared to their Waterfall home this is tiny. I want to laugh about the comparison to my apartment or my mum’s home to this.
“Where is little Hana?” Ma asks and Adil says she’s having a nap.
I think what happened yesterday was that she was so exhausted from not having a midday nap and that’s why she threw such a gigantic tantrum.
I have premade masala tea and pour it from a flask.
“Oh everything is so pretty,” Ma offers, always appreciating my baking effort.
Just as we begin chatting about mundane things, Hana starts crying. I ask Percy to get her but she starts howling and somehow both Adil and I know that she needs me to pacify her.
His mother definitely gives off a look when I tell Adil that he must relax, I will see to her.
Hana calms down once she sees me and I change her nappy.
“Hana, count for me,” I say, trying to distract her.
“Five... seven... one... two,” she counts and I giggle. We have to teach you your numbers, little one!
I carry her downstairs and the entire table is transfixed by me and Hana. I take her over to Adil and she refuses to go to him. You can see it hurts him a little. She will get used to him eventually.
“Say hello Ma,” I say to her as I take her over to Ma and she impeccably says “hello Ma”. Ma has never appeared so chuffed as she is now that Hana greets her.
“Say hello Granny Zee,” Adil’s mother says and I am tempted to roll my eyes. Granny Zee? What the heck is that!
Eventually, she climbs from my lap to Adil’s lap and I notice his dad remains quiet the whole time. He doesn’t look upset or perturbed. He is just completely quiet, which is not normal for him.
“I am just going to say it,” Ayesha blurts out. “Are you sure this is not your child?” she asks me, and I laugh.
There is somewhat of a resemblance between me and Hana — it’s probably because of the mixed genes between white and Indian.
Now I think about whether Adil was attracted to the fact that I look like his daughter or his daughter looks like me. Another thing to ask a shrink!
We start going through the list of stuff we need to sort out for Hana when Uncle Moosa finally breaks his silence.
“I have friends who are on the board of Serram House. We can get her in there from nursery so it’s easier when applying for primary school,” he says. Serram House is this uber-exclusive private school that usually has parents registering their kids the moment they get an ultrasound. Of course he has friends who own Serram House, that’s where all the corrupt politicians and dodgy business people send their kids.
As Ayesha and her mum help tidy up, Ma sits me next to her and I know a heart-to-heart is pending.
“Maariah, my child. Thank you for doing this for my Adil. You are so special, my daughter. You are so special. You must get married this year. Do it for me.”
Ma has a way of getting into your head. How do I say to her, I am happy to get married tomorrow but your grandson must meet my conditions?
The prenup is non-negotiable. The wedding too but I can compromise and have a small affair. My family and friends list is not more than twenty people! But I want it pretty and Pinterest worthy. I don’t care at what cost.
“Are you okay?” Adil whispers in my ear and I nod.
I just need his family to leave so I can just pass out. I have reached my quota of fake smiles at his mother.
“Ma sat me down and asked me to please have the wedding this month,” I tell Adil.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing. It’s not my call…”
“It is your call. I have been waiting for you…”
“If you can pay people to organize a wedding in two weeks we can get married,” I say to him.
He nods, acknowledging what I just said but he doesn’t respond.
I can’t afford a basic wedding, let alone the one I envision. Adil has to carry that tab, unfortunately.
Well, it’s the least he can do!
We all go out to the backyard for a bit and watch Hana play while Adil’s father measures the area to install a play area for Hana.
This family’s dysfunctionality always amazes me. There is an elephant in the room but instead of talking through it; they just pretend it’s not there. It’s almost like, okay, Maariah is his wife to be and she has accepted this child so all is fine.
But as a parent, I would be worried for my son who has never looked after a child in his life and has to now deal with a toddler. I would want to know how he is coping. Not Adil’s parents. Measuring for a play area seems to be the perfect distraction. Can they please leave already!
I need a nap that lasts 24 hours. How do mothers with multiple kids manage?!
Eventually, Adil’s family get the hint and leave. If I hear his mother referring to herself as “Granny Zee” one more time I will shoot myself!
“You must go to sleep as soon as she falls off to sleep,” Adil tells me as we spread out on the couch. There’s still a bedtime routine to go through and I have no energy left in me.
“I know I say this often but what would I do without you?” he says.
The affection feels good after what seems like 24 hours from hell.
“You would hire an extra nanny,” I tease him but he doesn’t laugh.
“You are not a nanny. You are my wife!”
“Hold up bro! I am not your wife yet,” I laugh.
“Marry me Mar,” he says, half falling asleep.
“I will... Once everything is sorted out.”
“We can always have a reception later... I need you,” he says and I can feel the desperation in his voice.
No way, I am not compromising on this. No effort to convince me to have a quickie nikaah in the mosque is going to work.
People respect you as much as you respect yourself. A failed marriage will teach you that.
“I want to get married legally, in community of property with a prenuptial contract,” I tell Adil, and his body language instantly betrays him — he is definitely surprised by what I just said.
In true Adil fashion, he doesn’t respond.
Instead, he wanders to the kitchen and fetches snacks for us to munch one while Hana has her last TV time for the day before dinner and bedtime.
As tiring as this day was, it feels so rewarding. It almost feels like my exhaustion means something.
Thankfully, Hana’s bedtime routine is much easier than yesterday. I am not as clueless and as nervous and Hana is not screaming for her life.
We work pretty much in tandem but I still have to tell Adil what to do. At 7pm on the dot, we tuck her in bed and I take out the book I found earlier among her things. I lay on one side while Adil sits at the foot of her little bed and I read her a story until she falls asleep.
My mother read to me every day until I was able to read myself.
“That wasn’t half bad,” I say to Adil as we tiptoe out of her room.
We need a camera monitor in her room and a screen in Adil’s room and one downstairs, I make a note in my little notepad.
“Come and lay on the bed,” Adil says as I get onto the couch. It feels weird. It’s silly, I know but it still feels weird. I join him anyway. This is the closest we have ever been.
“I love you so much,” he says to me and I can feel his genuineness.
A few minutes go by and I relax in his arms until the Chinese wall that existed between us is broken.
“Adil... no.” I am now very uncomfortable. He doesn’t get it.
Adil sighs in frustration.
“Can we just get married?!”
“Sure. As soon as we sort out the prenup.”
When someone is expecting a child, you throw them a baby shower. When the child is born, you host a baby viewing.
But what do you do when a man gets custody of his two-year-old child? Buy him a gift? Organise a lunch? Invite family members for a meet and greet?
Adil fetches me at the crack of dawn on Saturday to be at his house when his child arrives.
This is the most cheerful and upbeat I have seen him in ages. It is definitely a contrast to how he was last Saturday when he was a walking short circuit, ready to explode!
Today, he is calm and even volunteers to make us breakfast while we wait. This is a big deal for Adil who is so useless that Ma doesn’t even let him put his own sugar in his tea.
A green smoothie and cream cheese on toast aren’t really culinary skills but I’m impressed. That’s how low the bar is!
This is his effort to make it up to him after I deliberately made him feel bad for not spending time with me yesterday. I was never like this. But yesterday I insisted he takes me shopping and when he couldn’t because of work, I asked him to “spoil me”.
This was the first time in my life I asked a man for money. The whole fierce, independent, girl boss attitude I have maintained all these years is just smoke and mirrors.
I have no idea what I would have done if Adil said no. Thankfully, he simply transferred R3 000 to my bank account to “spoil myself”. It would have been nicer if he did it without me having to ask for it, but getting money just for the sake of it feels damn good.
Somehow I am no longer precious about asserting my independence. If I bring emotional stability to this relationship, he’s better pay up. Right?
I’ve met bloggers who get Hermès from their boyfriends. And if Simmi is to be believed, Adil is coining big in illicit government deals, so he can afford to give me Gucci shoes.
Once we are done eating, we go to the backyard because Adil wants to show me how he changed the pool covering from a net to a solid cover that’s motorised.
“I was reading a scary story about toddler accidents with pool nets so I got my guys to come to install this yesterday,” he shows me how it works.
We are interrupted by the intercom, signalling that Hana has arrived.This is it!
Adil opens up while I potter around the kitchen, unsure of what is expected of me.
Alicia, who I’d met before, walks in carrying Hana with Laura following behind her. I have spent so much time watching both of them on TV that I cannot believe that they are both here, let alone part of my life somewhat. I am marrying Laura Menta’s baby daddy?! That sounds as absurd as the situation.
“Laura, this is Maariah. Maariah, Laura,” Alicia makes the introductions and I am nervous.
“Can I get you guys something to drink?” I ask as I put out a snack tray I prepared earlier.
“Oh, do you have sparkling water, gorgeous?” Laura asks as if we are lifelong buddies.
After I pour drinks, Adil takes Hana from Alicia and takes her upstairs, presumably to show her her new room.
“Why don’t you go up?” Alicia tells Laura while the two of us sit downstairs.
“How are you doing?” Alicia asks me pointedly as Laura leaves.
“I am good! All good.”
“Is my friend treating you well?” she asks me and I laugh. Only she can ask me that question.
“The madness had to end. This week I had enough. I put the two of them in a room and they fought out their differences. You can’t have the future of a child left to lawyers. At least there’s peace now. Laura can go back to New York and I can stop playing therapist slash social worker,” Alicia jokes.
Adil didn’t say any of this to me. I could tell that he seemed much lighter and at ease but he didn’t say what happened and why the initial handover planned for Monday didn’t happen.
Moments after, Adil and Laura come back downstairs and a short glance at them pierces me with jealousy.
It makes no sense. Laura is an ex. I am his future wife.
Also, she is so much taller than him — it’s weird to see.
“Okay children,” Alicia says in a faux teacher voice, “this is not going to be easy but parenting is not easy. Laura, on paper Adil has full custody but you know you can visit Hana whenever you’re back in SA. Right, Adil? I think the trick in making this work is good communication. Don’t assume. Talk things out. I am not going to be playing referee forever.” We all laugh.
This could have been far more intense. Having Alicia there took away from the seriousness of everything.
Also, weirdly, Laura didn’t seem to have much of an attachment to Hana. I see it in how the child didn’t have a natural clinginess to her mother. To Hana, Laura was like any other person in the room.
Laura has been in New York for a long time now, so I don’t think she has spent a lot of time with her child.
Soon Alicia and Laura get up to leave.
“Okay, cheers guys. Thank you for the snacks,” Laura says, hugging me which is so weird. I would have preferred for her to hate me.
It sinks in when they drive away. Adil has a child. Adil has a two-year-old toddler who is full-time in our lives. Adil is expecting me to help him raise his daughter from a one-night stand gone wrong.
Breathe girl, breathe.
We turn to find Hana and she is playing outside under the watch of Percy, who is now working full-time for Adil.
“That went well,” I smile at Adil and he smiles back.
“As well as it could, thanks to Al,” he says.
“She told me she intervened...” I wish he could volunteer information to me.
“Ja... I mean it was just getting messy and so we had to just sort out our issues and be responsible adults,” he says as we walk outside to join Hana. There was definitely more to the story. There always is.
“Persheeey,” Hana shouts for Percy’s attention and we laugh.
“Hana, say Adil,” Adil asks her.
“Daaaddillll” she says instead and my heart melts.
She runs up to me to show me her new toy Adil had given her upstairs.
“See here guys,” she says in a fancy accent and I chuckle.
Instinctively, Adil and I sit down on the grass while Hana plays around us.
Never in a million years would I expect this of my life. Sometimes I think it’s a weird sense of karma. I was once Hana. And now, through a twist in fate, I get to play the role Zayn played in my life.
“So I guess we need to plan a wedding?” Adil turns to me.
“I think we need to introduce Hana to your family first,” I laugh but I am not joking.
“Now?” he asks, frowning.
“No... She needs to settle in. Maybe tomorrow for tea?”
“Will you help me?”
Of course I will help him. Hosting a tea party in this lovely house is a bloody dream come true.
“Who do you want to invite?”
“Ma, my parents and Ayesha?”
“But what about your cousins?”
“No ways! They will meet Hana at our wedding when I will be too happy to care about their judgement.”
I laugh. This is a very Adil thing to say.
“Okay, let me go home to start baking,|” I say to Adil and he is visibly reluctant to be alone with Hana. He needs time to bond with her before everyone else is introduced to her.
“Are you sure? Why don’t we just buy whatever we need?” he asks, and I shake my head vigorously.
Baking is just an excuse to go home and offload on my mother.
I call an Uber to go to my apartment because Adil and I are still nervous to leave Hana alone with the helper and her car seat hasn’t been properly fitted in his car yet.
“Are you sure you have to go?” he asks, holding me in a tight hug. The Uber shows up and it’s too late to change my mind.
He has to figure this out by himself and if he can’t, Percy is there to help him.
I am going to instead bake my feelings away. I am thinking of vanilla cupcakes, my go-to chocolate sponge cake and some sort of biscuits.
When I get home, I find my mum having lunch with some random lady. Since when did my mother have friends in Joburg?
“This is Aunty Zaida. She lives in Block C,” my mother introduces me.
How is it so easy for my mother to make friends? I still struggle.
Am I being selfish for wishing this lady leaves soon? I really need to vent to my mother.
Instead, I leave the two of them and go to the kitchen to start baking. At first, I thought of baking good old-fashioned delicacies but then by the time I reach the kitchen I convince myself to bake according to a theme. I am going to make petit fours in blush tones, rose and cardamom macarons, mini donuts and a savoury quiche for whoever doesn’t want something sweet.
