Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
When I lived in Rosebank and was just ’gym buddies’ with Adil, I used to imagine what spending a night together would be like. I would have never guessed that the first time I spent a night with Adil it would be me sleeping on a couch and Adil sleeping on the floor of his baby’s room — both of us still in our clothes from the day.
Hana woke up three times and all three times she needed me to pacify her to sleep. She definitely is not used to a male or is uncomfortable with a male presence.
You know it has been a rough night when a double shot espresso doesn’t do the trick.
“I need another one,” I say to Adil, who is making his coffee.
My back hurts from trying to sleep on a couch even though there was a king-sized bed right there.
I am sticky and sweaty and I need to brush my teeth! Hana, on the other hand, has been up and chirpy since 7am.
At some point, I thought that if she woke up we would rest. Wishful thinking!
Before this coffee, I had to start by changing her nappy while Adil made her breakfast. Then she messed cereal all over herself, so I had to bath and change her.
Only after I put her in front of the TV now do we have a moment for coffee.
“Do you think a newborn is easier than a toddler?” I ask Adil and he grunts in response, barely awake to string together a few words.
After his second coffee, he seems more alive.
“You know, I used to be at the clubs until 5am, still go to McDonalds and get home just before 7am every weekend and I never felt this hungover.”
He’s serious but I can’t help but laugh.
“Well, this is the product of one of those nights at the club,” I try to ease the mood but it comes out totally wrong. I should have just kept my mouth shut. Now Adil feels like I am throwing his past in his face and he is pissed.
I should be the one that is pissed off at his past. It is not normal that I am so okay about this and so readily helping.
Every time I want to quit, I think of Zayn and I push through.
“I am going to go home to shower and rest before lunch,” I say to him and he is not pleased.
“Please pack a bag for tonight,” he says.
“No man Adil. I can’t stay over again at your house. It is not right.”
“What is not right?”
“We are not married...”
“I have barely touched you in the past 24 hours. Don’t come here with that nonsense. I need your help, but if you don’t want to help me just say so.”
We are both exhausted. I have never seen him this snappy ever.
I decide not to respond. Instead, I go to play with Hana for a bit in the lounge before I go back to my apartment.
I find my mother is living her best life filling in sudoku and crossword puzzles while sipping on mint tea.
“Your whole life you worried I’d have a child before marriage. I was such a good girl. I didn’t speak to any boys. Even after my divorce and yet I still ended up with a child before marriage,” I tell my mother and she bends over laughing.
At least we can laugh about this bizarre situation.
“I am going to shower and nap for a bit,” I say to her as she continues with her crossword puzzle from the Sunday paper.
I nap for an hour and it makes a world of a difference. I feel human again. Not nearly human enough to put on a face and entertain Adil’s family while he is super moody because of the lack of sleep.
I am so glad I prepared everything for tea the day before.
So now I just have to get done and pack a bag to stay over. This is totally wrong and, importantly, unsustainable but I don’t know how to enforce boundaries. I have always been a pushover. It’s just how I am.
“Are you going to be okay?” I ask my mother as I gather my stuff to leave.
“Yeah there’s a child’s birthday at the pool at 2pm and I am invited,” she says. She is the epitome of self-sufficient. She doesn’t even need my company, she can sort herself out.
I know absolutely no one in my complex and I probably won’t.
By the time I get back to Adil’s house, I find him passed out on the couch while Hana is playing outside with Percy.
Thankfully, the house is clean and ready to set up for tea with his family. Thank God I didn’t offer lunch. It would have to be leftover pizza!
While Adil sleeps, I sit and read blogs on parenting and toddlers. There’s just so much. From what to feed them to what toys are good for them, I really can’t keep up. There’s a whole community of blogger mums who discourage plastic toys for their kids. Where the heck must I go and source wooden toys from!
Then there’s the difference of opinion about what is the right age to start potty training and there’s raging debates whether co-sleeping is good or bad for children.
I just could not get used to having a child in my bed. I mean, let me have at least that part of the honeymoon phase.
As I go down the rabbit hole of blogs and articles, I find myself reading up on prenuptial contracts. I don’t know much about it but I know enough to know that it is important.
The last time, I was married according to Islamic marital rites. We didn’t get married in court. Because I want to be married in community of property with a strict prenuptial agreement, we would have to get married at home affairs. This way, if something happens I am entitled to half of what he owns.
