Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
Of all life’s uncertainties, death is the only absolute thing. It will happen. Yet, every time death strikes, it’s an unfathomable shock.
When my phone rings at 6:30am, my stomach drops instantly. I know it’s not good news. I barely slept all night, fearing the worst, and now it may be coming true.
“Mum? Is everything okay?”
“Oh Mar... Zayn just passed away, baby. He passed away.”
“I’m so sorry mummy. I am so sorry.”
“Would you be able to come now Mar?”
“Jee... my friend will drive me.”
“Okay… travel safely, my baby.”
“Mummy, who’s going to help with the funeral?”
“I am just in shock. I’m alone here at the hospital. I will call your aunty now and we will see what happens.”
I instantly phone Adil and he answers on the second ring.
“Are you up?” I ask, almost whispering.
“Yes, I just got back from the mosque,” he says and it momentarily shocks me that Adil prays.
“Zayn passed away,” I say with a lump in my throat so big I can barely talk afterward.
“I am coming to fetch you now — I will be outside in ten minutes,” he says.
I frantically get done and throw some things in a bag before rushing down the stairs to meet him as he pulls up.
“It’s going to be okay,” he says as he hugs me when I get into the car.
I try to control my tears.
“Percy packed you some breakfast, please eat, love,” he says patiently.
This is just another reason to add to the list of things I love about this guy. He thinks of things that I don’t even think of.
How can Zayn just pass away like that? It’s unfathomable. He is so strong and agile. And so full of life. After years of struggle, he and my mum are finally in a good place financially.
And my mother is so young. He is so young.
“I think I am going to fetch Ayesha and she will drive, and I will sit in the back with you so you can lie down?” Adil suggests, but I am too numb to respond.
I am in a deep shock. I just can’t understand how Zayn can’t just pass away so suddenly.
The drive back to Adil’s house to get Ayesha and the time it took for him to sit next to me on the backseat, is all a blur.
“Come lay your head in my lap,” he says as he soothes my shoulders with a caring rub.
I don’t protest.
Ayesha speeds the whole way and we get to Nelspruit in under three and a half hours.
I call my mum.
“Mum, are you at home or in the hospital?”
“I came home. The body just went for ghusal,” she says with a quivering voice.
“Okay I am coming home now. I have my two friends with me,” I say, almost forewarning her.
As I direct Ayesha to our house on 53 Pritcher street, I feel the need to warn them about my home.
“Guys, we live in a very humble home. Don’t be surprised if you see a matchbox house,” I say, nervous to have my two worlds meet.
“Mar. Where you live doesn’t matter to us. We are here for you,” Adil says and I start crying again.
“Shh... come here Mar,” he says as he tries to pacify me again. I have cried like three times in the last five years and every time it has been in front of Adil. I am not a crier at all and suddenly I feel comfortable crying in front of him.
As we pull up to our house, I see my mother’s sister and her husband who have started setting up. I also recognise some neighbours streaming in. Adil helps me out of the car as my knees buckle.
As I walk in the house, Zayn’s absence is immediately felt. He usually is the first to come out to greet me and is the heart of our home. I go to my mother and give her the biggest hug as she sobs into my shoulder. We stand for a full five minutes, hugging and sobbing. Once she’s composed herself, I introduce her to Adil and Ayesha. They handle her grief with so much grace.
“Khala, how can we help?” I ask my aunt who was speedily getting everything sorted out before the funeral. In Islamic tradition, funerals happen within a few hours and very soon after the shock of death, you have to deal with people and the funeral arrangements.
“I am just pushing the furniture to the side and setting up blankets on the floor,” she says.
Without prompting, Ayesha takes a few blankets and starts setting them down. Adil whispers in my ear that he is going to get a few things that we may need. He insists that I sit in the lounge with my mother and be there for her.
“Mum... did you tell Zayn’s family?”
“I sent a message. But you know they don’t talk to me,” my mother says.
“Do you want me to call?” I ask.
“If you have the strength. Tell them the funeral will take place at 3pm.”
Grief is really a true test of character. About 30 minutes after I called Zayn’s sister, who I never had a relationship with, they rock up at our house with four cars.
“Where is my brother’s body? We will bury him from our house!” his lunatic sister shouts as she aggressively walks through the door. Thankfully at that moment the imaam from our local masjid arrives and puts out that fire.
I feel so bad for my mother, who has to deal with the loss of her husband and best friend and be reminded of how his family treated her for two decades. He chose her over his family for a reason. At every chance they got, there would be some drama and my mother would respond with such grace and strength, never losing her calm or even reacting to their provocation.
Ayesha keeps pouring juice for them and serves all the people who come for the funeral with such generosity. Adil brings back a ton of tea bags, milk, sugar and juice from the shops. He also arranges with my aunt and orders food for supper after the funeral.
Muslim funerals are so quick, so it helps to have people to help with logistics while those closest to the deceased can have a moment of closure. Besides the drama of his family, I’m surprised by how many people have come to Zayn’s funeral — people who’ve brought their cars to him to fix for over ten years, his colleagues, all the neighbours, kids from the township where he used to coach soccer have all come to pay their respects.
Zayn’s lifeless body is placed on the ground and everyone sits around it and prays quietly. Many people in my family don’t really know how to read Quraan so it’s mostly silent until Adil comes to me and asks if he must recite out loud and I nod. I had no idea Adil had memorized the Quraan when he was younger, and the moment he starts reading Surah Yaseen, which is read on the dead, I start crying.
Zayn was not my biological father, but he was my real dad. He taught me how to ride a bike and showed me how to change a tyre. He was not even 50 and soon we have to lower his body into a grave. The more Adil reads, the more we tear up. But at the same time, there’s something soothing about the Quraan to a grieving heart. It buffers the pain and gives a sense of acceptance.
As Zayn’s remains are picked up to go to the graveyard, my mother and I have our final moment with him. It just doesn’t make sense. He’s always been fit and healthy. But I suppose death is not logical or rational. Death can come at any time to anyone. All we can really do is just hope and pray for the best.
I close my eyes and pray and pray as they pick up his body and transport it to the nearby hearse while the sounds of loud prayers ring in the room.
I am so grateful that Muslim funerals are simple and easy. Once the men return from the graveyard, we start laying tables for dinner.
Zayn’s family leaves almost immediately after his body does. I suppose it’s actually easier that way. They can grieve in peace, and so can my mother. At the funeral his sisters all had a look of guilt on their face which was hard to ignore. They cut off their brother simply because he loved a woman who had a child with someone else.
I can understand that for that generation it was so taboo but it also angers me that my existence brought so much pain to Zayn’s life. It is probably why I am so deeply insecure and in constant need of validation. I don’t know.
We don’t have much time to process the funeral, when we have to start setting up for dinner. The thing about brown people is that we believe food heals all pain. I must have had three different people dish out food for me to eat as I try to get my mother to eat. Ayesha, in her true commander-in-chief mode, handles all the cleaning up and soon she is making pot loads of tea.
It’s weird to see her, the usually fancy lawyer type, humbling herself and cleaning our house. My mother is a neat freak and she’s so appreciative that this random girl constantly has a toilet spray in her hand and cleans the toilet every time someone used it.
“Your friends are too kind,” she tells me with a little smile as we sit in the lounge.
“They are mum...”
Without any prompting, they helped organise the entire funeral and get me here from Joburg in record time.
An insecure part of me still questions why they are so kind to me, especially since they are so wealthy and successful. They don’t need to do this for me but it’s unspoken and effortless. I can understand Adil’s kindness, but Ayesha just blew me away.
As everyone leaves to go home, Adil and Ayesha come and sit with my mother, me and her sister in the little room we call a lounge.
“I must thank you guys,” my mother says.
“It’s no problem at all,” Ayesha says and I feel the genuineness of her words.
“You know Zayn was not just my husband. We grew up together. We went to school together. There’s nothing I did without him.”
“He used to finish your sentences, mum,” I add.
“That type of love we can only dream about,” Ayesha says.
And she’s right. It was truly an unconditional type of love that was sincere through hard times and good times. It was a literal case of for rich or poor.
“Just the other day, he knows I love avocado milkshake, so he bought a bag of avocadoes and made some for me and brought it to the library,” my mom says.
The two of them lived such a simple life, between my mother’s library and his car workshop. Zayn always took turns to cook with my mother and never ever raised his voice at her, even when he was visibly angry.
“I wish we could’ve met him,” Adil says with a small smile.
“You would have loved him. Everyone loved him. He just had a heart of gold,” my mum says.
“I wish people could speak half as glowingly about me when I pass away,” Ayesha says.
“Aysh, we must go. We will come back in the morning InshAllah,” Adil says.
“Where are you guys sleeping?” I ask him.
“I called a BnB about 10 minutes from here.”
“Thank you for everything. You two were angels today,” my aunt tells them as we all get up to see them out.
Ayesha hugs me and goes to the car but Adil lingers a little bit on our front stoep.
“You okay?” he asks, genuinely concerned.
“Jeem I am just tired now. I can’t thank you enough,” I say squeezing his hand a little.
“It’s okay. I got you,” he says quietly and then walks to his car.
If I had any doubt about Adil, it all disappeared at that moment. He really came through at a time I genuinely needed him the most. He has always been there for me when I needed him — through the eviction, the closet sale and now the funeral.
He did it so selflessly. It’s unbelievable at times.
“Your friends are a godsend,” my mother says as I walk back inside the house.
“Mum, you have no idea how they have been there for me,” I say.
“Are you dating Adil?” she asks casually.
“No... I mean... not really...” I say, confused.
My mother doesn’t say anything.
“We have been friends for a few months now,” I tell my mother frankly. We never really hold things from each other.
“Are you ready to get married again?” my mother asks, and I don’t have an answer.
This is probably the first time I am going to bed in our house without Zayn to lock up and switch off the lights.
Life is so temporary, yet we attach so much to it.
I am worried about my mother and whether she will cope all by herself. I know Nelspruit is all she knows but I hope one day she will sell her house and move in with me in Joburg. But my mum is very stubborn too, she won’t agree. Just before I sleep, I log on to Instagram to check up on what is happening. I get a flurry of messages from girls saying they are so happy with their purchases at the sale and so many others posting pictures of their goodie bags and tagging me.
I had at least 800 new followers in just a day.
I decide to put up a picture of a sunset with a caption informing my followers that my stepfather had passed away.
As I’m scrolling through Instagram, Adil messages me.
“Hey, you okay?”
“Jee. Thank you so much.”
“You have to stop thanking me.”
“I can’t. You do so much.”
“I would do anything for you,” he says.
“It means so much to me,” I say, hoping this would prompt him to tell me how he feels about me.
“Go sleep, I will see you in the morning, Mar.”
It’s hard to understand loss and death but in that moment, I realise that sometimes God tests you in one area of your life and makes another part easy. For the first time in my life, I am financially free, but at the same time, I don’t have a home in Johannesburg. Zayn passed away, but I have Adil to help and comfort me. Sometimes it’s easy to forget where you come from, but on days like this, it dawns on you so vividly.
I wake up at about 7am and hear some pottering in the kitchen. Adil and Ayesha are already here, and my mother has insisted on making them breakfast.
There’s something about their presence here that comforts me and my mother.
“Aunty Zarina, was Maariah a troublesome child?”
“As a baby, she gave me sleepless nights! Oh, she was so naughty!”
We laugh as we eat our simple breakfast of tea and toast. I observe Ayesha eating it heartily, knowing that she only usually eats Ayrshire yoghurt and chia seeds for breakfast. I don’t think my mother even knows what Ayrshire yogurt is.
The day after the funeral is much quieter but there are still neighbours and friends that pop in all day.
On the third day, our house is full again and surprisingly, some of Zayn’s family come to visit. My mother is genuinely happy that they came but I am a little bit suspicious of them. There’s just something that feels odd about their presence. And I usually hate my gut feeling because it always ends up true.
Within 30 minutes of small talk, Zayn’s younger brother spits out why they are here.
“We are here to fetch my brother’s inheritance,” he says, arrogantly.
He hasn’t spoken to his brother in 22 years, but he is here to fetch his inheritance!
I am about to lash out but Adil reads the situation and interjects. Because he’s been reading Quraan they presume he is a moulana or imaam.
“InshAllah, we will go through the estate tonight and divide the inheritance according to Islamic law. We know he has a will so we will see what assets he has and will distribute it accordingly,” Adil says in his most assertive voice.
“We want to know when we are going to get the keys for my brother’s house?” this stupid man pushes further.
“What house?” I lash out.
“Shut up. I am not talking to you, you white trash,” he spits at me.
I am seething. My nails are digging into my palm as I tightly clench it.
“Uncle, maaf but now is not the time for this,” Adil tries again.
“I don’t care about time. When are we getting my brother’s house?”
“Maaf... I looked at the title deed. This house belongs to aunty Zarina. She paid for it. In his will, Zayn says so. And like I said, we will divide his belongings according to the Islamic law,” he says with authority.
I don’t know who told Adil this but thank God he responded in this way.
Soon those vultures leave, and I am so angry I could punch someone in the face.
“Who the hell gives them the authority to come here and demand things!”
“Mar... relax. People are like that. Don’t be angry. They were just trying their luck,” he says as follows me into my mother’s room.
“Mum you need to sell this house and move to Joburg with me,” I tell my mother. I admit it’s a stupid thing to say given the timing, but I am so emotional and angry I am barely thinking straight.
“Mar, my child... you go back to Joburg tomorrow. I need some time alone. Next week I am starting work again. We can decide what we are doing later on,” my mother says.
I don’t want to leave my mother, but I know that she needs the time to think about what she should do with her life.
“Can we sort out his inheritance before we leave so those vultures don’t come back?” I suggest.
“Okay. You see in the will, Zayn has money which he has said in his life that if he dies all his savings go to you. The house has always been mine. His little car, clothes, and tools we can give it to them. All the furniture, we bought it together. That’s it.”
“Mummy, I can’t take his savings. You keep it for you,” I say, thinking about how simply Zayn lived that he barely has anything to his name.
“His savings is about R200 000... and he has a pension fund at work that has me as a beneficiary. From there I will get about a monthly amount.”
“So why do you have to work mum?”
“Because you are not settled. The moment you are settled, I will come to stay in Joburg.”
“Mummy, why don’t we sell this house? Then we add the R200 000 Zayn left and whatever else we’ve got and buy a flat for us in Joburg. We don’t have anything here.”
“Okay,” my mother says, deep in thought and I am shocked she doesn’t put up a fight.
“Mum, I can stay with you for a while to help you,” I offer again but my mother insists we leave for Johannesburg after three days.
I don’t think she realises that because social media is my job I can work from anywhere. Ayesha again chooses to drive back to Joburg and Adil and I sit at the back.
“I need to find a place soon,” I tell Adil.
“I will give you one of my new units,” he says.
“No, I am getting my own place”.
“Mar... don’t be so stubborn”.
“Adil, I told you how I feel about this. I can’t move into one of your houses.”
He shakes his head vehemently.
“No. I am looking after myself. The last two times I trusted people I ended up with nothing,” I blurt out, instantly regretting the venom I just spat out.
I am tired and emotional and worried and frustrated and sad.
Adil just squeezes my hand and looks out the window at the picturesque landscape of the low veld passing by.
“Mar, I get you. It’s fine. We will help you find a place,” Ayesha says.
“Don’t get involved Ayesha. She’s not going anywhere. We’re checking her out of the Airbnb immediately and she’s coming to stay with us now,” Adil snaps.
I shake my head. I need a break. A holiday from life. A trip to another side of the world. Maybe I should book a ticket to the Philippines or somewhere far away.
I hate that Zayn died so young. I hate that my mother is a widow. I hate that his family is vultures. I hate that I am not settled and don’t have a stable home so my mother can come to stay with me.
I hate myself for being so self-centred.
The thing about fear is that it will stand in the way of so much opportunity without you even realising it. For the past two years, I’ve been thinking of holding a pop-up closet sale, but I have always been too afraid of doing it because of the age-old ‘what will people say?’.
I worried whether people would realise I am not as well off as I portray on social media. I stressed about whether anyone would even buy my stuff. Gosh, I was anxious whether anyone would show up for a meet and greet. I am not Lilly Singh where thousands of people queue to meet her. I am just Maariah, a fashion and lifestyle blogger in South Africa.
That’s what I thought until I drive to the pop-up venue in Melrose at 8am and there’s a queue of 80 people waiting to get in an hour before we are meant to start trading.
We still have a few odds and ends to do before people walk in, like set up the food and have all the exhibitors settled. Ayesha, my unofficial commander in chief, is running the staff. Adil is meant to be running the tills and I was told to smile and live my best life.
Which is why I woke up and prioritised my hair and makeup and then responded to social media comments about the event. The online support I got from other bloggers was unbelievable. It is the thing about paying it forward. Whenever a blogger or Instagrammer launches something or has something to promote, I always give them a shout out and I think the response to my closet sale is a reciprocation of that. I promise you; kindness begets kindness. If there is one thing I learned through social media, it’s that the only way to change the world is if you actively do not be an ass.
At first, Adil wanted to hire a catering company but then Ayesha convinced him to order all the eats from their cousin Fatima, who just started her confectionary business. When it comes to business, Adil doesn’t take shortcuts so it had to take a little convincing that paying Fatima would be a third of what it would cost a big catering company. Also, it will be a good platform for her to promote her business, so I didn’t feel too bad.
My only apprehension was that I had a distinct Insta-worthy concept of how the food would look and taste but when Ayesha said it should be Fatima, I just went with it. And thank God it worked out. Despite having reservations about Adil’s cousin, Fatima really came through with a spectacular spread that caters to both decadence and healthy. She had pan-seared watermelon with a goat’s cheese topping and ground pistachio in little squares. Then she made puff pastry Caprese, prawn tempura with a homemade sweet chili sauce and she even made a few types of different mini quiches. I loved that she also included old-fashioned things like samoosas but brought an artisanal touch to it by making the fillings sweet.
I’ve been to some really fancy functions and when you don’t drink alcohol, the food is really important. It must be a vision, but it must also have character and taste. I love that Fatima made an incredible harvest board of cheeses, crackers, strawberries, grapes and different types of nuts. Definitely my vibe. In her design she included a few snack boards with dried fruit, biltong and nuts contrasted against platters of macarons, handmade nougat and candied pecans.
It felt like a Cosmo party! This is really a dream come true!
Have you ever had a moment where you don’t know why God sent some people in your life at a particular time and why they are actually so kind to you? I’m having this moment five minutes before we open the doors.
“Okay, coffee guys; are you guys ready to start serving?” Ayesha asks.
“Chef Fatima, are we good to go? Dude! We don’t have the bottled water! Guys please unpack it quickly.”
Molly gives me a big hug as Adil opens the door and the first group of 30 people is let in. The first girl that walks in gets a goodie bag and a special R200 discount voucher, which I don’t know if she even needed because she already had screengrabs of the things she wanted from the snaps of sale items I uploaded on my Instagram.
I smile and make small talk, but I follow her around the area. She is a makeup ninja and leaves after ten minutes paying R2 000 in cash. As Adil jots down the sale, he looks over and gives me a smile. We got this.