I am going to bank these pictures and share them later when I am dry on content.
I start with the petit fours so that once they are in the oven I can painstakingly pipe the mini macarons.
The mini donuts are the easiest to make.
Eventually, my mother’s new friend leaves and she joins me in the kitchen.
“Since when do you have friends,” I tease her.
“I have more friends than you for sure,” she fires back.
“The child came today…” I say to my mother, and she doesn’t respond.
“It was so smooth. I met Laura... Adil’s friend Alicia was saying that she brokered some sort of peace deal outside of their lawyers and they seem to be okay.”
“And how is the little one?” my mother asks.
"She is okay. A really sweet child. I left Adil with her because I feel like he needs to bond with her without me.”
“That’s a good move. And there was no drama between that girl and you?”
“Not at all. She was acting like my best friend,” I tell my mother, who is literally my best friend. I have no one else to talk to.
“I have been making so much of dua... This really isn’t about you as it is about this child. There is no excuse for adults to create turbulence in a child’s life,” my mother says.
“Now we need to figure out the whole wedding thing.”
"Just have a nikaah at the mosque,” my mother suggests.
Absolutely not! I am going to have my dream wedding which I am going to use for content for a month! There is no way I am going to let this opportunity pass.
Just as I am about done cleaning up the kitchen after baking the day away, Adil calls me.
“Mar... I need your help. She is crying hysterically. I don’t know what to do.” I can hear the desperation in his voice.
“Where is Percy?”
“She refuses to go to Percy. She’s been under the table screaming for the last 15 minutes.”
“Okay... I am coming now,” I say to him, annoyed that my night of Netflix is now interrupted. It’s a nice feeling to be needed, though.
I pack all the baking in containers and take them with me one time.
I hear Hana’s screams from outside as I wait for Adil to open.
“Mar... I tried everything. I don’t know what to do,” he says, clearly frazzled.
“Hana,” I say to her under the table and she stops crying for a moment.
“Come here honey,” I say, and she doesn’t move.
A while later she starts crying again, although quieter.
“I’ve tried everything,” Adil says as he paces around the table.
“Okay Adil, Hana and Maariah are going to bake. Can you make us baking hats? What’s your favourite colour, Hana?” I say from behind the table. Adil goes to his study and fetches paper and a stapler.
“Hana, come and see your baker’s hat,” I say and she doesn’t respond but she’s quiet now.
“Percy, what is your favourite colour?” I ask Percy in an effort to lure Hana out from under the table.
“I want blue,” Percy says and Hana slowly peers out from under the table.
I squat down to her. “Do you want pink or blue?” I ask and she says pink.
Progress. Adil is sitting at the head of the table, defeated.
“Do you like glitter Hana?” I ask and she jumps up in excitement. “Hana like litter,” she calls glitter ‘litter’.
“Okay, do you want to put on your baker’s hat?”
Adil’s face falls with disappointment that she does not appreciate his efforts to staple paper together.
“Okay, Maariah is going to wear a baker’s hat. You can decide if you want to wear it later.”
She follows me to the kitchen to get plates and whatever else I need to do a little craft activity.
I somehow remember that when I went shopping for Adil’s house last weekend I bought a box of baking nice-to-haves — just for fun. I have food colouring and food glitter in that drawer alongside readymade buttercream and piping bags. I did go to town when shopping.
“Okay Hana, here is your cake,” I say to her as I hand her a donut I hadn’t yet iced.
“I choose,” she responds with toddler stubbornness.
“Okay you choose which one you want,” I say and hold out the container for her.
She takes one for her and puts one out for Percy.
“Okay so here’s your bowl. Daddy, do you want to help?" I signal Adil to move closer to her.
Adil sits across from Hana and Percy sits next to her. I am at the head of the table dishing out buttercream for everyone in little bowls and dropping food colouring in each bowl.
“Okay now Hana, you mix the icing,” I say to her and Adil quietly mixes his icing too.
“It’s yummy!” she squeals when she licks icing off her fingers.
We spend a good hour ‘baking’ and it is just so funny to see how hard Adil concentrates on piping his frosting on the petit fours and plain donut.
"Did she eat?" I ask Percy and she says Hana ate at lunchtime but hasn’t eaten since.
“Hana, Maariah is going to eat some yummy food. Do you want to have yummy food?”
“Okay, clean-up time!” I say in a high-pitched voice as I try to figure out a way to feed this child.
I tell Percy to warm the food in the meantime.
I remember once on Instagram, one of the mummy bloggers posted a series on how to get fussy kids to eat. While I wait for Percy, I find her post.
She encourages making the food interesting and setting it out for the toddler to feed themselves.
I take her veggies that Percy steamed earlier and arrange them in a smiley face on her feeding tray.
“Hana come see daddy’s face,” I say to her and she laughs hysterically as I put her into the feeding chair.
I turn the carrot upside down to make a frowning face and she laughs so hard.
“Do you want to eat daddy’s eyes?” I ask in reference to the peas and she breaks out into a fit of laughter.
40 minutes later she finally finishes her food and is ready for bath time.
“You are a godsend,” Adil whispers in my ear as we take her upstairs for bath time.
I sit in her room and search on YouTube: ‘toddler bathtime routine’ while Adil figures out what to dress her to sleep.
Okay, I got this. There is truly a YouTube video for every problem!
I bath Hana and then massage her with oils as the video suggested before I put on her pyjamas.
“Is she going to sleep in my bed or in her room?” Adil asks me, as if I would know what would work.
“Let’s put her to bed in her room and if she cries you can take her to your room,” I say.
By the time Hana eventually sleeps, I am finished!
We can’t go downstairs to watch TV because we won’t hear Hana if she cries. I follow Adil into his room and I plop onto the couch that he has by his TV while he sits across me, on the bed.
Adil looks completely defeated and it’s only 7pm.
"Mar, You saved the day again!" he says between his hands which are covering his face in exhaustion.
For an hour he just lays at the edge of his bed and I mindlessly scroll Instagram.
The makeup post I shot with Simmi isn’t doing very well in terms of reach. Instagram’s algorithms are crazy these days. I need to do more live interactions to get my engagements up. Brands don’t care what people engage you about, they just want the analytics to show that engagement is high.
To be honest, I am bored of Instagram. I don’t know if this is because my life has resembled a telenovela recently, with its mad twists and turns. Sometimes I miss my boring life, but then I remember my daily tuna dinners.
Talking about dinner, I am starving.
“Yeah?” he gets up.
“I am so hungry. What can we eat?”
The last I ate was his green smoothie and toast this morning and a donut earlier.
“I can order us a pizza?” he offers, and I agree. After the day — scratch that — after the month I’ve had, I deserve all the carbs in the world.
When the pizza arrives, we decide against going to eat in the dining room in case Hana wakes up, so we sit on the carpet on the floor of his room and eat.
“Pizza is our meal of love,” I say and Adil looks confused.
“We had pizza the first time we met!” How can this man forget! It feels like a lifetime ago.
“So how about we order a few pizzas, invite our family and get married,” he jokes. Is he joking? He has to be joking!
I know a child came before marriage but there’s no shotgun wedding here. I will have the wedding of my dreams!
Besides the wedding, I decided that I want a prenuptial agreement. I am not going to be dumped with nothing this time around.
The perfect storm. That’s the only way to describe Adil’s life right now and I happen to be in the eye of that storm. Today I woke up judging myself. Do I really love this man that much that I am willing to dive into his messy life?
Dysfunctional family? Check.
History of bad decisions? Check.
Emotionally unavailable? Check.
A secret child? Check.
Just my type!
Adil didn’t quite ask for space this week as he is dealing with the legal process of adoption but it is implied. I know that any effort to get his attention would be useless. A good night text has to suffice.
When I finally get down to telling my mother about the situation, she listens so attentively, it’s hard to read her thoughts.
I secretly hope she would freak out and tell me what to do. That way I don’t have to figure things out for myself.
If we get married now that Adil has full custody of his daughter, does that mean I have to raise a child? Does he expect that of me? Maybe the custody settlement means he isn’t serious about us getting married? Would I date him without marriage on the cards? This has to count for something.
My mother is less concerned about the logistics of the child than she is about the fact that he didn’t volunteer that critical information sooner.
What my mother doesn’t know is that I basically ambushed Adil into agreeing to marry me.
The longer Adil takes to figure his life out, the more anxious I feel. At some point last night, my throat constricted and my stomach dropped. At first, I assumed it was a bad case of indigestion but when my knees went weak, I figured it had to be a panic attack.
I just wish he would speak to me at least, even if he doesn’t want me to be there.
But life goes on. Today, I have a full day of shooting content planned with Simmi, so hopefully I am distracted enough not to overthink. My content has been really good recently, but I haven’t been passionate about it since Zayn passed away. The sparks I used to feel planning a shoot, scouting locations, writing captions and posting meticulously thought-out posts have disappeared.
Speaking in front of a camera has become tedious and sucks the energy from my soul. Worse is the petty social media drama among has-been South African influencers who are constantly passive-aggressive. Honey, it’s 2019 — even if women don’t support each other, we act like we do! Get with the times.
I asked Simmi if she could help me with this shoot because even though I use other freelancers since Nabs-gate, Simmi can get the job done. She and I have good chemistry when I am in front of the camera and she is behind. I trust her vision and she hasn’t let me down.
My plan is to shoot five different styles with three different makeup looks, so I get everything ready in my room. We are not going out on location to shoot today because, well, I can’t be bothered to scout for locations and we don’t have much time today.
Simmi arrives and is thrilled to meet my mother. They bond over their shared love of sudoku before she joins me in my room.
“So, we’re doing close-up makeup shots today?” she asks as she sets up while I am touching up my makeup. I am part of a lash campaign by a mascara brand and their brief is that my lashes have to be unrealistically full.
It’s probably a bit deceptive to stick individual fake lashes under my real ones to give the impression that my voluminous dark lashes are simply with the help of Xtreme mascara. Whatever. We will take on the makeup industry tomorrow.
“Uh... how’s your friend? The gym guy?” Simmi asks while I change my outfit, and I realise that I did not tell her that we are serious or that we are getting married. ARE we getting married? I don’t know.
“He is okay,” I opt to be noncommittal because the truth is Simmi never shares anything personal about her life. Even when I lived with her, I didn’t know what was really going on in her life outside of work.
“I was thinking of you last week because his name came up in our newsroom.”
I know where this is going. Oh god.
“My colleague... you know David Sithole the investigative reporter? He was investigating a government leasing tender where the government is paying hugely exorbitant rent for offices all over Johannesburg and your guy’s company came up. Is Moosa his father?”
Wait. This is not about the child with a celebrity?
“Yeah, that’s his father,” I respond hoping Simmi gets distracted and we can talk about something else.
“So apparently, they have been inflating rentals by 300% and giving politicians a cut. It’s been going on for years. Your friend is super buddy-buddy with the local politicians and apparently irregularly got a tender to develop low-cost housing for the provincial government. The thing is, the story was almost airtight, but it seems that the politicians got to the original whistleblower and that person is now denying everything.”
I don’t even know if I am hearing correctly but is Simmi saying Adil and his father were knee-deep in tender corruption? Great.
“Now it seems like Moosa has sold all his properties and business and is relocating. It’s very fishy.”
Can this shoot be over with?! I was not ready for more Adil drama today.
Simmi’s gossip made sense. When I met them for the first time, Adil and his father were arguing about selling his property interests and transferring others to his kids because he wanted a fresh start in Dubai. And months ago, when we were exercising, Adil said that he was trying to clean up and professionalise his father’s business. I wonder if he was referring to this.
By their flashy house alone, I should have guessed that ill-gotten wealth was involved.
Once we shoot my last outfit photos, Simmi rushes off to a work assignment. Do I take off my make-up or do I take a nap with double-stacked lashes?
Good skin is expensive. I take off my makeup and decide I needed to nap my problems away. While Simmi and I were shooting, my mother took a book and snacks to the pool area of my apartment complex and I know she won’t come back until her book is finished.
I need to calm down. Everything is going to be okay.
What if I just walk away? The thought of that sends me into a sweat-inducing panic. I am not ready to be alone again. Yes, our relationship is not perfect but at least I know there’s someone who has my back.
I wallow in self-pity all afternoon until my mother comes in from her reading marathon by the pool.
“Why are you in bed at this time?” my mother demands to know. Can she leave me to have one day of anxiety?! I just want to sleep and forget about social media and all its drama and I want to not think of Adil and his messy life.
“Adil’s grandmother called when I was outside. She is inviting us for supper tonight,” my mother says as she hypocritically gets in bed with me.
Oh great. I could never turn Ma down but I am seriously not in the mood to see or deal with Adil and his family. We have barely spoken since Monday. All I know is that the settlement went through and the court gave Laura’s mother a week to hand over the child to Adil.
Does his family even know by now? Also, I am not in the mood for his mother today.
But Ma would be heartbroken if I turned her down so I have to bring myself towards myself and decide what to bake to take along for supper.
Just as I begin making a cheat cheesecake, Adil calls.
“Mar, how are you?”
“I am okay and you?” Ag, I am not in the mood today.
“What’s wrong, my love?” he tries again and I melt at the sound of ‘my love’. I’ve never been called that before.
“I am all good. I just started baking.”
“So I am assuming you agreed to Ma’s invite?"
"Yeah she would be so upset if I said no.”