I am not expecting anything to happen but burn me twice... I am the fool.
Adil wakes up rested and in a better space than when I left him earlier.
“What time is it?” he asks me.
“It’s ten past one. Your parents will be here at two,” I say.
“Did Hana eat?”
“Yeah, she’s fine. She’s taking a nap,” I say to him.
He goes up to shower and I start preparing for tea with his family. This is nerve-wracking. This is the first time his parents are coming to his home with him living here and it’s the first time they are meeting Hana.
It would be a lot easier if we both had a good night’s rest so we would be able to at least fake it with his family.
I gobble two slices of pizza in between setting up and, even though I planned to shoot my confectionery for content, I could not be bothered at this point.
I decide to go into Adil’s office to get a book and pen and make logical lists around Hana. Wedding planning needs its own book.
Adil needs a team of three helpers on a rotational basis. Percy would look after the cleaning of the house on a full-time basis. He needs someone from 9am-6pm dedicated to looking after Hana. I suppose this will be my job once we get married. Then he needs another helper/nanny for weekends and emergencies.
We need to find a nursery school to enroll her in for the new year but it’s December and everything is already closed. I can make inquiries in the meantime, I guess.
I need to audit her clothes and shoes to make a list of what she needs. While I am at it, she needs a few more toys and activities to keep her occupied.
“What are you doing?” Adil asks as he comes to sit next to me on the dining table.
“Just making lists for Hana... We have to find a nursery for her,” I say to him.
“You are so good at this! Are you sure you don’t have a secret child I don’t know about?” He jokes and I fall over laughing at the hilarity of it.
It’s a good time for his parents to walk in because they are fascinated by what we’re laughing so hard about. Talk about dark humour!
Uncle Moosa carries in boxes and boxes of things he thought Adil may need, which includes random things like screwdrivers. Ayesha brings a little gift bag with a gift for Hana which Adil instantly appreciates. Ma walks in with a packet of frozen food for her beloved grandson who, in her mind, has been starving without her cooking. Zeenat just shows up, dressed for high tea on London’s high street and not just a casual Sunday afternoon at her son’s house.
“This place is much nicer than I expected,” she says and that’s probably the best compliment she could give.
“It’s a good starter house,” Adil’s father says, and I die a little on the inside because this house is literally my dream home. It is the perfect balance between comfort and luxury and probably cost a few million. Obviously, compared to their Waterfall home this is tiny. I want to laugh about the comparison to my apartment or my mum’s home to this.
“Where is little Hana?” Ma asks and Adil says she’s having a nap.
I think what happened yesterday was that she was so exhausted from not having a midday nap and that’s why she threw such a gigantic tantrum.
I have premade masala tea and pour it from a flask.
“Oh everything is so pretty,” Ma offers, always appreciating my baking effort.
Just as we begin chatting about mundane things, Hana starts crying. I ask Percy to get her but she starts howling and somehow both Adil and I know that she needs me to pacify her.
His mother definitely gives off a look when I tell Adil that he must relax, I will see to her.
Hana calms down once she sees me and I change her nappy.
“Hana, count for me,” I say, trying to distract her.
“Five... seven... one... two,” she counts and I giggle. We have to teach you your numbers, little one!
I carry her downstairs and the entire table is transfixed by me and Hana. I take her over to Adil and she refuses to go to him. You can see it hurts him a little. She will get used to him eventually.
“Say hello Ma,” I say to her as I take her over to Ma and she impeccably says “hello Ma”. Ma has never appeared so chuffed as she is now that Hana greets her.
“Say hello Granny Zee,” Adil’s mother says and I am tempted to roll my eyes. Granny Zee? What the heck is that!
Eventually, she climbs from my lap to Adil’s lap and I notice his dad remains quiet the whole time. He doesn’t look upset or perturbed. He is just completely quiet, which is not normal for him.
“I am just going to say it,” Ayesha blurts out. “Are you sure this is not your child?” she asks me, and I laugh.
There is somewhat of a resemblance between me and Hana — it’s probably because of the mixed genes between white and Indian.
Now I think about whether Adil was attracted to the fact that I look like his daughter or his daughter looks like me. Another thing to ask a shrink!
We start going through the list of stuff we need to sort out for Hana when Uncle Moosa finally breaks his silence.