In between selfies, small talk and posting Insta Stories, I hop over to taste some of Fatima’s food and everything just hits the spot. Her food is photo-worthy but also full of flavour. TBH I had my doubts.
I think people were quite surprised at our pricing model, but we want everything sold out by the end of the day. By 10am the house is at full capacity. Molly has about 15 people watching her do a makeup tutorial while Firdaus has about 40 people crammed in the little room upstairs watching her hijab tutorials. I’m a bit worried that the designer bags and accessories are not being touched so I ask Ayesha to help out there.
At around 11:30am a lady comes in and buys two designer bags and leaves. About thirty minutes later she is back with five of her friends to pick up more things. After the lunchtime rush, things died down a little, although by that time, all the items priced at R50 are sold out.
“Mar... I think you need to post a bit more now on Instagram. Maybe do a live video,” Ayesha says to me quietly.
Amazingly, Adil already has two serious prospective tenants for the units he developed. You only see the real value of social media when you put together an event in three days and dozens of people are streaming in to be there. I was genuinely surprised by the turnout and that it was a cross-section of all races and ages.
I even had some guys come to buy things as gifts and obviously I made a fuss over them on social media. There’s nothing like a “get you a guy who knows a good makeup deal” post to get people talking.
It’s 3pm now and we are mostly sold out. My jaw is aching from all the smiling for selfies. Note to self: learn how to smile more naturally. I am ready to call it a successful day but Ayesha insists that I must post individual pictures of what’s left in the sale.
It works. Half an hour later three women walk in asking for the specific items that I posted. Then just as we are about to wind up, a hilarious woman and her teenage daughter walk in, huffing and puffing, saying they ran from her car hoping we have not closed. Her options are not much but they grab what they find.
Ayesha comes to me and suggests that we tell the last guests that they are welcome to pack snacks to take home. Thankfully, this girl plans to perfection and had disposable containers ready so people could take stuff home. She asks everyone who took a box to share pictures on social media and tag me and Fatima’s business, Decadence By Fatima. This family is made up of business ninjas!
By 5pm there is a group of six girls desperate to get in and Adil tells them half-jokingly that they will only be allowed in if they help us clean up. “We would love to,” the loudmouth in the group says as they rush to the remaining table to see what they can get.
I notice they are a bit budget conscious, so I decide to give them the remaining goodie bags I kept aside for the crew, a pack of Fatima’s creations and whatever freebies the exhibitors had. “OMG! Now we have to help you guys,” one of the girls, Saeeda, says.
I insist that Adil’s joking but they are really a stubborn bunch who literally start folding tables and stacking chairs. Firdaus already left at about 3pm because her scarves were sold out and she was exhausted from her red-eye flight. Molly left around the same time, so it was just Adil’s six staff members, Percy, Adil, Ayesha, Fatima, and me.
Despite Sarah making big promises, she didn’t show up today and I am so glad that she stayed away. There’s something about her energy that makes me uneasy and although she has good intentions, she is not my friend. Ayesha and Firdaus are my friends... Adil is my... person.
With all the help, we begin packing what’s left and in 30 minutes the place is sparkling clean, Fatima has all her things neatly gathered and we are ready to leave. I realised that my followers dress quite modestly because, from all that was left, it was mostly swimwear and crop tops. It could also be a size thing, I guess.
Once we’re all cleaned up, Adil pays his staff members for the day’s overtime and gives them a box of food each and bits and bobs of leftover things. Fatima is exhausted after her first day as a chef and leaves soon after with Percy.
Adil, Ayesha and I are the last three standing. We prop ourselves on the couches, exhausted from the day and relieved that it’s all done. I really thought something was going to go wrong. And yes, we didn’t sell out, but we did have a steady flow of people who shopped up a storm. I mean there was one lady who was on a video call with her sisters in Durban and she shopped for them too.
Because we accepted both cash and cards, it made it a seamless shopping experience. There were obviously a few people who tried to negotiate prices but Ayesha quickly put them in their place before we closed up. As we sit and unwind, Firdaus calls me to say she has made the most from her scarf sales than any other pop-up she’s done. She says I don’t have to pay her at all for the appearance rate because she sold much more than she expected.
“I am booking my holiday now,” she jokes.
“Book one for me too!” Adil jokes in the background. I need a holiday too. But I should probably first get a place to live. That would be wise.
“I’ve been keeping a running tally, but we can double check it now,” Adil says to me once I put down the phone.
“What’s your total?” I ask him.
That is a crapload of money for one day of sales!
“First and foremost, Ayesha... How much do I owe you for everything you bought?”
“No, that’s from my side,” Adil chips in.
“It can’t be,” I say defensively.
“This was a business day for me too. I already have four people coming to view units this week,” he says in a no-nonsense tone.
I try to protest but it doesn’t work.
“Okay... so what’s Fatima’s amount?” I ask Ayesha pleadingly.
“We only have to pay Fatima for her ingredients. She said about R2 000, but I think we should give her R3 000.”
“That seems so little compared to her hard work,” I say.
“She has gained more than you think,” Adil says in his stupidly rational voice that I sometimes hate. Why must he always be so sensible and rational?!!
Sometimes we like drama, so allow us!
“So, if we do the maths, Mar, your profit from today is about R80K,” Ayesha says.
“How much did we allocate for the orphanage?”
“About R20 000... We can change their roofs and flooring with that money,” Adil says as he gets up to come to sit closer to me.
I lean into him and close my eyes, so immensely grateful for my life and this opportunity. Never in my life did I think I could have this much money to my name. For some, it’s not a lot of money but if you’re used to earning R5 500 a month at most, having R100 000 in your bank account is a jackpot. And I don’t feel so guilty because I took out a sizeable portion to give to charity.
As my eyes are closed, I sit down and calculate how I am going to divide that money up. I think I will give my mother R30 000 for their house. Then I have to figure out a living situation and pay my rent upfront for at least three months in case I struggle to make money from my blog on my own.
I know Nabs is badmouthing me to some PR companies, but I decide not to focus on the negative. She’s probably wondering how I managed to pull off this pop-up in a few days without any real capital. What I’ve learned in my short stint on this earth is that no one is indispensable. You will be replaced tomorrow! And that’s Nabs’s problem. She acted with impunity because she thought she was indispensable to me and the blog. That I could never make it without her.
“So are you going to take this money and blast it in Dubai?” Ayesha jokes.
“I wish,” I say as Adil squeezes my shoulders in the most affectionate way.
“We all need a holiday after this,” Ayesha says.
“Thank you guys, so much. I am so, so grateful for everything. Ayesha, you know you are my day one commander in chief,” I say.
“And what about me? Am I not your day one?” Adil asks, feigning offence.
“Compared to Ayesha? No ways!” I say, trying to hide my blushing smile.
“I think I want to go into corporate event coordination,” Ayesha says, quickly changing the conversation — almost as if she senses the chemistry between me and Adil.
“You are so good at it! You don’t even have to do it every day. If you get three or four big events a month you will be sorted!”
“And that law degree? Your mother will lose her mind,” Adil sarcastically says.
“Like you are using your degree at all,” she hits back at her brother as I laugh myself silly.
As we lay on the couches in the show house, I can’t help but be grateful again for these two coming into my life.
“Can I ask you guys a question? Why are you guys so helpful to random people?” I ask.
“You are not a random person, you are Ma’s Beti,” Ayesha jokes.
“Ma probably loves you more than she loves some of her grandchildren,” Adil says.
“It’s only because I make time to drink masala chai with her,” I say, and Adil smirks.
There is definitely a vibe.
“Guys, I am exhausted. Thank you again for today. I really appreciate it and I appreciate having you in my life.”
“It’s only a pleasure ... we love this”, says Ayesha.
“From the time we were little my parents were very isolated. I don’t know why or what it is, but they always kept to themselves and did their own thing. My mother has always put her career first. So, we grew up with Ma who always went out of her way for people. When I was on campus in Cape Town, Ma came to stay with me and would cook for me and all my friends. When it’s any of her grandkids birthdays she always goes out of her way to make it special. I think we may have picked this up from her. To this day, Ma cooks for all the guards and workers in the estate on Fridays. The neighbours were having a wedding, she volunteered to make the sweetmeats.”
I get it now.
“My friends always find our family dynamic weird” Ayesha says as she stares into the distance.
“Shall we go?” Adil asks and this time we get up, take a few odds and ends, switch off the lights and leave to go home.
“Mar, can I do this? Can I transfer you the amount I need to give you from today and keep the cash?” Adil asks on the way.
“Sure. But is it safe to keep so much cash?”
“Honey, Indian people and tax evasion belong to the same WhatsApp group,” Ayesha jokes. Oh.
I still can’t believe how successful today’s pop-up was. I love that the brands who partnered with me also recorded a success. It’s amazing that Firdaus’s hijab brand was so popular and Molly got a number of requests for bridal makeup. Fatima also messaged me earlier to say that she has six solid orders after the event today.
As soon as I get to the Airbnb I am staying at, I call my mother to report to her about today’s success.
“Maari,” she says as she answers.
“How you mum?”
“You don’t sound so well?”
“What happened, mum?”
“He is in hospital.”
“What?! Mum how could you not tell me? What happened?”
“He was struggling to breathe for a few days. Yesterday he was very sick so I took him to the doctor who said he must go to the hospital. It’s something to do with his lungs”.
“Oh, no mum! I am going to come first thing tomorrow morning,” I say.
“But how? There are no busses tomorrow. You still don’t have a car.”
“Mum I will find a way. Do you need anything?”
I don’t know why, but I immediately call Adil, who is driving home after dropping me off.
“Mar. What’s wrong?”
“Zayn... my... you know Zayn? He is in hospital.”
“They aren’t sure yet, but he is struggling to breathe.”
“Shall we leave in the morning for Nelspruit?” Adil offers.
“I can’t do that to you, Ads.”
“Why not?” his voice is stern.
“Okay... I would appreciate it. I have no other way of going. Thank you. I am so worried that my mum might be downplaying the whole situation. I haven’t been home in a few months and my mother has a tendency to underplaying what’s really wrong.”
“Don’t worry... can we leave at about 8am?”
“Okay. Thank you Adil. For everything. I feel like I am taking advantage of you.”
“It’s what friends are for,” he says.
We are officially back in the friend zone. Why am I even thinking about that?! Zayn is in the hospital and here I am obsessing about Adil! What is wrong with me?
Packing up your life in nine hours is a reality TV series idea that would top Survivor. It’s an extreme sport that tests your inner strength like nothing else does. And I only have one room!
I’ve barely had the time to digest the conversation I had with Nabs this morning before I had to start packing up my life.
As I start, I think of just relenting and calling her to beg for her forgiveness. But then the reality of it all dawned on me. I am stronger than I think. Hell, who would’ve thought that I started the day with under R1 000 and now have just over R80 000 in my bank account! I don’t think she believed that I would be out by 8pm. She probably expected me to grovel and make peace and then we would move on, on her terms.
Having Adil and Ayesha to rely on emboldens me a bit. This is obviously scary and I have no idea where I am going to stay or what I am going to do but I know that they will help me. I decide not to tell my mother until I have figured out my life. For now, I just need to sort out all my belongings and pack everything.
“Okay, guys,” Ayesha says like a field marshal, “we are rushing against time, so we have to do things at super speed. Mar, if you don’t mind, I am going to take over and we will work together to get everything out of here in no time”.
“So, my advice is to start transporting things as and when boxes are packed and not to wait until the end.”
“But I am not sure where I am going yet,” I say as a frog creeps into my throat and my eyes are about to betray me. Don’t blink. Don’t blink. Damit!
“Adil said we can store it in our garage until you sort out your situation,” she says.
“Are you sure?” I double check.
“Yeah. We have tons of space... Okay, so Sarah, you are on driving duty. You and Joseph will work together. Joe, you load the car and Sarah will drive up and down to offload. When you’re back, we’ll have more boxes ready for you. Let’s start with all the charity sale stuff because it’s already packed. Now Joseph, please handle this stuff with care and pack separately from everything else.”
She is a field marshal.
“Okay, Percy, you start assembling the boxes and keeping them ready. Mar, let’s start emptying one cupboard and rail at a time,” she says.
If this was not such a tense situation, I would have given her a salute. But now’s not the time for jokes. I need to sort my life out and the clock is ticking.
Joseph and Sarah scurry off, Percy starts folding all the boxes and Ayesha and I start folding my clothes at record speed.
“If we all work optimally, we can be done in two hours. You know what. I think my Ma can sacrifice her other helper for two hours. Let me get Thandi to come with Sarah,” she says as she dials without blinking.
I haven’t checked social media today. I haven’t responded to comments or emails. As I feel myself about to crash into a pile of emotions and craziness, I drag myself to the bathroom and give myself a pep talk. “You’ve been through worse!” I shout at myself in the mirror and take a deep breath to gather myself.
I can do this. I can do this. I am stronger than I think.
About one hour in and surprisingly, the pile of boxes is getting higher and the pile of things in my cupboards are getting much smaller.
I focus on removing the bedding from my bed and folding it. In terms of furniture, I have my bed, my two sets of drawers, my furry chair, two ottomans and a massive mirror that would have to be transported in a vehicle bigger than a car. I haven’t even thought about how we’re even going to get this to Adil’s house. I just hope he or Ayesha thought about it.
Speaking of Adil, as we loaded Ayesha’s car for the last time with boxes, he shows up in his work clothes, visibly concerned about me.
“Mar... are you okay?”
“Yeah. We’ve really done a lot”.
“So, just the big stuff then?”
“Yeah. Ayesha told me to pack a bag of stuff I need for the next week or so. I have done that; I just need to check the rest of the house to see if I’ve left anything else.”
“What about all the stuff in the kitchen?”
“I thought I should leave it.”
“Are you crazy? She is evicting you in a day, you shouldn’t leave a single thing. I can’t believe... Okay, let’s focus.”
“Maybe I should google removal companies?”
“No, I asked my guys to come help with a bakkie. They should be here by now or maybe they stopped to get cigarettes.”
“So Adil, we get them to take all the furniture, then Percy will start cleaning the room. In the meantime, Thandi and Joseph will go back home to make sure everything is neat and packed properly. Sarah, let’s go buy bin bags to throw the remainder of the trash in. Ads, you and Maariah start packing the foodstuff. Come, come! We have to be out of here asap!”
“Yes, Sergeant,” Adil says, taking the words out of my mouth. I start laughing but follow her instructions.
Four hours later, we are done packing up the last of my belongings and taking it to Adil’s house. I keep thinking about what he’s going to tell his parents when they find out all my things are in their garage?
“Maariahhhh!” Adil calls.
“You’re lost in your own thoughts. Can we pack all of this?” he asks and I nod.
We pack the remainder of the kitchen stuff in silence until Ayesha and Sarah come back.
“Okay, once Percy throws away the last trash... we will leave you guys. I want to check for myself if everything is stored neatly. We will find you at home,” she says in a half sergeant voice.
“Thank you, Ayesha... Thank you, Sarah. I really appreciate it,” I say.
They all leave and Adil forces me to sit on the couch and take a break.
“What happened?” he asks, facing me.
I can’t talk. I try to but I am physically unable. Then the floodgates open and nothing is stopping the tears from rolling down my cheeks.
“Hey... I am sorry.. I am sorry,” Adil says as he hugs me.
Sidenote: this is the first time he’s hugged me in all the time we know each other.
“When we were in Cape Town, I was speaking to Firdaus and then I realised that Nabs was actually ripping me off. All the other bloggers with my type of following were making so much more money than me and it turned out that she was undercutting me.”
“By a lot?”
“Yes! And when I confronted her in a straightforward way, things escalated.”
“Mar... I am sorry you had to go through this.”
“It’s a long story. Basically she paid me an amount and told me to move out. We are no longer working together.”
“You will be fine. I know that,” he says, comforting me.
“I know you are emotional and feel betrayed, but you can’t let your eye off the ball. Go onto your social media and remove all contacts for Nabs on your account. Change it to a generic email account you have and make sure people know you have new management, even though you don’t have it yet.”
I love how Adil thinks about things that don’t even cross my mind.
“What would I do without you?” I say half-jokingly to Adil, and he knows it’s true but just laughs in response.
“You’re going to be fine,” he says again.
“I just need a long nap. But I still need to figure out where I am going to stay tonight.”
“You’re staying with us, of course!”
“Are you mad?”
“No, I am serious. You’re not going to sleep in my room, obviously. You can sleep in Ayesha’s room or even the guest bedroom downstairs.”
“Adil, I can’t do that.”
“Why not? I mean, please just come stay the night with us at least.”
“Adil... my mother would die if she finds out I slept over at some random guy’s house”.
“I am not some random guy. Also you’re sleeping at Ayesha’s house. She’s your friend!”
“My mother would freak out,” I say, half lying because my mother trusts me, and she wouldn’t care if I slept at his house or not.
“Mar, you can tell your mother you are staying with Ayesha, and Sarah will also sleep over too. If you care so much, I will go stay over at a friend’s.”
“I can’t do that. You guys were already so kind. I think I am going to get a hotel for the night”.
“I think that’s more dangerous than staying at my house,” he insists.
“Adil. Listen... Adil. I can’t stay there. You have done so much.”
“It’s almost 5pm, Mar. Let’s go now. With traffic, we will get home by 6. Then you can sort out your stuff, we can eat dinner and then decide what’s going to happen."
I nod but I am really unsettled. Having him here, helping me, is so overwhelming.
As I am wiping a random counter, I burst out crying for no apparent reason. I feel angry at myself for being taken advantage of. I feel disappointed for allowing myself to have a repeat of my divorce. I also am angry that I had to rely so fully on Adil even though the parameters of our relationship — which is just a friendship — haven’t been defined.
“Come here,” he says as he hugs me.
“I’m sorry,” I say in between heaves of tears.
“Sshh. It’s okay. You will get through this. We will go and get you settled.”
I go to the bathroom to freshen up and get the courage to leave this house.
“Hey, are you okay?” Adil asks as I leave the bathroom.
“Yeah, I am okay. Let’s go. We can go to your house now. We will figure things out later.”
He nods and carries the final bags out of the place I called home for two years. I am going to miss this house and its charming high ceilings and hardwood floors. I am going to miss the morning light in my room.
There is a silver lining to this, compared to my divorce. I am older, wiser and with a bit more money in the bank than I had last time around.
Divorces are crappy but friend breakups hurt just as hard — trust me!
Although, if you go through divorce at my age, people often have this look of pity towards you. The former landlords of the back room I rented used to have that look towards me every time they sent leftover food.
You know the look! “Ag, shame. Poor thing.” I hate pity! I despise it. It is probably my greatest driver why I work so hard — so I could no longer attract that look.
I know now is not the time for pity demons to show up but it’s probably the main reason why as much as I appreciated Adil’s help, I am feeling so uneasy.
I think a part of me just wants him to make a move on me so his kindness and help makes sense. Then it’s not him and his sister pitying me. He actually cares for me.
Urgh, what the hell is wrong with me? I am homeless and probably soon without a career but here I am trying to corner a guy into saying he likes me and has feelings for me. I have officially reached rock bottom.