“You are Ma’s favourite grandchild, of course you can’t say no,” he teases me.
“How’re things with..?” I don’t finish my sentence but Adil knows what I am asking about.
“We just finalised everything today. They are going to drop off Hana on Saturday morning at 9am.”
“How are you feeling?” I ask him as I try to breathe through my anxiety.
“It has been a crazy week. We have been so busy at work and this just added to the stress. But I think I am ready and prepared for her,” he says, and I can’t stop thinking about what Simmi said earlier.
“Do your parents..?” Again, Adil doesn’t need me to finish.
“I first sat down with my dad and our lawyers and explained the whole situation to him. I guess he told my mum.”
“It is what it is…”
That’s probably the slogan of my life: it is what it is.
Adil offers to fetch my us for supper at his house and we agree on 6:30pm.
“Are you not getting done?” my mother asks me as I scroll through my phone and wait for my cheesecake to cool.
“I am going like this,” I say to my mother, and she is terrible at hiding her surprise.
I never go to Adil’s house without makeup and a cute outfit. It’s just who I am.
Today, I can’t be bothered. I am going barefaced with my hair in a bun.
I don’t have the emotional strength to put on makeup and keep up pretences.
Adil does a double-take of me when I get into his car with my mother in tow. He is not used to seeing me looking so casual outside of the gym. He, of course, is in his slacks and white shirt neatly folded to his elbows looking like a fine snack! I am still annoyed at how his silent treatment this week added to the anxiety of his parents and the upcoming ‘delivery’ of his child on Saturday.
I arrive to the biggest hug from Ma who knows how to squeeze all the pain from you. She is genuinely happy to see me and is thrilled that I baked her favourite dessert.
Adil’s mother is probably a poor poker player because she can barely hide her turned-up nose at how underdressed I am. Zeenat, on the other hand, has just had a fresh blowout and is wearing Balmain in the house. I want to be mean but her outfit is so cool, I find myself admiring it.
“Ayesha is out with her friends,” Ma says as we sit down for supper.
I wonder if Ayesha anticipated family drama and decided she would rather avoid it.
Whenever Adil is in a room with his parents there is drama. Although, he respects my mother too much to act up in front of her. I just want this dinner to be over so that I can get into bed and switch off!
As glum as I feel, Ma’s fish curry helps raise my spirits. “This is like a hug from the inside,” I tell Ma and my mother agrees.
“I never cook fish. Zayn used to be in charge of cooking fish,” my mother says and I feel a bolt of pain in my chest. I miss Zayn. I wish I had what they had. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for my mother.
Even in this situation with Adil and his child, I think of Zayn a lot. In some twisted irony of life, I am Zayn and Hana is me. I wonder if this family will even acknowledge the bombshell their son dropped on them earlier this week.
Adil and Uncle Moosa are uncharacteristically chummy over dinner — it feels a bit out of place. The last time I encountered Adil and his dad there were fireworks. Not tonight, apparently.
Even his mother is making an effort and is talking to my mother about Zayn. This won’t last long. I am gearing myself up for some drama.
I just found out today the man I love is a tendepreneur. Last week, I found out he had a baby.
I am ready for anything.
“So, have you two figured out when the big day is?” Adil’s dad asks and I cringe. Can we not talk about this right now?!
My mother saves the day. “She must first help me sort out my house before she thinks of getting married,” she teases, but the conversation pivots to her move.
Adil squeezes my hand under the table.
This night could have been worse.
“When are you guys leaving for London?” I hear my mother ask.
“We decided to stay through Christmas. Wrap everything up and go to Dubai in the new year,” Zeenat explains.
She obviously had to add that hasn’t been in South Africa during Christmas time for the last 16 years. When your husband steals taxpayer money of course you can afford trips to the Maldives.
Okay, I must not be so bitter.
Also, I don’t know if what Simmi said to me is true.
While everyone makes their way to the lounge for tea, Adil leads me to his now-empty room.
“What’s up?” I ask him.
“I just missed you so much!” he pulls me closer to him.
I should be more stoic. This man jumps between hot and cold. It’s a predictable cycle. He has no time for me, he pays some attention to me, I give in and move on.
“You look so pretty without makeup,” he says, caressing my face.
Do you blame me for caving?
By the time we rejoin the elders in the lounge for tea, Ayesha and her friend Sarah have arrived.
Ayesha gives me the warmest hug and kiss on the cheek but Sarah deliberately ignores me and greets Adil.
My problems are too many to be worrying about Sarah and her plethora of insecurities.
“I was telling your mother that you know we haven’t done the tradition of putting on the chain for our daughter-to-be,” Ma says to no one in particular.
The next thing I know, Adil’s mother comes out with a jewellery box and is “formally welcoming me to the family” by putting on a very ornate gold chain around my neck.
One moment I am sitting there in jeans and t-shirt and the next I have a heavy gold chain around my neck while Ma and my mum are teary-eyed.
This means I can’t change my mind about Adil.
It is what it is.
The gold chain seals the deal? I guess.
It doesn’t matter that there’s a child to figure out. I’m going to have to make this work.
When Adil drops us off, I ask him to come inside for a bit.
My mother leaves us and goes to her room to get ready for bed.
Adil sits on the couch and I lay into his physique while he plays with my hair.
“You are so gorgeous,” he says as he slowly strokes my head.
“Did you choose the chain?” Adil shakes his head. “I didn’t choose the chain but I chose you”.
He knows how to get me to forget a week’s worth of anxiety. As much as I want to forget about the world spinning around us, we have to talk.
“I didn’t like that you were so distant again this week,” I say.
“I’m sorry. My days have just been so hectic. Between lawyers dealing with Hana’s matter and my father’s issues I have not had time to think.”
“But it’s going to get worse when she arrives... you won’t have time for me”.
“Of course not love. Once my dad leaves, it’s going to be so much better. The company is completely mine — with fewer assets but at least I can do things the way I want to.”
“Are you excited for Hana arriving?”
“I wasn’t... Now I am.”
“How do you imagine your life?”
“Hmm... I imagine waking up to you every morning. Hana is in her room asleep. We exercise together at home, you go to make breakfast, I go to get done for work. Percy gets Hana done for school while you and I chat while you make lunch. I drop her off at school and I go to the office. At midday you do me a favour by fetching her from school. When I get home from work, we eat dinner that you so kindly prepared then we bath and change Hana and put her to bed. Then it’s our time,” he squeezes me at the end.
He has really thought about this.
“Our weekends include Friday night tradition at Ma’s. Saturday mornings we do a park run as a family then we do errands together, arguing whether fat-free milk is better. Then we leave Hana by your mum or Ayesha and we have Saturday nights to ourselves. Sunday’s a chill day and we watch movies together on the couch with Hana playing at our feet.”
This doesn’t sound half bad. I am ready to be a mummy blogger. Imagine the fun I will have packing cute lunches and organising parts of my fridge.
As Adil prepares to leave, I ask him if I’m seeing him tomorrow.
“I have work...”
“I just thought we could have one last day together. I need to do shopping.”
“Let me see how my day goes. I will call you after the mosque,” he says as he kisses my head.
If he can’t take me shopping he must at least give me money for some retail therapy.
As much as I used to fight Adil before, I’ve now decided that if I’m going to put up with all his drama, I may as well be a kept woman.
Where’s that car he offered? He can make it a Porsche.
One day, when I eventually go to a shrink to deal with all my issues — starting at my abandonment insecurities — I will try to understand why I feel sorry and make excuses for the people who hurt me.
At night when I am deep into insomnia I think about why I didn’t demand that Ozayr maintain me after my divorce. He was not heartless, he probably would have done it, but I made excuses for him in my mind. I actually felt sorry for him for not being supported by his family in choosing who he loved.
The same happened with Nabs. I still think about her and feel bad for her, especially since her business has been suffering. There are moments when I tell myself that maybe I should have let it go and even though I wouldn’t have had the money, I would have at least had my friend.
This abused-wife syndrome was no different when it came to Adil. He effectively lied to me by not telling me the biggest piece of information possible: that he has a two-year-old daughter who will now be living with him full time. Yet here I was, getting ready to go over to his new home to help him get ready.
When I got home last night, I cried myself to sleep. Thank goodness my mum was fast asleep by the time I got home, because I was not ready to have this conversation with her.
As I cried and cried I couldn’t help but shake the thought that this was karma or something for me being what many call a ‘bastard child’. Zayn raised me even though I was not his, and maybe this was some sort of test for me. Did Adil automatically think I’d be okay with it because of my own story? I also kept thinking about the little girl whose life has been turned upside down by adults fighting.
By the time I woke up this morning I had no tears left in me.
“Hey Adil. Hope you’re okay, love. I am happy and free to help you today,” I texted him and he immediately responded that he really would need my help.
First, we had to go to his Melrose townhouse to see if it was suitable for a child. Adil had planned for us to move there when we got married, but he is moving in sooner now that his child is coming to stay with him.
Adil fetches me but doesn’t come in to greet my mum. I don’t think he can face her as yet. I too avoided her all morning.
We drive to the Melrose home and it’s even nicer than I remember. It wasn’t a home though — just a perfectly staged house.
“I brought a book and a pen,” I say to him as we sit down on the couch.
“Mar... Baby, thank you”.
I ignore him and start making columns for the list. I really can’t start crying again.
I am not emotionally prepared.
“Okay. Let’s make a broad list of what you need and then we will fine tune it as we go,” I say, having no idea what I actually mean. Adil just nods.
“Okay. Say you stay here, you will stay in the master bedroom and you need to set up the adjacent room for the baby. If you have a sleep-in nanny there is the helper quarters in the back that’s perfect, you just need to furnish it. Okay?”
“Okay. Where shall I start?” he asks me for direction and I appreciate it.
“First things first, you need to get all your stuff from your house here. Maybe outsource that to Ayesha and Percy. Then we need to make a list of things for her room. A cot, new linen for the two single beds, a soft mat, maybe a few baskets just to make the room pretty and neat. After she comes we will decide what she needs. Then you need to stock up on groceries. And then we need other soft touches for the rest of the house, like towels and bath mats and stuff.”
Again, Adil just nods.
“Do you mind me making these lists?” I ask to make sure and he insists that he really appreciates my help.
He starts by calling Ayesha to ask her to start packing his things. He then calls one of his employees who had agreed to help him with the child to ask if she can come in Monday and she agrees.
We then go to one of their store rooms and meet the guys who do the staging when they want to sell units. They manage to find a bed, couch, fridge, stove and chest of drawers for the nanny’s room.
Once we pick what we need, they load the van and deliver it to the house while we go to the mall.
I am in overdrive. making sublists of the lists I have.
We start in the home store and I take over, putting in the trolley whatever I think Adil’s house needs. He just follows me with a trolley. Thankfully, he has the big stuff in the house and only needs stuff to make it a home. At first, I was price conscious but then I just gave in to what I liked and what suited my style.
We are yet to talk about what this hearing tomorrow means for our marriage but it feels good to just spend someone else’s money.
Before we get the groceries we go into the baby store, but Adil suddenly has to use the bathroom. I can feel that he is uncomfortable and emotional so instead he leaves his bank card with me and leaves. I always wanted to have kids. When I was married to Ozayr he refused to entertain the discussion but I have never been opposed to children. I think I could be a very good mother. Turning into a mum blogger would be a dream for me.
I scan through my list and pick out a few extra things that I think Adil may need for Hana.
I wonder what’s going through his mind right now. Does he feel guilty? Is he overwhelmed? Does he appreciate that I am helping him?
By the time I pay and leave the store I find him sitting on a bench staring into space. This can’t be easy for him.
I mean it’s not easy for me too. I just found out my fiancé has a child who he is getting full custody of. And his family doesn’t even know about the child. Worse, I have this feeling of obligation that is eating me up.
Adil takes the trolley, which is overflowing by now, to the car while I continue to the grocery store.
There is a part of me that can suppress all emotion to deal with a crisis at hand. I feel absolutely nothing and my mind is forcing me to focus on helping Adil.
I have a list of groceries and cleaning supplies he needs in his house, and that’s the focus now.
Also, buying groceries without a budget is a real treat. I put three types of honey in the trolley just because I could. Also why buy one type of cheese when you can get four? I have always wanted to make a cheese board at home.
By the time Adil comes back from offloading our earlier shopping in his car, I am pretty much done with grocery shopping.
“Do you want to check what else you need?” I ask him and he asks for spinach for his smoothies.
“I love grocery shopping without a strict budget,” I say to him and he starts laughing. The perfect ice breaker. I never had this luxury before. Food was always the budget I cut so I could afford clothes and shoes.
After this shopping trip I am tempted to shoot a ‘grocery haul’ video that American YouTubers do, but now is not the time to be thinking about content.
“We got the Sunday Times to pull the story because it involves a minor,” he says to me as we get into the car.
Maybe Simmi will know more about this, but I haven’t spoken to her in a while. I suppose that is a relief.
When we arrive at Adil’s new house, Ayesha and Percy are there unpacking all of Adil’s things.
They both give me tight hugs but we don’t talk about the elephant in the room. I am not ready to talk about it.
Instead, I focus on meticulously packing his fridge in a way that I would love. My Pinterest vision board is filled with fridge organisation pictures and I love that I can indulge in Adil’s fridge.
While I am in the kitchen, he goes to check on the nanny’s room. Ayesha is cleaning the bathrooms and Percy is unpacking a few boxes they brought from Adil’s parents house.