“I have friends who are on the board of Serram House. We can get her in there from nursery so it’s easier when applying for primary school,” he says. Serram House is this uber-exclusive private school that usually has parents registering their kids the moment they get an ultrasound. Of course he has friends who own Serram House, that’s where all the corrupt politicians and dodgy business people send their kids.
As Ayesha and her mum help tidy up, Ma sits me next to her and I know a heart-to-heart is pending.
“Maariah, my child. Thank you for doing this for my Adil. You are so special, my daughter. You are so special. You must get married this year. Do it for me.”
Ma has a way of getting into your head. How do I say to her, I am happy to get married tomorrow but your grandson must meet my conditions?
The prenup is non-negotiable. The wedding too but I can compromise and have a small affair. My family and friends list is not more than twenty people! But I want it pretty and Pinterest worthy. I don’t care at what cost.
“Are you okay?” Adil whispers in my ear and I nod.
I just need his family to leave so I can just pass out. I have reached my quota of fake smiles at his mother.
“Ma sat me down and asked me to please have the wedding this month,” I tell Adil.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing. It’s not my call…”
“It is your call. I have been waiting for you…”
“If you can pay people to organize a wedding in two weeks we can get married,” I say to him.
He nods, acknowledging what I just said but he doesn’t respond.
I can’t afford a basic wedding, let alone the one I envision. Adil has to carry that tab, unfortunately.
Well, it’s the least he can do!
We all go out to the backyard for a bit and watch Hana play while Adil’s father measures the area to install a play area for Hana.
This family’s dysfunctionality always amazes me. There is an elephant in the room but instead of talking through it; they just pretend it’s not there. It’s almost like, okay, Maariah is his wife to be and she has accepted this child so all is fine.
But as a parent, I would be worried for my son who has never looked after a child in his life and has to now deal with a toddler. I would want to know how he is coping. Not Adil’s parents. Measuring for a play area seems to be the perfect distraction. Can they please leave already!
I need a nap that lasts 24 hours. How do mothers with multiple kids manage?!
Eventually, Adil’s family get the hint and leave. If I hear his mother referring to herself as “Granny Zee” one more time I will shoot myself!
“You must go to sleep as soon as she falls off to sleep,” Adil tells me as we spread out on the couch. There’s still a bedtime routine to go through and I have no energy left in me.
“I know I say this often but what would I do without you?” he says.
The affection feels good after what seems like 24 hours from hell.
“You would hire an extra nanny,” I tease him but he doesn’t laugh.
“You are not a nanny. You are my wife!”
“Hold up bro! I am not your wife yet,” I laugh.
“Marry me Mar,” he says, half falling asleep.
“I will... Once everything is sorted out.”
“We can always have a reception later... I need you,” he says and I can feel the desperation in his voice.
No way, I am not compromising on this. No effort to convince me to have a quickie nikaah in the mosque is going to work.
People respect you as much as you respect yourself. A failed marriage will teach you that.
“I want to get married legally, in community of property with a prenuptial contract,” I tell Adil, and his body language instantly betrays him — he is definitely surprised by what I just said.
In true Adil fashion, he doesn’t respond.
Instead, he wanders to the kitchen and fetches snacks for us to munch one while Hana has her last TV time for the day before dinner and bedtime.
As tiring as this day was, it feels so rewarding. It almost feels like my exhaustion means something.
Thankfully, Hana’s bedtime routine is much easier than yesterday. I am not as clueless and as nervous and Hana is not screaming for her life.
We work pretty much in tandem but I still have to tell Adil what to do. At 7pm on the dot, we tuck her in bed and I take out the book I found earlier among her things. I lay on one side while Adil sits at the foot of her little bed and I read her a story until she falls asleep.
My mother read to me every day until I was able to read myself.
“That wasn’t half bad,” I say to Adil as we tiptoe out of her room.
We need a camera monitor in her room and a screen in Adil’s room and one downstairs, I make a note in my little notepad.
“Come and lay on the bed,” Adil says as I get onto the couch. It feels weird. It’s silly, I know but it still feels weird. I join him anyway. This is the closest we have ever been.
“I love you so much,” he says to me and I can feel his genuineness.
A few minutes go by and I relax in his arms until the Chinese wall that existed between us is broken.
“Adil... no.” I am now very uncomfortable. He doesn’t get it.
Adil sighs in frustration.
“Can we just get married?!”
“Sure. As soon as we sort out the prenup.”
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.