“Are you okay?” Adil asks me as we drive towards the highway on the way to his house.
“Are you sure?”
“I am trying to figure out what to do.”
“I think first, you have to email all your PR people to alert them that Nabs no longer represents you.”
“Agreed. But maybe I should focus on finding a place to stay first.”
“Don’t worry. I am here for you.”
“Why are you here for me?”
He doesn’t respond.
“I just... never mind.”
“You just what?”
“I just... I just can’t understand why you are so kind to someone you don’t even care for.”
Again, he doesn’t respond to my provocation. He looks straight ahead, stone faced. I can tell he is trying hard not to react.
Shit. What have I done? Dammit. What is wrong with me?
I am an emotional wreck. I don’t even know why I feel like crying. I just feel like my whole life is crashing around me. And I just want to be loved.
I can’t help but feel like a charity case to him. He probably gets a thrill from helping me out when I need him but that’s where it ends. Once he is done with his hero-complex, he goes back to his life.
It explains why he doesn’t message me unless he really has to and why he hasn’t made a move in all the time that we’ve been getting to know each other.
I used to think my life could be a movie, but at this point, all it looks like is a B-grade horror.
We get to Adil’s house and his granny is waiting for us by the door. I quickly clean up my face and try to find the biggest smile from the inner core of my being. It’s so hard to summon up my smile.
As we go inside, Ayesha and Sarah are busy setting the table. “I was wondering what took you guys so long, traffic? Wash up, we’re all starving,” Ayesha says in one breath.
Is Sarah always here? She never seems to ever be in her own home. Does she even work? I don’t know how she is always here. Adil probably noticed my hesitation, “Listen, Mar. Things are going to be okay. You’re not imposing,” he reaffirms.
I am on a downward spiral of self-sabotage, it seems. I am hell-bent on destroying my one and only true friend.
“Come Mar, Ma is waiting,” he says again, walking to the door.
Ma and her curry can wait! Okay, I don’t actually say that, but I think it. If I don’t have an ulcer in my stomach by now it would be a freaking miracle.
Dinner is too loud to focus on my thoughts or care much about what was happening around me.
At 25 I feel like I am 45. At some point I need to call my mother. Maybe she can help me make sense of this chaos that is my life because I seem hell-bent on making things worse.
“Have more, beti... have, have,” Ma says, forcing more food on my plate.
There goes my diet!
“You okay?” Adil asks me softly and I nod and eat the chicken curry and rice by hand.
There’s nothing like a good pot of curry for your soul. Whoever came up with the book title ‘Chicken Soup for The Soul’ really hasn’t had a good chicken curry. It warms up your heart and hugs you from the inside.
“Ma, you need to start cooking banting food,” Ayesha says, and Ma is not impressed.
“What’s this banting? Oh! I saw it on the eTV. It’s the one with the no carbs and high-fat diet? What nonsense. How can you put avocado in everything? How can you make avocado curry,” Ma says, and we all laugh.
“You never know, avocado curry might become a thing,” Adil says and I snort with laughter in the most unladylike way. He smiles, almost proud that he made me laugh on one of the toughest days of my life.
We wash up and I agree to stay the night in their guest bedroom which is next to Sarah’s room. I didn’t care to sit up and watch TV with everyone else because this day has been so emotionally exhausting.
I go to the room and immediately log on my laptop and look for an Airbnb I can move to. Maybe I should try to find something near Adil’s house? Never mind. I cannot afford R2 000 a night.
Eventually, I find a decent fully-furnished one-bedroom apartment for R8 500 for the month with uncapped WiFi. That is a steal in Johannesburg and it has a decent kitchen.
While I stay here, I can figure out where I could stay and how much I can afford.
The next morning, I wake up late, thanks to the world’s most comfortable bed and pillows! You don't know what you missing until you sleep on 800 thread count Egyptian cottin sheets. When I get done and go to the kitchen I find Adil on his computer and Ma sitting and cleaning herbs while they chat away. It’s cute.
He doesn’t seem to care that I booked an Airbnb for a month but offered to help me move my clothes there and store my furniture until I find a permanent place.
Adil seems to get how important it was for me to figure out my life and gives me space to do that. Thankfully, he hasn’t given up our gym routine, we just start going to the one closer to his house.
I really thought that I’d be better off this time because of the fact that I have money. But it seems like every single abandonment issue I housed in my head since I was born comes out after Nabs chucks me out of her house.
Having to start afresh twice in my short adult life has really screwed with me.
I don’t know if it’s the loneliness or depression but my feelings for Adil grow stronger gradually.
On the days we don’t hit the gym, he comes over after work for dinner and happily eats ‘tuna bowls’ in front of the TV.
It is a routine. Platonic. We don’t even sit on the same couch.
Our conversations are mostly about his work, his Ma and the programmes we watch together. Occasionally we talk about content I have shot or a random event I attend.
It goes on for two weeks and tonight is no different. Adil comes to the Airbnb with food his Ma cooked, which is a change from usual because either I cook or we order Uber Eats.
“Ma is quite sad that you’re staying in an Airbnb and not with us,” he says as he walks in and opens his top button, ready to get comfortable.
"I see where you get your character from," I tease and he grins.
In all this time I’ve spent with Adil I haven’t figured him out entirely. Maybe I am just really stupid. Which guy spends so much time with a girl if he is not romantically interested in her? It really escapes me.
“What do you do when you’re not with me?” I randomly ask him as we sit down to eat.
“I work,” he says looking at me quizzically.
“You don’t have friends?” I ask him again.
“How Mar? Of course, I have friends. I see them when I have time,” he says.
“What do you mean?” he says as his forehead crinkles.
“I think I am going to download Tinder," I say and Adil laughs.
“So I have a business proposal for you,” he successfully changes the topic.
“I thought you said you don’t believe in mixing business with pleasure,” I try to lighten the mood.
“Listen... I was thinking about the charity sale you were planning. I think that you should do it in the show house I have for the units I developed in Melrose.”
“You want me to host the sale at the show house?”
“Yeah, so I have it staged already. It will be a collaboration. I need the foot traffic into the development and you need a venue. Win-win.”
“That’s a great idea! It is called a trade exchange.”
For the next week, we abandon the gym and every evening he picks me up so we can plan my first ‘Shop My Closet’ sale at his house with Ayesha.
There was the social media plan, which I had mostly covered. It was the logistics that I needed help with. The final touches like the nice-to-have goodie bags and vouchers would be the last thing we worry about.
As soon as I posted that I will be having my very first shop my closet sale, people went crazy! I don’t interact too much with my followers and don’t do many ‘meet and greets’ so this would be a rare opportunity for people to hang out with me.
Also, the fact that I priced the goods really well made people so excited. It is rare to find makeup for R50 or R100.
The idea is to incentivise 100 people to be there by 9am by giving them each a freebie. Then to get them to buy, they will get a free gift for every purchase of R1 000.
Adil, who now has a notepad dedicated to the sale, suggests that I set up an area for a meet-and-greet and pictures with my followers. He also insisted that he provide the snacks as part of his end of the bargain to showcase the houses.
Firdaus, at the last minute, decides she too wants to help out. I think she feels bad for instigating the mess with Nabs. The more I think about it, the more grateful I am that she opened my eyes to what was happening right in front of me. Nabs was ripping me off and I was too stupid to see.
Firdaus plans to do two hijab tutorials and promote the sale on her social media. We haven’t spoken about it yet, but I do plan to pay her if the sale is successful. I also got Molly on board to do makeovers for a few random lucky people. At first I was hesitant to reach out to brands who would want to get involved but I am glad I did.
This is the first time I am dealing directly with PR people and brand managers. Before, Nabs would handle them and I would focus on content creation. But being nice to people at events pays off.
First, I asked Milora if they would like to come on board. They were so keen to use the sale to launch their new mobile coffee stands for parties and events. Having Milora there seemed true to brand because I’ve been stealing their WiFi and water for years!
The marketing manager offered to take the deal a step further by offering a 10% discount to all my followers, and in turn I get a percentage of the sales.
This was a dream come true!
Once that is sorted, I email BKZ makeup and ask if they would be able to sponsor 100 small gifts. They, surprisingly, agree to do 200 gift bags. I have to remind myself that it’s cheaper for them to put a product or two in a gift bag than pay for the amount of marketing they will be getting from this event. Still, it is super cool of them.
We have two days left before the event and slowly it is shaping up really well.
Once I get all the collaborations and sponsorship nailed down, we start transporting everything to the venue. Ayesha suggests that we price items as we unbox and set it up. We divide everything into four tables. One table for everything priced at R50 each, the second at R100, the third at R200 and the last one at R250.
If I was a shopper at my sale, I would freak out.
Eyeshadow palettes that cost R900 are going for R200. Besides the items I set aside for the sale, I decided to go through my personal things and pull out some of the stuff I’ve been hoarding but have never used. Not only do I need the money, but my eviction drama also taught me that I keep stuff I really don’t need or use.
As we are unpacking and categorising items, Adil sticks different coloured stickers as per the price code. Our four tables are already full of mostly makeup items and we still have boxes of accessories, clothes, and a ton of bags.
Adil suggests that we separate the ‘gently worn’ clothes from the stuff that still has tags on. I can’t believe I have so many things laying in my cupboard that still had tags on. The young girl who wore hand-me-downs but loved fashion is dying a little bit.
“I don’t think you should under-price these designer handbags,” Ayesha says in that commander voice of hers.
“We can do 30% of retail prices,” I respond.
“I think 60%. If they don’t sell, we can further reduce it. By the way, this brown leather satchel is mine!”
“You can have it,” I say instantly.
“No! Price it, then I will buy it on Saturday morning.”
“No. Please take it!” I insist, prompting a back and forth that eventually ends with Adil saying, “Can you guys get to work and sort out the bag situation later?”
While we are stuck on pricing things, Adil walks around making a list of what we need for the day of the sale. The show unit is absolutely spectacular. It’s big but not oversized, and modern but not extravagant. I absolutely love the finishes. When you enter, there’s a foyer with a sideboard perfect for entrance drinks.
In the lounge, there is enough seating for people to sit around and there would be snacks and sweets on the coffee table and the side tables.
In the dining room, we have the four makeup tables set up with a space for Molly on one side.
Then in the open-plan kitchen we will have the guys from Milora serving coffees with the snacks that Adil is arranging.
Upstairs in the pyjama lounge/foyer area, we will have all the sponsors exhibit their stuff. I decide to give Firdaus her own room, although it’s the smallest room that’s mostly empty, to exhibit her scarves and do her tutorials.
In the second bedroom, my bags, accessories, and clothes will be displayed because there are huge mirrors and a closet that can double up as a fitting room. I think we are going to leave the master bedroom as is. It’s the only room that’s fully furnished to show how it could look if someone moved in. It adds a sense of luxury to the area.
In terms of logistics, I need six people handling goods and two people handling money. I am going to be mostly floating around taking pictures. We will also need someone to make sure the place is constantly neat and clean.
Adil offers to get his staff from his office to work overtime. At first, I want to say no, but the truth is I don’t have anyone to help me. If Adil and Ayesha are busy with money, six of his staff members can just help the clients try out and fit on. As much as Sarah annoys me, she will also help oversee everything. I will also pay Percy to help keep the area clean.
“It’s a plan,” I say as we set up the last lot of stuff.
“It’s going to be good,” Adil says reassuringly.
“I’ve become so popular in my friend circle because I am helping out with Maariah Means’ first-ever pop-up,” Ayesha teases.
“I really appreciate you guys’ help,” I tell Ayesha and Adil again.
“I know this may be weird to you, but we love doing this,” Ayesha reassures me.
“I told her... we are just these people,” Adil smirks.
I noticed it for a while — Adil will randomly buy ice creams for the kids in his estate or Ayesha will go out of her way to order something for a friend.
After the long day of prepping, we drive to Adil’s house for his cousin Umar’s small birthday get-together. I don’t stay long, because I am exhausted, and Adil agrees to drop me off at my Airbnb just after the cake is cut and we sing for Umar.
Over the past few weeks, I have really felt part of this family. It’s the weird small stuff like Ma sending me a container of spices or Ayesha insisting that I should bring my laundry over for their helper to wash.
“So, how’s Tinder?” he randomly asks as he helps me carry stuff into the apartment and my stomach immediately flips.
“It’s not for me, hey," I reply, half laughing.
"Isn’t that how you millennials find love?"
"Do you have anyone to introduce me to?” I jab and his face falls into a frown.
“You don’t have a single friend?” I persist.
“Well I have a ton of friends, but none I can introduce you to,” he says as he packs the parcels neatly.
Adulthood has taught me many lessons. Some were gentle nudges but there were many, many lessons that came as a slap across my face.
One of the hardest adulting lessons I learned is that even people you consider your friends can be liars and cheats.
I don’t think I fully understood the metaphor of “opening a can of worms” until I started asking Nabs for records to back up the payments she made to me.
I always had a nagging feeling that I was being underpaid for campaigns and paid work. I would often go to events and some influencers with far smaller followings than me and with fewer paid gigs would talk about trips they’ve been on or their recent purchases.
Obviously, my spineless self couldn’t just be open with her and ask her outright if she was underpaying me, so I made up a remarkable tale of how I needed to file my tax returns and had to account for the money.
But she wouldn’t buy it.
At first, I was so vested in keeping the peace but then I thought, why should I be the better person when she is fleecing me?
I am also afraid of Nabs’s mean attitude. She can be a bully under the guise of ‘telling it like it is’. And for a long time, we vibed and didn’t have any issues because I didn’t believe we were equals. Every time she would transfer money to me it was like she was doing me a huge favour. And without her, I would be working at Icon, on my feet for 10 hours a day trying to sell overpriced handbags.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that she has been ripping me off
I left it for a day, but yesterday I reached out to one of my blogger friends that I worked on a lipstick campaign with to ask how much she got for that campaign. Thankfully, she wasn’t typically secretive and instantly told me that she received R39 000 from her agent, who took 10%.
WHAT. I got R11 000 from that campaign that had to last me three months! Even if Nabs took 40%, I was still short-changed. So I decided to email her, to be overly formal, and request a meeting at Sasha’s in Rosebank for today.
I’ve got a spine.
I have a backbone.
I am strong.
I’ve got a spine.
I have a backbone.
I am strong.
I keep repeating it all morning, but I still feel ill-prepared for the meeting.
I arrive 20 minutes earlier than Nabs just to calm myself and gather my thoughts so that I don’t fumble and make a complete fool of myself. The thing is, I do feel grateful for Nabs for giving me my career and paving the way for me to quit my job and focus fully on blogging.
Okay. Breathe, girl. Breathe.
I read on a stupid business website that in order to have an effective meeting, you have to go in with an agenda of things you want to speak about, a list of demands, and have an idea of what you are willing to compromise.
This stupid website also preached that in order to fully get what you want, you must be willing to walk away and not look back. Now, I don’t know if it’s good advice, but I don’t know what the hell I am doing trying to confront Nabs who is effectively the source of my income and not have a plan B.
My CV looks like this: matric, married for two years, divorced, worked inretail for two years, and been blogging for four years, two of them full-time.
Skills: I can take bomb selfies. I can curate an Instagram feed. I can do awesome flat lays. I can also swatch eyeshadow really well.
I HAVE NO SKILLS. I can’t go out and look for a job after this. I don’t think I even have it in me to start from the bottom again. But Nabs doesn’t have to know that. She should know that if she doesn’t come clean, I am willing to walk away.
My stomach is in a knot tighter than the bun on the top of my head. And I already have a headache from how tight I pulled it. I take a sip of free tap water as Nabs walks in with a ton of papers and folders in hand.
My throat feels constricted and I swear I can hear my heart thud against my chest.
“Hey,” she says coldly as she sits down across from me and immediately pulls out her laptop.
Girl, you are not intimidating me today. In the words of an Eastern Cape granny: Not today, satan. Not today!
“How’s it? How’s your day been?”
“Fine. Listen. I know why we are here, and I want to say upfront that I don’t need this bullshit. I was already successful at PR before you came along so I really don’t need you,” she says with as much attitude she can muster. The thing about Nabs is that everyone just accepts the fact that she doesn’t have a filter and very rarely do people give her a taste of her own medicine. She’s always being confrontational and ‘honest’, never giving anyone else a chance to say what they mean or think.
Not this time. I refuse.
“Absolutely. If you feel like you want to go back to the full-time job that you hated, sure. But that’s really a conversation for another time. I just want to do full recon so that I can sort out my financials. I printed out my bank statement and some emails… let me just connect to the WiFi so we can check other emails...”
“If you want to be so cocky why don’t we just pull the plug and go our separate ways then,” she tries to hit back but I refuse to take it lying down.
“We can ... as soon as I am done with this accounting,”
“What accounting? I was running your business for you...”
“You are my manager who took a generous 40% cut. I am just trying to reconcile all my income based on paid work to evaluate whether I want to continue blogging or not.”
That’s a lie but things went from 0 to 100 quick.
“So how do you want to do this?” she asks.
“First let’s cross-check payments for the last year from your account to mine.”
“It’s R201 837.”
“Give me a second to calculate on my side...”
“We have time...”
“What do you want Maariah? Huh? You want to prove that I robbed you?”
“Who said anything about you robbing me?”
“Then why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove? Do you think Firdaus is your friend? That she has your back? She just wants you out of the way so that she can have all the deals for herself.”
“There is no need to be so paranoid!” I say, half shouting, with all the confidence I can find in me. Life does teach you to get a backbone!
“The reason why I am doing this is simple. I got an email from BYZ makeup thanking me for the collab and saying they would love to do a future collab at the same price as the last. R15 800. Then I checked how much I got from that collab and you transferred just R4 800 to my account.”
“Well, who pays for all your shit! When we meet I pay for meetings. I pay for your makeup artists. I have travel expenses.”
“That’s fine. So, all I am doing is trying to account, so we both are treated fairly.”
“That’s nonsense. You think I steal your money Maariah. That’s how pathetic you are! You think I need you. When I found you, you were a miserable divorcee working retail and stealing clothes from your employer to take crappy pictures in.”
“No. No. I refuse to be intimidated by you. We are here to account and we will account for the last year.”
“Whatever!” she says like a character from Mean Girls. I thought we left that behaviour behind in high school but apparently, I’m wrong.
“Now BYZ makeup. How much did they pay?”
“I don’t have figures on hand!” she pushed back. I refuse to fall for her trap.
“Your laptop is right there.”
Nabs is angry and hates being put on the spot. She also is baffled by this assertive girl that’s sitting in front of her because she knows I’m a pushover.
“The amount is R15 800... but...”
“Okay, so let me check what’s 40% of that. Uhm, that’s R6 320. So, my amount should have been R9 480. There were no costs involved in that shoot so that was the amount that should have been transferred into my account.”
“Okay. My bad. Blame it on bad accounting skills. What? Do you want me to pay you back?”
For a moment, just a moment, I think I should ask her for an apology, and we should both go our separate ways. But the reality is that if she did this to anyone else, they would have demanded she pays them back.