“Are you guys hungry?” Adil asks as he enters from the back door.
“I am starving and could do with a box of hot wings,” I say and Ayesha nods in agreement. There’s nothing like greasy food to make you forget your problems.
Adil leaves to get us food and Percy goes upstairs. Ayesha forces me to sit down.
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m good. Did you see the Pinterest fridge I set up?” I ask, desperately trying to change the subject.
She just sits, holding my hand and not saying anything.
I can’t start crying. Not now.
Eventually I have the strength to talk to her.
“When I find a shrink , I am telling her to clear her diary because your brother needs a truckload of therapy,” I joke and Ayesha starts laughing.
“Also me! We can have days. Monday is your day for therapy, Tuesday Adil, Wednesday me. Then rinse and repeat,” she laughs.
I don’t care what happens, I am definitely going to therapy in the new year. At some point you have to just deal with all your issues and lighten your burden. We all have issues. Some bigger than others. I feel foolish for believing that rich people didn’t have issues.
By the time I am done setting up the baby’s room and assembling the cot, Adil is back with our hot wings.
The house has one big bedroom on the ground floor along with a study. Then upstairs there’s the master bedroom, two smaller bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small pyjama lounge. It’s actually the perfect home for newlyweds. And a child, I guess...
“Babe, are you going to eat?” Adil says from downstairs.
When I get to the kitchen he gives me a hug and peck on the cheek and Ayesha grimaces. She is not used to us behaving like this.
“I am eating 16 wings by myself,” I say as we sit down to eat.
Part of me believes if your boyfriend or fiancé has a secret child it’s a definite dealbreaker.
The fact that he had a crazy past with lots of partying is also worrying.
But a bigger part of me says his child can’t be a dealbreaker for me. My own upbringing doesn’t give me the option to just walk away because there’s a child in the picture.
My issue is not really the child. It’s the history and drama of his family. He is already really emotionally wrecked before bringing a child into this situation.
It’s not going to be easy, with or without me.
“Okay, we’re going,” says Ayesha, and she and Percy leave after they tidy up from lunch.
I decide to walk through the house to see if everything is in order and as I pass the master bedroom, I can imagine myself living here. There is enough closet space for me and all my clothes, plus the study downstairs could be my filming room.
If my mother moves in with us, she has her own room downstairs that would be away from us so it gives her some privacy and peace.
I try to imagine our life together while I sit on his bed and look out the window at the next-door unit.
My life has changed so much in two weeks. We went from being engaged, meeting his parents and friends, starting to plan a wedding, to having to plan for a child.
“What are you thinking about?” Adil asks as he joins me in his room.
“I’m thinking about how crazy life is,” I smile at him.
“F***K.” I’ve never heard him swear before. It doesn’t suit him.
“What do we still need to do?” I ask him and just shakes his head.
“I don’t know what I would do without you. I mean it, Mar. I would have been a mess. I have made so many mistakes in the past.”
“We will figure it out.”.
“My parents... they are going to die.”
“We will figure it out. Let’s focus on getting through Monday.”
“How are you so fine? How are you so calm? Our lives are never going to be the same again,” Adil is suddenly frantically pacing up and down.
“One stupid night messed up my whole life,” he is now spewing venom.
“Adil, how is your life messed up? You have a beautiful house. You can afford to look after a child. How is your life messed up?”
I get super defensive because Zayn’s family used to say that about me.
“A child doesn’t ask to be born. And yes, it’s going to be hard. And yes, you screwed up but it’s time to get your shit together. You are a 30-year-old man who acts like a bloody juvenile delinquent in front of your parents. Get a grip on your life. You are a privileged ass who just happens to have a house and live-in help and every other possible resource to look after this child. You have a supportive sister and grandmother. Hell, you have a girl who will put aside her own feelings and help you get ready without a clue what this means for her relationship. At some point you need to get out of your head, face your demons and deal with your life.”
I don’t care if he is offended. Somebody had to tell him.
Mothers are the most perceptive human beings on this planet. They just know when things are wrong or not okay, even when there are no obvious signs.
My mother has always been this way and it made hiding things from her so much harder. Even after my divorce, it was so easy to keep things from her but somehow she would get me to tell her what’s going on in my life.
After my meeting with Adil’s parents and, later, his friends, I... how do I describe it..? I was in a pensive mood that was largely unlike me. There could have even been an air of melancholy surrounding me and I couldn’t find the cause.
I am getting married to a man I truly love and respect. A man who has treated me so, so kindly. He has only ever wanted the best for me and will without a doubt go to the end of the earth for me. The way I’m feeling doesn’t make sense. All I ever wanted was to feel secure. Affection and attention are just a bonus. Adil makes me feel secure.
What more can I ask for? I need to get these negative thoughts out of my head. I’m actually so lucky. Not only is this a time for me to have the wedding of my dreams, but it’s also the time to take my content on my social media to the next level.
Imagine all the outfit pictures and decor shoots! I could even have a ‘how to plan a wedding’ series. The content opportunities are endless!
I mean, I still need to sit and jot down my ideas to look at gaps where I can get brands to come in and sponsor parts of my wedding, but a part of me is avoiding that.
Before Adil proposed, I had this vision of how things would happen and how I’d have my Pinterest vision board ready for execution. The last time, I didn’t have a say even in the colour of the serviettes. This wedding is going to be planned to perfection.
I didn’t realise how low I’ve been feeling — anxious even — until my mother points it out to me on Friday after lunch.
“There’s something bothering you,” she says as she looks me dead straight in the eyes.
My mother knows how to unnerve you into honesty. It’s a gift she has that’s rather annoying.
“I don’t know. I have just been feeling a bit uneasy. I am not sure why…”
“Was it his family dynamic?” I had already told my mother about the absurdity of what I encountered when I met his parents for the first time. Ma even weighed in and detailed how crazy it was.
“No. I mean I knew he had a strange relationship with his parents. I just expected to be happier! I mean, look at this ring! It is stunning!”
“Are you unhappy?” my mother asks, and damn her for asking such deep questions. “No, I am not unhappy,” I say hoping this conversation will end and we can focus on her problems like the need to pack up her house and move her stuff to Johannesburg.
“Sometimes our subconscious is trying to tell us something and we just need to figure out what it is,” she says as I get up to wash the dishes and hopefully end this discussion.
Something is definitely making me feel uneasy, I just can’t figure out what.
Since the weekend when I met his parents, our routine was pretty much standard. At 6:15 he was outside to pick me up for the gym, we would do our thing in the gym then he would come in for breakfast with my mother and me and then leave for work.
My mother genuinely likes him and that means a lot to me.
This week showed that I can leave the two of them together when I go shower and they have enough to talk about. In the evenings, he calls me for a bit before he goes to bed which is new to our routine, but we don’t spend any extra time together.
Once I am done washing lunch dishes, I plop myself on my couch and call him. He answers immediately because we both know how weird it is for me to call him during that day.
“Hey, are you okay?” he answers.
“Yeah, I am good. I was just missing you.”
“Can I call you back in ten minutes?” is his ice-cold response.
We never really had a touchy-feely phase to our relationship but I suppose that is natural when you go from platonic friends to being engaged in under ten seconds.
A simple “I miss you too” to his fiancee would not kill him. I start mentally working myself up into a frenzy when eight minutes later — yes I counted — he returns my call.
“Sorry, Mar. I was with my lawyers,” he says.
“Is everything okay?” I ask, naturally concerned that he is meeting with lawyers on a Friday afternoon.
“Yeah... work stuff. What are you doing?”
“Nothing. I am just missing you,” I try again.
“I miss you more my baby.” I feel like a popsicle on a December day. I immediately melt into a pile of blushing mush.
“This is the first time you’ve called me baby,” I try to flirt.
“Shall I come pop by later after work?”
“Uhm... I was hoping we could go out?”
“Okay... I will wrap up work and then I will be by you at 7. It’s a date!”
“It’s our first date!” I say, and we both start laughing at the absurdity of it.
We’ve done funerals and looked at houses together but we are yet to have a fancy romantic date. I don’t even know what kind of date I like. I suppose dinner is our only option since I don’t have an attention span for the cinema. When last have I been on a proper date?
I suppose it was with Adil at the pizza place all those months ago. It wasn’t really a date. In hindsight, that non-date was the metaphor for the rest of our relationship — there but not there!
My mother chuckles when she sees me doing a full face of makeup, curl my hair to perfection and select the cutest outfit I own.
“Mum, I am not wasting this outfit, please take a cute picture,” I ask her and she shakes her head. “There is no free lunch. You’re going to have to take my pictures from now on,” I joke. She says if that’s the case then she’d much rather make her own lunch.
Adil is 30 minutes late and we get even more delayed when he comes in to talk to my mother. They hover over his iPad discussing floorplan options for an upcoming complex he is planning to develop.
I start walking to the door, hoping they get the hint that I just want to have some alone time with my husband-to-be.
Eventually, we get into the car and I am eager to find out what our plans for the night are.
“Is dinner at @Six okay?” he asks and I squeal like a teenage girl because I have been dying to try out this new trendy sushi place, but gosh it’s booked out months in advance. I even contacted their PR team to review it on my Instagram but they responded with a very polite “Who the heck are you?”
“You look pretty,” he turns and smiles at me as we pull into the parking lot.
“Thank you,” I say in a baby voice I didn’t think I had. Ok, what is wrong with me? No seriously, what is wrong with me? I am a whole 25-year-old that still thinks it’s cute to talk in a baby voice.
Adil is on his A-game like I have never seen before. He pulls out my chair for me, pours me water and even butters my roll for me. He is definitely a keeper! Well, I kinda have no choice but to keep him because your girl is not getting divorced twice.
“How did you get a reservation?” I ask and he laughs so hard he almost knocks down the olive oil.
“I have my ways,” he says with a smirk. It’s probably one of his famous friends.
Our first ‘date’ was everything I needed it to be, with hand-holding and him mouthing I love you when I walk back from the bathroom. I wish I could stay in this happy cocoon forever. He even remembered that I have a weak spot for crème brûlée and ordered one for us to share.
“This is amazing,” I say to him and he squeezes my hand.
“Is mum waiting for you? I have one more thing planned for us,” he says as he pays the bill and I ask a waiter to take a picture of me against their super famous lava wall. Content, honey!
“Do you know I don’t have a single picture of the two of us? Not even a selfie!” I tell Adil as we leave the restaurant.
He laughs and shakes his head, dead set against taking a selfie in the middle of @Six. “Don’t be such a prude. I won’t post it. I want to remember this moment,” I say, but Adil can barely respond before he runs into someone he appears to know.
I smile at the man who introduces himself as Thabo Mtshali, shake his hand and then edge away so that Adil and he can chat.
Almost instinctively, I look down at my phone and swipe through the pictures I have just taken in the restaurant. The lighting was so kind to me! These pictures have all my good sides!
As I rise from my moment of vanity, I hear Thabo Mtshali telling Adil something about the custody settlement hearing will be at 10am on Monday. Custody? I look at Adil, wondering what they are talking about and he looks like he has seen a ghost. In fact, he looks like a ghost, with all the colour drained from his face.
Again, I look at my phone and pretend to be interested in editing my pictures until Adil signals that he is ready to leave and Thabo walks away.
“Are you okay?” I ask him as his frown deepens.
He stays silent for a really long time and I just follow him to the car. As I get into the car he stands outside, saying he just needs to make a quick phone call and obviously doesn’t want me to hear the conversation.
It is almost 10pm on a Friday evening. Who is he calling?
I strain my ears and can only hear bits and pieces of what Adil is saying although I am sure I heard, “They need to stop playing games?” and “I am not going to give in like the last time”.
I am sure it’s just business stuff. He did tell me he was busy with his lawyer earlier this afternoon and last weekend his dad did say that he wanted to relinquish ownership of their family property business — or at least that’s what I understood him as saying.
Adil gets into the car and tries to smile at me, almost to indicate everything is fine, but his face is betraying him. There is no way everything is fine.
Whatever Thabo Mtshali told him, it’s haunting him right now.
“Are we going somewhere else?” I ask him once we hit the road but it takes him a while to respond.
“Do you want to go somewhere? I am tired. Can we go home please?” he says and I know he is lying about being tired. Adil is a night owl. I am the one who is in bed strictly at 9pm like a granny. But tonight I had planned to spend as much time as I possibly can with him.
While I silently debate whether to ask him what’s going on, Adil gets another call as he drives.
I decide to google Thabo Mtshali, just to get a sense of who he is because he looked like some high-flying lawyer. ‘Thabo Mtshali is a renowned family lawyer specialising in child law cases’, his LinkedIn profile reads.
I look at Adil and he is listening intently to whoever is on the other side of the call.
“But who leaked that information?” he asks and then listens intently for a while.
This definitely sounds serious. Too serious for me to demand answers immediately.
Adil lets out a sigh that bears the sound of defeat. He takes a moment to compose himself and then looks at me with a fake smile.
“I need to go to my office, can I make you a coffee there before I take you home?” he offers, clearly trying not to ruin the end of what was really a good night. Before we bumped into the lawyer, we were both really present and enjoying our date. He taught me how to eat edamame beans after I told him how I embarrassed myself at a function once and began chewing the peel of the beans and was forced to spit it out in my tissue. He ordered me a side portion of sashimi even though he hates it. It was a good night!
It was my first time at Adil’s offices which was obviously deserted because it was past 10pm on a Friday night. He makes me comfortable on the couch and switches on the fancy coffee machine before going into his office to print documents.