“Yes, sure. It’s about five grand that you need to transfer.”
“Are we really doing this? After everything I did for you?”
“Nabs. This is not an emotional or personal thing. This is accounting that should have been done from day one. You just admitted that you were wrong now, let’s get to the bottom of what the discrepancy is and then we can work on a way forward.”.
“Are you really willing to throw your whole career away for a few hundreds of rands that I might have miscalculated?”
“Yes,” I say with a blank look on my face as my stomach shrinks further into a knot.
“It’s that guy, isn’t it? That stupid rich gym guy. You think he is going to marry you and you will live happily ever after, but you forget you are damaged goods."
If I wasn’t done when I entered this meeting, I am done now.
“Look. You are not going to sidetrack me. My estimates show you owe me in excess of R70 000. It’s probably more. If you want me to email every PR person or company we’ve worked with I am happy to do that and collate exact figures.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” she says in that tone of hers that’s a mix of condescending and arrogant.
“Oh. I have nothing to lose. My blogging career is already dead without you, right?”
WHO AM I?
“Listen... don’t be stupid. Let’s just work this out.”
“That’s exactly what I was saying.”
“Give me two days to calculate what I owe you. If I owe you anything. Like I said, I am not good at accounting.”
“That’s fine,” I say calmly — grateful that she has finally seen some rationality.
“Oh, and Maariah...”
“You have until the end of the day to move out of my house.”
WHAT THE ...
“You can’t do that! There are laws.”
“Of course there are laws, but technically you are not a tenant. You never signed a lease.”
“You are staying in my sunroom. I am subleasing to you. You have no legal power to stop me from throwing you out. I can’t live with someone who thinks I am a thief.”
“Don’t be crazy, Nabs. This is just business.”
“Of course, it is. And that’s why I want you out of my house by 8pm. If your stuff is not out by then I am selling it all.”
“You want to play this game?” I ask confidently yet my knees are knocking each other.
“You owe me over R70 000. If you want me out... pay me my money and then I‘ll gladly go.”
“How much do you want? Huh? 70K?” she rages as the waiter comes to tell her to keep it down for the second time, or they’re throwing us out of Sasha’s.
“Pay me my money,” I say calmly.
“Okay. I am done with you. You know what. You think I stole your money, which you know is not true. So, I am going to give you R70 000 right now. I am transferring it right now. And then we are DONE.”
“No, we are not Nabs. We did a ton of collaborations in Cape Town and I know you believe in an upfront payment. So, pay me for .. the hotel, the two restaurants, and the two flatlays. Oh, and don’t forget the bikini collab. Pay me my 60% this time — and then we are done.”
Nabs hates losing. She hates it. Had I taken the 70K and gone, it would have gotten her off the hook. As she logs on her computer in haste to transfer the 50K to me, I glance over at her balance. The balance in her bank account is R267 981!
WHAT. Do you want to know what my bank account is after the Cape Town trip? R831, 62!
For now, I am her only real client. I have been her only steady income for the past two years. Our expenses are similar. In fact, she pays more rent than I do, and she pays for a car and insurance.
I should have let her calculate how much she owed me and not agreed on the spot to that R70 000.
“Listen. I just sent you all the emails from Cape Town. I owe you just R11 000. There’s the money. R81 000 should reflect in your account soon. Now go home, get your shit and get out before I get home.”
“Uh, sorry Nabs. There are still two outstanding invoices. You emailed me about it. You said Savoy PR hasn’t paid for the two videos yet. That’s another R2 000 or so.”
“You are disgusting Maariah. Look at you chasing money like you are entitled to it. I hope you know you are where you are because of me. When you’re a has-been on the internet you will think of me.”
I had to laugh a little at ‘has-been on the internet’. That’s clever. But I am not ready to become that. I have been knocked too many times in my life; I know what resilience means. If it means I have to start afresh, so be it. But I refuse to be bullied by Nabs, who is clearly in the wrong but is trying to deflect from her own mistakes. I’ve always been the peacemaker in my life, the one who puts out flames and never stokes them. This time I am lighting my own fire to fight back. I refuse to be a better person. I won’t be. Not this time.
“So, is all my money transferred?” I ask cheekily hoping to drive home a message that I was nowhere near defeated.
“Yes. I transferred all your stupid money! Now I don’t want to ever see you again”.
“This didn’t have to end like this, Nabs. All I asked for was what was due to me.”
“Listen. I haven’t got any time for this. When I get home at 8, everything must be out,” she says, and leaves in a huff, almost knocking over the guy that was sitting behind us.
The moment she left, all the adrenaline that had been keeping me going swiftly leaves my body. I start feeling ill. Maybe I was wrong? Maybe I should have just ended the working relationship and remained friends with her?
Was the money worth it? Now I don’t have a place to stay, again! But... Nabs stole from me. How do I stay friends let alone business partners with someone like this?
Simmi can’t help because I don’t want to put her in the middle of me and Nabs.
Imagine going back home to Nelspruit now? That can’t happen.
I have nine hours to pack my things, find a place to stay, and move out. This feels like my divorce all over again because I have no friends to help and moving back home is not an option. Well, on second thought... I do have Adil. I mean, I don’t really have Adil. He is nothing to me. But, I mean, I have him... I can ask him. At this point, I have nothing to lose.
I call Adil for the first time since I got back from Cape Town two days ago.
“Adil...” I say when he picks up the phone.
“Hey, how have you been?”
“I need your help urgently.”
“Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“I will explain when you get here...”
“I can’t come immediately. I have a meeting at 1:30 with my contractor. What’s up?”
“Nabs and I had a huge fight. She is chucking me out.”
“Is that even legal?”
“Well, I don’t have a lease.”
“How are you so stupid not to have signed a lease with her!”
“Ads, now’s not the time. I just really need your help.”
“Okay, listen, let me call Ayesha. She may be able to come to help you with our helper.”
“I will appreciate that. I don’t know where to start.”
“Where are you Mar?”
“I am at Sasha’s.”
“Okay ... go to the delivery entrance and ask them for as many boxes as possible. Then get an Uber home. Ayesha will come as soon as she can, and I will be there by 2.”
“I am so sorry to trouble you.”
“Shut up, we will talk when I get there.”
I hang up and walk to the delivery entrance in a daze, thinking how the hell did I allow someone to pull the rug from under my feet again! You would think I learned my lesson from my divorce when I left with nothing, although I was the one who was cheated on.
The vibration of my phone ringing interrupt my self-pity.
“Hey babe. It’s Ayesha. Adil just called. He said you’re in a pickle and need help packing and moving out by the end of the day.”
“Hey. Yes please.”
“Okay, thankfully I am not office-bound today so I am going to get Percy and her husband Joseph. I am leaving home in ten minutes, I will be by you in about 20 to 30 minutes. Do you mind if I ask Sarah to come with?”
I do mind, but beggars can’t be choosers. Now’s not the time to be catty. Not when I am about to be homeless in under nine hours.
Are you even a South African influencer if you don’t have basic photoshoots in Bo Kaap and Camps Bay in Cape Town? Oh, and that famous pose on the top of Lion’s Head at sunrise?
Nabs suggests that I fly down to Cape Town to meet with a few clients she had set up and shoot some content, and I jump at the opportunity. She manages to get us a free stay at The Zaj in Cape Town, which is an incredible five-star hotel, as part of their new partnership with us.
Basically, they gave me a four-night stay, and in turn, I need to promote their off-peak specials. The only thing I have to cover was my own flights, which I didn’t budget for, but who needs food for the rest of the month if I can get Cape Town for four days?
Jokes. It’s a much better month this month. But if I knew I was going to Cape Town I wouldn’t have bought new sunglasses I clearly don’t need.
On second thought, scratch that. It’s great that I bought those sunnies because I can give them the respect they deserve on my Cape Town trip.
I’m going to slay. My A-game will have its own A-game. Cape Town was never ready for me.
Okay, let me stop hyping myself up. I haven’t been so excited for anything blogger-related recently. I’ve mostly been uninspired. I posted better content as a broke girl who worked a 12-hour retail job than I do now.
So Cape Town couldn’t have come at a better time.
Although, when I land I feel like I got the short end of the stick. Nobody told me that Cape Town is actually miserable in Winter. I don’t know what’s worse, the wind or the rain. Add peak-hour traffic and I definitely do not get the welcome to Cape Town that I was hoping for.
Instagram makes us believe that Cape Town is all cute girls running on the promenade and sushi. No one prepared me for this. Nabs said “take a jacket” but I was not prepared for this level of depressing weather.
Still, in this inclement weather, I found runners running along the promenade at sunrise the next morning. All my plans to enjoy what Cape Town has to offer and take enough selfies to last a lifetime have fallen flat on its face.
Nabs has one piece of advice: “Make the cold weather work for you”. Why must she be so sensible?!
Nabs also believes that I must accept that I have feelings for Adil and stop being in denial. She’s probably right but I hate her tone. She gets away with being really insensitive sometimes because being abrasive is who she is. Most times I am forgiving of her demeanour. But now I think I am never going to tell her anything about Adil again.
We were out having lunch and I told her about the night at Adil’s house and how I have this suspicion about Sarah. “But why do you care? You guys are just gym buddies right?" she hit back. My facial expression gave my feelings away at that moment. I don’t even know. “Tell him you like him and get over with it. The worst thing is that he won’t like you back,” Nabs said.
It is not that simple!
Also, I truly don’t know if I like the guy. It just bothered me that his sister’s friend gave off a vibe. I can’t even explain it. But I felt it.
Okay — dissecting feelings is not what this trip is about. I am here for the basic Camps Bay pictures and my culturally insensitive Bo Kaap photoshoot. It’s going to happen. I am here for the overpriced sushi and the matcha lattes.
Nabs was naturally in charge of planning our days and the content we are shooting at different locations. She also sets up one full day of meetings so that I can be exposed to Cape Town PR companies and interesting brands.
This trip shows me how much she is dying to move back home to Cape Town, but she won’t admit it. I think she extended her stay from two weeks to a month to test the waters and see if she can work from Cape Town.
It’s a hard decision to move back home but I think Nabs is at a stage in her life where she needs her family and probably wants to settle down soon. She’s 30 and gearing herself to expand her business and truly make money. I think she’s just trying to figure it all out, just like the rest of us.
While she does that, I plan to shoot content with Firdaus while I am in Cape Town. We’ve been speaking about a collaboration shoot for so long, so now is a great time.She says she would like to do hijab styling on me that will include four different hijab styles — gosh, who knew there were more than two ways to tie a scarf?
Then I have a collab meeting with ShopHarrietFord, they want me to shoot their swimsuits while I am in Cape Town for their upcoming summer campaign. In between the work stuff, I have three restaurant reviews and Nabs hooked up a lovely high tea afternoon on the last day of our stay.
Shooting pictures in beautiful swimwear is hard work — you don’t know what stress is until a Cape Town wind blows your one of your false eyelashes away and puts sand in crevices you didn’t even know you had. Trust me, after all this, I need the pampering of a gourmet high tea.
Talking about body parts, my entire life, I’ve never been conscious about modest dressing. It was never a thing in my house. My mother didn’t wear a scarf and she never expected me to. I always just wore stuff my aunt passed down to me, so I ended up living in her old jeans and t-shirts for most of my life. It was hardly a look. Remember bell-bottom jeans? I wore them for years long after they were considered cool.
When I married Ozayr, I naturally wore more modest clothing because his mother and the rest of his family did. And by modest I don’t mean hijab. I just wore longer length tops and didn’t wear short skirts. I didn’t think about it. It wasn’t a decision linked to my beliefs. I was just young and naive. (Not like that has changed).
So, when I started blogging, I didn’t have any reservations wearing what was seen as non-modest clothing. My mother always told me that all that matters is what’s in my heart and I believed that my entire life. I think only after I started blogging and started seeing Muslim girls on the internet did I start truly learning about hijab and modest dressing.
I know it should be an obvious thing, but if you grow up in a world where no one wore a scarf modest dressing or hijab was a thing for old or pious people. If you were a ‘normal’ Muslim, it wasn’t for you. When I think about it now, I am inspired by bloggers like Firdaus who wears her hijab so confidently. I also watch other international hijabi bloggers and I think they have it much harder than we do in South Africa.
But the world is changing slowly to a place where women can wear whatever they want to. For a long time, hijab was seen as something enforced by men, and maybe in some instances it was. But if you think about it, so too was skimpy, ‘sexy’ dressing. There’s a bunch of men in fashion who dictate what women should and shouldn’t wear.
When I meet Firdaus for our collab I pick her brain about her decision to wear hijab.
“So, do you read all your prayers?” I ask her, genuinely curious — and maybe a little stupid.
“No. I try to. But gosh it’s so hard”.
“So why do you wear the hijab when you don’t even pray five times a day?”
“Because this is an article of faith that’s easiest for me. We all worship in different ways, friend. For me, hijab becomes a barrier against so much of other wrong... it also is empowering in some way.”
This is the first time hijab was explained to me this way. It makes so much sense. For me, praying early in the morning is so much easier than any other prayer because I wake up early for the gym. For someone else, it’s probably impossible to wake up before sunrise just to pray. Our relationships with God vary and how other people display it is none of our business.
It is inspiring to see someone like Firdaus who is killing the Cape Town influencer scene even though she wears hijab. Brands have realised that they have ostracised a huge community of millions of Muslim women by telling them they are oppressed and reflecting a version of beauty opposite to them.
Now Muslim women are saying; hold up, we are not oppressed. This has nothing to do with a man. So, do you want our money to buy your crap or not? Big brands have now realised that the modest fashion industry is a lucrative multimillion-rand industry so as woke as they try to be, it really is about the money (side-eye Nike).
It has become fashionable to include what was ‘othered’ for so long. Whether it’s women in hijab, curvy women or women of colour, brands are forced to include us in their marketing strategy because the days of using skinny blondes with blue eyes have passed.
Some people criticise international hijabi bloggers for being a ‘paid quota’ but I don’t get it. We have been fighting for representation for such a long time but now when brands are giving us the opportunity we are meant to turn it down?
I’ve also seen a lot of chatter online about how ‘toxic’ the online hijabi community is. The pressure of wearing hijab is a lot more than it is for the rest of us.
The followers literally police every move, call you out when a few strands of hair show and are just generally negative.
I thought I knew a thing or two about this hijabi online community until my collab with Firdaus went live.
I have never had this many negative comments on a post ever.
“What a hypocrite. Bikini one day, hijab the next.”
“You’re just doing it for the money.”
“Haha you suddenly want to wear hijab so you get the Adidas hijab collab deal.”
“Hijab or not. You’re still a s**t”.
I can’t understand it. Why can’t I choose to post a picture with a scarf the day after I pose in a bikini? So hijab is this precious community that ‘sinners’ like me can’t be a part of?
Firdaus calls me as she sees the hate comments. She says that while she knows most people are spewing venom, I must look at things from both sides.
“A lot of it is just hate but I think some people feel like you’re undermining their struggle. For years the media and magazines told them they are ugly or not attractive by wearing hijab and they should be exposing their bodies instead. By wearing the hijab after posting bikini pictures, they feel like you are undermining their struggle and mocking it,” she says.
“But I just feel like a girl can choose whatever she wants to do. It’s up to her whether she wants to wear a bikini or a hijab. Isn’t it?”
“In an ideal world, yes. But not in a world where girls are shamed for going to the beach fully covered and stared at and mocked at.”
“You’re right. Should I just delete the post?”
“Nah, that just empowers trolls. Just do a follow up post with a positive affirming caption. I don’t think what you did was wrong... I just think it’s important to be socially aware of what we post online.”
I read somewhere that a lot of the cultural dissonance that exists online is really just ignorance and the lack of empathy. And if we want to challenge broad racism and patriarchy online, we have to check ourselves first. Ellen Pompeo, the woman that plays Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy always says, “Check yourself before you check others.” And I am a huge Grey’s fan, so I am going to listen to Dr Grey when she talks.
I decide to post a picture of a heart I drew in the sand at Camps Bay with a thoughtful caption: “Sometimes we are insensitive. Sometimes we are ignorant. Sometimes we don’t care enough. But that’s what makes us human. We live and learn every. Single. Day.”
Firdaus’s advice worked. The thing about the internet is you can never make everyone happy. And going on the defensive never ends well. If you truly want to be influential in your space, you can’t respond to fire with fire. You walk away hoping that the fire eventually dies out. Does that make sense?
Although, if I am truly honest, this episode really pushed away any ambition to one day wear the hijab. It’s like opening yourself up to abuse.
Anyway, I would like to resume regular programming — after I binge on all the sushi (and fried fish) that Cape Town has to offer. I, also, shamelessly have not been exercising on this trip, as a matter of principle. Because when I do, I start thinking about Adil. And I don’t want to, as tempted as I am.
On our last day in Cape Town, Nabs invites Firdaus to join us for the freebie Hightea at the Zaj Hotel and she graciously obliges.
I absolutely LOVE high teas. As boujee as they are, there’s something about aromatic tea paired with a delicious pastry that just makes me happy. Obviously, my cheap ass is not going to pay R650 for tea and cake so when it does come complimentary, I really dig in.
I decide to wear a highly pretentious outfit like I am the stepchild of the Duchess of Sussex. If extra was a person it would be me today.
Now can someone please pass me a macaroon so I can be basic in peace.
“I didn’t realise what a sweet tooth you have,” Firdaus tells me as I stuff a whole cupcake in my mouth.
“Give me cake over food any day!”
“Our house has more chocolate than real food,” Nabs says.
“But Adil says you guys are so disciplined with the gyming ... you motivate him,” I say.
“Firdaus, maybe you can tell me what’s the deal between your cousin and Maariah,” Nabs says as she turns to look at me.
NABS! WHERE IS YOUR FILTER?
“There is no deal. We are gym buddies,” I say with all the defensiveness I could find.
Firdaus reads the room and doesn’t respond.
“So, will you join our charity sale?” I change the subject.
“I don’t mind, you guys will have to just pay my rate and expenses,” Firdaus responds.
“Well, this is a mutually beneficial collaboration,” Nabs says.
“Absolutely. But I still have bills to pay,” responds Firdaus.
“But the exposure you will get is immense,” Nabs hits back.
“Exposure doesn’t pay my bills. I won’t charge you an appearance fee. Just my expenses,” Firdaus retorts, firmly but still kind.
I look down, focusing on my quiche and don’t say anything. She is right. There’s been so many things I have participated in without pay because I was promised exposure.
“Nabs... we still have a few weeks... let us plan all the details and once we have everything finalised, we will talk,” I tell them both.
“I know, but we don’t have a budget to pay for anything,” she insists.
“Well, no hard feelings but I only do paid gigs,” Firdaus digs in her heels.
Her demeanour is usually relaxed and kind, so seeing her like this is strange.I wish I was that brave to ask what is due to me.The awkwardness lingers a bit and thankfully, it is time to go. As soon as Firdaus leaves, Nabs starts venting.
“Who does she think she is? We are doing her a favour.”
I want to respond but I just don’t have the energy. I am actually on Firdaus’s side this time. As Nabs vents, Firdaus texts me, apologising if she came across as rude.
“I think Nabs is ripping you off and not paying you your dues. You are one of the hardest working influencers and you don’t get paid for your hard work. There are big agencies that would get you a bigger cut. Also, sorry to pry but I don’t think she is being honest about the income you guys get. You know the Deron Beauty campaign we all got? The PR person said they paid you the most and I got R30 000 from that campaign. I am sure you didn’t get half of that”.
OMG. I got R8 000 from that campaign and we worked SO hard.
“Hey Nabs, how much was the Deron Beauty campaign?” I ask her nonchalantly as we wait at the airport for the flight home.
“Why? I need to check.”
“Off the top of your head?”
“It was like R10 000 or something ..”
“Can I see the emails? I just want to verify something.” I say as calmly as I could possibly be, sipping my drink.
“Why? What did Firdaus tell you now? I know it’s her! Do you think I am stealing your money? You would have not made money if it was not for me!” she yells in true Nabs vibes.
Wow, that escalated really quickly.
Have you ever met someone and felt like you have known them your entire life?
I wonder if there’s a science to it because it happens with only some people. It’s almost as if you can’t remember a time in your life when they were not there?
It probably has to do with the ease of the relationship and how much you share with each other. It also has to do with the amount of time you spend with each other.
If you gym with someone five days a week within a few weeks you probably can’t remember a life before then. Or is it just me? I wonder.
Our routine was pretty standard.
Adil: 6:15am: “Leaving”
Adil 6:25: “Here”
At 6:30 we get into the gym and we talk while we train for about 50 minutes. How much we chat is dependent on how much I have to film for my social media.
Once we are done, we stand around the water cooler, chat for a bit and then he drops me off.
He doesn’t text me for the rest of the day and night.
Even when I reach out and text him sporadically during the day he doesn’t respond and I am too sheepish to ask him about it in the mornings. Our conversations are very colourful. We have the same obsession for binge-watching series. He is a bit more serious about it than I am. We talk about work quite a bit. But mostly, he tells me his crazy travel stories, like the time he slept in an igloo on a trip to Iceland or their buggy got stuck while dune bashing in some random Emirate in the UAE.
I have zero travel stories because I am yet to travel overseas. Simply put: my bank account doesn’t align with my ambitions to travel the world. It needs to get on board!
My photoshoots and brand events are usually what I speak about while we run or cycle. Adil is, thankfully, a great listener, even when I talk about random YouTube wars in the online beauty community, which he doesn’t give a toss about. There was once a war between two super famous beauty influencers about who buys followers on Instagram. It was lit! I would on occasion mention my mother and he sometimes mentions his sister Ayesha, but our conversations are not very personal.
Some days it feels like we are dating, as I would bank stories of what happened during my day to tell him the next morning. On weekends it feels like we are not even friends, because even when I do text him, he almost never responds. Come Monday morning, we are besties again, chatting while doing cardio or experimenting with weight training.
Then stone-cold silence until we repeat it the next day.
Five weeks in and I am sitting up at night, wishing it could be something more. A friendship even. I mean, it kinda is a friendship. If friends don’t chat outside of the gym or share anything too personal. Or maybe he thinks he is my trainer and our relationship is strictly confined to the gym? That would be absurd!
Then again, I seem to be attracted to messy and absurd, so I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, I married a man who loved a completely different person so this wouldn’t be the strangest thing that happened to me.
Why can’t I have normal? Girl and boy meet. They like each other. They get together. They live happily ever after. The fine print can be dealt with later. I just want to have a normal, functional relationship.
Scratch that. I will even take a half-decent friendship.
This morning, he drops me off at home after gym as usual and I start my day as usual. I make breakfast which is almost always two eggs, have a shower and do my laundry. Then I sit down to plan content for a few days because I’m in a mood to just chill this weekend and I want all my admin planned and sorted. Nabs has one paid campaign that we had shot prior to this to be posted and I have a few ideas of what I wanted to share.
I’m knee-deep into emails when I get a text. Who messages at 11am on a Friday? It’s probably my mother who forwards me bogus chain messages. You know those messages that end with “send this to five of your contacts or face bad luck”? Yep. That’s my mother.
Only this time it wasn’t.
Adil: “You keen for pizza tonight?”
Well, firstly, hello? How are you? Are you messaging me? Out of the blue? To ask me out?
I take a minute before I respond. This is new. Not only do we never hang out socially, but we also never talk about hanging out socially.
Me: “Hey. How’s it?”
Adil: “Good, man. Are you in the mood to eat all the calories we worked so hard to shed?”
Me: “Haha. Yeah.”
Adil: “Cool. I will text you later.”
Me: “So, I just realised I have a perfume launch event at about 6pm... I should be done by 8 or so?”
Adil: “Where is it? I will fetch you.”
Me: “Are you sure? I can Uber.”
Adil: “Yeah, I don’t mind. Where is your event?”
Me: “At Mall of Africa”
Adil: “That’s like two minutes from my home. Why don’t you come over and we can order in some pizza instead?”
If the phrase ‘I was never ready’ was a person, it would be me. I have so many questions, starting with WHAT?
As much as I prefer to spend the rest of the day consumed by these questions, I have a ton of work to do before tonight. And by work I mean glam. At the beauty salon, which I recently became affiliated with, I have to do a wax, an eyebrow thread and a set of lashes. They do my treatments for free and in exchange I promote their salon. It seems like a fair deal but I am sure they are benefitting way more than what my treatments are worth.
Then I need to get my hair trimmed and ready for the evening event at the hair salon at the mall near my house. The perfume launch is a paid gig so I have to bring my A-game to the event. Then I have a nail appointment straight after. All of that grooming is ‘work’ and I have to post every last shred of it and tag all the brands that are affiliated to me.
As I go about my day, I can’t help but think of my date with Adil later. It is a date, right? Gosh, are we back here? I am not googling it this time! Let me focus on work. I set up to film a ‘get ready with me’ video where I apply my makeup on camera while I chat and answer questions from my followers.
A ten-minute makeup look ends up taking a whole hour and I need to be done before the light gets bad so Simmi can take pictures for my blog. It is not all glamour, honey. Never believe a blogger who claims to have woken up like this. It’s a lie. It takes a village to make us look the way we do... which is going to be my next Instagram caption: ‘It takes a village...’
I don’t want to look overdone when Adil picks me up for pizza, but I have no choice. He sees me sweaty with no makeup in the gym in the morning and now he is going to see me with hair extensions and double-stacked lashes. Whatever.
I start my live tutorial on my Instagram where I’ve carefully laid out all the products I plan to use — most of which came from press drops. I also carefully set up my camera so only the nice side of my bedroom shows. It took me months to set up one side of my room so it looks good on camera. The other side looks like a dorm room in a hostel. One day, when I am an internationally renowned influencer, I am going to have those amazing Insta-worthy houses where every part of it is a backdrop for a YouTube video.
One day is one day!
Doing a live tutorial is always tricky because you have to focus on doing your makeup and answering live questions that come in, all while praying that the WiFi doesn’t bomb out. I start with my makeup prep which includes a moisturiser, sunblock, and primer from a brand that recently signed me on as an ambassador. Then I start with my foundation, which literally costs half of my rent.
“Guys, should I do natural glam or go all out?” I ask, knowing full well everyone wants to see a proper cake-face. I have become really good at doing my own makeup because when I worked at Icon, Molly showed me all her tricks of the trade. For example, the outcome of your foundation is heavily dependent on how well you’ve prepped your skin. Moisturising and priming is SO important for your makeup to melt in your skin and not look like a thick cakey layer on top.
There’s so many times I see girls at events and I am just tempted to go to them and say, “Let me show you how to blend your makeup, honey,” but I instead say the opposite. “Girl your makeup is on fire!” I say, even though this person’s makeup has been applied like zebra stripes.
Once I push all the product in my skin, I go onto concealing and contouring.
“Do you prefer powder or cream contour?” I read a question that comes in.
“Uhm... it depends. I prefer cream for nights like tonight and powder when it’s a relaxed day look,” I say as I buff the product in my skin.
“What type of look are you doing?” someone else asks. “This is definitely not a natural casual look. But I am not going too heavy like wedding makeup... Maybe this is like a date-night look with a bit of drama at the eyes but a nude lip”.
Because it kinda is a date? No?
“Okay, guys, I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Let me get done off-camera quickly and I will show you the final look later,” I say before disconnecting.
I am actually sweating.
“Yo, What’s up Mar,” Simmi says at my room door.
Today she is dressed in an elaborate Malaysian scarf she bought on her trip there recently. I promise you, tomorrow this girl will wear an African shweshwe skirt and the day after she will wear a kurti top. Simmi is a walking contradiction. I love it.
“I am almost done, I will be ready to shoot in a bit”.
“Cool. I have time.”
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Nothing much... I was going to go to a work event but thankfully it was cancelled so I am just going to chill.”
“Do you want to come with me?” I blurt out.
“To the fragrance launch?”
“Ja, and I am going to a friend afterward for some pizza”.
I instantly regret my offer the moment I blurt it out. I have been dying to spend time with Adil outside of the gym. And now when he invites me home for pizza, I am taking Simmi of all people with. What is wrong with me? No, seriously, there has to be something wrong with me.
“Is this the bugger who rings our bell at 6:30am?”
“Okay cool, but you have to lend me something to wear. I don’t have any clean clothes.”
The shoot goes much quicker than usual because Simmi still has to shower.
Once she goes to her room, I message Adil to say Simmi is coming along for pizza.
“Cool... the more the merrier. Ayesha and my cousins will love the company.”
That clears it then. This is definitely not a date.
He’s not kidding when he says it’s going to be a full house. About an hour into the launch, which Simmi was weirdly enjoying, Adil messages to say he can pick us up now, if we’re ready. I ask Simmi and she’s happy to leave.
“There’s only so much fakeness I can take for one night,” she teases, but the truth is, Simmi loves being out. The glamour and fluff are new to her but she loves it. She even got two people asking for her rate card for content shoots for their blogs after I introduced her as my personal photographer. Nabs says Simmi must get fashion shoots to fund the passion projects she wants to travel for. I know she is obsessed with Serengeti migration.
I message Adil and about five minutes later he texts me to say he is waiting at the entrance. I don’t know what to expect... are we going to his family home or his own space? Does Ayesha know that we are gym buddies? What type of friends does he have?
What if it’s super awkward?
It’s too late to have these thoughts now as I am getting into Adil’s car.
“Hey, you look nice,” he says in a nonchalant way.
“This is Simmi. Simmi, this is Adil,” I say, deliberately ignoring the compliment.
“Hey! I’ve met you before!” Simmi says.
Great. This is just great.
“Oh yes... at the Premier’s office like two years ago... or was it last year?”
“I think it was last year.”
Thank god she knew him from work.
It takes us about three minutes to drive from the mall to his house on the estate nearby. I’ve only seen this estate from the highway, but at close range, these houses seem much, much bigger. These are mansions, not houses.
We pull up to Adil’s house, which seems modest compared to his immediate neighbours, but is still a massive house. My mum’s entire house could neatly fit into his garage, and there’d still be space.
“Who stays here?” I ask.
“Me, my wife and four kids,” he casually says, and it takes me a minute to realise he is joking.
“Just me, my sister and my Dadi.”
“It’s cool that you stay with your grandmother,” I say as we walk in.
“Yeah, let me take you to her room first so you can greet her.” I look at Simmi. She looks at me and then starts laughing but doesn’t say anything. Simmi can be a clown sometimes!
As we walk in, Ayesha is there to greet us. She is wearing shorts and an oversized hoodie with a slice of pizza in one hand and she hugs me with the other.
“Everyone, this is Maariah. Maariah this is everyone,” she says as I greet a room of about five other people.
“These are my crazy cousins,” Adil says, “Ahmed, Umar, Fatima, and Zahra.”
“This is my best friend Sarah,” Ayesha points to the girl in the scarf.
“Where’s Ma?” Adil asks Ayesha.
“She’s in her room. She said we were making too much noise and was upset we didn’t eat her curry and are eating pizza instead.”
I laugh and follow Adil to his granny’s room downstairs.
This house is truly beautiful. Not overdone and clearly well lived in but so classically beautiful.
“Ma... this is my friend Maariah.”
“Oh. Hello beti,” she says.
“Ma, she’s a Muslim,” Adil responds.
I start laughing and Adil joins in too.
“Oh! Assalamulaikum. How are you?”
“Wa’alaikum salaam ma. I am okay, alhamdulillah. Lovely to meet you.”
“Those monkeys were making so much noise, I decided to come to watch Isidingo in my room. Did you feed her Adil?”
“We’re going to have pizza now, Ma”.
“You children only know pizza, pizza. I made such nice mutton curry and rice but what you children know. Never mind I will give Thobeka to eat tomorrow.”
Adil’s granny is a delight. One of those old Indian ladies that are so comfortable in their own skin and don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.
As we get back to the living area, I see Simmi already comfortable next to Adil’s cousin Zahra as they pass out the Uno cards.
“Simmi, aren’t you eating?” Adil asks her.
“I gobbled three slices of pizza already. I am ready to play..
“Okay you guys go ahead. I will warm some pizza for me and Maariah,” he says.
I follow him to the kitchen and watch as he takes out plates and warms pizza for us.
“Can I help with anything?” I ask.
“Just get something to drink from the fridge and some glasses in that cupboard over there. I think let’s sit here and eat and then join them after.”
“How are these your cousins?”
“Their mother and my father are brother and sister.”
“Firdaus’s mother is the other sibling. But she got married in Cape Town so they live there.”
“Are you guys all close?”
“Ja, we’re super close. Firdaus is my favourite cousin though. We were inseparable as kids.”
“So, do they have game night often?”
“They come here every Friday night. I usually am never home to join but it’s nice when I do. Umar is so competitive and is such a sore loser,” he says.
“I am really bad at board games because I was the only child, I had no one to play with.”
“Don’t you have cousins?”
“My mother’s sister has twins, but they are like 14 years younger than me.”
“And on your father’s side?”
“Uh... I don’t really know Zayn’s family.”
“That’s your father? Zayn?”
“Uh... yeah he is married to my mother.”
“Oh okay... sorry to pry.”
“No, it’s okay. I don’t have a relationship with my biological father. Zayn married my mother when I was a baby. But I don’t really know his family.”
“Oh okay,” he says awkwardly.
“It’s fine! I get questions like this all the time”.
“I know but it’s still insensitive.”
I just look down and continue chewing. We live in a world where the concept of nuclear families has evolved. So many people have better relationships with their step-parents than their biological ones. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. What does it matter that I don’t have a relationship with my father? It’s his loss. He chose not to get to know me. And a part of me always feels grateful that I was not torn between two worlds.
“Adil! Maariah! We’re starting a new round of Uno, you guys in?” Ayesha shouts from the lounge.
“Two seconds. We’re just washing up,” he shouts back.
Two rounds of Uno, one round of 30 Seconds and a million rounds of SingStar later and I can confidently say this was the most fun I’ve had in ages. There was no pretence or worrying about people’s issues. Just plain fun and lots of teasing Adil’s cousin Umar who hated that he lost every game we played and was convinced we were all cheating.
Within an hour of playing, I noticed that Ayesha’s bestie since childhood, Sarah, really has a thing for Adil. It’s so obvious that even Simmi, who is usually oblivious to such things, gave me the side-eye.
When we were playing 30 Seconds, she insisted on being on Adil’s team and forced me to pair up with Adil’s cousin.
I don’t know. I got this vibe that she doesn’t want me here; almost like I am invading her terrain. Am I?
The internet is a trap.
I started out at ten tips to make new friend on a bogus website called ‘personalexcellence.com’ and ended up on ‘Is it a date or are you just hanging out? Here are 7 ways to tell’.
So according to Bustle.com, the first way of telling whether it’s a date or not is ‘determining how far a break it is from the norm.’
WHAT THE HELL IS THE NORM?! I scream back at the internet.
I’ve never been on a date with someone who isn’t my husband. And also, in the two years that we were married, we probably went out a total of six times by ourselves. Ozayr’s mother used to come with us everywhere. When I look back, I realise how strange it was, but at that moment, it seemed normal for me. Which brings me back to my point; normal is relative.
Number one is a fail. Let’s try number two.
2. How many nerves are involved?
I was not nervous. I was more confused. Adil asked me to get pizza with him casually. He didn’t seem nervous at all. Even when he came to pick me up, he was super chilled even though it was the second time we ever met. Moving on...
3. Talk to your mutual friends.
Uh, firstly we don’t have mutual friends. And secondly, the only people I know who know him are his sister and cousin — who I also just met.
4. What’s the activity?
The website believes dinner and drinks is a date. It says nothing about Sunday lunch pizza and Coke. I’m losing hope here, fam.
5. What’s the setting?
Uhm, a casual 24-hour pizza place where people usually come to binge on carbs and have no qualms going there in last night’s makeup or even pyjamas.
All hope is lost.
6. Pay attention to the conversation topics.
Uhm... We spoke about business for two hours. Is that a good topic or a boring topic? Help.
7. See how you feel after?
CONFUSED AS HELL! WHICH IS WHY I AM READING THIS UNHELPFUL ARTICLE!
Okay. Breathe, girl. Breathe.
I am about to google ‘What does it mean when he suggests we work out together’ but I resist the temptation. Instead, I decide to plan my workout outfit. I got a press drop recently with some workout wear from Astix Sports, and besides a pair of yoga pants, which I was paid to be photographed in, I haven’t worn anything else.
Athleisure brands are really having a moment and all the LA YouTubers I follow live in yoga pants and sports bras.
And if you go to the Benmore Centre on a random morning, it’s not unusual to see an aunty in cycling shorts doing her shopping.
For my gym session, I’ve decided that I am not in the mood to feel body conscious, so I am going to wear leggings and a hoodie. Pair that with neon running shoes and an untidy pony and I look like I am a middle-aged soccer mum who tries to chat up the coach.
At 6:30 on the dot, Adil rings the bell and Simmi screams immediately, “Some. Of. Us. Are. SLEEPING!”
She’s just a drama queen and moody in the mornings. She only gets home at like 9pm from work and then she sits up watching Netflix until 3am. Obviously she is going to struggle in the morning. Out of the three of us, she is the only one that works from an office so she can’t sleep in if she wants to. Despite that, her life is so dysfunctional.
I recently read an article in The New York Times that said most successful people wake up before 6am and exercise every morning. It’s never too late, apparently. Who knows, after this gym session I could be a successful hustler, giving TedX talks and signing copies of my best selling self-help book on how to be successful.
You never know...
“Hey,” Adil says.
“Hey... give me a second, let me just fetch my water,” I tell Adil as I scurry to the kitchen, grab my towel and a water bottle and rush to his car.
The gym is within walking distance from my house, but I was in no mood to walk there. I prefer walking on a treadmill in controlled temperature than trying to rough the streets. Adil is wearing shorts and a hoodie with similar trainers to mine.
“Look, our shoes are matching,” I say awkwardly. I am such a loser. I could have said “Look, the sky is blue” and it would have sounded cooler.