At first, I was irritated by the interruption to our romantic evening out but I now appreciate the effort he is making to be normal even though there is some crisis he is dealing with.
“Are you okay?” I ask him as he sits down next to me with our drinks.
Again, a deep sigh. This time it’s followed by a long hug that turns passionate.
He holds me tight and I can feel the tension in his body. He is clearly not okay.
“Adil... you can talk to me. I am here for you,” I say.
He stares at nothing before the situation visibly dawns on him.
“Mar. I don’t know how to tell you this. And I didn’t think I would have to tell you this tonight,” Adil says clearly perturbed.
If he cries, I will start crying. Too late. As much as I try to resist, the moment I see his eyes, my eyes start watering.
It feels like eternity passing on that couch as we sit there in silence, with only the noise of sniffing and wiping our tears.
I figured it out. I don’t know how but my gut and the result of the google search pieced together the entire evening.
“Adil, it’s okay. You will figure out the custody case,” I say as my stomach feels like it just survived a sucker-punch.
I secretly pray that it is not true. That my gut feeling that Adil has a secret child whose custody he was fighting for is just my imagination running wild. It can’t be. It really can’t be.
“Mar... I didn’t tell you because it was not a reality up until now. Nobody knows about this.”
It was my time to let out a guttural sigh. “If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s okay,” I say, unsure if I am ready to handle the truth.
“Well, I have no choice but to tell you... because the Sunday Times is printing the story on Sunday.
“I met Laura through Alicia like four years ago… One night at one of our buddies wedding stuff happened and... Uh... two months later she called me to say she was pregnant. I know. I am sorry. I am not proud of my past. We tried to make it work for the child but our relationship didn’t last and I have been fighting for joint custody of Hana for the past two years. I gave up before we met because I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere and my parents... you know... But the lawyers had changed tact now that Laura had moved to the US and left Hana with her mum. When we bumped into Thabo he confirmed that they have agreed to give me full custody of Hana if I pay an amount.”
Adil has a two-year-old child. And I agreed to marry him without knowing this.
I sit there, staring at the door, and replaying what he just told me over in my mind.
“You were dating Laura Menta?” I squeak out my gut feeling. Laura is a famous celebrity who used to be friends with Alicia Mdondo, Adil’s friend. She moved to New York to pursue her acting career there.
I have no idea how I pieced all of that together in 10 seconds.
“How..? Yes... It was just... Mar, I am so sorry.”
Again he cries and I cry. This time it takes us a while to compose ourselves.
I will never not trust my gut ever again.
“How? How…” I try to ask him how this could have happened..
“I have done really stupid things in my life, Mar. I can’t even begin to tell you how stupid and reckless I’ve been. I was with Laura at a stage in my life when I was partying like there was no tomorrow. It’s probably the reason why, as much as I liked you, I didn’t want to make a move on you because I was scared that the person I really am will eventually unravel.”
“Do your parents know?”
“They found out when Laura fell pregnant. That’s why my relationship with them has really soured. But they don’t know that I have been trying to seek sole custody of Hana,” he says, holding onto my hand.
“So what happens on Monday?” I ask, trying to wear my rational hat and not give in to my emotions.
“On Monday I have to appear in court to finalise the settlement agreement. Then they are expected to drop Hana off by the close of business.”
“Do you not think it’s unfair to take her away from her mother?”
“It is not fair Hana has been staying with her grandmother while Laura has been travelling nonstop. To be honest, Laura told Alicia that she didn’t want to be held back by a child and they only fought me for the money. I have been paying exorbitant maintenance without basic visitation rights. Before I met you... I was dead set that I wanted to raise my child,” he says looking straight into my eyes.
“And now? How do you feel?”
“I feel angry... angry that after I have given up hope on the custody process and I met you and after months of being too scared of telling you how I feel, I finally propose and now this. I feel really guilty for not telling you about this upfront. You are going to leave me now, aren't you?”
The thought of leaving Adil hadn’t even crossed my mind until now. I don’t respond.
“How do you feel? I know it’s a lot,” he says to me.
“I don’t know how to feel. I think I am just shocked.”
"I love you, Maariah. I really love you. I know this is a lot. We will figure it out," he says again as he hugs me and buries his head in my neck.
Imagine having to tell my mother that I found out that Adil has a secret child that he has just won custody of.
Have the wedding of your dreams, they said. You only get married once, they said.
First of all, how is ‘you only get married once’ still a thing in 2019? I thought the world would’ve learned from Hollywood by now. Nobody gets married once.
People marry once. People marry twice. Gosh, I know an old lady in Nelspruit who married four times and was widowed each time. Life happens. I don’t think everyone is meant to have one soul mate for the rest of their lives. Those who do are lucky. The rest of us have to kiss a few toads before we find our prince. I didn’t kiss any toad; I married the first one that showed up at my door! Why is there no fairytale about that girl in Disney!
The first time I got married it was small and simple and at the cost of my in-laws. I got to choose nothing but the shoes I wore on the day. My dress was borrowed, my veil was rented, and the entire reception was planned and paid for by Ozayr’s mother. I was honestly a guest at my own wedding.
This time around, I am doing things right. I have a Pinterest vision board and I plan on having a cake tasting and all the frills. I don’t care that it’s my second wedding but I am wearing a big fat white gown with the longest veil a la Priyanka Chopra-Jonas.
For the first time in my life, I want it all. I deserve it all.
This blogger, Amanda S, got married recently and she arrived in a horse and carriage and her groom arrived in a helicopter. She even had cherry blossoms flown in from Japan for the decor.
This is the brattiest I,ve been in my entire life, but honestly why can other girls have it all? I’ve been through hell and back. I literally had to beg Adil to tell me how he feels for me.
I probably have to put up with an emotionally unavailable control freak for the rest of my life, so this wedding better be worth it.
Gosh. Who the hell says that?
Before I even start thinking about wedding plans, I have to get ready to meet Adil’s parents for the first time and your girl is sweating buckets.
Ayesha has been really calm about everything and she insists that they will love me. Ma seemed to suggest that I should ignore whatever “that daughter-in-law of mine says”, almost preempting something negative. And Adil has been freaking out for two whole days.
My mother flew in from Nelspruit the day after we called her to tell her the news and she has been so happy to be around. I think she’s comforted by the fact that I have a solid base and that my job to post things on the internet has become a “real job”.
It’s been hilarious to see Adil rant to my mother about his mother and how she doubts every decision he makes. My mother has always been a great listener and a good person to go to for advice. I mean, she’s relatively young — she is 42 years old — which is about 14 years older than Adil. It’s a bit weird, but whatever.
People always think we are friends and I suspect if I didn’t have white genes they would think we were sisters. She was 17 when she had me, after all.
To be widowed at 42 is sad but somehow my mother is still as full of life as she’s always been. Last night when we were sitting and chatting about my work and my plans for my brand and blog, I told her that I want to start an online store that I want her to run.
She gets paid a pittance anyways from the library and I really want her to move to Jo’burg to be closer to me. For the first time ever she didn’t explicitly say no and seemed somewhat interested in the suggestion. I hope I can convince her soon enough.
From the time she was 17, her life has been focused on making ends meet and looking after me. And while I get her argument that she’s too young not to work, I do think she does deserve some pampering.
Adil and I decided that I should meet his parents without my mother at first and then set a lunch date where they can meet each other. Ma initially suggested it and I trust her advice because Adil acts irrationally when it comes to his parents.
I am satisfied with what I see in the mirror; wide-leg black culottes, a pink boxy top from Zara and black kitten heels. It’s the right mix between casual and formal and I add a pair of earrings just for a little sophistication.
For a while, I mull over how to tie my hair. Sometimes over-styled hair is a little bit offensive in a casual setting. But my signature messy-on-purpose ponytail probably doesn’t suit the occasion.
While I am at it, I am going to take a few bomb selfies because why waste good makeup, honey?
I make use of some miracle oil to sleek back my hair and to tie my hair in a low ponytail. I spritz a new perfume I’m reviewing and I’m good to go.
“You look nice,” my mother says as I walk into the room I set up for her.
“Are you going to be okay? I’m leaving the car, in case you want to go to the mall. You know the Netflix password?”
“Hey! I am fully capable of looking after myself. I might just go and take a swim.”
“Okay, I will message you before we leave there.”
“Don’t be nervous. Don’t let other people’s bad energy affect you. Just be who you are and don’t worry about anything else,” she says as I hug her.
Adil comes to fetch me and pops in to greet my mother briefly. He looks more stressed than I do, and it’s his parents.
“She seems excited to see you,” he says about his mother when we get into the car.
The vision I had of Adil’s mum in my head was that she’s an old grouch who is so career-driven that she doesn’t take care of herself or anyone around her. I envisioned her to be a sad, lonely person.
I was NEVER ready for a beautiful woman with thick hair (clearly extensions) and the skinniest waist ever.
“You never tell me you got yourself a famous friend, Adil,” she says in a fake London accent as she hugs me and welcomes me to her home.
I scurry over to greet Ma who goes on a rant about how my baking is far better than any ‘Voolverts’ cakes.
“Oh, so you’re already trying to fatten us with your baking!” Adil’s mother jokes in a sickly sweet voice.
She insists I call her Zeenat and not aunty which seems inappropriate to say the least. We are not friends! Hell, she is older than my mother — although she could pass as my sister.
Her fashion style is on fire though. Definitely not my price point!
Adil’s father, Moosa, is a typical 50-something-year-old Indian dad with his potbelly and dry sense of humour. From the moment I meet him, I know that the two of us will get along quite well. I have never seen a more oddly suited couple in my life. This wasn’t even chalk and cheese.
“So Maariah! I follow your blog quite religiously,” Adil’s mother... Zeenat says.
Why a 49-year-old woman taking style tips from a 25-year-old is beyond me. Adil rolls his eyes and Ayesha has a permanent smile on her face. I look over to Ma who very evidently can’t hide her contempt for her own daughter-in-law. She decides to ignore everyone else and chat with me.
“For December I want to bake for all the security guards here at the estate. I am thinking we can make scones. You will come to help me?” she asks, almost to prove to Adil’s mother that we have a pre-existing strong bond.
“So, you love baking?” Zeenat asks me, trying to join in. I cringe.
“I love making old-fashioned home stuff,” I say.
“Oh, I have no time for such stuff. I just order everything. On Eid day I make nothing,” she says hubristically.
“Maariah, I hear you’ve become Ma’s favourite?” Uncle Moosa jokes.
“I think I am the only one that lets her have cake with her tea,” I joke back and appreciate the overall laughter.
I can understand why Adil has a tense relationship with his parents even though he is 30. His mother has a Sarah Jessica Parker vibe to her but there’s just this cold aura that seeps through. She is not outright rude or grumpy, in fact, quite the opposite of that. She is quite cheerful but it feels disingenuous. This is just my first impression, but it bothers me that she acts as if Ma doesn’t exist and is obviously condescending to Adil. It is weird.
Also, I see why Adil is a Mr-Fix-It. Ma was complaining about her back so Adil’s dad bought her a massage chair. I think it’s in their nature.
It’s funny to see Ayesha become completely incapable in front of her dad. A whole 26-year-old getting her dad to dish out for her and asking him for money so she can go shopping. I don’t even think she needs the money, but I suppose we all have different relationships with our parents. I would never in my wildest dreams have asked Zayn for money when he was alive. Hell, I could barely accept the inheritance he left for me.
After lunch, Adil leads the way to the terrace where Percy has set up for tea and laid out all the stuff I baked. My mousse cake looks so good on Zeenat’s expensive crockery — I struggle not to snap a pic. Even the swiss rolls survived despite the heat.
Adil looks the most stressed I have ever seen him and Ma seems flustered.
Why am I so calm? What is the worst that could happen?
Well, they can freak out when Adil tells them we are getting married.
Or they could love the idea.
Zeenat looks like she would rather be somewhere else. Ayesha and Ma already know, but they look like they’re anticipating drama.
Adil’s dad seems nice enough. But it’s clear as day that they don’t have a good relationship. In fact, it feels like they are more associates than father and son.
“So, Daddy...” Adil starts.
“Do you also want shopping money?” he jokes and Adil rolls his eyes. I still can’t wrap my head around how mulish and juvenile Adil is around his parents. It’s weird. He is not an immature person but with his parents he is five minutes away from throwing a full-blown tantrum.
“So, I’m getting married,” Adil drops the bomb and his father is clearly shocked. He was definitely not expecting this news. What is wrong with this family? Ma and Ayesha knew, could they not have given the father a heads-up?
Why couldn’t Adil have this conversation when I was not here?!
“To who?” Uncle Moosa asks and I don’t know if he is joking or not. He has to be joking, right? I can feel blood rush to my face and I desperately hope I am not flushed. I will just stare at my phone until this awkward moment is over.
“Dad! I am getting married to Maariah,” he says to his father, without looking at me. I want to die of embarrassment. Kill me already!
“Oh?!” his father seems shocked. I just don’t know if he is good-shocked or bad-shocked.
“What, Dad?” Adil barks. I want the earth to swallow me whole.
“Guys, not now,” Ayesha intervenes, trying to preempt what’s to come. It looks like she has been through this before. Meanwhile, I am caught in the crossfire between father and son.
“I am just surprised, that’s all,” Uncle Moosa says.
“What are you surprised about? Say it!” I can see the veins in Adil’s forehead. His aggression towards his father is so visible.