“Great minds think alike,” he chuckles. The last time I heard someone say that was in an English class in high school.
We get to the gym and head straight for the treadmills. The hardcore fitness freaks are already sprinting while I start with a slow walk and then gradually increase the pace to an incline.
Just from scanning the room, I figure there are four types of people who come to the gym at 6:30 in the morning.
Type one: the pesky girls with the perfect bodies who come with their yoga mats neatly wrapped under their arms.
Type two: the buff men who look like they just ate a 4kg steak for breakfast.
Type three: the ‘I’m just trying to stay fit’ group, which Adil and I belong to.
Type four: Those who come, exercise for 15 minutes and then sit in the sauna for the rest of the time.
Ironically, at 6:30am you won’t see any fat people in the gym or any really unfit people. I don’t know why. The world is weird. I don't have the answers.
Adil says we will walk for 30 minutes and do some cycling for 15 minutes. That seems easy enough. And he wasn’t joking about needing someone to talk to while he exercises.
“When I was an auditor, we used to have a running club and we would all go for a 5km run every other morning before work. Then we started doing races on weekends and half marathons”.
“Do you still run?”
“I got lazy once I left. I told you I get motivated by people.”
“I hope you’re not expecting to run marathons with me!” I joke.
“Why not? You are a lot fitter than you say,” he says.
“So how does training for a race work?” I ask as I try to keep up with him.
“Basically, if you get 5km in 30 minutes is a good pace. The goal is to get 10km in an hour”.
“And how many 10kms do you have to do before you can try a half marathon?”
“Quite a few... so my goal is to do 30 minutes on the treadmill Monday to Friday and then do a Parkrun on Saturdays.”
“Are Parkruns 5km?”
“Yes, but it’s different from the treadmill. It gives you a greater thrill.”
“And 10km races?”
“Maybe one Sunday a month...”
“That doesn’t sound bad.”
“Yep, we are going to run the Two Oceans next year”.
“We?” I ask cheekily, hoping he means me and him.
“Yes, you and me!”
“Gosh I am struggling barely 15 minutes in — and I’m just walking.”
“We can do it, don’t worry Maariah!”
I am not about to let a workout session not work for me by becoming cool content. So, I post snaps from my run on Insta Stories with dramatic effect. I google a picture of fitness hottie RushTush and post the picture with the caption, “How I think I look when I am training ...”. Then I post a picture of my untidy high pony and sweaty face with the caption: “This is actually how I look when I am attempting to train.”
I didn’t know Adil was watching my stories and he starts laughing so hard when he sees my post, he almost falls off the treadmill. I start laughing it when I see him almost tripping on his own feet and suddenly as my stomach hurts from laughter, I lose balance and get thrown off the treadmill and onto the floor.
WHY DO THESE THINGS HAPPEN TO ME?
“Maariah, are you okay?” Adil asks, half laughing, half concerned.
“I am okay. I am okay,” I say as I get up in a fit of laughter.
“You laughed at me! Now look at karma,” he jokes.
At least he is very witty and can laugh at himself.
“I’m done with this treadmill for today!” I tell him.
“No! You still have ten minutes to go!”
“Naah. I don’t trust it!”
“Okay, fine. Let’s go cycle,” Adil suggests as he leads the way.
The rest of the gym session is so relaxed and fun it’s almost as if I’ve known Adil my whole life.
“So last night I was reading comments on one of your pictures... how do you deal with the slew of hate comments?” he asks me.
“By binge eating macarons and crying myself to sleep,” I half-joke.
“No. I’m being serious.”
“Me too. It’s hard. Some days I have thick skin and other days I ugly cry.”
“I was watching a video the other day about cyberbullying... it’s ridiculous.”
“I think people think that because you share so much of your life, it’s okay if they spew venom on you.”
“But you’ve been very gracious about it.”
“Are you stalking me?”
“Yes,” he says casually as he ups the ante on his cycle.
Once we’re done at the gym, Adil drops me off at home.
“See you tomorrow,” he says.
I guess that means he was serious when he said we are going to the gym every single day. Just 45 minutes of basic cardio and I feel a lot better than I do on most mornings. It also gives me content to sustain my social media for half the day.
People love health-conscious content. It’s weird but I think because people live vicariously through influencers, they exercise and travel through us. My statistics show a significant increase in activity on my pages when I post health content.
I’ve read up on the explosion of people sharing their workouts and fitness journeys on social media and there are varying opinions why people do it and why people love to consume fitness content.
For many, it’s a case of ‘did it really happen if I didn’t share it?’. Those who are more serious about fitness believe filming themselves exercising helps them maintain good form.
For so many others, it’s about sharing a hobby.
There is, of course, narcissism that is central to why we share our fitness journeys online — it’s probably the same reason why we share anything online. And probably why the Kardashians post videos of their workouts — people love watching that. Although the difference between my exercise content and the Kardashians is that I don’t have a full glam squad to get me to perfect before I exercise. Besides that, there is no difference between me and the Kardashians.
At about 10am, Nabs and I meet for a content strategy meeting and a diary planning for the next two weeks. She’s going home to Cape Town for holiday and to try and have a few meetings while she’s there.
“People loved your gym content this morning,” she says.
“I actually had fun.”
“Who did you go with?”
“Do I know him?”
“I don’t think so... he’s a new friend”.
“Friend or boyfriend?”
“I don’t know hey ..”
“When did you guys meet?”
“We met on Friday and then we went for lunch yesterday”.
“And you guys are already gyming together?! He either thinks you’re fat or really likes your company.”
Nabs has no filter at all. She just says whatever comes to mind, which is why she always gets in trouble with her family. One day, her slimy old cousin bumped into us at the movies and was hitting on me in a super creepy way. She gave him a dirty look and said “Oh, she’s not your type — she actually has a brain,” and walked off.
Her razor-sharp tongue used to shock me but now I am a little more used to it.
“Okay... so I think this fitness thing is going to be great content. I am already in talks with a few fitness wear brands and I was talking to a PR company that’s doing work for Adidas. There’s good money in that space,” she says.
“That would be awesome!”
“It would be babe, but it also means you can’t give up after week two.”
We better monetise these gym sessions! I am not busting my ass, waking up early and filming myself while gyming for nothing.
I mean, I am doing it for fitness but some money will be good too.
“Adil won’t let me quit!” I say to Nabs and she laughs.
“Are you sure you guys just met? Because you’re speaking about him like you’ve been married for six and a half years”.
“Get out of here man! It’s a weird new friendship. You can’t be my only friend.”
“I will always be your first love boo... now, moving along!”
I got that ‘moving along’ habit from Nabs. It’s weird how when you live with someone you start picking up their habits. She used to cringe at my tuna suppers, now she happily makes it for the two of us. You know about my love affair with tuna. Maybe love affair is overstating it but I am not going to spend good moola on smoked salmon. I’d rather double up on schmancy salmon bagels and croissants at events I get invited to. That stuff is not cheap! Another cheap meal I eat all the time is canned chickpeas. They are also about R15 a pop and last me two lunches.
My weekly groceries cost me no more than R250 and on broke weeks, I can survive on less. It helps that I get lots of free snacks with press packs and Nabs and Simmi doesn’t mind sharing their veggies with me because they binge on my snacks.
The other day a chocolate brand sent me a massive bag full of mini chocolates to celebrate their 25-year anniversary and to promote new flavours.
It was so much chocolate; we filled all the jars we owned and stocked up our cupboards. Sometimes when haters say influencers are just people who like free things I want to respond and say, “You’re damn right!” and send pictures of the hundreds of free chocolates I get.
But then I also want to send a picture of my bank balance after I spend good money on expensive clothes I can’t afford, all in the name of slaying on the Gram.
I learned very quickly that you have to spend money to make money. At first, you have to spend tons of money to even begin to start seeing rewards. You have to spend on trendy facials and expensive makeup so that you attract brands and, in turn, they will start sending you free stuff. I’ve been around for over four years and I see that there are new influencers that pop up every day.
I can guarantee you that most of those girls are swiping their credit cards like there’s no tomorrow in an effort to get their profiles noticed. If I had access to a credit card, I would have done the same in the beginning. But because I was so broke, I would just use clothes, bags, and accessories from Icon and return it back to work after I shot enough pictures.
Then I started doing it with high-end brands. I would try on a shoe and take a picture in the store with a stupid caption like, “Deciding which baby I should take home...”
It really is about creating an illusion, for the most part. Although I learned in the last four years that in the midst of all this fake perfection online, people crave realness. They want to see you as an ordinary girl hustling like everyone else. Nabs was the first person to point this out to me. The more real I was, the more followers I got. Obviously, the ‘real’ that I and other influencers show the world is a curated realness but still, people connect more with that.
Like I took a selfie after I fell off the treadmill this morning and posted “When you’re trying to be fit but that means actually staying on the treadmill”.
It was my most liked picture all week.
Once Nabs and I are done with our content meeting, she leaves for the airport and I get ready for a store launch I am invited to in Sandton City. The theme is all white, which I am tired of because there are only so many all-white outfits you can wear without having to repeat clothes. I check my DMs throughout the day, but I don’t hear from Adil again.
When I left this morning, he just said ‘see you tomorrow,’ and nothing else. I just realise that he knows where I stay but doesn’t even have my number. This social media life has things all upside down. I decide to send him a DM.
“Hey. I just realised you don’t have my number... here it is in case I don’t hear the gate bell in the morning.”
Pretty smooth right? RIGHT?
Okay, breathe, girl. Breathe.
Let me subject myself to terribly uncomfortable heels, hair extensions that pull at my scalp and 3D lashes that make opening my eyes mission impossible. Oh, and not forgetting not eating all night because it’s not cute to have food stains on your all-white outfit!
So much for, ‘Join us to celebrate your inner beauty and strength.’
On day two of gyming with Adil, I find people around us get annoyed that we speak non-stop and don’t just plug in our headphones like everyone else.
By day three, people were actively moving away from us as Adil detailed his views on apartheid’s spatial planning and how it’s going to take decades to undo what apartheid did.
To be honest, my knowledge of the world and politics is non-existent, but I find myself enjoying and learning from my conversations with him.
Obviously, in school you learn about apartheid, but you don’t realise how it truly affected people’s lives Till today, housing is a huge issue in South Africa. And even though black and previously disadvantaged people are getting opportunities to work and study, white people still have privilege. You don’t realise or fully comprehend it until someone explains it.
Now that I think about what Adil speaks about, I realise why so many people at the gym walk away from us and give us dirty looks. One of the guys who works at the gym joked with us yesterday saying, “It’s too early to be this woke.” Adil just laughed it off and continued making his point about the need for inclusive areas with low-cost housing.
He was two ‘Amandlas’ short of making a cardio session a fully-fledged political rally.
I probably don’t know much about politics but I know one thing: If Adil ran for political office, I’d vote for him.
I have two looks: slay queen with false lashes and contour sharp enough it can stab you, or untidy pony and trackpants when I am at home. There is no in-between for me — I literally go big or stay home. Most of the time I am at home, I am in an oversized hoodie with unbrushed hair.
I don’t know how some influencers slay all day every day. Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s just an illusion because people think I am put together every day. People who follow me on social media think my face is beaten to perfection every day. It’s really not true.
But that’s what the 'Gram Life is really — just smoke and mirrors. Or selfies and mirrors. Whatever.
I have to get done for this meeting with Adil, the guy I met on Friday evening and who slid into my DMs. Let me repeat that. I am going out with a guy I met a day ago. I mean, what do I have to lose? I already married a guy who was in love with someone else. Well, at least that’s what I am trying to convince myself. I am freaking out inside just deciding what to wear. What do you wear to a non-date with someone you just met?
If this was a blogger thing, I would wear a cute dress with some wedge heels and do my hair and makeup. I don’t want to go there with my face made up to perfection and he rocks up in something casual.
Worse, imagine if I go there with jeans and a t-shirt and he rocks up in something formal. But it is after all a Sunday lunch pizza non-date. Let me try Google...
Okay. Breathe, girl, breathe.
I think I want to look cute but in an ‘I woke up like this’ way. I take out my new pair of sneakers, a pair of jeans I got from a collab I did last year and a dressy top I bought from Zara the other day. I decided to tie my hair in a purposely untidy pony and do a no-makeup makeup look. Gosh, it’s hard to look like you are not trying. Did you know there are false lashes specifically aimed at making it seem like you’re not wearing fake lashes? The beauty industry gives me a headache. I love it.
After that awkward message last night, Adil didn’t message again.
It’s five minutes to 1pm and I haven’t heard from him on Instagram. For a moment, my heart sinks at the possibility that he isn’t going to show up. Maybe he forgot my address. Maybe he was just kidding? What if it is one of those ‘we must hang out’ type of dates where you say you would like to meet but have no real intention of ever doing that? This is probably karma for me doing that a bazillion times to other influencers I run into. My go-to line is: “We must totally hang!” In other words: I will literally choose Netflix over you.
In the middle of this internal turmoil, the Audi from Friday night pulls up and our gate bell rings five minutes later. Possible psycho stalker? Possible husband? Okay, I don’t know if I will ever get married again but you get the point.
I open the gate and Adil walks in. I watch from the window and he is casual and chilled. He doesn’t look as serious as he did on Friday evening, but I don’t have much to reference as this is the second time I am seeing him in my entire life.
“Hey!” I say, more enthusiastically than I planned to.
“Hey! You ready?”
“Yeah. Let me get my bag.”
Adil is so much more upbeat than he was on Friday evening. Granted, he probably finished work at midnight and was exhausted.
If the car ride from Rosebank to Illovo is anything to go by, he is not a psycho stalker. Although I did watch a thriller once where the guy waited until the woman was in love with him before he planned to kill her and bury her in a shallow grave. What if this is a long game for him and he is waiting to get to know me before he kills me?
Note to self: Stop watching so many thrillers.
I don’t know about you but kindness is very attractive to me. If someone is kind to ‘nobodies’ like waiters or car guards, it says a lot about their character. I can’t help but notice how friendly Adil was to the waiters who remembered him from Friday night.
My ex, and my only reference, was always moody when we went out. Later, I realised that every time he went out with me, he probably wanted to be with his girlfriend. Sometimes when I look back on my marriage, I feel like it was a movie. I don’t understand how I just lived for two years in complete naivety. Maybe ignorance is bliss. IDK!
Adil orders two large pizzas for the two of us and I know he is going to force me to eat an entire pizza by myself.
“So, are you ready for a carb overload?” he asks.
“So ready!” I say lamely as I try to come up with something punchier to say. Conversations are not like captions. You don’t have time to google a punny line.
“Firdaus couldn’t stop talking about how nice you are.”
“She’s the sweetest!”
“I would do anything for her when she’s down from Cape Town. She is by far my favourite cousin.”
“Your sister is lovely too.”
“She’s not bad. Although I am the nicer of my parents’ two kids.”
What are we doing here? I HAVE NO IDEA.
“What did you have planned today?”
“To just Netflix and chill.”
Adil starts laughing.
“No. I mean, to literally watch Netflix and chill”.
“I hope I didn’t interrupt anything,” he jibes.
“Get out of here!”
“I am sure you are quite busy during the week”.
“Yeah... and most weekends I am working. It’s nice to have a weekend off.”
“So how does it work? Do you go to every event you are invited to?”
“No, not really. It’s impossible to attend everything. I have become quite selective. There are some events I am paid to attend — not many but there are a few. Then some brands I work quite closely with. Other events are just nice from a content point of view. Sometimes brands take influencers for spa dates or brunches. I am selective in the fact that I don’t go to parties by alcohol companies or things that my followers are not really into, like Botox or whatever.”
“I was speaking to Firdaus yesterday when I was driving her to the airport... she said you handle the business side of your blog really well.”
“Well, so does she. She has a great following as a hijabi blogger.”
“So, what do you do for fun besides Netflix and chilling?” he asks with a smirk.
“Not much. I am an introvert of sorts”.
“I don’t think anyone of your 100 000 followers will believe that.”
“You shouldn’t believe everything you see online. I actually don’t go out much besides influencer-related stuff.”
“It’s weird how social media creates these perceptions about people... What do you like doing?”
“I love working out I guess, but I haven’t been to the gym in like six months.”
“Do you go to the gym near your house?”
“I signed up... but I stopped because I have no one to gym with and I get bored by myself.”
“I go every morning. You should come with me.”
I just laugh.
“I am serious. I am not into any hectic bodybuilding. Just 45 minutes of cardio and light weights.”
He seems unrelenting.
“So enough about me. What do you do?” I ask him, nervous about whether people still ask this question anymore.
“I run our family property company. I joined three years ago. Before that, I worked as an auditor.”
“So you guys develop the property?” I sound so stupid.
“Yeah ... My dad is semi-retired. He stays between here and London where my mum is. Initially, he just had a few flats he had bought as an investment, but he slowly increased his portfolio. When he brought me in to manage the company, we started professionalising it. In the three years, his portfolio has really increased.”
“Do you buy buildings and rent them out?”
“At first that’s what we used to do. Now we’re buying land and developing it ourselves for rental. Basically, we expanded the business to insource everything. We have our own architects and engineers on board. It cuts the costs dramatically and we target the middle-income bracket.”
“I suppose you can’t compete with the big developers?”
“Not at all. Which is why we stay in our lane. On Friday, I was working on a pitch to a big developer for them to outsource some of their work to us.”
“Yeah, I hope it works out.”
“You seem like a workaholic though.”
“Well, me and you both.”
He is pretty funny. Not in a clownish way though. He almost has a wry sense of humour that’s refreshing.
All the jitters that overwhelmed me when leaving my house quickly disappear as we talk and eat our extra cheesy pizza.
For me, the only pizza I recognise is a plain margherita. Toppings just spoil it for me. Imagine what Italians living in Naples would think when they see what we’ve done to pizzas. I mean, people are shamelessly putting butter chicken on pizza. BUTTER CHICKEN!
And don’t get me started on putting fruit on pizza. This may be a politically loaded statement, but PINEAPPLE DOES NOT BELONG ON A PIZZA. It is blasphemy of the highest order. It should be a criminal offence.
“You seem deep in thought?” Adil says.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Uhm... that pineapple does not belong on pizza...”
Adil starts laughing so hard he snorts out the Coke he’s drinking.
Then I start laughing uncontrollably at the Coke running from his nostrils. For a good five minutes we are literally screaming with laughter and people around us are staring like we’ve gone crazy. It feels so good just to laugh and be silly with someone who doesn’t know my history or is not judging me.
But again, I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE ARE DOING HERE.
“I told you I can eat in the daytime!” I say as I take my fourth slice of pizza.
“You proved me wrong! The next pizza is on you,” he says.
Oh, so there will be a second date?
I don’t ask, but he can see the quizzical look on my face.
“If you want to have another pizza together,” he offers.
“Of course. Friday night pizza?”
“But we have to gym the entire week so we can earn the carbs.”
Oh crap. The gym.
“I will follow a workout routine at home.”
“You’re never going to do it. Join me tomorrow morning. It will be fun.”
This is escalating quite quickly.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah... like I said, I am not into bodybuilding. I can fetch you at 6:30 and drop you off by 7:20. A solid 45-minute workout?”