“No, never mind... I just didn’t think you would... given your history,” his father says. Ermmm, what history??
Adil doesn’t say anything and I stir my tea a lot more than necessary.
“Why are you like this, dad?” he fires at his father.
“I am happy. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy. I didn’t know we were meeting your future wife today. I thought we were meeting your friend. I am glad. I am so happy,” he says again.
This man can’t show emotion for shit. I can see why Adil even struggles to say ‘I miss you’ sometimes.
“Oh Mar... Let me give you a hug! Welcome to the family, although you have always been part of our family,” Ma says dramatically, although we told her yesterday and she was so happy she couldn’t contain herself.
“Oh, that’s wonderful news... but didn’t you just recently get divorced?” Wow, Adil’s mother knows how to throw shade. Lord. Have. Mercy. On. Me.
I knew this family was intense but I was not expecting this. How do I even respond? Is it a rich people thing to be so passive aggressive with your own family?
How is this a normal reaction to what most people would consider to be good news? Things have gone from zero to 100 in under 10 seconds. I’m starting to understand why Adil and Ayesha aren’t close to their parents.
Things are deteriorating far too quickly; the atmosphere is icy between us all. Ma looks heartbroken and even Percy has a look of anxiety on her face.
“I’ve had enough. Mar, let’s go!” Adil says to me.
I stare at Ma, hoping she would save the situation, but she avoids eye contact.
“I am just asking... I am happy for you guys,” Zeenat says in the sweetest tone she can find.
“Dad... can you tell your wife to stop being a troublemaker!”
“Listen here... calm down. You are always irrational, Adil. She’s just asking a question.”
“You always see no wrong in what she does.”
“I have no time for this,” Zeenat says and walks back into the house.
Ayesha steps in.
“Mar, let’s go hang out in my room,” she says.
“How... why now? I want to get to know my daughter-in-law-to-be,” Adil’s father says.
“I was dreading this day for this very reason,” Ayesha says.
“Come Mar,” Adil says to me as he gets up to leave.
“Adil, you’re not going anywhere. Just sit down. Zeeny! Zeeny! Come here,” Uncle Moosa shouts. She ignores him.
“So... when are you two planning to get married?” he asks.
“We are going to elope,” Adil says as he gets up to get more cake.
I laugh but I don’t know if he’s being serious or not. And his father doesn’t react.
“I am tired,” Adil says.
“Okay. Is there anything I should worry about?” his father asks.
“NO!” he says and I start laughing in disbelief. Does he think I am pregnant? We are yet to hold hands in public, uncle!
“How long have you guys been dating?” his father persists.
“Uh... we didn’t date. We’ve been friends for a few months”.
“Then why rush into getting married?”
“You won’t understand,” he says defensively.
“Maariah, you were married before?” Oh God. Now it’s my turn to be interrogated. Let’s get this over with.
“Jee. When I was much younger. It just didn’t work out.”
“So you didn’t leave your husband because of my son’s charm?”
“Absolutely not! I’ve been divorced for almost five years.”
“Oh okay. Whereabout are you from?”
“Dad! This is not a gaam in India!”
“I am from... I’m from Mpumalanga.”
Please can this stop. Please can this stop. Please. There’s something seriously wrong with this family.
“Just get married while we’re still here.”
“You leave in three weeks”.
I’m going to throw up.
“Dad, I think you should meet Maariah’s mother and then we will decide later what’s going to happen,” Adil saves the day.
“We can leave for Mpumalanga tomorrow?”
“Her mother is with her here in Joburg”.
“But what about her dad?”
This guy though!
“Her stepfather passed away recently,” Adil says with a glare that makes me think he is contemplating beating up his dad.
I get up as Ma does to pack the tea things to the kitchen in the hope to escape the drama of Adil and his father. I find his mum laying on the couch scrolling through Instagram. Ayesha has had enough of her family and went to her room. I try really hard not to judge because my family is pretty crazy, but this is dysfunctional on another level. And here I thought rich people didn’t have dysfunctional lives. When you grow up poor or working-class, you always look at rich people like they have no problems at all. If you have the level of wealth Adil’s dad has, he’s supposed to have a stress-free life, right? If it were not for Ma, this family would be in tatters. There would be no family.
I help out in the kitchen for a while but then go back outside where the two of them are now talking passionately about their business. It’s awkward. But then again, this whole day has been awkward.
“I think we must just put those Melrose units on sale,” Adil’s father says.
“It makes no sense. That property was R4 million. We built for about R2 mil. and we have six houses in the complex — seven if you count my unit — renting at a premium price. From rental alone, we make R2 mil per year. In three years, it will be paid up and then that R2 mil will be pure profit and will increase.”
“But we can sell each unit for 3.9 ... That’s 23 bar and no headache.”
“Dad, you wanted to diversify your property portfolio.”
“I want to start cutting back.”
“Like sell up?”
“No... like separate the business and make you 100% owner and whatever assets are mine share it between you and your sister and invest in stock and relax.”
“Dad you are not even 60. You are young. Are you not going to be living in London forever? You need a business when you are back”.
“I wanted to tell you. We are moving to Dubai. Mummy’s company has given her a job to head the firm’s expansion to the Middle East. So, I want to start investing in property there, tax-free.”
“Why are you so wrapped around her finger?!” Adil snaps.
“Adil, I am warning you.”
“I’ve slogged day and night to build your company only for you to want to go relocate?”
“Listen... this is not up for discussion.”
“When you left you owned a few properties. Today it’s a multimillion-rand company. Why would you want to kill it?”
“I’m not killing it. I’m saying to you, I don’t want profits anymore. You can run the business as you see fit. I just want to tie up loose ends.”
“You mean... sell up and leave for good?”
“Look, your property development side of things is doing well. You don’t need to combine it with the rentals. My view is the economy is not growing. The expensive property, sell it all before we get to a point where we can’t get tenants. And I’m ready to try something new.”
Adil seems so insulted and annoyed. I don’t know what’s going on.
Later when we get in the car he starts ranting.
“Babe... I ... This man! Okay. I’m... I’m just so frustrated! How can he think he can just sell up after all the effort I put in?”
Babe? That’s new.
“Ads, just leave him. He thinks differently. You can do this yourself. You’ve been doing it yourself. You can build the business how you want to,” I say, trying my best to be a supportive partner. The truth is, I have no clue what this means. I just can’t understand how one family can be so dysfunctional.
“Are we going home? To my place?”
“I just need to chill out for a bit. Do you want to come with me somewhere?”
“Sure. But I’m too full to eat,” I say.
“I just want to let loose and chill. This man is going to kill me.”
“Where are we going?”
“Just to a spot I know,” he says as he drives towards Bryanston.
I haven’t really been out with Adil besides the usual getting food or doing the odd errand. We’ve been on road trips together back and forth from Nelspruit, but we haven’t even gone to the movies together.
We get to a place that looks like a quiet strip mall, but when we get to his ‘spot’ it turns out to be a loud smokey karaoke bar where every person inside seems to know Adil.
“Adilistooooo,” someone whistles as we walk in.
“Who is this sugar on your arm?” a woman asks him and when I look closer it’s Alicia Mdonda! THE Alicia Mdonda, TV personality, radio show host and basically celeb.
Then I see Shaun Piper, an Insta-famous guy I know from blogger events. The music is blaring so I can barely greet everyone properly but I see Adil hug Alicia.
“This is Maariah,” he introduces me with a level of confidence I haven’t seen in him before. He is a different man.
Soon we are all in a circle, singing to the karaoke while others are drinking. Being sober around drunk people is probably the worst thing in the world. But thankfully, Alicia and her friend Bec, who I’ve met at events, are not drinking either so we hang out with them as they dance and try to teach Adil to do a vosho.
The only reason why I know what the vosho is, is because I went to an event with a fashion label and they had an opening party with a DJ and they had these girls dropping down and up when the music dropped. I was embarrassed at how everyone looked at me when I asked what they were doing.
I obviously had to google it and according to Google: “the ‘vosho’ can be described as a South African dance that involves squatting and kicking at the same time”.
Now imagine a stiff Indian boy who has never been to a township in his life trying to vosho and being cheered on by a bunch of his friends. Thank God I’m wearing waterproof mascara because I’m literally crying with laughter.
“You look like you’re having an epileptic fit!” I shout over the music.
It’s just crazy to see Adil have a whole other life outside of his family that’s so different and interesting and weird. In that moment of the attempted vosho, I completely forgot about the day that was and the drama.
Once the attempted dancing is done, we decide to leave this place and go to a nearby hotel for dinner around the pool. It was just me, Adil, Alicia, Bec and Adil’s two other friends, Ishaaq and Joe.
“How did you guys become a crew?” I try to strike up a conversation.
“We were all losers in high school so we stuck together and stayed friends since,” Alicia says.
“Ahhhh Al! I wasn’t a loser, I just felt sorry for you guys,” Adil jokes, again with a confidence I haven’t witnessed before.
“Your granny packed the best lunches. Yoh! We only became friends with you for lunch!” Joe jokes.
“Woooooo girl! This boy’s lunches were lit! Samoosas for starters, chicken strips for mains and a small container with dessert! Some days we would steal his lunch box, hide and eat,” Alicia laughs.
“Guys, if you think my granny loves me you need to see her around Maariah! She’s literally the new favourite.”
“You guys are ‘met the parents’ serious?”
“I told you, we’re getting married!” Adil says.
“FRIEND! LOOK at that RING,” Bec screeches and a flurry of congratulations follows. We are definitely getting side-eyes from other patrons.
“So, when did you propose?” Bec asks, and Adil looks at me and laughs.
“I didn’t propose. We are brown people. It’s the natural course of life. You meet, you briefly get to know each other, then you get married,” Adil jokes and I cringe a little. It wasn’t romantic at all, that’s just the truth.
“Wait hold up! You are brown?!” Alicia looks at me suspiciously.
“Yes! My mother’s Indian.”
“No ways! When you walked in I thought, ja eish Adil is dating another white girl,” Alicia jokes and everyone starts laughing. I don’t get it.
“Wait, so who is white in your family because you are definitely not brown?!” Joe says.
“My biological father is white. But I’m brown as brown can be,” I say.
“Like you can make samoosas and roti brown?” Alicia asks and I almost fall over in laughter. I am so brown, I make my own biryani from scratch.
“I met Maariah... some months back. But we were just friends...” Adil says.
“And now you’re getting married? Haibo? Just like that?” Joe asks and Ishaaq is dying with laughter because he knows the deal.
“You’re not pregnant, right?,” Bec asks, exasperated and I start blushing like hell while Adil shakes his head and laughs.
“My old man asked the same thing,” Adil says as his ears turn bright red.
I giggle but it’s a bit disconcerting. I don’t know if they are saying it in a way that means they think I would trap him with marriage by falling pregnant, or that Adil is reckless. Also the fact that we barely hold hands makes it a little more offensive. My mind starts drifting to Adil’s past. Maybe there’s some history that made his father and friends assume he is marrying me because he knocked me up? IDK.
“Well, Maariah, welcome to our madness,” Bec says as she starts explaining that no matter how crazy everyone’s lives are they try to meet at least once a month for some “raucousness that we can’t have in public”. Alicia is a local celeb, Bec is a PR girl, Joe works in investment banking and Ishaaq is a photographer. Oh, and Adil runs his father’s company.
They all went to a super snotty private school where all the famous sportspeople come from. It’s incredible that like 12 years after high school they are still friends. I didn’t have a big group of friends at school and when I left school, I immediately got married so I’ve never seen any of them again.
“When’s the wedding? Please have a destination wedding, friend,” Alicia says
“We’re thinking of just having a religious ceremony in the mosque,” Adil says and I just smile but I am dying on the inside. This time around I am going to get the wedding I want. Adil will have to get in line because what’s the point in getting married if I don’t get to have a wedding?!
“You guys! Don’t play, man! You guys need a wedding. In fact, WE need a wedding,” Joe says.
“You do know that there’s no partying at our weddings. It’s boring!”
“Don’t lie! Mina, I watch Bollywood movies,” Alicia says.
“Uh... Bollywood movies are Hindu weddings. Muslim weddings it’s all about the food,” Ishaaq throws in.
“Wena Maariah! Don’t give in to this trash bag here. We want to come for biryani!” Alicia says to me and I laugh.
“Girl you must milk your wedding for content for your blog. I can even help,” Bec says.
“We will still see. It’s early days,” I say looking at Adil.
“Adil you swine! Give the girl a wedding of her dreams man!” Alicia says as she hits his shoulder.
“Okay. Okay. But Mar, you have less than three weeks to plan because my dad is only around for three weeks,” Adil says.
“Hey how’s the big man? Is he still such a dzaddy? I had such a crush on him,” Bec says to Ishaaq and the rest of us are laughing at Adil who is pulling his face in disgust. Then he asks: “What's a dzaddy?” And Alicia almost falls off her chair laughing.
We are all messed up by some elements of our childhoods — some more than others. The reality of life is that we all have things we need to speak to a shrink about. You may find a child who’s had an easy life, with two kind and loving parents, still has a whole lot of issues as an adult. My childhood has given me the most obvious of the lot — abandonment issues — but that’s a discussion for another day.
Adil and Ayesha grew up relatively middle class, have both parents and have a grandmother that dotes on them. They are also successful professionally and are genuinely good people. They seem like they have no problems, but I’ve never met two people who have such a strained relationship with their mother. Even over the phone, it’s just curt and cordial.
I don’t truly understand why she chooses to work in London when Adil has made his father’s company pretty profitable, but maybe this allows for there to be peace between Adil’s father and his two kids. I don’t think she was or is Cruella de Vil but something must have happened that she shut herself down from emotionally connecting with them. At first I was angry at the fact that Adil could not demonstrate his emotions besides fixing problems, but I’m starting to see where his issues stem from.
The reality of growing up is that we can’t let our childhood hang-ups haunt us for the rest of our lives. We need to navigate past them, or at least find common ground with the people in our lives. So, although I insisted I pay my own way, I accepted the help Adil gave. I need independence, but he needs to show he loves me by helping me, say, sort out my cupboards.
Not much has changed since we’ve become ‘serious’ in terms of our relationship. To an outsider it probably seems platonic, and sometimes in moments of self-doubt I believe that I am truly the problem. How is it that first I marry someone who doesn’t love me and then I fall in love with someone who finds it difficult to articulate his feelings for me? It has to be me! I’ve got to be the problem.
There is nothing I can do. I much rather have a reticent Adil in my life than not have him at all. I don’t think I can change him. How do you make a man affectionate towards you in a way you need them to be? I suppose it’s best to just accept him for the way he is.
At the same time, I’ve noticed that he has become a lot more compromising in his insistence to do things for me. Like when I finally bought my car, instead of taking over the process, he just supported me. It sounds silly but doing it by myself enabled me to think properly about my finances and the fact that I’ve never owned a car before.
I decided to reach out to a dealership in Sandton that I previously worked with on a launch party and said I was looking for something budget friendly.
In no time I got a call from the marketing manager, Lilly, who offered me a deal where they sell me a VW Polo at a significantly reduced rate and all the extras free if I commit to giving them publicity. Hashtag influencer perks.
I ran it past Adil who called around for quotes to double check if I was getting a good deal and it turned out I saved about R100 000. Because of the savings Zayn left for me in his estate, I was able to buy the car cash. The only expenses I have to budget for was the monthly insurance and petrol.
I digress but you get the point. Instead of fighting it out, I’ve decided to communicate and articulate how I feel, like an adult.
(Sidenote: Adulting is overrated and independence is a trap.)
Instead of going in circles, I decide to be open and upfront and just say what’s on my mind. So, after agonising over it for three weeks, this morning on the treadmill at the gym, I start.
“Adil,” I say
“Yes Mar? What’s up?” he asks as he takes off his headphones and I hear that he is casually listening to a podcast on artificial intelligence. Who listens to a podcast about AI and the digital economy at 6:30 in the morning?
“When you think of marriage do you think about it in the near or distant future?”
“I am okay with anything.”
“I know... but what would you prefer? Being married soon or would you want to wait a bit?”
“I don’t care about being married,” he says as my heart sinks. Then he quickly adds, “I just want to live and be with you.”
“I get you. So you wouldn’t care if it’s just a nikaah in the mosque?”
“Yes! That suits me fine but I think a wedding is not about the man. It’s about the woman and she must plan it exactly how she imagines it.”
“What about marriage? What are your thoughts on marriage?”
“I think marriage is a lifelong partnership where husband and wife are equal partners. Where one falls short in one area, they make up in other areas. For me a marriage is a partnership. We have to have a common purpose and a shared vision.”
I take a moment to think about what he’s just said, but there’s something else I need to know too: “Are you ever going to romantically propose to me?”
“I don’t think so,” he says seriously, knowing that I understand what he means.
“Should I organise a small engagement now that my mother is out of her mourning period?”
“Yes, that would be nice,” he says with a slight frown.
If anyone was eavesdropping to our conversation at the gym, they would think we are dysfunctional. For the most part we are. We are talking about spending the rest of our lives together, but it seems like we’re setting up an outing with friends — like a casual trip to the movies.
“Did I tell you my parents are coming down this weekend?”
“Ma was saying they were thinking of coming soon but I didn’t know it was this weekend.”
“Yeah. I am coming to stay by you. I can’t deal.”
I just keep focusing on running on an incline and don’t respond.
“What are you doing after this?” he asks me as we leave the gym.
“I told Ma that I’ll bake for her,” I say.
“I swear you are my granny’s favourite grandchild!”
“I make time for her,” I say with a smile.
“Shall we go? I have an hour-long meeting. You can bake in that time ... then I will fetch you to go look for a ring?”
“Yes. Don’t you want a ring?”
“Like an engagement ring?”
“Yes! What did you think? Shall I come at 11?”
“Make it 12. I have a lot to bake.”
“Okay I will come at 11, and help you.”
I can’t help but laugh at Adil. It’s just who he is. Buying a ring is checking off a box in his mind. Would I have wanted flowers and candles and romance when he proposed? Of course! Imagine the content I could get out of that! But I guess I am just grateful to have him — the fact that he is buying me a ring is an added bonus.
Adil’s suggestion that he would come and help me bake is a recipe for disaster because him helping me means he will sit there for an hour convincing me that there’s a reason why bakeries exist and why the price of convenience is worth it.
But I understand why Ma loves home baked goods. While I am not as fancy as her other granddaughter, my baking is hearty and good. I learnt how to bake all the old-fashioned Indian delicacies from Ozayr’s mother.
There was a time in my life when I was addicted to Bollywood series on Zee TV so I would cook and bake like I was racing against time so I could get back to the TV to watch my series. In Ozayr’s house, there had to be baking every day but after my divorce, I didn’t bake for years. Gosh, I hardly cooked — I lived on canned tuna and chickpeas.
When I visit Ma I bake a bit for her in her kitchen, and gosh it’s a dream to bake in Adil’s house because they have every utensil and equipment fathomable. I once randomly found hazelnut praline paste in their pantry and asked Ma if I could make a cheesecake with it.
I also baked one day with Adil’s cousin Fatima who specialises in patisserie and she taught me to make some complicated tarts that you can’t just follow a recipe for. You probably have to sell a kidney for some of the ingredients, but it is so worth it!
I’ve been thinking of hosting a patisserie workshop with her in a professional kitchen. I must jot that down and remember to chat to her about it. For now, I am going to live stream my baking for beginners in my not-so-sophisticated kitchen.
I get home and it finally hits me. I am getting engaged today! Like for real. It doesn’t seem real. Adil said we are going to choose a ring which, in his world, means that he is going to propose formally today. I’m freaking out a little.
It takes so much effort to shift my focus and energy back to setting up. I need to be done baking before he comes to fetch me. I decided to make a chocolate mousse cake with a glazed top, a batch of nutty naan khatai biscuits, mini cheesecakes and I think I am going to make a caramel swiss roll, which I know for sure Adil will insist the Woolworths version is better and less effort.
I think I’m going to use the baking for some content.When I do it in a comedic way it always gets a ton of views.I’ll set up my tripod and do a live video on my Instagram called baking for beginners. Okay, that’s a plan!
“Hi guys! Today we are going to be baking. And by baking I don’t mean putting white setting powder at the bottom of our eyes which makes us look like ghosts. I mean actual real baking. You know? With flour and baking powder,” I say in my introduction for my live video.
I start with mixing the chocolate cake and put it in the oven while I start the naan khatai mixture.
“So, guys! Fancy baking is nice to look at but to be honest it never tastes as hearty as good ol’ homemade baked goods. Don’t stress to take down quantities, I will post recipes later,” I say to myself on camera.
Once the naan khatai is ready for the oven, I pause to take a few questions from people watching. A lot of it is just compliments, and I take a minute to acknowledge them and show my appreciation.
‘Are you married?’ is the most asked question on my Live, which I try to ignore as much as possible but it’s just getting ridiculous.
“I am not married,” I respond as I try to take the conversation back to baking.
Suddenly I see Nabs join my live video, and before I could process it, she comments, “She’s not married… she’s divorced” which unleashes a ton of questions. What the hell!
Usually, if this were a pre-recorded event I can curate what I respond to. Now I try to focus on fluffing my eggs for the swissroll, but it’s not working.
“With who do you stay?”
“Why don’t you stay with Nabs anymore?”
“When did you get divorced?”
“Guys, we are baking here. We will do a life update video sometime in the future,” I say but Nabs keeps posting nonsense.
“Lol what a has been” she says in the comments on the live video.
I can’t with this girl! I should’ve blocked her from my social media. I wasn’t expecting to have to defend my name while whisking eggs on a baking tutorial!
“Okay guys... since you are so interested in my life, here’s the deal. Yes, I am divorced. So what? I got divorced years ago. Why must I walk around with shame because of something a guy did wrong? Am I doomed to hell just because my marriage didn’t work? Grow up!”
This changed things dramatically.
“I’m divorced and living my life.”
“Why must there be shame!”
“Right, we are going to decorate everything really quickly and then I am going to log off this live chat,” I say definitively as I glaze the mousse cake, add gold to my mini naan khatai and top the swiss roll with fresh cream and an assortment of fresh berries.
“Okay guys, thanks for joining me here today. I will post the recipes a bit later, but this is how the end result looks,” I say and smile into the camera before ending the video.
I don’t know if Nabs is going through something in her life or I never saw her for what she truly is but it is so juvenile to come on to my Insta Live and leave rude and nasty comments! I mean, we are not in high school. Although, with all the shade and the cattiness I sometimes think the South African influencer space is a reincarnation of Mean Girls.
I quickly pack the baked goods in Tupperware and keep them ready to drop off at Adil’s house. As I start washing the dishes, he knocks on my door, having let himself in the gate with the spare remote he keeps.
“Maaarrrrr,” he shouts as he incessantly knocks on the door.
“Hey,” I say with a smile as I try to hug him but he is visibly too excited to show me something.
“So... our family friends own a jewellery store and I popped in to see what rings they have, and I found this one and I thought of you but if you don’t like it, we can change it. They don’t mind. And I don’t mind. And I don’t know if I don’t know you well enough, but this ring reminded me of you. And it’s beautiful and you are beautiful... and —”
“Show me the damn ring, Adil,” I say, laughing.
“Okay. But promise if you don’t like it you will tell me, and we can change it? Oh, and I guesstimated the size. If it doesn’t fit but you like it, they can also adjust it. But only if you like it.”
I’m going to kill this man!
Finally, he pulls out the ring which is white gold and with a simple one-carat diamond in the centre. For a moment before he showed it to me, I thought I was going to hate it.
It’s exactly my style: simple and elegant with a bit of extra-ness in the size of the diamond.
“What do you think?”
“I think you know me well!” I take the ring to fit it on. It truly is gorgeous.
“Do you like it?”
“I absolutely love it. It’s beautiful. Look, it fits perfectly,” I say.
“Okay let me call them to say I’m keeping it,” he says as he walks to the kitchen with his phone at his ear, mindlessly opening the Tupperwares on my counter to see what I made.
“Hey bru... I’m taking it. Yes… Yes, it fits perfectly. Ja, she loves it,” he says before coming back to double check it properly fits.
“Can I get a hug?” I ask him as soon as he ends the call.
“Oh! I forgot. Yes,” he says as he embraces me. We stand in this embrace for a while before he leans in to rest his head on my shoulder. His shoulders start to heave and I realise he’s crying. Adil, my Adil, the one who never shows any emotions — is crying. I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know if it’s tears of happiness or tears of sadness. I just stroke his shoulder, hoping he says something.
“Are you okay?” I ask after what feels like a whole five minutes. He pulls away from me, doesn’t say anything and walks straight to the bathroom. I just stare at the wall in front of me, unsure whether I should follow him or not. I decide to go to the fridge and pour him a glass of water instead.
When he walks out of the bathroom, he looks absolutely fine and is his normal old self again.
“Please remind me the next time I come here I must bring a screwdriver. The screws on that cabinet are loose,” he says nonchalantly as he sits on the couch while I stare at him in shock. What just happened?
“Do you want some water?” I ask.
“Yes please,” he says as he turns on the TV and scrolls through movies on Netflix.
I put the water next to him and turn to face him directly. I need to know what just happened.
“Ads, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay... I just need to make sure the cabinet door doesn’t fall off one day.”
“I am not asking about the cabinet and you know it!”
“Shall we watch a movie?” he asks knowing full well he is testing me, and as I am about to react, I decide to change tact.
“Adil, this ring is gorgeous. Thank you so much,” I say as I admire my hand.
“They told me if you need it to be shined in the future, I must just take it back to them and they will do it for free,” he says, actively trying to divert the conversation.
“What is it about this ring that made you think of me?”
“I don’t know... It’s just so beautiful.”
“Do you think I’m beautiful?”
“Forget about me, you have over 100 000 people that think you’re beautiful.”
“But do you?”
“Of course, Mar! You know that!”
“I don’t... you never say it.”
He doesn’t respond and instead he fiddles with the engagement ring on my finger.
“So, we are getting married?” I ask.
“Well, if you have second thoughts it’s too late. The ring is already on your finger,” he jokes.
“I love you,” I say, hoping to prompt a response but all I get is a shy smile. I try again. “Do you love me?”
“Mar! You know I do!”
“I need you to reassure me. To tell me five times a day.”
“Okay. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. Is that five?” he teases.
“Ads, I hope you don’t feel like I pushed you into this,” I say in a moment of heightened self-doubt. This keeps me up at night. What if he only agreed to marry me because I forced him to?
“Mar. The moment I saw you in my car that night in Melrose Arch I knew we had a connection. There was something about you and it wasn’t just your face.”