“You are quite persuasive.”
“Yeah. My staff says they can never tell me no.”
“What is your staff compliment?” I ask, genuinely interested in his work.
“We have about 40 full-time people and then others are on a project by project basis.”
“Do you miss the corporate space?” I ask, unsure if this conversation is going well or not.
“Every day. My father ran his business like a spaza shop for very long. Growing a business and trying to professionalise it takes hard work. It doesn’t help that every time my father comes back from the UK, he tries to undo everything I spend months building.”
“So, do you go to London often?” I ask as I think about walking with our kids in Hyde Park in London Summer.
GET A GRIP, GIRL.
“Not very often... I don’t like it actually.”
“But then when do you see your mother?”
“I see her like once a quarter... Eids mostly...”
“Ah, it’s the same with my mom.”
“Where does your mum stay?”
“In Nelspruit... Mpumalanga”.
“That’s not far.”
I pick up a vibe that Adil doesn’t have a great relationship with his mother. It’s just a vibe, I don’t know for sure.
“And Ayesha? Does she work for your company?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
“No no, she works in corporate.”
“You know how brown people are. I’m the only son, how dare I not want to take over the family business.”
“You’re doing so well though!” I say in an unbaked attempt at flirting.
“I’ve learned to love it. I hated how unprofessional my dad was and the staff was like that too.”
“You are changing a culture... it takes time.”
“You sound like an organisational psychologist,” he jokes.
“I read so many books on how to manage people and business... I want to grow my brand in the future.”
“Like start a fashion line?” he asks, interested.
“Yes, but I don’t want to partner with a big brand. I want to produce amazing clothes and own the source of production.”
Adil nods his head. “So how do collaborations work?”
“I was in talks with Icon to come up with a casual wear range. They only offer a once-off design fee and like 2% of net profits. You don’t end up with much. Some collabs are great because it helps further your brand. But I really want to start my own business.”
“That’s amazing,” he says with a quick smile as he sips his bottled water.
You’re amazing, I almost say, but I hold myself back. I can’t be super eager when I don’t even know what we are doing here. I know I haven’t been on a proper date in my life, but this doesn’t feel like a date. It’s too casual.
“It is not as easy as people make it out to be,” I say about starting out my own business. “I know! Like when I started out, my dad had some properties he owned and would just ensure he collected the rent every month and took care of maintenance. It was him and about four other people who ran the place then. When I wanted to expand, he was so against it because he didn’t want the risk. But the reality is, a business can only successfully grow if you take calculated risks. My argument was you have tons of capital, buy one run-down apartment, renovate it and put it out to rent. And then do the next one and next one...”
“Then this way you don’t overcapitalise?” I ask, hoping I sound smart.
“Exactly. We fought for like a month then eventually he gave me R500K to buy a flat. You can’t do anything with 500K. Because the most rental you will get is about R4 000–R5 000. It took us about two months to find the right spot. There was a unit in a complex in Midrand on sale for R450K on auction because the owners defaulted, and the bank just wanted its money. They were so happy we had the cash to pay immediately.”
“What was the value of the flat?”
“Over R700 000.”
“Instead of using my father’s friends who used to do the renovations at a premium, I decided to hire my own people and supervise the whole project. It took us two weeks. I bought every tile and chose every detail.”
“How much did it cost?”
“About 50K, give or take.”
“So, for the R500 000 your dad gave you bought a flat and renovated it?”
“Yes. When we put it up for rent, we had offers for R11 000. Which, in four years, paid itself off. Now that just generates profit.”
“You were fortunate to have access to capital.”
“Absolutely. I mean my timer would have rather taken that money and gone on holiday but that showed him how calculated risks can pay off.”
“‘Calculated risks’ is going to be my new motto,” I say with a smile.
“Are you teasing me?”
“No, I am actually inspired.” It is true though. It’s the only way to grow a business.
“It was sweat and tears! After that unit was successfully rented out, I sold a house my dad had in the East Rand that was a dud and sold it to a group of foreigners who turned it into a business premises. I took that million and bought two units similar to the first one and did the same thing. And then I professionalised it where we had an agent who would deal with rentals and so we weren’t doing that archaic thing of calling people to remind them of paying rent.”
“This is all so fascinating.”
“You can tell me if you are bored. I don’t meet many people who care about these kinds of things”.
He means girls. He doesn’t meet many girls who are interested in his work. Meaning he meets lots of girls.
“When I look at my future... I think going into business is my next step. I don’t know where to start but that’s my intention,” I say.
“I will help you when you’re ready. Take your time to think about what you would want out of it.”
So he plans on being around for a while? This is all so confusing. I just smile and drink water. I can’t be thinking of starting a business when my bank account hits zero by the 20th of every month. Obviously, I don’t tell Adil that. It’s kind that he offered to help me even though I don’t really know if he means it.
“Shall we get going?” I ask.
“Sure. I don’t want to stand in the way of your Netflix and chilling,” he teases.
“This was nice. Thank you,” I say a bit formally.
Why am I so weird? Why can’t I be chilled and easy-going? I wish there was a Ted Talk on ‘How to be cool’. Maybe there is — I must check.
“You’re coming with me to the gym tomorrow morning, right?”
“Come on. I need someone to talk to while I exercise, and you need a gym buddy. Win, win.”
“So, you’re just using me then?” I jab.
“Kind of,” he laughs.
After my divorce, I would often think about what kind of guy I would end up with. But I could never narrow it down. I could never imagine myself with a certain type of person. Getting married at 18 and divorced two years later doesn’t bode well for your self-esteem. And, yes, my divorce wasn’t toxic or majorly dramatic, but it really made me believe that I was not worthy of being loved. It’s not an easy thing to overcome when the only person you loved in your life was in love with someone else the whole time.
I think that hurt stopped me from even considering a relationship or imagining my life with a partner. Do I get lonely? Of course, I do. But the reality is that I don’t spend enough time making and sustaining friendships.
Me: Siri, how do I make friends?
Siri: Ok, I found this on the web for, ‘How do I make friends?’
I can splurge on fake lashes, shoes and overpriced handbags, but you haven’t seen me more upset than when I have to pay more than 12 bucks for a can of tuna. My life goes from eating canned tuna three days in a row to eating caviar canapés at a blogger event. It’s called balance. It is also called living by my one rule in life: don’t spend good money on food when you can buy clothes and shoes instead.
My golden rule worked fine for the broke years of my blogging life, but now every other blogger is posting pictures of their food and it may or may not be a fetish, but people love seeing what their favourite bloggers eat. But hell am I going to pay R80 for a smoothie bowl. Yoghurt, fruit and seeds for R80? I REFUSE.
They say desperation is the mother of innovation. I don’t know who said it, but I heard it on some phony YouTube inspiration video. Whatever. You get the point. Which is why I believe in banking food pictures. Don’t you dare judge me! People won’t want to see my canned tuna and whatever limp veggies my flatmates have in the fridge for days on end. They want to see perfectly styled pictures of food with a lipstick randomly sitting on the table and the menu sticking out on the other side.
That perfectly styled fine-dining experience to appease my viewers is going to cost me a good R500 and I am still going to be hungry and go home to a can of tuna. So, I go early to blogger events and take a million pictures of the food and store them to post later.
Then on the rare occasion I do go out, I make sure to take pictures of my food and the food of random strangers sitting around me. I am that person that smiles at a stranger sitting next to me at a restaurant and asks, “Hi, can I take a picture of your food for my social media?”Most of the time people are too confused to say no.
At a healthy breakfast place in the arty bit of Rosebank called Milora, the waiters know me now and call me to take pictures of the food before they even serve it. No one said being a millennial influencer was all glamour, honey!
I basically order one coffee when I am there and sit there for five hours stealing the WiFi. Our home WiFi cannot cope with uploading videos so a girl has to make a plan. And by making a plan I mean connecting to Milora’s office WiFi after sweet-talking Lawrence, my favourite waiter.
I sit amidst the overpriced single-origin coffee beans which are, of course *insert high-pitched twang* sustainably sourced, and I drink tap water. Before you come at me, we live in Johannesburg; there is no difference between boujee bottled water and what comes out of the tap. Even if there is, I am not paying hard-earned money for water!
When you’re sitting with a MacBook and wearing something cute with your headphones in, no waiter is going to come and interrupt. And when they try to, Lawrence deals with them. He even sneaks extra lemon and poppyseed muffins to me for free — well, mainly because nobody buys those muffins — but whatever. It’s a sweet gesture.
In exchange, once a week I post a picture of my MacBook, iPhone, lipstick and coffee and tag Milora. I used to feel bad but hell, I give them so much free advertising. I’ve also met SO many of my followers here because they know I post from here on Friday afternoons.
Although they don’t know that I am here every other weekday morning too. I should really email the owners and ask to collaborate.
If you are over the age of 40, you’re probably raising your eyebrows wondering why a girl who posts pictures on the internet would collaborate with a coffee shop.
Firstly, aunty, leave your judgment at the door.
Secondly, collaboration is the fancy way of forcing people to buy things by putting my name on it and getting a minute cut in return. Or even just free things in return. A girl can’t be fussy.
I often think that I am the modern-day salesperson who used to stand in the middle of the mall trying to sell you a massage chair or Dead Sea cosmetics. But now I am in your phone, sharing my ridiculously fabulous life so that you can buy what I tell you to. Listen, it pays the bills. Well, mostly.
Actually, I must not be so self-hating. I actually love this job. I am passionate about content creation. Okay, maybe passionate is a strong word but I enjoy what I do.
So, obviously, I had to take some good pictures of the pizza we ordered at Ansies 24 last night and post it after a good round of editing.
@MaariahMeans: Life is not about finding yourself, it’s about finding pizza.
#PizzaForLife #Pizza #MidnightSnacks #WhoNeedsBoysWhenYouHavePizza #FatLife
I obviously tag Firdaus on my post because she was with me, and without her I probably would have had to walk home in heels while starving.
She was quick to comment. “Midnight pizza is life! It was so good, friend!”
Yes, I spoke to her for the first time IRL yesterday and now we are best friends. I’m kidding, but I am not.
Now her followers and my followers go crazy that their favourite bloggers are suddenly besties. On a serious note, I think I could be real friends with Firdaus. I mean, I don’t have that many friends but she seems genuine and we have a good vibe.
Once my free pizza post was uploaded and began getting some seriously good engagement, I decide to hook up my laptop for some serious Netflixing this weekend. My plan is to chill in bed and snack on the stuff I snuck from the party I went to last night. I got a ton of macaroons, some wafers and a handful of chocolates. Yes, I stuffed it all in my handbag. No, I am not embarrassed (only because nobody saw me).
As I get into bed I make a mental note of what content I would be posting on my social media this weekend. Today, which is Saturday, I have the pizza post and a selfie I took at the launch event. For tomorrow, I have a banked coffee picture and a paid ad flat lay for a new face mask company. They didn’t pay me much for the advert but Nabeela was sure they will give us more paid gigs as the brand gets bigger.
I listen to Nabs’ financial advice but never her fashion advice. She wears dad jeans all day every day with slogan t-shirts. She dresses like a middle-aged dad. Nabs doesn’t give a hoot about fashion. But when it comes to making money, she knows her stuff. She took my blog from making a random R2 000 a month to being able to leave my job and earn about R21 000 now.
But I had to get super disciplined and focused. Nobody likes working with an unprofessional blogger. We plan content ahead of time and I have to be consistent. There is nothing spontaneous or random about my posts.
Every look I post on my blog is planned and we get Simmi to shoot the looks in a way that it’s magazine quality. Simmi is a journalist for the Sunday Times but as a creative outlet, she dabbles in photography.
At first, Nabs suggested we pay a freelancer but it wasn’t making any financial sense. The thing about being an influencer is that there is no set income. One month you can make R40 000 from a campaign and the next month you can barely make ends meet. So, because photography is mostly a hobby for Simmi, we have a set fee we pay her as part of our expenses.
At first, I used to post pictures taken with my iPhone but Nabs was adamant that the only way you can make serious money from blogging is if your images and content are shot professionally. “Nobody will invest in you if you don’t invest in yourself,” is her go-to line.
I keenly follow international bloggers who maintain a high standard for their content and I can see how it pays off. Of course, they earn millions of dollars and live in mansions, though.
The motto of Maariah Means is ‘quality, engaging, and chilled’.
I try to keep things as real as possible because I know my followers are not people who can afford Dior and Chanel. And honestly, the luxury-goods influencer market is saturated. Yes, some high-end brands still send me press drops but I don’t get the fancy international holidays and sponsored trips to New York Fashion Week. That is on my bucket list, BTW. Although I need to get a passport first before even thinking about NYC.
Nabs is strict when it comes to work ethic and deadlines. If an ad is paid for and we agree to post it on a certain day, she doesn’t care what has come up. What I lack in discipline, Nabs makes up for it.
Her goal is to build a network of influencers under her wing. For now, we are in a 60/40 agreement in terms of profit share but soon we will have to change our agreement now that she’s started managing more people.
She took a gamble on me and I took a gamble on her when she started managing me. I think she was just fed up with her job for a marketing agency where they believed in the archaic way of promoting brands. Despite the evidence to the contrary, some PR people still undervalue social-media marketing and their influencer budget is usually a fraction of what they pay for spreads in traditional media like magazines.
Who even buys magazines these days?
Initially, I was very worried about moving in with Nabs after she started managing me, but somehow we have solid boundaries. Business is business. I needed a place to stay and she and Simmi wanted to pay less rent, so we converted the sunroom into my bedroom.
The house has a quaint old charm to it but with Nabs’ chronic cleaning tendencies, it’s always spotless. Simmi, on the other hand, is unbelievably untidy. Like, frat boy untidy. On any given day, you will find half the clothes she owns on the floor of her room. You may even find a mountain of newspapers too.
So back to my Netflix options. I am torn between watching old Gossip Girl episodes or even older episodes of Gilmore Girls. I know whatever I choose it’s going to be a binge-fest and I am not going to leave my bed all weekend unless I really have to. As I mull the very serious decision of which series to watch, I log onto Instagram to check how my pizza post was doing — also because I am addicted to Instagram. My fingers literally twitch if I don’t log on for a while. Yes, it’s my job, but I never leave work. I see five direct messages. When I started out, I would respond to every DM I got but now it’s impossible with the number of people sending me messages every day. I usually just scroll through them and respond to the nice ones. Obviously, my inbox gets full of perverts who send me inappropriate pictures. I could write a book on the cheesy pickup lines I get. Gosh, and the million ‘Are you Muslim?’ messages I get all day.
I used to get so offended but now the block function is my friend.
A message from @Adil_ZA catches my eyes.
“So only Firdaus and Ayesha get a shout out for the pizza?”
It takes me a minute to get it.
“Haha. Thank you.”
I can’t say I wasn’t hoping he slides into my DMs. Obviously, I have to Insta-stalk him at that moment. It’s 2019, how else do we get to know people? Also, my social media stalking skills are so good, the Hawks should hire me to catch corrupt politicians. SARS can hire me to go after shady businessmen.
For months after my divorce, I would stalk Ozayr’s girlfriend, but I was too cowardly to ever send her a message. Weirdly, I was actually happy for them when they eventually got married. Nabs says I have psycho tendencies. I am supposed to hate this girl because she ruined my life. But, to be honest, I don’t think my divorce ruined my life. Yes, it sucked! And it was hard to be thrown into the deep end, but honestly, staying in a loveless marriage would have really ruined my life. I was tested and I came out stronger than I have ever been. It could have been much worse. I could have had a child by then.
But back to Insta-stalking Adil. He seems to be into property and often refers to random buildings as his ‘baby’.
There doesn’t seem to be any love interest in his life, judging from his Instagram profile. He seems very, very serious. He does not have a single selfie on Instagram, and he seems to be very well-travelled.
The furthest I have been is to Cape Town, although I am all about the ‘wanderlust’ life. I am praying for the day I can post a basic AF picture of a flight ticket with the caption “Catching flights, not feelings”. Am I even an influencer without it?
So back to property guy. I decide to keep the exchange casual but friendly.
“That pizza was so good!”
God. I’m really bad at this. Nabs was shocked when I told her I’d never had a boyfriend in my life. I was introduced to Ozayr at my aunt’s house, he came to my house with his parents once and then we were engaged. I saw him a total of four times before our wedding day. And after my divorce, I focused on working, so I had no time to even think of dating. Yes, I entertained a few people who slid into my DMs but it never went anywhere.
“Yeah ... although you barely ate," he quickly hit back.
“It was past midnight!”
“Would you eat more in the daytime?”
“For sure.” “Shall we test this theory tomorrow?”
Is he being serious? Is he asking me out?
SIRI: How can I help you, Maria?
ME: Firstly, you can at least try to pronounce my name properly.
SIRI: I am listening...
ME: Is he flirting with me?
SIRI: I don’t know. You tell me.
ME: YOU ARE OF NO HELP, SIRI.
Sidenote: I desperately need to make real girlfriends. I don’t know what to say. Maybe I am reading the situation wrong. A bestie could help right now. That’s what Sex and the City taught us, at least.
“Haha. I can eat a whole pizza, without any help”.
“Game on. See you tomorrow at Ansies”.
Oh. He is serious.
“Are you for real?”
“Yeah. Unless you have something better to do?”
“No. I am in.”
“Pick you up at 1?”
Does he usually pick up girls via DM? I’ve never done this before. He looks too serious and good looking to be a stalker, right? He could be a stalker or the love of my life, but I am placing my bet on the latter.
Note to self: Every stalker psycho in movies is well dressed and good looking.
It’s 12am on the 25th of June 2019. I am damn tired. I am not yet home. Why am I still not home? Because I went to a brand launch party six hours ago, expecting that the Uber home will cost R58. Uber, may its algorithms be damned, is now surging and my trip home will cost me an estimated R120.
Not much, right?.
Well, it’s a whole R48,80 more than I have in my bank account.
My plan at 10pm was to wait for 12am in the hope my paycheque from a client would reflect in my account by then. But 12 minutes after midnight and it looks like I will only see the money in the morning. If I ever do.
Hmm... Plan B is to request a cash option in Uber and then when I get home, just make a run for it. That sounds plausible for all of four seconds, until I realise that I am a tiny creature wearing six-centimetre heels that are for sure cutting into my feet bones. (Are feet bones a thing?)
So, your judgey self is thinking, why doesn’t she call a friend?
Let’s be honest for a second. I have 125 000 Instagram friends yet I can’t call a single one of them for a favour. It’s called being a millennial.
It’s also called being a ‘successful’ fashion and lifestyle blogger, and also means nobody knows I am broke, and that I came to this party with a borrowed dress worth more than three times my rent and a total of R71,20 to my name.
Okay, let me start from the beginning. I am in Melrose Arch, the part of Johannesburg that acts like the rest of the city doesn’t exist — the part of Johannesburg where Europeans feel at home. It’s where white privilege can be ordered on a menu.
You get the point.
I am part of a group of influencers/social media people/socialites/people who suck up for free things, who were invited to a fun party to launch a new skincare range.