“What’s wrong with my face?” I laugh.
“It’s perfect and it’s intimidating and it’s soulful and trusting and endearing... But it’s not my favourite part of you. I love your heart and your character and your soul. You are the bravest person I know. You are also the most genuinely selfless person in the world. You take time for people and you listen. You have every right to be a diva, but you are not. You care so much, and your kindness is seen in the smallest things. I watch you when you interact with my granny; it’s amazing Mar. You genuinely make time for her and you listen when she repeats the same stories for the 100th time that week. I love how much you care for your mother and how she’s a priority in your life. I admire your work ethic and your commitment to your job. I love that you are positive even when there are a million reasons not to be. I just... I am happy you understand me, and you deal with my quirks and you bring out the best version in me. I love that you love me for me. Mar, I appreciate that I can talk to you about things even though I know you feel like I don’t talk to you enough. I love that you are patient even when I am stubborn...”
“Okay. We ARE getting married,” I say in between sniffles.
“Yes. We are getting married and we are doing this.”
“And you will learn to show real affection as you did just now?”
“You’re pushing it,” he jokes but I know he listens.
“So how are we going to do this? This marriage thing?”
“We are going to start by calling your mother. Then we are going to book a flight for her for tomorrow. Right now, we are going to go and give Ma her baking which, by the way, could’ve just been bought, you didn’t have to go through all the trouble. Then we will tell Ma and Ayesha that we are getting married. And then... me and you are going to go to the airport and elope before my parents get here,” he says and I laugh at the last bit.
“Okay we have a plan! Not the eloping bit. I want to meet your parents.”
“I wish we can skip this part,” he says.
This feels natural and right and when I tell my mother and hear her overwhelming excitement, it really gives me the assurance I need.
Finding a suitable place to stay in Joburg is like mining for diamonds. It’s rare and you have to sift through the mud to find the half-decent ones.
My plan is to rent a three-bedroom apartment that will be comfortable for me, my mother and my work. My budget is quite low because I don’t know what my income will be for the next few months.
Since Zayn’s death two months ago, Adil and I constantly butt heads over where I should stay. He insisted that I must either move in with them (imagine!) or stay in one of the apartments his company owns. It is not even an option! I explained to him that I don’t want to mix business with our friendship/relationship, and I prefer not to rent a place from him. It’s just awkward and I know he is just feeling bad for me. In his mind I am the girl who lost a friend, a home and a stepfather in one month.
Yes, there are days where I can barely get out of bed but I can’t continue this pity party. I need to find a place to stay and Adil can either help me or I will look for one on my own. It takes him a few days to get it but finally he has agreed to my plan.
My plan is to go look at three units today and decide on which one is most suitable to live in.
The first flat we look at is in a dodgy area with people drinking beers chilled on the pavement outside. I may have even seen a bong or two. Adil can’t hide the horrified look on his face.
The second place is a decent two-bedroom unit in a secure complex in Midrand, literally five minutes away from Adil’s house — just on the other side of Mall of Africa. It is a ground-floor unit, with a front garden, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small but neat kitchen and good cupboard space. A third bedroom would have been nice but the main bedroom is big enough for me to convert one area into my office and filming space. After he inspects the rooms, Adil nods his head in approval. The third unit is great too, but a lot more expensive.
As we are about to sign the lease, the estate agent asks if we’re newlyweds and Adil responds saying, “We’re just friends”.
Sigh. This ‘just friends thing’ is confusing but it’s a conversation for another day. Our relationship is really toxic, if I am being completely honest with myself. We have some weird emotional dependency on each other and I depend on him physically yet the parameters of our friendship are not really defined.
I can sit with his grandmother for hours, but I don’t know who his friends are. We never hang out socially with his friends and he doesn’t even bring it up.
I think what’s most toxic is how he feels obliged to handle my issues. At first, I thought it had to do with his personality type, but he doesn’t act this way with others. Sometimes when I am in the midst of a depressive bout, I romanticise it. How sweet, right? This guy just helps me out and has my back. He is also emotionally unavailable and we can’t even get to the discussion about what we are.
Like right now, he is helping me sign a lease, he certified my bank statements and worked out all my admin for me only for us to have that ‘this is what friends are for’ moment over and over again.
Four months in and I am bored of it. Irritated, actually.
Once we are done with the paperwork, Adil and I decide to go out for an early dinner at the mall nearby.
“I know you don’t want me to get involved in your house situation, but I really want to help,” he says.
“I’m sorry if I sound ungrateful, I just don’t want to use you.”
“I want to help Mar...”
“I know, and I appreciate it. But it’s weird.”
“You’re not getting me Adil. You don’t have to take care of me. You just have to be there for me. Normal people buy chocolates and roses for people they care about. They don’t arrange funerals for them and help them sign leases.”
“I just don’t understand why you can’t just take my help?”
“I don’t want to be beholden to you.”
“Do you think I am that person?”
“I don’t know who you are and what you want from me,” I spit out and immediately regret it.
“Can I be really honest with you?” I ask.
“Uh... I didn’t know there was a time we were lying to each other but go ahead,” Adil says as he picks on the straw in his coke.
“I’ve been through two relationships, one a marriage and the second one a friendship that left me stranded overnight. In both instances, I was fine afterward but that level of betrayal is crazy. I wish you were clearer with me.”
“What do you want me to say?” His irritation is visible now.
“That you see us going somewhere. That you care for me in a way that’s not platonic. That we have a future together.”
Wow. I immediately feel liberated and lighter. It is off my chest and it’s up to him to decide what to do with that.
He doesn’t respond. He asks for the bill instead.
“I will pay for this meal,” I say defensively.
“No, you will not!” he almost shouts.
“Maariah,” he says sternly, almost saying, “Hey, watch it!” but I don’t give up.
“Why are you doing this?” he tries again.
“I really just want clarity on what this is. That’s it.”
“Can we have this discussion at home?”
I prepare for a comeback but I relent. It is humiliating to force a man to tell you he has feelings for you. It should have been natural, since we spend so much time together.
Sometimes at night I stare at the ceiling and wonder whether it’s me who’s the problem. Maybe I am incapable of accepting love. It can’t be that my only two relationships were not romantic and affectionate.
You know, the usual kind things like texting sweet messages or complimenting me or just taking a slow walk with me.
The shitty part of all of this is that I don’t know how I will manage if he leaves my life. Because if he goes, Ayesha goes and if Ayesha goes Ma goes — and probably Firdaus too.
That’s my entire support structure gone. Dammit. I wish I never met him that night in his car. I wish I never agreed to his bizarre idea of gyming together. Who the hell agrees to gym with a stranger after two meetings?
The moment we get into his car, he gets a call from one of his employees and from what I can hear, they need him to check on work they have been doing at the orphanage he has been assisting and what we used the sale donation for.
He looks at me then he looks away. A moment later, his head turns towards me again with a sense of confusion in his eyes.
“Do you want to come with me to the orphanage?” he asks me, waiting for me to lash out at him as I’ve been doing all week.
I nod in silence.
As the kids see Adil’s car pull up at the orphanage, they run out and start ululating and cheering. Soon, we are totally encircled by excited kids who start singing in Xhosa until the housemother comes out and breaks up the circle. It seems Adil has decided to do renovations to the place and got his guys to do the ceilings and some carpentry.
Adil introduces me to the foreman, Thomas.
“Mr Adil, we finished with the paint and ceilings. Now we are busy doing the kitchen and bathrooms,” one of Adil’s workers says to him.
He still hasn’t said a word to me.
What’s going on with the bathrooms?” he asks.
“We broke the walls down to redesign the whole area to make separate male and female bathrooms. We did measurements and I think we can fit four shower stalls in each section and about five toilet units. We will have a central changing area.”
“What about people who don’t want to change in front of others? Can we not make separate toilet, shower and changing area stalls?”
“It will cost more sir.”
“How much more?”
“With the partitions and tiling, you are looking at about R20K more, Mr Adil.”
“Okay, I’ll check with the top guys if they approve but I think we can spend a little bit more,” he says.
“I think that will be better,” I butt in and turn to face Adil, but I get stone-cold silence in response.
Gosh, that hurts! Point taken, Adil. Point taken. I am sorry! Although there’s no way I am going to apologise out loud.
“Okay so have you made a note of other things that need to be fixed?” he says to the workers.
“In the living quarters, we fumigated and changed all the lightbulbs. We are just trying to find a solution for the children to do homework, sir.”
“What is the situation currently?”
“They do homework in the main classroom on the floor”.
“How about if we do study desks along the four walls, section each little unit off with chairs and then in the centre, we put double-sided desks?” I deliberately assert myself.
“Let’s go do measurements of that, Thomas, to see how many we can fit,” Adil tells his foreman.
It turns out my idea is genius, and cheap. But mounting desks onto the walls, and creating small partitions, they can fit about 40 working stations around the classrooms and 12 stations in the centre. I also suggest storage space for supplies and a place for a printer and computer. The housemother says they would prefer if the printer is in a cage mounted onto the wall so no one can steal it.
“Okay. So, once we are done with the kitchen, get the carpentry guys to start with this while you get the other team to start on the bathrooms. We don’t have much time. Our contract with L&L starts next month so we must finish this up soon,” he says to Thomas who nods and greets us goodbye.
As we leave, the kids abandon their activities and cheer us again. One little girl named Lwandile tells us she is happy there are no more goggas that bite her at night.
This breaks my heart. Imagine the privilege we have. I am throwing a tantrum and seeking Adil’s attention and here the kids are so grateful that there are no mosquitoes and bed bugs biting them at night.
As we are about to leave, I ask the housemother if I can film the kids singing for us and she agrees as long as there aren’t any closeup pictures of the kids’ faces. But Adil shakes his head, clearly signalling that I should not do it.
“Poverty porn is not cool,” he says as we get into the car.
“Poor people have dignity. We like to share their pictures and stories to feel better about ourselves but they deserve some respect,” he says as he drives out of the orphanage and on the way home.
I disagree with him. I think sharing an act of kindness can inspire so many more people. But I don’t put up a fight.
Once my move is finalised, I am going to start distancing myself from him. I need to do it for my mental health.
It is a cycle of enjoying his company, pining for more, and then hating myself for taking help from someone who is clearly emotionally unavailable. I am done.
As we get home he turns to look at me.
“Mar, I care for you deeply,” he says, staring at me intently.
What in Shakespeare is ‘I care for you deeply’?
“I have never met anyone in my life who I have had such an immediate magnetism to. But I don’t want to screw it up. I don’t know, I am messed up.”
We are getting somewhere.
“I wish I could explain it. You are not like anyone else in my life. I feel this overwhelming sense of responsibility towards you. It makes no sense. And, I know it sounds cheesy, but you are not like other girls.”
“If you felt like this why didn’t you just say so? Why did you wait for me to put a gun to your head?”
“My life is messy, Mar.”
“Messy? You have the most functional life possible,” I hit back.
“There is a lot you don’t know about me. And a big part of me doesn’t want you to know that side of me.”
“Do you feel like I am being unfair by asking you where you see this going?”
“From the day I met you, I knew I wanted to marry you.”
I have never dug my nails so deep into a car seat ever in my life before. I may have even broken a nail.
“But...” he says.
There is always a but!
“But I think... it’s complicated. I have never felt like this for anyone. But I just... I am not making sense,” he says.
“Adil, let’s try a simpler version. Do you like me?”
“Do you want to be with me?”
“Yes. I want to be with you.”
“But life is complicated and I feel ashamed to draw you into my complicated life.”
“Okay, Adil. I am going to go in now,” I say, trying not to cry in front of him again.
He follows me out of the car and into my house.
I am getting flashbacks of the night my ex-husband said to me he was in love with another woman. I don’t think I can handle more rejection in my life.
“Adil…” I start.
“Maariah. Listen to what I am saying to you. I care for you Mar. I really, really care for you.”
“What does that even mean?” I say with a lump in my throat.
“It means that you mean a lot to me.”
“The neighbour’s cat means a lot to me,” I say with all the sarcasm I can muster.
“I think about you all day. I try to... preempt your needs. You are the last person I think about at night. I am grumpy when I don’t see you. I am happiest when I am with you. I love that my granny loves you. I like that you are so hardworking and not entitled. I would not give up our conversations for anything.”
“Let me finish. Mar, you know when I first went out with you, I thought, ‘my God, this girl is so beautiful.’ I know you get that all the time. But you are gorgeous. There have been times where I had to physically restrict myself. It still baffles me that you don’t have guys lining up for a chance. At first, I thought we could just have fun and we can date and see where it would lead to. But I promise you, after our first meeting, I knew there was something special about you. I can’t explain it. I felt like if I was serious about you, we shouldn’t date. Because if we did, I’d probably mess things up and any prospect of a future would go up in the air. Mar, when I look at you, you are the person I want to spend my life with. That is what you mean to me.”
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry!
“It’s messed up. I know. Mar, I am sorry.”
The lump in my throat is now a boulder.
“I mean it when I say I want to have a future with you.”
“What does that even mean?” I ask between tears. Am I being manipulative? Am I forcing him to say something he is not ready to say?
“It means I want to marry you. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. And my life is messy and crazy and complicated. I don’t want you to be part of all that chaos. But I also don’t want to lose you. You mean the world to me Mar. You really do.”
Those words seal the deal for me.
It’s what I needed to hear. Finally, I feel loved. And that’s all I really wanted.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.