When it comes to brand launches, this launch of ZameR face products is the event of the week. There’s like real-life celebrities here — not just the famous-for-being-famous types.
Dj Axer brought his baby mama with and his estranged wife brought her new toyboy as a plus one. Drama!
The event was going so well, I even got four selfies with celebrities. Okay, TBH, one person was just Insta-famous. But still, it’s a blast.
My goodie bag from the event has tons of makeup (false lashes to die for) and I managed to sneak like a million macarons and snacks into it for teatime tomorrow with my flatmates. Those skinny models were not going to eat it anyway.
It was influencer heaven.
Now, in blogger or influencer world, there are levels.
Level one: Just started out. Posts a million pictures a day. Has a small following. PR companies have just recognised them because they would post all day for a packet of chips if offered. We were all there at some point, I guess.
Level two: These girls have like over 10 000 followers but are still not getting enough paid gigs. It’s an expensive hobby with a few perks.
Level three: Influencers who just started making real money and believe in a few months they will be as rich as Kylie Jenner. Girl, it ain’t going to happen. Although they are all posting pictures of laxative tea so they can pay the bills.
Level four: This is where I am at. I have over 100 000 followers. I get a ton of free things. I get invited to more events than I can possibly attend, and I make a decent amount of money. And by decent, it’s not nearly enough to properly live on. Most people on this level either come from generational wealth, have rich partners or have maxed out their credit cards.
Level five: These people have made it. They are on a ‘celebrity’ level in South Africa. They get paid to be at events. They don’t have to post lies about laxative tea, they just make their own to sell. Comparatively, level five influencers in South Africa are far, far behind your blogger/vlogger types in the US and UK. But let’s blame it on apartheid and move on.
Getting to a level four influencer was no walk in the park. It was a jungle run! An episode of Survivor, if you like.
It’s been five years of posting content consistently with very few resources to get to this level. And still, with 125 000 followers, I am still stone-cold broke at the end of the month.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not me complaining. To be broke only on the 24th of the month is miles ahead of where I was when I started my blog, Maariah Means, in 2015. I remember that day every time I am broke. It was the middle of winter, and I had to start over in my life.
I was a 21-year-old divorcee with no post-matric qualification and I suddenly had to find a way to live.
Thankfully, my pretty features helped me flatter my way into a basic retail job at Sandton City. Just kidding. It wasn’t that easy. The heartbreak of my divorce was nowhere near the stress that came with surviving afterwards..
My divorce story is actually a boring tale. A week after I wrote my last grade 12 exam, an aunt called my mum to say she has a guy for me to meet. In small-town brown world, this meant she found a potential husband for me.
It was a family friend of her sister-in-law who was looking for a “pretty and innocent girl”. No, this was not in 1969.
Anyways, when I was in high school, studying at university was never an option for me because we could never afford it. It was not something I envisioned because even if I did get a bursary, I would still have to move to Joburg to study and my mother’s librarian salary was never going to afford that. It was never on the cards. I was going to find a job, or work in the library with my mum. Those were my options.
So, when my aunt suggested I get married, it seemed like the natural course of things. For my mother, she was just glad that her greatest fear (me getting pregnant in high school) didn’t come true, so getting a real, decent proposal for marriage without a bun in the oven was a relief!
My mother was 17 when she was knocked up with me by some guy she was in school with. He never stuck around, and her family pulled her out of school because an unwanted teenage pregnancy was a life sentence back then. I suppose not much has changed since then.
My mum was forced to find work and managed to get a job at the local library, first as an assistant and later as a manager — she still works there. The library let her take me along to work when she didn’t have anyone to look after me, and my mum told me later in my life that people thought she was my nanny because of my light skin and eyes.
Apparently, I look like my biological father, Jaco, whom I have never met, and I don’t think I would ever meet. I mean if he wanted to see his daughter, he had 20-plus years to reach out. About two years after I was born, my mother married her childhood best friend and neighbour, Zayn.
Now, their story is crazy. The stuff Bollywood is made of, if you ask me. Zayn is about three years older than my mother and he remembers loving her from the time he was 10 years old. I’ve never seen a love like that in my life. They played together as kids, walked to school together and my mother would do all of Zayn’s homework even though she was two grades below him.
Then my mother fell pregnant and Jaco refused to step up.
My mother told me the story a million and a half times of how when she went into labour at 2am, and when Zayn saw her family leave for the hospital, he stole his father’s car to follow her there.
Imagine having the love of your life to give birth to a child that is not yours. That’s some next-level love. I don’t think that kind of love still exists, TBH. While I call Zayn by his name, he is the only father I know in our small and simple family. My mother worked in the library from Monday to Saturday. Zayn worked as a mechanic from Monday to Friday for an insurance panel beater company and fixed cars at home on weekends. It was a routine-filled, uncomplicated life.
I think it also had to do with the fact that we don’t have a big extended family because my grandparents passed on when I was quite young, and my mum has just one sister. We never had a relationship with Zayn’s family because they disowned him when he decided to marry my mother. I told you — Bollywood. This was also something we never spoke about and I can’t remember him ever complaining or talking about his side of the family.
By the time I finished school, my mother was just relieved that I hadn’t followed in her footsteps of getting knocked up by some random guy. She didn’t object to me being introduced to Ozayr. I was 18 years old, I had never had a boyfriend and I was confused about what I wanted to do with my life; so I agreed to it.
He wasn’t strikingly handsome, but he wasn’t bad to look at either. He seemed stable and mature. Although there was this nagging feeling in my gut the first time I met him at my aunt’s house — when you have a strange lingering feeling, but you can’t put your finger on what it is or where it’s coming from.
Ozayr was 25 years old and worked in his family business in Johannesburg. He seemed half-decent. Once he proposed, I got caught up in the euphoria of it all. In no time I was married and moved to Lenasia where I would get into a routine of waking up, making his breakfast, packing his lunch, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, cooking supper and then watching Bollywood series until he got back home from work. I was on autopilot. This was my life and I got on with it.
Even with that level of mediocrity, we didn’t have a volatile marriage. When I look back now, I just remember my marriage being an endless routine with very few surprises.
Until it was not.
I will never forget that day. We were driving to Ozayr’s granny’s house about a month after our two-year wedding anniversary. Ozayr turned and looked at me in the car with a strange look in his eyes.
“Do you love me?” he asked seriously, with his frown deepening and his fingers tapping the steering wheel.
“‘Yeah. Of course,” I responded with a slight stammer in my voice, unsure where the conversation was going.
“I love someone else,” he blurted out. I was so startled, I thought I heard wrong. That is the last thing you expect your husband of two years to say to you on a routine drive to his granny’s house.
It took me so long to register and fully comprehend the meaning behind what he just said that I sat in silence for the rest of the trip.
You know that state of shock and confusion where, even though you want to make sense of the situation, your mind can’t wrap itself around what just happened?
That was me when my husband admitted to me that he was in love with someone else. Life went on at normal at his granny’s house and I dutifully dished out the food and washed the dishes like the good daughter-in-law I was.
That evening, on the way back from his granny’s house, we took a long drive home where he let out all his deep, dark secrets. It turned out that Ozayr was in love with a girl he met in the one year he went to university, but he couldn’t marry her because of a religious difference.
When his parents found out, they forced him to drop out of university and join the family business, hoping he would forget about this girl who, to them, was not a suitable partner for him. But he kept seeing her secretly for five years until one day he went to his parents and told them he wanted to marry her. That was about three months before he was introduced to me.
His parents thought that forcing him to marry a pretty and innocent girl from a small town would make him get over this girl. What a bloody cliché!
Well predictably, they were wrong and apparently three months after we got married, they started seeing each other again. I had no clue. If he hadn’t told me I probably would have never found out. I was young and naïve. I did my wifely chores with a smile and very rarely complained.
I tried for months after that to think back to any signs I may have missed or clues that I had ignored. I couldn’t think of anything besides the fact that I always found it strange that his mother would sometimes shout at him in a hushed tone in the kitchen, but I never got close enough to find out what it was about.
When we got home that night, he told me that he could no longer live a lie and no matter how much he cared for me, his heart belonged to that girl. Up until that point, divorce didn’t even cross my mind. I thought he would apologise and promise to love me for the rest of our lives.
I was very quickly slapped with reality. “I think we need a divorce.”
The next two weeks after those words were a blurred haze of loud arguments between Ozayr and his mother. On the other side, my mother was so distraught she was barely rational. Zayn was threatening to beat up Ozayr. It was a mess.
As much as I needed time to deal with what just happened, I also needed to sort out my life. What do I do now? My mother was devastated for me but agreed with me when I said I would rather stay in Joburg and find a job.
There was nothing for me in Nelspruit. I mean I was a 20-year-old divorcee; how could I go home to sponge off my mother who earns a pittance? That didn’t sound right. I started sending my CV around and thankfully, the economy was performing a whole lot better then than it is now. I managed to get a job at a fashion retailer, Icon, in their handbag department.
Ozayr’s mother helped me find a place to rent and helped me with my deposit, and that was as far as her kindness extended. Once I moved out it was like I never existed to that family. She is yet to reach out to check how I am doing
I didn’t hate Ozayr as much as I did his mother after the divorce, for knowing her son was in love with someone else but deciding to force him to marry me. And when things blew over, she didn’t care.
When I think about it, I still marvel at how I managed to just get up and start a new life. At the time, I was earning R5 500, from which R3 000 went to rent and utilities in a granny flat and R600 to transport to work, leaving me with R1 900 to live on every month.
The irony of life is that I now earn five times what I earned then, yet I am still just as broke as the end of the month.
I am half falling asleep at this party, yet I can’t afford the ride home.
It’s time to come up with a contingency lie so I switch off my phone and go to one of the PR girls who organised the party. “Honey, is it possible to call me an Uber home, my phone died,” I say.
“Oh, that’s awful. Good thing there’s a portable charger in the goodie bag,” she says without hesitation.
Dammit. These PR girls are annoying. My phone is fully charged. Can’t she just get the Uber! So I make small talk with a bunch of other bloggers as I try to think of a plan. If it was earlier, I would’ve taken a taxi but it’s midnight and there is no public transport at this time of the night.
I head to the loo, and as I walk in I see the hijabi blogger who asked me for a picture earlier. Firdaus is a hijabi influencer who is really killing the Instagram scene right now, and even walked in SA Fashion Week last year. She’s there with her cousin Ayesha who is a lawyer and just came along for fun. I had seen Firdaus before, but this was the first time I actually connected with her. She and her cousin seem to be genuinely nice girls, which is mostly rare. Brand events are filled with so much fickleness, it hurts my brain.
“Are you leaving now?” Firdaus asks.
“I am planning to, but my Uber won’t work,” I lie.
“We can drop you off?” Ayesha offers.
I am five seconds away from breaking out in a “GLORY BE TO THE Almighty” in DJ Khalid style. EXHALE! Shew!
“Are you sure? I stay in Rosebank.”
“Oh, that’s not far from here,” Firdaus says.
“I appreciate it, thank you,” I say.
“My brother is picking us up in about five minutes,” says Ayesha.
I feel like crap, but I don’t have a choice. As I said, Uber can be an ass when it wants to. Actually, my bank balance is the real problem here.
I walk outside with Ayesha and Firdaus just as a black Audi pulls up. We climb in, and I don’t take notice of Ayesha’s brother until he turns around to introduce himself to me.
“Hi, I’m Adil,” he says.
“Assalamualaikum,” I offer, and he gets that embarrassed look on his face because he clearly didn’t realise I was a Muslim girl.
It happens all the time, I am used to it. Most people don’t know I am a Muslim until they get to know me. Maariah can also be Mariah, as in Mariah Carey. Also, my weird white and Indian genes and my green eyes confuse a lot of people. But if I am honest with myself, I really don’t wear my religion on my sleeve.
“This is the blogger I was telling you about. Her name is Maariah,” Firdaus tells her cousin.
Adil is dressed in a formal white shirt and black slacks, which clearly say he was at work until midnight on a Friday. Nobody goes out with friends dressed like that unless you are a 58-year-old professor. Or some weird luncheon-going guy.
“Are you coming from work now?” Ayesha asks Adil.
“Yeah... I have a ton of deadlines to meet. How was the party?”
“Great! I’m starving though. Those canapés were not filling at all,” Firdaus says.
I’m starving too.
“Those celebs eat two pieces of riceless sushi and act like they’re all full,” Ayesha jokes — and she’s not wrong.
“Do you guys want to stop and get pizza?” Adil offers.
“Yes! Maariah, are you in a rush to get home?”
“No, not at all. I’m chilled,” I said.
We pull up at Ansies 24-hour pizza, which is about five minutes from the party venue. At this point, I am praying that my money is reflecting in my account. Adil pulls out a chair next to me while Firdaus and Ayesha pull out the other two chairs.
I try to insist that I am not hungry, but they won’t buy it. We were at the event from 6pm to midnight, I had to be starving. Of course, my stomach was digesting itself but if they want to split the bill, I’m screwed. My account is still empty.
“I can’t be eating carbs so late. Okay, I will have a small slice with you guys and a glass of water,” I say. I’ve been broke enough times to know how to make this work.
Adil orders two large margherita pizzas and drinks for us. Thankfully, he pays for it before we can suggest splitting the bill. I am grateful for simple mercies. A simple cheesy pizza goes down so well, especially when you’re starving, so even though I protested and insisted that I would only have a small slice of pizza, I am soon on slice three.
Adil doesn’t say much while we chat about the party, fashion week and all things influencer. He does seem interested though, because he sits quietly and pays attention to the conversation. On appearance alone, you can see that this guy is a quintessential professional. His slacks are neatly pressed. His white shirt is still crisp and his Apple Watch is neatly on his right hand.
He’s kinda cute. Okay, there, I said it. He’s not overly buff but not skinny. Like Ashton Kutcher. But not shaggy-hair Ashton Kutcher. Ashton Kutcher when he married Mila Kunis. I can’t even remember when was the last time I found a guy attractive in real life. I don’t even know when last I was around a ‘real’ guy.
I mean I do Insta-stalk guys. Whatever. There was definitely something about this guy.
THIS IS SO WEIRD.
Once the pizza is done, they drop me off at the house I share with two other girls. My one flatmate is Nabila, who is also my manager. She knows hustle like no one else does.
We met about two years ago, when she was still working for a PR company, and she was looking to do a collab with me. She is the only one who knew for a long time that I worked retail and most of my shoots were done using clothes from the store I worked for and my makeup was done by my colleagues who worked in the makeup department.
That’s how I started blogging. It was a quiet day at Icon on a random Tuesday morning in 2015 and Molly, who worked at the makeup counter, asked if she could do my makeup for her portfolio. She did an incredible smokey eye and nude lip which made me feel like a million bucks.
When Molly posted the first lot of pictures, her Instagram exploded with people requesting to book her for makeup after hours. Then it became almost a daily routine where she would do my makeup while the store was still empty, and I would pose for pictures. I didn’t have a public social media presence at the time but Molly and the other girls at Icon convinced me that I needed to become a blogger. I was literally living on R1 900 a month and could barely afford data.
One day I connected to my landlord’s WiFi and decided to start my Instagram page, make it public and post pictures that were taken at Icon.
It took me a few weeks to wrap my head around this blogging thing, especially since it wasn’t such a big deal in 2015 as it is now. I would post a makeup look every day and would get Molly to break down all the products she used.
People absolutely loved it because she gave a step-by-step process on how to achieve the different looks she had done for me. I can’t remember how I started doing photoshoots with dresses from the evening wear section of the store but suddenly, my following grew exponentially.
From like 1000 followers, I remember getting to about 6000 in a month. For me, those shoots were a good distraction. I didn’t have a life. I woke up at 6am, ate a bowl of oats and a banana for breakfast, took a walk to the main road to catch a minibus taxi to Sandton City and then started my workday at 7:30.
I would only be home by 7pm, eat a basic dinner — which most of the time was canned tuna — and I would pass out. I worked six days a week and Sundays were spent cleaning my flat and preparing for the week. My life was dull and uneventful. I rarely went out because, frankly, I just couldn’t afford it.
From the R1 900 I had to live on, I gave my mother R400 a month to make their lives easier. My mother and Zayn live very simple lives, and since Zayn had an accident at work where a car engine fell on his leg, he hasn’t been able to work as much as he used to. R400 was not much but it made a difference to their lives.
At least now I can contribute quite substantially and pay for a decent medical aid for them. I have literally had days I would sit in the taxi and my mind would drift off thinking how I needed to work hard to help my mom and Zayn ease their burden. My mom is relatively young, but she is so used to her life at the library that she would never leave.
I think that’s what pushed me to give absolutely 100% of my energy to creating Maariah Means with no budget. I did endless research, stalked famous international bloggers and content creators, and came up with a strategy for that time.
My first call of action was registering Maariah Means on a domain and getting a blog up and running. At first, I emailed a ton of companies for quotes, but they charged ridiculous fees so instead, one Saturday I went to a coffee shop after work, used their WiFi and watched 10 YouTube tutorials on how to build my own site.
It took me weeks of trying until I was fully happy with the layout and graphics. I used a free site to make a logo and made sure all my social media pages were in sync. Again, it helped that I stalked like fifty international fashion bloggers and mirrored the way they were doing things. My bio was a basic quote because we didn’t know about ‘influencer life’ and ‘wanderlust’ back then.
“Don’t innovate to compete, innovate to change the rules of the game,” it read, and I still believe in it. It made me sound all mysterious and interesting when I was just a girl who would pray, that she didn’t have to sit in the front passenger seat of the minibus taxi and had to count the money.
Taxi drivers in Johannesburg are ruthless. They will make you count the money of all 20 passengers and if the fare is short, they make it your fault, as if they pay you to be their assistants.
The worst is when someone pays for an R11 trip with a R200 note. You can feel the scorn of the rest of the passengers while it’s your problem to figure out how much change to give him before he jumps out at some random robot.
Minibus taxis in Joburg are an adventure and a half. When I first started taking them, I used to be catcalled every day then eventually commuters got used to the ‘Mlungu girl’. I can’t say I miss taking taxis. Although I still don’t own a car, I can afford to Uber now and I don’t have a daily commute like I used to.
Moving to Rosebank also helped a ton because I can just walk to the mall if I need to do errands or even go to meetings. And because three of us are sharing the space, the rent is completely affordable.
Granted, it’s really a two-bedroom house and my bedroom is actually the sunroom — I don’t care, I get to stay in Rosebank for under R3 000 a month.
When Firdaus and Ayesha dropped me off, we exchanged numbers promising to keep in touch. I can’t keep count how many times bloggers say that to each other, but this time it seemed different.
I have to make an effort with Firdaus. She has a damn loyal following. We could even collab on content. TBH, I need to get into that hijabi space. Those followers are loyal as hell.
And if it means seeing her fine cousin again, I’m in.
Her cousin Ayesha, obviously. What were you thinking?
@MaariahMeans: Hi guys. I had the most amazing evening at ZameR skincare launch. You honies know how much I love my skincare and these products are AMAZING. I am so excited for you guys to try it out. The event was so much fun and I met the coolest people! Thank you @ZameR for having me.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.